Accusations of Sexual Harassment Against Zillow Illustrate the Need for Management Training

A former sales consultant has sued the online real estate company Zillow for various violations of federal and California state sexual harassment law. Rachel Kremer, who began working for Zillow in 2012, says supervisors frequently harassed her when they repeatedly sent her graphic emails and text messages. According to Ms. Kremer’s federal lawsuit, she was forced to endure a culture of “sexual torture” and that she and other women at the company were “silenced.”

The lawsuit claims that Zillow’s male supervisors ranked female employees according to their breast size, sent pictures of their penises to Ms. Kremer’s phone, and created an all around culture of fear and hostility. This lawsuit is the latest in a string of 2014 sex harassment lawsuits against technology based companies, and illustrates the need for greater management training to ensure that valuable companies are not violating the law. This need is even greater in industries dominated by men and within a culture where hard partying and a “loose” culture are the norm.

Preventing Workplace Harassment Should be a Focus for all Companies

No matter the size of the company, preventing workplace harassment must be a focus in today’s culture. As millennials enter and stay in the workforce, employers need to understand that this is a particularly litigious and vocal segment of society that is not afraid to complain and blow the whistle on illegal activity. Indeed, members of this generation are active users of Twitter and other forms of social media, where routine campaigns to end illegal activity gain rapid support. For this reason alone, compliance training to prevent workplace harassment and hostile culture is an absolute necessity in today’s day and age.

Focused online training is a fast and effective means of educating your managers about the importance of ensuring that workplace harassment is eradicated from the company culture, or better yet, stopping it before it starts. Online courses can teach managers about the intricacies of state and federal laws prohibiting harassment and are effective tools in helping managers identify conduct that is even arguably illegal. Indeed, this is an area of the law that has a lot of grey area and it is difficult for companies to manage different personalities within a workforce. By conducting regular training sessions, it becomes easier for managers to keep the prevention of harassment fresh in their minds and at the forefront of the minds of other employees.

In today’s culture your business simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and take a defensive approach when an employee makes an accusation of harassment. As the recent string of technology-based sexual harassment lawsuits against Yahoo, Tinder and Zillow (among others) shows us, companies of all sizes and values can benefit from harassment prevention training. Syntrio specializes in conducting cost-effective online training courses tailored to the needs of your business. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss your compliance efforts and any issues that may be arising within your company

Tis’ the Season for Corrupt Business Practices

Twas’ the week before Christmas, and all across the globe, back room dealings were happening, even as the DOJ initiated a probe. With the company seeking that contract, execs sent a guy nicknamed “Santa” to bat, but ethics questions abound, as the global economy has made anti-corruption pacts.

In the last several years, global legislation has gone into place to avoid bribery and corruption. The United States has long had the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which prohibits corrupt payments to foreign officials. However, foreign countries have gotten on board, enacting legislation that is stricter and without the defenses available by the FCPA. Indeed, laws like the U.K. Bribery Act of 2010 prohibit businesses from failing to prevent bribery, and the provision extends to the private sector as well as the public realm. Accordingly, the risks of breaking the rules have never been greater, and implementing global anti-corruption training programs has leapt to the forefront of business necessity for 2015 and beyond.

Many domestic companies use outdated models of avoiding corruption, or worse yet do nothing at all. If your business is operating in the global market it is essential that you learn the distinctions between the FCPA and U.K. Bribery Act, as well as other laws enacted in emerging nations that have extraterritorial reach. Importantly, the U.K. Bribery Act applies to entities and individuals who do business in that territory, which means it applies to many U.S. Corporations with offices in the U.K.

With the holiday season upon us, many companies take the time to send gifts to corporate partners. Unfortunately, under many of these laws, if gifts are sent to the wrong people or for the purpose of gaining a business advantage you could be open to civil and criminal penalties. Indeed, corporate hospitality, the reimbursement of expenses, charitable donations, and other forms of payment can cross the line between ethical conduct and corruption. In order to avoid getting into hot water it is essential that your managers, executives and employees understand the intricacies of what they can and cannot do in the business development realm.

