Employee Discipline: The Double Edged Sword of Maintaining Order and Legal Compliance

The number one issue that arises when providing employee discipline training to managers is apprehension over breaking the law. Indeed, managers report that fear of winding up in court over wrongful termination or employment discrimination causes many supervisors and human resources professionals to refrain from taking necessary corrective action when an employee violates company policy. Therefore, discipline without the proper education is the classic double-edged sword: managers know they need to take action, yet are uneducated and afraid to do the wrong thing.

Employee Discipline Training Provides the Legal Foundation, but Managers Must Also Know the Practical Implications of Proper Discipline

Anti-Bullying statutes are becoming far more common across the country, with California and Connecticut already having laws in place. Further, companies like Target are being sued due to the implications of mistreatment of disciplined employees. In a recent case, an employee named Graham Gentles was humiliated after management accused him of stealing from the store. Gentles was was forced to do a “walk of shame” through the store in handcuffs and ultimately committed suicide. Gentles mother has since sued the retail giant for a large sum of money. As the Gentles case shows, the implications of improper discipline can reach far beyond classic employment lawsuits.

Employee Discipline Checklist

The following is a non-exhaustive list of questions to ask prior to imposing discipline on an employee. Further, it is important to encourage your company to schedule employee discipline training so that the company and its supervisors can learn about the various laws impacting the employer’s ability to discipline its employees, and gain context into the information through real-life scenarios.

1. Does the Misconduct Deserve Discipline?

Some infractions like one-time tardiness or failure to clean a minor spill may be so minor that discipline would be counterproductive to the work environment. Therefore, the first question you should ask is whether the policy violation is significant enough to warrant disciplinary action.

2. Is the Rule Violation Related to the Employee’s Job?

If the misconduct in question is wholly off-duty or unrelated to the employee’s job there may be privacy considerations that must be taken into account prior to issuing disciplinary action.

3. Is the Employee on Notice of Company Policy?

All too often employers have unwritten policies or rules. Although the employer may have the right to take its chosen action, it is always a good idea to distribute a formal handbook containing company policies so there can be no question that the employees know the rules. Asking employees to acknowledge receipt and reading of the handbook is also the right thing to do.

4. In Severe Cases, has the Company Followed its Policy of Progressive Discipline (if one exists)?

Employers commonly fall into the trap of skipping steps in the progressive discipline process when significant violations occur. This type of practice can lead to discrimination lawsuits when some employees feel they have been unfairly excessively disciplined.

5. Discipline all Employees the Same for Like Violations

Employees discuss incidents of discipline among themselves. When employees are treated differently in like situations and are members of a protected class they frequently seek legal counsel for discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits. Accordingly, it is always in the company’s best interest to treat like cases of discipline alike unless there are legitimate business reasons for departing from past practice.

6. Document Every Discipline Meeting

The company should have a practice of taking notes of every meeting with an employee that occurs for a disciplinary reason. Further, all incident reports should be kept on file and evidentiary and or witness statements should be documented in writing in the event there is a lawsuit down the road.

Contact Syntrio to Schedule Employee Discipline Training

Although following the aforementioned tips is a good start to maintaining compliance in employee discipline, it remains incomplete. Employers who want to remain compliant with the law and maintain a work environment free from harassment and bullying should contact Syntrio to schedule cost-effective and engaging employee discipline training. Doing so will provide your managers with an effective foundation in the law and further practical guidance on keeping themselves and the company from making mistakes that can lead to costly lawsuits.

Contact Syntrio for more information and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your business!


Discrimination Verdict of the Week: Colorado Jury Awards $14M to Employees in Race and Retaliation Lawsuit Against Trucking Company

In the latest enormous verdict handed down in a race discrimination lawsuit, Matheson Trucking in Colorado has lost a discrimination and retaliation case filed by seven plaintiffs, five of which are immigrants from Africa and Brazil. According to the lawsuit, black employees worked on one side of the warehouse and white employees on the other. Additionally, the plaintiffs testified that white staff and supervisors called the employees racial slurs including “dirty, stupid Africans.”

The jury verdict consisted of $318,000 in back pay for each of the plaintiffs, as well as $13 million in punitive damages, to be split between the seven employees involved in the lawsuit. Not surprisingly, Matheson’s attorney stated Tuesday that the company “prides itself on hiring and employing a highly diverse workforce consisting of men and women of different races and cultures” and plans to appeal the decision.

