I’m looking at the Company in the Mirror:

I’m Looking at the Company in the Mirror:

If You Wanna Make Your Company a Better Place Take a Look at that Code and Make that Change

When considering the effectiveness of your company’s code of conduct it is important to pay close attention to how the leading companies in the world handle the important task of outlining the message they wish to portray via their code. April 2017 brings Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference, wherein leading application and software engineers will gather to discuss new and emerging technology that will be available on the world’s most giant social media platform. Not surprisingly, in the past this event has been filled with rumors of misogyny and perversion among the largely male crowd.

As a means of combatting unethical and illegal behavior Facebook has published a special code of conduct for the 2017 F8 show on the conference webpage. Among the behavior Facebook lists as prohibited includes the following:

  • Derogatory or insensitive jokes, pranks, or comments
  • Slurs or epithets
  • Unwelcome sexual advances or invitations
  • Leering or offensive gestures, or unwelcome touching
  • Ridiculing or demeaning comments
  • Harassing photography or recording
  • Heckling, or disrupting speakers
  • Displaying or sharing images that are derogatory or sexually-oriented
  • Making offensive comments about people’s bodies or appearance

While it seems sad that Facebook feels the need to institute a “no jerks allowed” policy into its conference code of conduct, it is refreshing to see that the company has taken note of prior complaints and is attempting to address them in advance, rather than issue formal apologies after the fact. All companies can take note of this forward thinking in their ethics practices, and can learn a lot from Facebook’s desire to be a proponent of ethical conduct at events it sponsors.

Facebook ends its code of conduct by acknowledging that its list is non-exhaustive and that attendees are urged to use their best judgment. This call to professionalism is a hallmark of quality codes of conduct, and although this particular document is targeted at attendees to this specific event, the detail with which it was prepared and the forward thinking employed are admirable.

When formulating your company’s code of conduct it is important to consider not just the legal and compliance issues you feel may arise, but also the image you wish to project. After all, your code of conduct is a statement of company values and a demonstration of why you feel it is essential that your employees adhere to the standards you set forth.  We strongly suggest your company take a page out of Facebook’s playbook and consider your audience when developing or revising your company code of conduct.

 

Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law, and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of compliance violations within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

Corporate Social Media Ethics: The Machine vs. the Man & the Myth

Corporate Social Media Ethics: The Machine vs. the Man & the Myth

As an attorney, I've spilled a lot of ink over what businesses and individuals have the right to do. As an ethics and compliance professional I've spilled a lot of ink over what is right for businesses to do. This is the beauty and the beast of having the dual role of advising a company on legal issues while maintaining its place in the ethics industry. Today we examine the dichotomy between what companies have the right to do with respect to their employee and customer data online versus what they should (or should not) be doing.

2017 has seen the apex of the corporate embrace of social media. While it may have seemed ubiquitous before the fact is that this year has seen nearly every company embrace an understanding of the power of the information available online. We see social media's pervasiveness all the way up to the Executive Branch's use (or misuse depending on your point of view) of Twitter. Given that nobody can honestly argue that business use of social media is essential to remain competitive, we first take a look at how companies are using social media beyond the marketing realm.

Know they Enemy (but how well should you)?

Social media consultants are teaching companies how to mine the web for important diamonds of information about customers, competitors, and employees. This information can be used to weed out sales prospects that are unlikely to buy and/or employees who might not be a good fit for the company. While this seems harmless, there is certainly an ethical dilemma when searching anonymously through the blinds of the social media glass window. Take for example the situation where a conflict of interest becomes apparent, yet unknown to the other party. If the potential lead or hire is a good fit many businesses are choosing to hide behind their anonymity and justifying the ends with the means. This seems all well and good until you are caught, but how would you like it if you knew a competitor was playing dirty? You might not react so kindly. While you may have the "right" to use your social media accounts to mine data about your prospects and potential new hires, it certainly may not be the "right" thing to do.

"I'll be Back:" How Anonymous are You and can You Terminate Your Social Media Presence?

Many companies have asked me for legal advice on creating anonymous social media accounts for the purpose of engaging in effective corporate espionage. These stories all tend to start with some version of "I want to gauge the competition but don't want them to know it." So the entity creates a seemingly anonymous Twitter account or Facebook profile to do their ethical dirty work. The problem with this approach is that nothing is truly anonymous. It doesn't take a degree in hacking to determine not only the IP address where a social media account was generated but even the email address behind which the account hides. Some social media experts are savvy enough to hide behind multiple layers of protection, but when considering the ethics of this kind of behavior the ends don't justify the means. This certainly falls into the category of not having the "right" nor being "right."