Corruption boils down to dishonest activity in exchange for business gain. While many companies that are prosecuted domestically and abroad go into negotiation with honest and ethical intentions, they can frequently cross the line unintentionally. By the time they realize they have done something illegal it is often too late. In addition to the legal penalties associated with corrupt business practices, the overall cost of doing business in foreign countries increases and business reputation can suffer serious damage. Accordingly, it is best to take adequate measures to prevent corrupt activity altogether. Indeed, doing so is one of the few defenses available under the U.K. Bribery Act’s failure to prevent provision!

Conducting ethical business practices and avoiding compliance traps is a fine line, especially when international laws are involved. Syntrio can help train your managers on the nuances of both the laws and ethical conduct that will help formulate an effective plan for conducting business in foreign markets. Contact for more information and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your business!

Happy Holidays – Will You Accept Service?

When it comes to human resources ethics and compliance issues, perhaps no event on the work calendar is as controversial or stress-filled as the office holiday party. Once a spectacle of corporate excess and consumption, many companies have chosen to eliminate the grandiose holiday party altogether, both for economic reasons and due to the many risks that are inherent in providing employees with the opportunity to get together (likely around alcohol) at a company-sponsored event.

As most companies do not want to be seen as anti-holiday cheer, forward thinking businesses are conducting workplace harassment and discrimination training courses. Although your 2014 holiday party has either already occurred or will (likely) occur this weekend, it is never too late to train your managers on the core principles discussed below as they apply to the other 11 months of the year.

Religious Discrimination Issues

One of the most common forms of compliance issue stemming from a holiday party involves religious discrimination. The holidays are fraught with heightened employee sensitivities. These issues become worse when the company “Christmas Party” or “tree decorating ceremony” become offensive to an employee of a particular faith. From a management perspective you may feel as though you are placating the majority, but that sort of thinking is exactly what the discrimination laws were enacted to avoid.

Religious discrimination is one of the trickier areas of employment law. For this reason it is of the utmost importance that your party be known as a “holiday” celebration with neutral decorations and theme. Better yet, invite employees to bring in decorations for display that represent their faith and display a diverse range of ethnic and cultural décor to show the company’s commitment to diversity.

Some Employees Take Holiday Cheer too Far

There are countless stories of workplace harassment occurring at office holiday parties. Frequently the precursor to unacceptable behavior is excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages at the holiday party. It is very important that you stress to your managers and employees that harassment is not tolerated, and that consumption of alcohol at the event must be done responsibly. Indeed, holiday parties breed claims of harassment from both men and women, and can occur at any time. Remind employees that the holiday party is a work event and that there is an anti-harassment policy in place. Perhaps most importantly, managers and executives should practice what they preach and avoid excessive consumption of alcohol.

When the Party is Over it’s Over

In addition to harassment at the party, nothing good ever happens at “unofficial” after parties hosted by management, either at their house or at a bar (even if the bar is at the event venue). After parties, while often well-meaning, lead employees to feel pressured to participate or excluded if they are not invited. Indeed, a certain breed of “bro” or “bro-ette” employee is usually in attendance at these events, which frequently become debaucherous and a breeding ground for harassment and other illegal activity. They simply are not a good idea. Make no mistake, claims against the company can arise from “after-parties,” and the results can be disastrous. For a variety of reasons this is most definitely a practice to prohibit.

Syntrio Can Train Managers to Avoid Holiday Party Pitfalls

Maintaining a positive company culture and avoiding compliance traps is a fine line. Syntrio can help train your managers on the nuances of the law that will help formulate an effective policy for use at holiday parties and throughout the year. Contact for more information and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your business!


California Legislation Affecting Employment Law in 2015: A New Year Brings New Challenges for Employers

In the fall of 2014 California Governor Jerry Brown signed several new laws into law that will go into effect on January 1, 2015. Many of these laws directly and/or indirectly impact employment law in the State. The following paragraphs provide a brief primer on the new legislation and how each impacts management. As always, Syntrio provides detailed management and employee training, and can assist your business in complying with all state and federal employment laws.