Social Media Outburst and Comments to News Articles Display Negative Publicity Towards Matheson

Although the old saying goes “any publicity is good publicity,” when your company is hit with a $14 million dollar, high profile verdict wherein your supervisors are accused of calling employees the “n” word and segregating the workplace you can imagine the public relations fallout. Indeed, across countless news articles in the past two days there are comments calling for Matheson’s closure and boycott of the private vendors for whom Matheson transports mail.

Discrimination Training Prepares Supervisors to Create an Environment that is Welcoming of a Diverse Workforce

Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse. With that diversity comes an increased desire among employees to work in an environment that fosters a positive culture towards people of all backgrounds. By providing anti-discrimination training on a regular basis to your managers and supervisors you can have them prepared to identify hot points that may be causes for concern. This preparation is the first step in preventing lawsuits and the negative reputation that comes with them. Had Matheson engaged in widespread management training there is no doubt they would not have faced the firestorm encircling the company this week.

Syntrio Provides Cost-Effective and Time Sensitive Race Discrimination Training

When reviewing the list of potential expenses for your company this year it is important to take a long-term view. Syntrio knows that training is a substantial time investment for your company. However, our cost-effective method of online discrimination training will have your managers up to speed without losing productivity. Contact Syntrio for more information and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your business!


Relationship Agreements a Cog in the Harassment Prevention Machine

Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but office romance and relationships are still fresh in the mind of many Human Resources managers, as office romances are on the rise. Indeed, a recent study performed by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) revealed that over 40 percent of employees have had a romance or tryst in the office at some point in time. Office romances in the modern era are unavoidable, as more employees spend more time at the office than they do in the outside world. Nevertheless, these relationships can prove harmful to the work environment, and therefore a careful policy must be crafted to ensure a peaceful environment for all at the office.

Relationship Agreements

Relationship agreements (colloquially known as “love contracts”) between company employees who have voluntarily entered into a romantic relationship are becoming more and more common. Although there are privacy concerns at work, such agreements are largely held lawful due to the significant risks of harassment and discrimination that the employer faces.

What are the Elements of a Relationship Agreement?

The key elements of a written office relationship agreement are as follows:

  • These agreements state that the two employees have voluntarily entered into a romantic relationship;
  • Both members of the relationship understand the company policies regarding sexual harassment;
  • These agreements serve as written confirmation that the relationship is consensual and free of influence on behalf of either of the members (or a third party);
  • These agreements also outline prohibited behavior such as sexual contact on the clock, favoritism, and inappropriate communication between the members of the relationship.
  • Finally, these agreements include information for the parties about HR contacts in the event of a problem.
Why Ask Employees to Enter into a Relationship Agreement?

Although many office romances begin splendidly, they tend to sour quickly and have problems that do not exist in the outside dating world, mostly due to the fact that the parties are required to interact with one another on a daily basis after the relationship ends. To that end, relationship agreements serve as evidence that the parties acknowledged their understanding of the company harassment policy in the event one of the ex-lovers files a harassment lawsuit against the company.

Relationship Agreements are Not Perfect

Make no mistake, although these types of arrangements can reduce the risk of harassment complaints and subsequent lawsuits they are not perfect, and will not absolve the company of liability if one of the parties engages in unlawful behavior. Nevertheless, they serve as notice to each member of the relationship that the company has policies in place and place them on notice as to what steps need to be taken in the event there is a problem.

An Important Note on Supervisor and Subordinate Relationships

Generally, supervisor and subordinate relationships should be prohibited by company policy to avoid the appearance or claims of undue influence, favoritism, coercion or harassment. If a supervisor and subordinate become involved in a relationship, supervisory responsibility may need to be altered so that the supervisory employee no longer exerts direct control over the management of the subordinate. Doing so can save the company significant heartache (no pun intended) if and when things go sour.

As always, it also important that company policies regarding relationships, as well as any disciplinary action resulting from said relationship, be applied consistently regardless of the employee's tenure, position within the organization, or past performance. Although this should go without saying, many sex and other forms of discrimination problems arise when an employee claims that a colleague also was in a relationship in the office and was treated differently.

Crafting and suggesting employee signatures on a relationship agreement can be an effective method of limiting liability in the event of problems with a workplace relationship. However, this area of law is complicated and your managers should receive proper training prior to asking employees to sign any form of agreement or contract.  Contact Syntrio for more information and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your business!


