But not in Japan. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn are making headlines they probably wish they had never made. While I’m not a man and can, therefore, only surmise that the root of the problem somehow goes back to The Man Gene, as John Phillips so eloquently calls it, their current woes bring to the forefront issues that some employers – or at least their supervisors – sometimes face but don’t often think about, i.e., what happens when a supervisor either engages in or is accused of sexual harassment. When we are faced with such situations, our focus is usually on the company’s potential liability and what we can do to either prevent or limit such liability. Of course, the best case scenario is to not have such accusations in the first place. And, one of the best preventative measures employers can implement is training. Oddly enough, supervisors tend to think twice about their actions when they are reminded of the consequences, which include not only potential civil liability under some state anti-discrimination statutes and other common law theories, but also the nuclear fallout that often occurs. I’m talking about the hurt caused to their families (even if the accusations prove to be wrong), their reputations, and their jobs (assuming they still have one). Schwarzenegger’s indiscretions may cost him at least two of these things and may now lead to an investigation into whether he used campaign money to pay for women. Strauss-Kahn is on suicide watch, appears to have been dismissed from his high-power position, and may be watching his political career explode. While most of our supervisors may not be in as high-profile positions as these two men, the resulting fallout can be just as devastating. Maybe it’s a good time to remind them. - Karen Smith
The owner of a chain of McDonald’s restaurants in Ohio sent a letter to his employees about the upcoming elections. The letter accompanied employee paychecks and said that employee wages could only be raised “if the right people” were elected. If others were elected, “we will not” raise wages. The letter encouraged employees to vote for Republican candidates in the Governor’s race, the U.S. Senate race, and a congressional district race. Then the walls of legal hell collapsed on the franchise owner.
All HR professionals know that a harassment claim must be investigated promptly and then appropriate action taken. In Moody v. East Mississippi State Hospital, decided by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, an employee’s suit was dismissed, in part, for exactly that reason.
That’s an exaggeration. However, a recent incident involving a Rutgers University student demonstrates where social media and the Internet are taking us. College pranks at the beginning of the school year are common, particularly when freshmen are involved. These pranks have sometimes gone overboard, but with the Internet, a prank or an act of revenge can ravage the target.
Shatkin, Shifflett, Maples and Knight worked together as administrative assistants. Shatkin, Shifflett and Maples didn’t get along with Knight. These three employees had strong religious beliefs and decided to seek a higher power’s help in dealing with Knight. After the workday had ended and Knight had left for the day, Shatkin, Shifflett and Maples gathered at Knight’s cubicle. Shatkin rubbed olive oil on the metal doorway of the cubicle to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit. Shifflett began chanting to remove the demons that possessed Knight. Maples offered an amen.
Can nicknames be a problem at work? Of course. Nicknames that are tantamount to ethnic, racial or sexual slurs and given to an employee by co-workers are a problem. In those cases, it doesn’t matter whether the employee is called the nickname to his face or behind his back or whether the employee complains about the nickname. It can’t be tolerated.
Much has been written about the problem with bullies in the workplace. A few posts on the subject have appeared on this blog. (Here, here, here, and here.) Some states have even considered legislation to deal with this problem. I don’t have the answer. I don’t think state legislatures do either. I do have a few suggestions and tips.
We are all familiar with the high-profile battle in Manhattan over constructing a mosque near ground zero. According to a recent article in the New York Times, a furor over mosque-building is sweeping the country. From New York to Tennessee to Wisconsin to California, proposals to erect mosques in various locations have been met with vociferous opposition. Whether this uproar is caused by 9/11, fear of terrorism, religious misunderstanding, a sincere belief that Islam is antithetical to the foundation of America, or whatever, a word about employment law may be worthwhile.
You are undoubtedly aware of the tragic workplace violence in Manchester, Connecticut. (Click here, here and here for recent recaps.) A few new facts have emerged but shed little light on this deadly event. As fellow blogger Daniel Schwartz, a lawyer in Connecticut, wrote yesterday, the “awful truth” is that, no matter how right employers do things, there is no absolute way to prevent workplace violence once an employee has crossed the line and decided to kill co-workers. I came to a similar conclusion when I wrote several posts on the Fort Hood violence.
I doubt there’s any way to calculate work-related suicides in the U.S. Most people don’t kill themselves at work, although something at work may have been the final straw for an employee dealing with other problems as well: family, debt, mental illness, etc. The growing number of suicides at Foxconn Technology in China has been in the news lately, and employers in this country should pay attention. The U.S. economic downturn, fear of a global economic collapse, continuing layoffs, reduced hours, increased job duties, and furloughs translate into a lot of troubled people.
As reported in the WSJ Law Blog (which links to other news reports about this matter), drug maker Novartis has been hit with a verdict of $37 million in compensatory damages and another verdict of $250 million in punitive damages. The company was found guilty of sex discrimination in denying female employees, particularly pregnant employees, the same pay as comparable male employees, opportunities for promotions and more. It’s possible that Novartis could be hit with additional damages. This may be the largest jury verdict ever in an employment case.
In the New York Times article referenced in my immediately preceding post, the new research on performance reviews spills over into the subject of proper supervision in the workplace. Most employment lawsuits have a supervisor or manager at their center. That doesn’t always mean that the supervisor has done something wrong, but many times, it means exactly that. Although HR generally shepherds the performance review process, supervisors and managers make the process work — or not. If a performance review is completed by a bad supervisor, it’s much more likely to get you in trouble than serve any useful purpose.
When I was a teenager, Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs burst onto the scene with their huge hit Wooly Bully. The lyrics were hard to make out and hard to discern even if you made them out. It’s clear that Sam and his Pharaohs weren’t singing about bullies at school or work, but they could have been.
As everyone knows by now, when Vice President Biden introduced the President just before Obama signed the historic health care reform legislation, he uttered the f-word as he turned the microphone over to his boss. Biden was pumped that the President had achieved victory and got carried away. Besides, the Vice President often speaks before he thinks. Should his boss care?
Wal-Mart makes a lot of announcements to its shoppers or customers. At a New Jersey store recently, an announcement came over the public-address system saying, “All black people leave the store now.” Wal-Mart officials are trying to determine from security tapes who commandeered the public-address system to create this embarrassment.
Ever since the thwarted Christmas day airplane bombing in Detroit, there has been much debate about the use of full-body scanners at airports. Opponents say the use of such an intrusive instrument constitutes an unlawful invasion of privacy. Supporters say since we’re at war with an enemy intent on using our own airplanes to kill hundreds and thousands of Americans, permitting a stranger to observe your body parts is a small price to pay for greater security.
Any race discrimination or harassment complaint alleges the use of racially-charged language. A supervisor’s racist slur or racist joke. Thus, employers are counseled about keeping racial language out of the workplace.
It seems there’s always an uptick in firings during the month of December. Maybe there’s something about getting ready for a fresh start at the beginning of a new year. Maybe it’s the desire to finally do something you’ve put off all year. Maybe there are Scrooges who never receive visits from the three ghosts of Christmas.