Keep Your Friends Close . . .

Another important ethical dilemma that arises frequently in business social media use is companies patrolling their employee accounts for information that they are disgruntled or likely to quit. This information is often used against employees. Discounting the potential labor law issues with policing employee social media use, constant monitoring of employee personal accounts to take the temperature of the workforce is not only arguably unethical, it's just plain creepy. There are plenty of ways to ask for feedback on how your corporate culture is doing that don't involve spying on others online. For example, corporate training sessions, performance reviews, and social events hosted by the company are a chance to get face to face with your workforce and make sure that employees are content with your business management style. Again, while you may (or may not) have the "right" to monitor employee social media data, most of the time it is not "right" to do so.

If the "looking through the blinds" Bitmoji above gives you the creeps, always keep it in mind when considering the ethics of your business social media use. You never want to be the company that is seen as unethical and laying in the weeds, as the ethical and reputation costs can far outweigh the gains from engaging in questionable social media ethics.

Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law, and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of compliance violations within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

“Love is a [Courtroom] Battlefield”

“Love is a [Courtroom] Battlefield”

The Worst Kind of Valentine's Card is Handed Over by a Process Server

"We are young. Heartache to heartache we stand. No promises, no demands." - Pat Benatar

Today is Valentine's Day, in case you may have forgotten. To some, this is a holiday filled with reminders of gushing romance and how everything is right in the world. To others, a bitter reminder of loneliness and a date with the gym (or a solo bottle of wine) as they search for that special someone. Alas, a couple of swipes to the right or a casual wink at the water cooler this morning and you never know what the future holds!

Americans are working longer hours than ever and spending record hours in the office from the beginning of their careers. Social interaction and dating have taken a backseat to career advancement as more people seek to place themselves in a better financial position before searching for a mate. While the circumstances have changed, the fact that human beings have emotions and attraction have not, which has led to an increase in interoffice romance.  Indeed, an article by Forbes magazine discussed a 2014 survey of 8,000 employees about this very subject.  The survey revealed that 40% of employees had engaged in at least one interoffice tryst (either relationship or physical encounter) and 17% admitted to engaging in this sort of behavior multiple times.

Relationships between co-workers are not always a bad thing. As previously mentioned, we spend a lot of hours in the office, and constant encounters and conversations with co-workers often lead to attraction, romance, and dating. This is all well and good until the relationship likely heads south. As Marriage expert Hellen Chen stated in a 2013 seminar, 85% of relationships do not end in marriage or even long-term monogamy. This means that the office encounter you or your employees are having is overwhelmingly likely to end badly, and supervisors and the company are often left to pick up the pieces. With this in mind, we take a look at some of the concerns employers most commonly express, and how they can be addressed.

Calls from clients expressing concerns about romantic relationships at work most frequently start with names and inappropriate verbs. Once the "fact" portion of the client call is over the first question is always "am I going to be sued for harassment when this goes bad." After a description of the legal standard for harassment, the conclusion is often that an environment where employees are commonly dating one another and engaging in one-night stands is an environment where harassment is very likely to occur. This is particularly the case where supervisors are entering into relationships with one another.

To illustrate the dangers of being too relaxed with a romance policy of I often use the example of a place I worked at when I was just out of college. The environment was "fun" and the employer encouraged social behavior. They even sponsored weekly happy hours attended by executives, managers, and lower level employees. These happy hours often lasted late into the night, with after-parties at high-level employees condominiums and extreme drug and alcohol use. Inevitably, company employees were coming into work on Friday hung over, unproductive, and chatting about the latest tryst that occurred the night before. When a very low-level employee started an open relationship with her boss, things exploded at one of these happy hours when the boss was caught with another woman outside the bar where the event was held. As you can imagine, the employee left the company shortly the "incident" and on Valentine's Day 2003 a process server showed up with a complaint alleging sexual harassment, sex discrimination, failure to prevent harassment, and a laundry list of other employment law violations. The lawsuit led to a $1M plus settlement and extreme embarrassment for the company.

The story above is true and illustrates the danger of allowing an environment where employees are engaging in dangerous dating behavior that is unchecked by the employer. Although nothing in the law (in most states) prohibits an employer from instituting a policy prohibiting employees from dating one another, at this point in time such a policy is impractical. That said, there are several steps that can be taken to ensure that workplace romances are at least managed.