Assembly Bill 2053 – California’s Anti-Bullying Law

Assembly Bill (“AB”) 2053, adds a new educational requirement to the existing training required by Assembly Bill 1825 (commonly known as California’s Harassment Training Law). As you are most likely aware, California employers with 50 or more employees are required to conduct at least two hours of sexual harassment training for supervisors once every two years. AB 2053 requires employers who are subject to the sexual harassment law to continue complying with the requirements of the law, but must also “include prevention of abusive conduct as a component of the training and education . . .” Under the new California law, managers and supervisors must be trained to recognize and prevent abusive behavior in the workplace.

What is “abusive” conduct?

AB 2053 defines “abusive conduct” as “conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace, with malice, that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive, and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests.” According to the law, abusive conduct may include repeated verbal abuse, such as the use of derogatory remarks and insults; or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating, or humiliating. Important to note, the law states that a single act does not constitute abusive conduct, unless the isolated incident was “especially severe and egregious.”

Does AB 2053 Create a New Cause of Action for Bullying in the Workplace?

Nothing in the new law outlaws abusive conduct in the workplace. However, from an employee morale perspective this type of behavior can have a negative impact on employee productivity and is therefore discouraged. Further, it is impossible to predict what further amendments will take place in the coming months and years with respect to outlawing bullying in the workplace. It is safe to say that AB 2053 could be a precursor to such legislation in California.

Assembly Bill 1443 – Prohibiting Discrimination Against Unpaid Interns

The days of “taking it out on the intern” are over, as AB 1443 goes into effect on January 1, 2015. This law amends the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), and prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals in protected classes with respect to the “selection, termination, training or other terms” for unpaid internships. AB 1443 also prohibits employers from harassing unpaid interns (sexually or otherwise) and makes employers liable for harassment of unpaid interns by non-employees if an employer knew or should have known of the conduct but failed to take corrective action.

AB 1443 also prohibits employers from taking adverse action against unpaid interns based on religious beliefs, and employers must provide reasonable accommodation for religious observance unless doing so would pose an undue hardship. In short, the new law requires employers to treat unpaid interns as employees for the purposes of discrimination and harassment. Unrelated to this law, but still extremely important are the many wage and hour issues that can arise from having unpaid interns working at your business. It is a practice that is ripe for litigation, and AB 1443 only adds causes of action to an already popular category of individual for employment litigation.

AB 1660 Requires California Employers to Be Careful With Assumptions About Current and Prospective Employees

AB 1660 amends the FEHA to prohibit discrimination against an employee who presents a driver license issued to them under AB 60, which allows illegal immigrants to obtain a driver license even though the individual does not have the legal right to work in the United States.

Although this law is in direct conflict with employer obligations under the Federal Immigration law, it essentially means that although individuals must have the right to work in the US, they cannot be singled out at the application or hiring process and employers cannot assume they do not have the right to work in the US just because they have one of these driver’s licenses. Therefore, California employers must be especially careful when interviewing or hiring or in any situation in which a current or prospective employee may need to show the employer his or her driver’s license.

AB 1792 Prohibits Discrimination Based on Employee Receipt of State Funds

AB 1792 prohibits discrimination and retaliation against employees who are recipients of public assistance, specifically the Medi-Cal program. This portion of AB 1792 is a direct reaction to another provision in the bill that requires state agencies to prepare and publish a list of the 500 top employers with the most Medi-Cal recipients (“employer” defined as having 100 or more employees on Medi-Cal). Because the state is afraid that employers will select individuals for layoff or termination to avoid making this list they have included Medi-Cal recipients as protected individuals under state law.

SB 967 – California’s “Yes Means Yes” Law

SB 967 amends the California Education Code to require schools receiving state funds to uphold an affirmative consent standard in disciplinary hearings and to educate students about the standard. This new law attempts to reduce the gray area in sexually violent crimes in an effort to reduce such misconduct from occurring.

Under SB 967, consent is to be defined as “affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.” Further, the law requires affirmative training of both students and faculty about affirmative consent, including all incoming students as part of orientation. Institutions that receive state funding will need to begin conducting training under this law, and should do so in conjunction with requirements set forth by the Campus SaVE Act, which went into effect in Fall 2014.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing Ethics and HR compliance training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 for a discussion on how we can help you and your business. Additionally, for regular updates on HR and ethics issues that may impact your business, follow Syntrio on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn.