Retaliation in the Workplace Can Leave Your Company an Employee Short and Thousands in the Red

In sports and on the playground it is most frequently the retaliating party that gets caught and is subject to discipline. For example, in the recently concluded Stanley Cup Playoffs a Chicago Blackhawks player felt he had his progress impeded and hit his counterpart on the other team in the mouth with his stick. Although the referee missed the initial infraction, he certainly saw the retaliatory high-stick, and sent the Blackhawks player to the penalty box for a five-minute major penalty.  While the Blackhawks player was in the box the opposing team scored the game-winning goal.

You may be wondering why we are discussing hockey in a business ethics and human resources compliance blog. Although many human resources managers and high-level executives understand the concept of coaching their players to refrain from retaliatory tactics in the workplace, a surprising number do not understand that taking adverse employment action against employees who complain about something they even think is illegal in the workplace can have a devastating effect on business.

 Federal and State Laws Prohibit Retaliation

Many federal statutes contain anti-retaliation provisions that prohibit employers from taking adverse employment action (discipline, termination, suspension, harassment) against employees who complain about the employer’s illegal activity.  Further, state and federal anti-discrimination laws include retaliation under the umbrella of prohibited activity when employees complain to management about activity they even suspect is discriminatory or otherwise illegal (even though it may not turn out to be so).

Retaliation Scandal Rocks the Veterans Administration

Employees at Veterans Administration (“VA”) facilities in 19 states have filed complaints alleging illegal retaliation by the VA for complaints about non-compliant scheduling and coding procedures (among other illegal practices). One such complaint stated that an employee was suspended for seven days, had a performance review lowered, and was reassigned just after filing a complaint. Other employees were subject to reassignment and demotion after complaining about alleged mishandling of patient funds, inappropriate use of patient restraints, and other violations of VA rules and procedures.

In addition to the legal ramifications of retaliating against employees for reporting unsafe or discriminatory workplace practices, allowing a retaliatory business culture will undoubtedly drain workplace productivity. Further, as discussed above, although you may feel that an employee is burdening the workforce with his or her complaints, you must remember that the employee has the right to do so and it is the employer who will be caught by the “referee” (judge and jury) and will ultimately be penalized, either by way of costly litigation defense, a large settlement, or public stigma from a large jury verdict.

Cost-Effective Electronic Methods of Workplace Business Ethics Training can Reduce the Possibility of Retaliatory Management Tactics and Increase Employee Productivity

Online compliance training for non-retaliation and other important ethics and employment-related topics is easier and more cost effective than ever. Training companies like Syntrio, Inc. provide high quality training courses .that can be customized to reflect organizational policies and priorities. Periodic training in lawful and non-discriminatory employment practices is an essential part of an effective ethics and compliance program and essential for defending against charges of discrimination and retaliation.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing business ethics and HR compliance training in an extremely comprehensive yet cost-effective and time sensitive manner. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss the ways Syntrio, Inc. can help your supervisors and HR Professionals ensure that they are up to date with state and federal laws regarding retaliation prevention, non-discriminaton, and other business and employment practices.

 

Angels in the Workplace? Accusations of Harassment Leave the Navy Feeling Blue

For a human resources professional or high level executive, some of the worst possible terms to land in the subject line of an email include “porn,” “homophobia,” and “harassment.” Each on its own is enough to give upper management a small heart attack. Unfortunately, the United States’ most famous aerial performers recently faced this triumvirate of HR evil.

According to a recent CNN.com report, the Blue Angels aerial performers have been accused of flying with pornographic material in their cockpits, making homophobic slurs, and constantly degrading women. The CNN report stated that at one point things got so bad that an image of a male genitalia adorned a Blue Angels hangar. This image was so large that it was detected by Google Maps satellites. All of this behavior allegedly created a hostile working environment, according to a recent complaint against the organization.

After the aforementioned tomfoolery was tolerated within the Blue Angels for years (and even arguably perpetuated by high-level commanders), a service member filed a complaint in 2014 for the “toxic” atmosphere that had been created within the Blue Angels. Although an internal inquiry is currently underway, it is easy to foresee the likely forthcoming lawsuits. 

Offensive and Harassing Conduct Can Take Many Forms

As the Blue Angels case study shows, harassing workplace conduct reaches far beyond degrading comments toward women.  In fact, one of the more common forms of harassment allegations stem from offensive imagery on computer monitors and within emails. Further, many employees believe it is acceptable to have off-color discussions about sex, sexual orientation, and gender so long as the person they are conversing with has the same or similar views. This belief is not only antiquated, it fails to take into account the fact that anyone could overhear the offensive comments or see the offensive imagery, thereby creating the basis for a sex harassment claim. It also fails to consider that a person may feel under pressure not to complain about offensive conduct. 