It is extremely important to balance your company's desire to have an image of "fun" and "youthful exuberance" with the need to maintain a professional and productive work environment. The true benefits of being the "cool," "relaxed," and "party" environment are almost always outweighed by the risks portrayed by the story above. You need to remember the old adage that it is called work for a reason, and people are free to socialize with one another after work, off premises, and without the endorsement or prohibition of the company. There is no rule that says you cannot create a positive working environment that reinforces camaraderie and reward without sponsoring alcohol-fueled work-sanctioned "happy hours" and office sponsored dating pools.

All that said, it is very important that your company craft a written workplace fraternization policy. Taking steps to limit or reign in workplace dating and romance are to everyone's benefit. First, it is essential to prohibit employees from dating or having sexual relations with a supervisor. The ties to quid pro quo harassment and other forms of abuse are simply too strong to allow employees to date their boss. Second, any other restrictions you may place on employee dating (such as requiring that one employee voluntarily transfers out of the department if dating a co-worker) must be applied uniformly and in a non-discriminatory fashion. While implementing a blanket ban on workplace romance is not advisable, should you desire to maintain a level of control over the environment it is very important that you seek the advice of an experienced employment law attorney to help you craft your policy.

The day and age we are living in sadly dictate that we cannot afford to have nice things. In a perfect world, people would be finding mates at the office and living happily in harmony. Unfortunately, the office (like love) is often a battlefield. With people competing for jobs, dollars, and promotions it is risky to encourage workplace romance. While its existence is virtually inevitable, it is extremely important that you promote a culture of professionalism and responsibility so that you can keep answering the elevator door for the flower man, and avoid the Valentine's Day visit from the process server.

Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law, and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of conflicts of interest within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

EEOC Releases Proposed Workplace Harassment Guidelines

EEOC Releases Proposed Workplace Harassment Guidelines

The EEOC recently released its Proposed Enforcement Guidance on Unlawful HarassmentThis 75-page document highlights the key strategies and points of emphasis the Agency seeks to use when investigating and prosecuting charges of workplace harassment. If implemented after public comment the document will not hold the force of a regulation but will provide key insight as to how and what the EEOC will focus on when determining whether or not a charge of harassment has merit, and therefore will be pursued by the agency and/or private Plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The Proposed Enforcement Guidelines make it clear that employers have a duty to maintain a working environment free of harassment and to take active steps to “minimize obvious risks of harassment.” The document also states (on pages 44-45) that failure to take advantage of preventative or corrective measures will result in the loss of a key affirmative defense to a hostile environment harassment claim.

If all of the above sounds scary, it should. The Proposed Enforcement Guidelines are a companion piece to a report released last summer by the EEOC’s Task Force Study of Harassment in the Workplace, which found that the Agency had a growing need for harassment prevention due to increased litigation and incidence of harassment even after years of focus on this particular form of workplace misconduct. The proposed guidance takes the Task Force’s findings one step further and gives the Agency’s investigators and prosecutors a road map for finding causation and liability on behalf of the countless employers who fail to take adequate steps to prevent harassment in the workplace.

Proposed Guidelines Provide Insight Into what Constitutes Effective EEO Compliance Training

Pages 73- 75 of the Proposed Guidelines provide some invaluable insight into what the EEOC considers effective anti-harassment training. Although not required by federal law (but required by state laws in California, Maine and Connecticut), the EEOC states “Regular, interactive, comprehensive training of all employees will ensure that the workforce understands organizational rules, policies, procedures, and expectations, as well as the consequences of misconduct.” This strong language validates what savvy compliance and HR departments already know: regular and routine harassment training is essential to the defense of charges of workplace harassment

The Proposed Guidelines emphasize the necessity of regular, interactive harassment training. If your business is not conducting harassment prevention training you need to worry, as the EEOC is about to begin seeking out companies who are not conducting training and not only attacking their defense to harassment charges, but likely auditing them for non-compliance with the Agency’s stated policy that employers need to take affirmative steps to prevent harassment in the workplace.

EEOC Outlines Components of an Effective Harassment Training Program

The Proposed Guidelines do employers the small favor of identifying what effective harassment training looks like, explaining that where live training is not practical, the training provided should be:

  • Championed by senior leaders;
  • Repeated and reinforced regularly;
  • Provided at every level and location of the organization;
  • Provided in all llanguages commonly used by employees;
  • Tailored to the specific workplace and workforce;
  • Designed to include active engagement by participants; and
  • Routinely evaluated by participants and revised as necessary.

Further, the EEOC explains several key facets of effective harassment training, stating that the most effective training contains the following elements:

  • Descriptions of unlawful harassment and conduct that, if left unchecked, might rise to the level of unlawful harassment;
  • Examples that are tailored to the specific workplace and workforce;
  • Information about employees’ rights and responsibilities if they experience, observe, or otherwise become aware of conduct that they believe may be prohibited;
  • Explanations of the complaint process; and
  • Explanations of the range of possible consequences for engaging in prohibited conduct.

Finally, the EEOC provides information about effective supervisor training, including risk factors for harassment and observation and leadership tactics that will help managers identify areas and individuals who may be at risk for victimization and/or harassing behavior in the workplace.

Syntrio’s Training Program Has Your Company Ready

The aforementioned EEOC guidance may seem daunting, but you need not worry, as Syntrio’s comprehensive workplace harassment training courses for managers and employees have covered the aforementioned points of emphasis for years, and are routinely updated to keep up with all changes in law, regulation and administrative policy. Furthermore, our courseware is fully interactive and customizable to the needs of your organization.

Make no mistake, the EEOC has identified training as fundamental to the avoidance of incidents of harassment in the workplace and is now quite clear about its enforcement guidelines on the subject. For years employers have struggled with identifying just what level of training is necessary to bolster a defense to charges of workplace harassment. Thankfully, the EEOC has provided new guidance that will help you understand just how serious a need harassment training is for companies of all sizes. The mantra that “training is not required by the law in my state” simply no longer fits. 

Syntrio is a leader in the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law, and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of conflicts of interest within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our conflicts of interest and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on corporate compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

The Devil Makes Three: Response to Potential Conflicts of Interest Can Make or Break a Business

The Devil Makes Three: Response to Potential Conflicts of Interest Can Make or Break a Business

Many in business are wary of the term "conflict of interest," yet have trouble understanding exactly what it means. According to BusinessDictionary.com, a conflict of interest is a situation "that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person's self-interest and professional interest or public interest." In short, conflicts of interest arise when a corporate manager, executive, or even regular employee stands to improve his or her personal situation by making one decision over another, despite the outcome to the organization (or the public in a governmental situation).

In recent months much has been written about potential conflicts of interests that may arise during the Trump Presidency given that Mr. Trump is a well-known businessman with interests across the globe. Would an individual in public office put their own interests above those of the country? In a more localized sense, would a corporate executive choose a contractor well known for providing access to a luxury box at a popular sporting event at the risk of compromising a negligible amount of profit to the organization? These are the decisions that both an elected official and a private executive face on a regular basis.

As represented by the illustration above, the angel on the left shoulder is telling our executive to act in the best interests of the organization, while the devil on the right shoulder tells him to eschew the safe route in lieu of taking risks that may harm the company, but are sure to benefit his own personal interest. You may think that these situations will not come up in your career, but they almost certainly already have. Indeed, have you ever attended a conference in Scottsdale (or a similar warm weather locale) in January over a similar seminar in Green bay during the winter? In making your decision you may have surmised that you are getting virtually the same education at both even though the conference in Green Bay is targeted at your specific industry you may have dealt with a conflict of interest. Nevertheless, you chose the warmer weather over the likely better seminar for your career and your company. That is a conflict of interest.

Conflicts of interest are everywhere, and how we deal with them separate the organizations on the front page of online newspapers for all the wrong reasons from those lauded with awards. So how do we make the right decisions? After all, it is a fairly universally accepted truth that people tend to act in their self-interest (and the interest of those closest to them) the vast majority of the time. Armed with that information, there are a variety of tools that can be used by an organization to educate its executives and managers on how to brush the devil aside and keep the company on the right ethical path.

Identify Hot Button Areas Where Conflicts of Interest are Likely to Arise

hot-buttonIn general, gifts and benefits are the area where conflicts of interest are most likely to arise. When acting on behalf of a company, individuals should never accept gifts and benefits unless it is clear that the particular gift or benefit 1) does not diminish the authority or ability of the corporate representative to independently make decisions and act in the best interest of the organization; 2) enhance the best interests of the organization as a whole, either by providing more time to learn about the inner workings of the client or company being served, or education about the greater corporate community as a whole; 3) have no apparent impact on professional judgment or appearance of bias. You should never accept a gift or benefit unless the end result will "feel like work" and "look like work." The gift tail simply cannot, under any circumstances, wag the corporate dog.

Prevent Individuals With Competing Interests From Potentially Conflicting Situations Through Policy and Training

Company policies go a long way towards reducing the potential impact of conflicts of interest. By clearly establishing a policy identifying potentially conflicting situations like financial interests in competing or contracting businesses or similar situations your company is far more likely to absolve itself from the negative repercussions arising from member or employee conflicts.

This is certainly not to say that simply having a policy against conflicts of interest or providing employee and/or executive training on the subject will eliminate the potential for unscrupulous or unethical conduct. As stated above, people tend to act in their self-interest, and no policy or training program is going to prevent a rogue employee from doing something for personal gain that runs counter to the best interests of the organization. That said, the more the organization makes clear that it has ethics and compliance in mind, the more likely it will hire and retain employees and executives who are receptive to programs and policies aimed at eliminating the appearance of impropriety. The first step in doing so is giving your employees to opportunity to understand why conflicts of interest are a problem and what to do when they arise.

Provide an Appropriate Reporting Structure for Conflicts of Interest

There is nothing worse than being presented with an ethical dilemma and not knowing where to turn or what to do. Many times, the unknown is what leads people to take the low road and do things that are outside the best interests of the organization. For this reason, it is critical that your company have a structure in place where even the highest level executives can report a potential conflict and retreat from the situation. The chain of reporting should be in writing and should contain the adverse consequences that will occur if your employees or executives fail to use it.

All too often managers get caught up in the fear of what may happen if they speak to a higher level employee. At the highest levels of the organization, it may mean reporting to a Board of Directors that ultimately decides whether you will remain in your position. It is absolutely necessary that corporate representatives feel free to report potential conflicts of interest and other ethical dilemmas without fear of consequence (assuming they have not acted on the conflict at the time it is reported). Providing an open line of communication is a proven method of increasing communication and getting conflicts out in the open before they can adversely impact the organization or the individual presented with the conflict. Again, when people are acting in their self-interest, if they know they will be lauded for reporting a potential problem rather than punished for it are much more likely to take the moral high road.

Don't Let Conflicts of Interest Derail the Bigger Picture

The large amount of press the subject of conflicts of interest has gained since November has led to several questions posed by companies worried that their executives and employees are "in it for themselves," and out to do whatever they can to gain financial and professional gain even at the expense of the company. Much like the fears with the state of the Federal Government's Executive Branch, these concerns are real, yet probably overblown. Assuming your organization takes the proper steps to educate its members about the problems created by conflicts of interest, and expresses a willingness to train on policy and procedure when those conflicts present themselves, most members of your organization will likely make the right decisions and take an ethical stance, despite their predisposition to act in their own self-interest. This is because, at the end of the day, the risk of making the wrong decision ultimately is a public and organizational shame, along with demotion or termination.

Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law, and is prepared to help your company implement a compliance program aimed at reducing the potential impact of conflicts of interest within the organization. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

Employment Law Issues in 2017 and Beyond: Let’s Talk About Trump

Employment Law Issues in 2017 and Beyond: Let’s Talk About Trump

Changes Made by the Incoming Regime Could Make Life Easier for Employers

A lot of ink has been spilled about the 2016 Presidential Election and its potential impact on American society, corporate America, and international relations. Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum have professed a variety of opinions on the subject, but nearly every article attempting to forecast the Trump Presidency's impact ends with some form of "we'll have to wait and see . . ." or "we just don't know."

When it comes to upcoming changes to employment law and policy after President Trump is inaugurated in two weeks we have history to guide us as to likely shifts in law and public policy. Indeed, while we don't know exactly what Mr. Trump has on his mind with respect to specific employment legislation, we do have a very good idea as to whom those policies will favor. Fortunately for companies and management, President Trump's policies are very likely to make life easier than it has been at any time in the past eight years with respect to discipline and wage payment, two key areas employers have terrified about since early 2009.

Pace of Wage & Hour Law Changes Likely to Slow

With respect to wage and hour law, we have seen a federal district judge in Texas issue an injunction halting the Department of Labor's rule that was set to increase the minimum salary threshold for overtime exemptions. Since the turn of the new year, that same judge denied a motion to stay proceedings in that matter and may at any time grant summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff businesses challenging the rule.

