EEOC: Employers, be Proactive vs. Workplace Harassment

Thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in the landmark case of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson that workplace harassment was an actionable form of discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Several examples of common harassment and discrimination that take place in the workplace are sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, racial discrimination, and age discrimination (under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or ADEA). Recently, the EEOC issued a report encouraging employers to be more proactive in preventing workplace harassment.

In January 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission created a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace (“Select Task Force”). This Select Task Force spent  18 months examining the myriad and complex issues associated with harassment in the workplace. In June 2016, the Select Task Force  published its findings. The report calls for employers to “reboot” workplace harassment prevention methods. The report also outlines statistics, risks and administrative recommendations.

The study encourages employers to assess their workplaces for the risks associated with harassment, survey employees. Further, the report urges employers to hold accountable managers and supervisors for preventing and reacting to grievances while also actively promoting diversity.

Interestingly, the report also states that employers should be wary of “zero tolerance” anti-harassment policies that are used as a one-size fits all model. Rather, any discipline that might result from such policy violations should be proportionate to the offense.

Additionally, the report finds that employers should also consider including a social media policy that ties into their anti-harassment policies.  The downside to this however is that the National Labor Relations Board has released guidelines on drafting and updating social media policies. Some cases have held that such a policy may violate an employee’s right to engage in protected concerted activity.

In conclusion, the findings state that the name of the game is truly harassment prevention. This may prove challenging as labor and employment laws are not logical and often do not follow common sense. To this end, seeking experienced legal counsel is critical.

Should you have questions, or wish to seek counsel, call Gilbert Law Group today at (631)630-0100.

Offensive, Discriminatory Costumes At Work: From the Racist to the Racy

Halloween is a good time for children and adults alike. But what the holiday represents to children can be far different than what adults look forward to come the end of October. Typically, adults perceive Halloween as an opportunity to get creative with their costumes while taking advantage of the fact that it is easier to get away with wearing an outfit which may not be considered appropriate at any other time of year. In one’s free time and in the company of their friends and family, surely this mindset should not be a problem, most of the time. Frequently however, employees attending Halloween parties at the office or at a work function take it too far by wearing costumes which could easily offend a co-worker. In doing so, one can open themselves or their employers up to liability for harassment and discrimination and and can be disciplined or terminated.

Costumes which should not be worn to work include those that are overly violent, gruesome, controversial, insensitive or grotesque. Some examples include bloody zombies, terrorists, police brutality victims, ebola patients, etc.

Other categories of costumes which will not be tolerated in the office or at a work event range from the racist to the racy. Obviously, if you dress as a nazi or kkk clan member, and the employer allows it, that can be considered blatant and willful discrimination based on race, color, national origin, etc. Likewise, inappropriate, sexually lewd or explicit costumes will lead to allegations of sexual harassment.

Another issue to consider is those employees who may be religious. If employees dress as the anti-christ, or a character from the Book of Mormon, it may lead to some claiming discrimination based on religion.

From an employer’s point of view, one need not be the costume police. An employer does not have to give a list of costumes which will not be tolerated. If you are going to have an event, tell employees that they are to use proper judgment and common sense; that any costumes deemed to be offensive or inappropriate, will lead to a supervisor inevitably telling the employee to change. It is always helpful to encourage employees to ask questions in advance. If there is an HR Department, it may be a good idea for them to speak to an HR rep before they show up in a hazmat suit, as not everyone will find that to be funny or appropriate. It is also important that employers have a policy as it relates to social media. Posting photos of Halloween costumes at work can lead to a negative perception of the company among other unintended legal consequences.

For questions or concerns relating to discrimination, sexual harassment, other workplace, or labor and employment issues, call Gilbert Law Group: (631)630-0100.