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 www.syntrio.com 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.

Are Unethical Practices Creating Hostility at Your Place of Business?

Fear, bullying and mistrust are frequent sources of employee dissatisfaction in today’s workplace. All of these are workplace problems that lead to lawsuits when employees are disciplined, terminated, or voluntarily leave a company’s employ. Workplace culture is one of the most scrutinized aspects of business today, yet managers and executives alike frequently ignore it. Indeed, if the bottom line looks healthy the business must be in good shape, right? Wrong.

Discrimination and Bullying is a Serious Problem

Behavior such as discrimination and bullying is frequently a sign of wider issues within the business that need to be examined. By eliminating non-compliant behavior such as privacy issues and discrimination from the office culture you can reduce the likelihood that an employee will be compelled to sue upon his or her departure from the company.

Unethical practices have a variety of sources, such as a desire to cut costs, management’s distrust of employee usage of company property, competition from similar businesses in the marketplace, and a desire to cover up mistakes. All businesses face these issues, but the ones that take proactive measures to improve compliance and business ethics are the ones who are staying out of court and moving forward in 2015 and beyond.

In addition to creating a culture of fear and negative employee perception, poor ethical practices like the ones discussed above can lead to employee infighting and significant distractions from the tasks at hand. When employees are concerned that their privacy rights are being violated or that they are being singled out for discriminatory reasons, they are far less likely to focus on their job-related duties and more likely to waste time searching for another job out of fear of losing the one they already have. Combine this with lost productivity in employees discussing the issues with one another and there is a real problem that needs to be addressed.

Trust in the company impacts morale directly. The best way to improve trust and corporate culture is to train managers on compliant business practices from the top down. By doing so, managers will make employees feel confident that there is an open-door policy whereby they can report problems to their supervisor without the fear of repercussions from the company. Because retaliation is one of the largest types of employment lawsuits facing companies today, improvement in culture can lead to big savings in litigation costs.

The bottom line is companies need to take a proactive approach to ensure that their managers have the information necessary to comply with the high volume of employment laws and ethical issues facing modern businesses. Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing Ethics and HR compliance training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss your compliance efforts and any issues that may be arising within your company.

 

Why HR Executives are Beginning to go on the Offensive to Confront Compliance Risks

Traditionally, “risk management” in the Human Resources sector has been largely defensive in nature. Businesses have historically allocated their resources toward defending litigation and preparing professionals for battle if an employee were to sue the company. With EEOC statistics showing that human resources related-charges are still at historically high levels, and federal litigation statistics confirming that employees follow through on their threats to sue, the old methods of gearing up for battle are no longer working.

In addition to hefty litigation costs associated with the defense of lawsuits (and resulting verdicts and settlements), there is a “downward stream” of impact within the business when non-compliant human resources practices are allowed to persist within a workplace. In addition to reputation damage within the community, when companies have been hit with high-profile human resources-related lawsuits there can be a “trickle-down” effect of difficulty recruiting and retaining high-end talent; customer and client engagement backlash; and government agency scrutiny that can put a damper on production, no matter what type of business the company engages in.

Risk Management is Becoming Proactive

“Going on the offensive” in the year 2014 means training management and employees. You may be thinking “we already train managers on how to deal with ‘problem’ employees.” Your training may include what to do in the event the company has been sued. However, these old ways of thinking are not enough. Indeed, the new method of HR risk management is training managers in compliance with state and federal employment laws and other business ethics necessities in order to ensure that they are educated as to the laws and how to apply them in the workplace.

Because lawsuits and the threat thereof impact so many businesses in today’s society, those companies that choose to allocate their resources towards wide-scale human resources training are spending less money up front to save it down the road. Additionally, company cultures change from the top down as management learns the proper methods of avoiding discrimination, harassment, bullying, retaliation, wrongful termination, and other illegal workplace actions that can get the company in hot water. When managers know what to look for, they take a more cautious approach with employees, which leads to increased morale and greater productivity across the board.

Training Does Not Have to Take a Great Amount of Time

With the advent of online training courses covering a broad scope of potential workplace issues, managers can learn about topics one at a time at designated times during the day, week, month, or year. Indeed, there is no longer the need to spend significant resources to bring an attorney in house to conduct trainings that take large groups of employees away from their workstations. Instead, managers and employees can now attend courses online at their convenience. This creates a cost-effective means of tackling human resources risks head on, which is why modern companies are taking a preventative approach to human resources risks through compliance training.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing Ethics and HR compliance training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss your compliance efforts and any issues that may be arising within your company.

 

Most Pressing Human Resources Risks for 2014 and Beyond

Synthesis of the federal litigation statistics, EEOC charge data, ethics hotline statistics, and employer surveys shows that the following areas are the greatest employer litigation fears in 2014 and going forward:

  • Discrimination and harassment (including retaliation)
  • Wage and hour issues
  • Wrongful termination claims
  • Leaves of absence
  • Accommodation of disabilities

Lawsuits and administrative charges often contain allegations of varying types, which add up to an expensive and time consuming mess for employers. Again, risk reduction is possible through the implementation of a proper compliance program including training for managers and employees.

As bad as the statistics in the federal courts and EEOC are, they only tell half the story. This is because many states have enacted employee-friendly laws with respect to discrimination and harassment, wrongful termination, and wage and hour issues. These state laws reach far beyond the umbrella of the corresponding federal laws, and can be troubling for employers.

As you will see, certain states are greater hotbeds for employment-related litigation and therefore require even further specific management training to reduce the likelihood that your company will be sued.

Top Five Riskiest US Geographic Territories for Employee Litigation

Hiscox Insurance recently conducted a study into the states with the largest number of employment litigation related insurance claims. While some of the locales were somewhat obvious, other locations in the traditionally employer-friendly south have become litigation hotbeds.

The following states rank well above average in terms of employer claims against Employment Practices Liability Insurance Policies:

risk-chart

 

 

 

 









According to the Hiscox study, on average, a U.S.-based business with at least 10 employees has a 12.5 percent chance of having an employment liability charge filed against it. This is an incredibly high number that is only growing, and is significantly larger in the states enumerated above. For example, California employers are 42 percent more likely to be sued for an employment-related charge. What it means is that at some point in the future your business is very likely to get sued, even if it is located outside one of the five “hot zones.”

State laws have a significant impact on risk. Simply stated, some states have laws that are more favorable to employees than others. For example, the employee-friendly nature of California law in the area employment discrimination may contribute to the high charge frequency in the state. Discrimination cases filed at the state level in California are brought under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which covers any company with five employees, versus a 15-employee minimum for cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Damages Can Be Higher in State Court

Compensatory and punitive damages under federal law have statutory caps in many circumstances. Conversely, many state employment laws impose no damage ceilings, which makes an adverse verdict a potentially catastrophic situation for a business. Moreover, plaintiff’s attorneys are well schooled in damages laws, and will use them to their advantage when negotiating a settlement. Therefore, employers in high-risk states must pay even greater attention to the compliance training practices implemented within their workforces to ensure that managers and employees are adequately trained regarding discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Employers also must formulate and implement policies to prevent unlawful workplace practices.

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.