While President-elect Trump has yet to comment on DOL policy, it is safe to assume that he will be in favor of GOP-led legislation to repeal the DOL's overtime rule, making the litigation in Texas moot and allowing employers to continue classifying mid-level and other lower-salaried managers as exempt, thereby easing scheduling and other staffing concerns that would have been created had the new rule gone into effect.

Title VII Enforcement Aggression to Slow

Shifting gears to employment discrimination, the past eight years have seen a significant broadening of EEOC Title VII prosecution. During this time we have seen the EEOC prosecute cases on behalf of LGBT plaintiffs under sex discrimination theories, as well as a broadening of gender identity enforcement criteria and opinion, all under the guidance of President Obama. While the United States Supreme Court has yet to rule specifically on whether gender identity (potentially impactful case to be heard this term) or sexual orientation fall within Title VII's protection against sex discrimination, it is safe to assume that President-elect Trump's Supreme Court picks may stall any such rulings in the short-term (although this issue is well settled under many state fair employment laws).

NLRB to Become More Business Friendly

Despite one's views on public policy in employment law, it is fair to assert that the last eight years have seen federal agencies grow aggressive and controversial in their methods of enforcement. Take for example the NLRB, which currently has a 2-1 Democratic majority (with two vacant seats). A Trump administration is very likely to reign in the Board, and make it much more business-friendly. Once a GOP majority is in place, it is likely that several employee-friendly decisions handed down over the past eight years will be rolled back, which will make it much easier for businesses to operate without the fear of things like joint employer issues and temporary employees being included in collective bargaining units. Furthermore, it is likely that a new Board will hold off on making further employee-friendly changes that the current Board may have made were a democratic candidate to assume office in two weeks.

Conservative Judges and Administrative Officials Good for Employers

Finally, in addition to the appointment of conservative justices to the United States Supreme Court, it is likely that President Trump will appoint conservative-leaning judges to federal district courts and federal agency positions (some of which we have already seen by analyzing Trump's cabinet choices). These judges and administrative officials are highly likely to be business-minded (and therefore business friendly) given the President-elect's background. With that in mind it is safe to predict that decisions handed down in the employment arena will be far less controversial to employers than they have been in the recent past, and employers may be able to breathe just a bit easier than they have under the Obama administration.

There are many more issues that could be discussed, but employers and managers should generally be breathing a sight of relief on January 20, 2017 when President Trump assumes office. Despite what you may think about the man himself, or media speculation as to his potentially radical foreign policy views or use of Twitter, history tells us that GOP-led administrations are good times for employers and downtimes for management-side employment attorneys such as myself. Overall, the likely impact of the issues discussed above should make management hopeful for the next 4-8 years as it develops its own business plans and policies going forward.

Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

“It’s Getting Hot In Here . . . So Take Off All Your Clothes?”- Yoga Guru Settles Latest in a String of Lawsuits Costing Him Millions of Dollars

“It’s Getting Hot In Here . . . So Take Off All Your Clothes?”- Yoga Guru Settles Latest in a String of Lawsuits Costing Him Millions of Dollars

On December 12, 2016, Bikram Choudhury, best known as the guru of “Bikram” or “hot” Yoga settled the latest in a long string of sexual harassment and misconduct lawsuits filed against him in California courts.  The latest lawsuit alleged that Choudhury and his Culver City, California Yoga College sexually harassed, assaulted, and discriminated against a former student named Sarah Baughn.

Baughn’s lawsuit alleged that she began training with Choudhury in 2005 at the age of 20, hoping to alleviate years of back pain and depression. Baughn claimed that Bikram treated Baughn differently than other students, often cornering her, forcing Baughn to give Choudhury massages and brush his hair, and offering to sleep with Baughn to advance her career.

Choudhury argued that Baughn maliciously filed the lawsuit due to her failure to advance in the organization and placing second in a 2008 international yoga competition, although Baughn claims this finish was due to her rebuffing an alleged advance from Choudhury. Whatever the truth, it is clear that Choudhury’s behavior has again cost him a significant sum of money.

The Baughn lawsuit comes on the heels of a January 2016 $6.4 million punitive damages award against Choudhury wherein the guru was also charged with sexual misconduct in his sweltering hot yoga rooms. That case was filed in California state court by Choudhury’s onetime legal advisor Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, who alleged that Choudhury routinely harassed her while she worked for him. Jafa-Bodden also alleged that she was retaliated against after investigating a claim that Choudhury had raped one of his students.