The Essential Benefits of a Diverse Workforce

Companies across all industries are facing complaints from employees and applicants that their workforces do not have enough diversity. Indeed, in a recent poll of millennial employees reported by the Washington Post, an important factor in determining whether to take a job was the degree of diversity within the workplace. With America becoming more ethnically, sexually, and racially diverse younger employees simply are wanting to spend their careers in an office full of racially diverse coworkers. The results of the survey show that younger employees value diversity of opinion that comes from an office made up of people from different cultural and educational backgrounds.

Armed with the aforementioned information, how does a company go about becoming more diverse while complying with discrimination and other employment laws. Employee diversity training courses can help your business get in line with forward-thinking companies that are finding their way to a diverse workforce or are already there.

In addition to teaching the tactics necessary to recruit and hire a diverse set of employees, employee diversity courses teach managers and employees about respect for their colleagues and a background in the current population that has led to a boom in diversity. We have found that these courses cause a spike in employee morale that has a lasting impact on the office culture in addition to the benefit of finding and hiring a diverse group of employees. Let’s take a look at some of the essential benefits of online diversity training courses:

1. Education About Economic Growth

Online courses teach managers and employees that women, minorities and gay and transgender employees increase the thought capital at the workplace, thereby increasing the bottom line. By providing real-world statistics about diverse thought increasing the bottom line, employees and managers tend to get on board with a new way of thinking that is “good for business.”

2. Creating a More Innovative Workforce

All employees are afraid that their industry may become the next Radio Shack (obsolete and without enough capital to remain listed on the New York Stock Exchange). By teaching employees and managers about the innovative aspects of a diverse workforce they will be encouraged that the company they work for is seeking new and efficient ways to stay ahead of the curve and remain relevant.

3. Remaining Competitive

Online diversity courses provide your staff with the key facts necessary to show that diversity in the workforce is essential to remaining competitive. Rather than use scare tactics, survey data and real world examples are used to show that diverse workforces are a trend that has taken hold in the business community and will be essential to maintaining a competitive business edge.

Syntrio can help train your managers and employees on the positive impacts of diversity in the workplace. In addition to being a necessary function of high workforce morale, there are significant legal aspects of maintaining a diverse workforce that you must adhere to in order to remain compliant with employment laws.  Contact Syntrio for more information and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your business!


Employee Privacy is No Laughing Matter: Issues Facing Companies Can Prove Costly

Unless it is part of your company policy it is unlikely your managers would think to share salary information between employees. Indeed, such a practice would be shocking to many employees who regard this information as a matter of personal privacy and don’t want it spread all over the office. Likewise, HIPAA and other laws prohibit employers from sharing health information about employees who take leave. Those same employees expect that their personal matters are only to be shared by themselves when they choose to do so.

Although these concepts seem simple, more than ever employers are failing to take adequate training steps to ensure that employee personal information is safeguarded. Indeed, although technological advances have streamlined human resources administrative matters, thereby simplifying record keeping practices, they have also exposed employee personal information and data on far too many occasions.

In a bygone era, mountains of paper housed employee information. This information was frequently kept in locked file cabinets in or near the human resources manager or other administrative professional’s office. With the transition to online data storage, the revelation of extremely personal employee details is as simple as a mistaken “reply all” to an email. No policy is going to prevent this type of privacy breach. Indeed, the only manner of reducing the risk is to engage in active, online employee privacy training to teach everyone the proper methods of safeguarding employee data. Admittedly, just because managers and employees are required to take a course in employee privacy does not mean that they are going to be 100% effective, but at least there is precedent within the office that your company is serious about protecting employee privacy, and your employees will be armed with the proper tactics to make their data and information as safe as humanly possible.

Compounding the problem of implementing adequate online activity procedures is the National Labor Relations Board. Although most employers think of the NLRB in union-labor settings, it is an broad-reaching government agency that is beginning to attempt to regulate policies in non-union settings by claiming that certain privacy and social media policies violate employees’ right to concerted activity. Although you may be making policies attempting to safeguard employee privacy by restricting online activity and access you may actually be violating the law!

Because employee privacy is a complicated area of the law without any true guidance other than case law it is extremely important that you schedule focused, online training courses to put your managers and employees in the right frame of mind to protect employee information. By taking the user through real-life scenarios he or she is better able to understand the reasons behind the policies in place and will feel more comfortable with the policies for protection of employee information.

Syntrio can help train your managers on the nuances of employee privacy protection that will help formulate effective policies that keep you compliant with the law, and at the forefront of compliance. Contact Syntrio for more information and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your business!