In today’s litigious society it is ever important for human resources managers and executives to remain up to date as to the types of conduct they need to watch out for to ensure an effective workplace.   

Online Sexual Harassment Training Programs Can Prevent Hostile Working Environments

The standard argument coming from the Blue Angels side will likely be that higher-ups did not know what was going on. Unfortunately, hiding one’s head in the sand is unlikely to be successful under any set of facts, much less when a pervasive environment of sexual comments and behavior was allowed to persist. The Navy has since set up awareness training from various equal opportunity programs to rid the Blue Angels of the smut. This case just goes to show that anti-harassment training is necessary in every organization, particularly for managers and supervisors. Sadly, no organization is immune to conduct and circumstances that can lead to claims of sexual harassment and other forms of unlawful harassment

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing sexual harassment prevention and HR compliance training in an extremely comprehensive yet cost-effective and time sensitive manner. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss the ways Syntrio, Inc. can help your supervisors and HR Professionals ensure that they are up to date with state and federal laws regarding employment equality and workplace diversity training.

 

 

4 Important Reasons to Prevent Workplace Retaliation

Most employment laws that guarantee rights to individual workers also make it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who enforce their rights or support others in doing so. Still, reports show that more than 20% of employees who report unlawful conduct go on to experience some form of retaliation. Retaliation claims represent a significant legal and financial risk for employers and the following are some of the reasons why preventing retaliation should be a top workplace concern.

1. Most Commonly Laid Charge with Enforcement Agencies Such as EEOC.

In 2012, 38.1% of complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) included charges of unlawful retaliation. That is greater than any other single protected ground including race (33.7%), sex (30.5%), disability (26.5%), and age (23.0%).

2. Broad (and Expanding) Scope of Anti-Retaliation Law… and Penalties for Violations 

Legislative and case developments have significantly broadened the scope of anti-retaliation protection, lowered the burden for establishing unlawful retaliation, and expanded the damages available. What’s more -- charges of retaliation can be successful even if the original complaint is found to be without merit!! 

3. The Effects of Human Nature  

It is human nature to want to strike back at someone who attacks or accuses you of wrongdoing. As a result, retaliation cases tend to be more believable in the eyes of jurors than other forms of misconduct. With higher success rates and greater potential for awarded damages, more claims end up being made.

4. Preventing Retaliation is The “Right Thing to Do” 

Preventing retaliation is the right thing to do. Employers have a moral obligation to protect employees’ rights and employee trust levels drop markedly if management tolerates retaliation.

 

Too often, the topic of retaliation is covered only as an add-on to training on other important employment-related issues. Taking steps to educate managers and supervisors on the scope and specific risks of unlawful retaliation is an essential component of an effective risk and compliance management program. Companies such as Syntrio, Inc. specialize in providing online anti-discrimination, harassment and retaliation training in a comprehensive yet cost-effective and time sensitive manner. Contact Syntrio today at 888-289-6670 to discuss the ways we can help your supervisors and HR professionals ensure that they are up to date with state and federal employment law training requirements.

 

Settling Sex Harassment Cases is an Expensive “Proposition”

Sex Harassment Lawsuits: “It Won’t Happen To Me.” 

Many business owners or high-level executives believe they have the business acumen to avoid hiring managers who will commit egregious acts of sexual harassment in the workplace. They use hiring tactics they feel will be enough for sexual harassment prevention. Unfortunately, it is impossible to truly know everything about a manager, and it is even harder to keep tabs on changes in the manager’s personality as time passes. As such, when an employee brings a claim of sexual harassment, the frequent course of action advised by management-side employment attorneys is to settle the case.

Settling Lawsuits Brings Unnecessary Costs

On average, the cost of settling a civil sexual harassment lawsuit ranges from four to five figures. Nevertheless, many attorneys for plaintiffs boast claims of six and seven figure settlements on their websites, and these figures do not take into account the high-profile seven and eight figure verdicts that are reported when these cases go to trial. While paying out a five figure settlement may be seen by some business owners as “the high cost of doing business,” such settlements set a precedent within the workplace that sexual harassment will be allowed to persist so long as the employer is willing to “pay off” the victims. This is not a culture that leads to a productive workplace. Conversely, when employees know that managers are receiving proper training to avoid incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace, a more productive culture is fostered.

Case Study: New Jersey Township Pays $25,000 Settlement to EMT Sexually Harassed by Deputy Chief

On May 27, 2014, the South Jersey Times reported that a deputy sent a subordinate employee text messages propositioning her for sex. After the employee complained to the Department, the deputy asked to speak with her alone. A Department investigation revealed that the employee may have had a consensual relationship with the deputy, but it was unclear.

This case presents a classic “he said-she said” case of sexual harassment. The text messages were obviously damaging to the Township’s case, yet there was evidence that the two were involved in a consensual relationship. Amid uncertain facts, the Township paid a $25,000 settlement to resolve the case. Importantly, the Township did not have any policy for sexual harassment training at any time relevant to the aforementioned incident. Had the Department implemented such a policy, the alleged harassing conduct and resulting lawsuit could have been easily prevented.

Sexual Harassment Training Can Save Costs and Increase Employee Productivity

With the advent of e-learning and online compliance training, developing sexual harassment prevention policies has become easier and more cost-effective than ever. Online training companies like Syntrio, Inc. provide training courses and materials with respect to sexual harassment and retaliation prevention.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing sexual harassment prevention and HR compliance training in an extremely comprehensive yet cost-effective and time sensitive manner. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss the ways Syntrio, Inc. can help your supervisors and HR professionals ensure that they are up to date with state and federal laws regarding equality and workplace diversity training.

Biting Back at the Bullies: Effective Training Can Reduce Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

Bullies are everywhere. Certain people take joy and pleasure in making miserable the lives of those they perceive as “weak” or easy targets for taking out their personal frustrations. Workplace bullying is a growing yet preventable phenomenon that can take a variety of forms. It is important to note that workplace bullying can be considered a form of actionable workplace harassment when the activity comes from a supervisor (or co-worker behavior is reported and management does not effectively quash the behavior) and creates a hostile working environment.   

Allowing a bullying culture to continue at your business is not only counterproductive, it can lead to significant legal fees when an employee decides to file a harassment or retaliation lawsuit. Therefore, effective bully prevention training is a cost-effective method to reduce the potential for exposure to the types of legal and financial consequences your business may be exposed to if such practices are allowed to continue.   

Supervisors Often Bully Their Subordinate Employees Without Knowing It 

Perhaps the most common form of workplace bullying is the “hothead” supervisor who takes out his professional and personal frustrations on the employees he is assigned to manage.  In the classic cases the supervisor feels as though he has to “break down” his staff in order to “build them up,” or simply feels that the “tough love” seen in professional sports leagues is the only effective way to manage. As seen in the recent NFL Miami Dolphins scandal involving a group of senior players accused of bullying a more junior offensive lineman, this strategy is ineffective in the modern workplace, and leads to legal trouble. 

2014 Study Shows Workplace Bullying is Pervasive 

A recent study showed that 27% of American employees have been subjected to bullying, with a majority of the alleged bullying by a supervisor. Additionally, 21% of American employees have witnessed an incident of workplace bullying. Finally, the study revealed that 82% of workplace bullying victims wound up losing their job, either by voluntary or involuntary termination. That number is simply too high, and presents too significant a business risk for owners to allow a bullying culture to take place.   

Employers have a responsibility to eliminate workplace bullying and workplace harassment. Additionally, when an employee reports an incident of bullying or harassment and the employer either does nothing about the incident, or worse, takes an adverse action against the employee, he or she may have a claim for retaliation or other common law business torts. By allowing these unlawful practices to flourish in the workplace, employers pay the high price of litigation costs in addition to low morale, decreased productivity, and an overall negative reputation in the community. Further, modern employers understand that not only are they able to avoid employee lawsuits, they also gain a more productive overall workforce when their businesses are free from hostile environments. In short, effective anti-harassment and anti-bullying training is a prudent business decision. 

Cost-Effective Electronic Methods of Workplace Harassment and Anti-Bullying Training Can Save Costs and Increase Employee Productivity 

With the advent of e-learning and online compliance training, developing anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies that has become easier and more cost-effective than ever. Certified training companies like Syntrio, Inc. provide training courses and materials with respect to workplace harassment, workplace bullying, and retaliation prevention methods.  

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing anti-harassment business ethics and HR compliance training in an extremely comprehensive yet cost-effective and time sensitive manner.  Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss the ways Syntrio, Inc. can help your supervisors and HR professionals ensure that they are up to date with state and federal laws regarding equality and workplace diversity training.