Leadership Failure Threatens to Destroy the Bikram Brand

Six other women have accused Choudhury of sexual misconduct in recent years in connection with either their attendance or employment at his Bikram Yoga academies.  As more women come forward with allegations of misconduct against Choudhury, irreparable damage to his valuable brand of Yoga teachings occurs. It will not be surprising when the name “Bikram” carries as negative a connotation among Yoga enthusiasts as the name “Cosby” does to television fans or “O.J.” does to sports fans.

The simple lesson to be learned from Choudhury’s misconduct is the age-old compliance adage that leaders often fail to practice what they preach. Yoga is symbolic of peace and harmony between mind, body and soul, yet Choudhury has apparently attempted time and again to abuse his students and employees for personal gratification. This situation is not unlike that of Roger Ailes at Fox News in that leaders of powerful brands feel they are above the law and can do no wrong. Once the leaders begin to believe the brand is too big to fail they abuse power for personal gain and bring their companies and brands down with them.

Time and again the compliance field has seen leaders fall into the same avoidable traps. Instead of abusing their power it is important for leaders to understand the damage, (physical, emotional and reputational) that can come from abuse of power and compliance failure. By adhering to a set of ethics those leaders can remain out of court and in the good graces of the public. For Choudhury, who appears incapable of acting ethically, it appears “hot yoga” has taken on an entirely inappropriate meaning and it may be time to shut the doors.

Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

Dollars to Donuts: The Value of Compliance to Corporate Reputation

Dollars to Donuts: The Value of Compliance to Corporate Reputation

Trust, integrity, balance.  These are the terms that come to mind when weighing the impact of compliance failures on company reputation.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “[i]t takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Too many companies fail to grasp the connection between profitability and reputation when weighing their compliance goals and plan implementation. Indeed, those companies often wind up on the front page of newspapers and the subject of countless blog posts like this one.

In recent years we have seen compliance blunders from Volkswagon, Johnson Controls, FoxNews, Valeant, and a host of other large companies and leaders. The trust lost in their brands cannot be understated. When surveyed as to the qualities they look for most in a company beyond financial compensation; employees without question most commonly answer “trust” and “integrity.” Good employees want to work for organizations that are less likely to stain their personal reputations and resumes with compliance failures.

Good People Make Good Parents

It is well settled that compliance starts from the highest levels of leadership within a company and trickles down to the rest of the members of the organization. The adage about good people making good parents applies to corporate leadership and compliance as well. The leaders are the parents, tasked with guiding and nurturing not just the organization but all of its employees as well. When corporate leaders are engaged in educating themselves about compliance, there is a greater degree of engagement within the company.  Some leaders have even chosen to speak about the importance of compliance to the enterprise as a whole, either by webinar or at a corporate function.

A commitment to compliance requires time and attention, just as does raising a child. When corporate leaders and senior executives fail to understand the importance of compliance to the workforce and corporate reputation as a whole, the rest of the organization begins taking shortcuts. This concept may seem subjective, but significant research has shown that it is not. It boils down to the question “who would you want to be working for?”

Closing the Quantitative Gap

Goodwill and public trust are admittedly difficult to quantify. Subjectively, many have attempted to answer the question vaguely, by stating “a company is worthless without its reputation.” That may be true, to some extent, but recent studies have shown that taking the overall stock valuation of the company and subtracting the value of compliance errors leads to a 20% to 30% premium in overall valuation based on company reputation. This is a very significant number and one that begs greater attention from companies spending far too little on compliance initiatives.

Strengthening trust and brand value has an impact on the way the workforce and consumers view the product and/or services companies provide as well. When a corporate leader is truly invested and believes in the compliance goals the company espouses, the employees have proven more engaged in training and are more likely to report suspected violations.  The key is grasping the value of compliance at the highest levels and imparting this knowledge upon mid-managers and lower level employees.  The next time you see a company on the front page of a newspaper for a compliance gaffe, you’ll be glad you did!

Syntrio is a leader in both the ethics and compliance field, as well as human resources and employment law. Syntrio takes an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and strives to engineer engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

EEOC Issues Fiscal 2016 Performance and Accountability Report

EEOC Issues Fiscal 2016 Performance and Accountability Report

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) just released a 104-page document summarizing recovery and enforcement action in the past year. The November 2016 update states that the EEOC recovered a staggering $482.1 million dollars on behalf of discrimination plaintiffs in private, state and local government sectors across litigation, conciliation, and mediation matters. Important to note, these figures do not include lawsuits disposed of in private litigation.

The EEOC’s report also indicates that the number of charges resolved increased by 6.5 percent over fiscal 2016 and that the agency handled over 585,000 calls to its office via a toll-free number. At this time, the final litigation statistics have not yet been released, but the EEOC’s report makes it clear that employment discrimination is alive and well as a problem in today's work environment.

Strategic Plan Well Underway

Earlier in 2016 we alerted our readers to a strategic enforcement plan that was developed by the EEOC. The highlights of this plan included a concerted effort to get the word out about the necessity of training and education for employees and employers alike about the growing discrimination problem in America. The EEOC’s November confirms that this plan is bearing fruit for the agency in the form of increased awareness and resolved charges, yet not in the implementation of training programs by employers.  For this reason, it is paramount that your company engage in active training of your workforce to get ahead of the curve, before the EEOC’s watchdogs arrive at your door.

Younger Workers and National Origin Discrimination also Key

Two other key issues discussed in the strategic enforcement results are Title VII’s prohibition against unlawful harassment based on national origin and a concerted effort to educate and engage younger employees to eradicate discrimination in the workplace. These hot button issues came to light in the hotly contested, and just concluded Presidential election campaign, and a large number of immigrant and young employees concerned they will be facing a backlash in the form of employment discrimination.  

You must remember that you have an obligation to provide your workforce with the kind of training that will keep them engaged and thinking about these issues long before they reach the litigation or charge stage. As noted in the November 2016 report, the EEOC is making a concerted effort to reach those potential plaintiffs who they feel are at the highest risk for discrimination. Make sure that your employees are well-trained and well-educated or face the harsh consequences that led to almost $500M in EEOC recovery in fiscal 2016.

Syntrio is a leader in both the employment law and ethics and compliance field, with an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and engaging, entertaining, and thought provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our employment discrimination prevention online courses for and remember to follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

 

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.

What is Business Ethics?

What is Business Ethics?

The term “ethics” is literally defined as “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. “  The word itself is derived from a Greek word “ethos” meaning “custom” or “habit.”  Extrapolated to the business community, “ethics” means the set of systems or belief systems that guide our practices. In short, what we believe is “right” and how we go about achieving our goals. 

How do we Think of Ethics?

Ethics is often analogized to playing by the rules in sport.  An athlete or team has many different means of getting to the end.  Some baseball players are interested in the bottom line and choose to bend or break the rules to achieve greater statistical success, thereby increasing their bottom line and their earning potential.  Others believe in the history of the game, or the greater good for growing the sport through achieving their means in a “clean” fashion. 

How will Your Organization Achieve its Ethical Goals?

The means by which a business achieves its goals for success are the very ethics that guide it.  By adhering to an ethical code of conduct that “plays by the rules” businesses not only set themselves up for long-term success (often at the cost of short-term profits) but also gain reputational capital in the form of a good name in the industry or community in which they operate.  There is certainly value to be derived from being known or referred to as a company that “does it right” or “plays by the rules.” 

What can we do to Improve Adherence to Ethical Standards?

In the present it is more important than ever to implement policies and practices that demonstrate an adherence to standards of ethical conduct that are widely accepted in the industry or business community in which you operate.  By training your managers and executives in the ethical philosophy of the business you can create a solid foundation upon which your business can operate in the present – and grow in the future, both in profits and in reputation. 

Although it may sound simple to “play by the rules,” there are often close calls that arise that an untrained manager may not be prepared to deal with.  Indeed, the black and white situations usually are obvious; if the business has policies in place promoting the aversion of illegal behavior it is generally simple to police your managers from engaging in overtly illegal conduct.  But what about the “grey” areas? You need to determine what is most important to your business, short-term profits or the potential for long-term gains and reputation within the community.  By examining what is most important you will often find that the risks of engaging in questionable conduct will outweigh the potential reduction in short-term profits.

Syntrio is a leader in both the employment law and ethics and compliance field, with an innovative philosophy towards compliance program design and engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking content. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses and remember to follow us on Facebook, TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your company!

Written by Jonathan Gonzalez, Chief Counsel for Syntrio.