Good Training Gone Bad: Oregon Harassment Training Session Leaves Black Mark on EEOC

According to a February 15, 2019 report published by the Statesman Journal, representatives from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) met with a number of Oregon state legislators in a February 14 three-hour “listening session” requested by the Oregon officials after an EEOC training session left several legislative staffers and other learners with concerns about the approach taken by the EEOC trainers during the session completed the first week of February 2019.

According to the Statesman Journal report, several staffers felt the trainers used overly inappropriate language and failed to take concerns about prior incidents at the State Capitol to heart when conducting the training. Specifically, staff members alleged that the trainer came to the Capitol without prior information about specific incidents that had occurred in that workplace in recent years. Staff also complained the trainer encouraged victims not to report incidents of sexual harassment for fear of developing a reputation as “tattlers” and potentially becoming victims of retaliation.

A certain degree of the material that must be taught and discussed is unquestionably going to be uncomfortable and controversial at times. It is important to remember that federal and state equal employment agencies frequently send their own attorneys to conduct training sessions, whether as a mandatory component of conciliation or as a penalty imposed following an investigation of workplace misconduct. These individuals, while undoubtedly highly skilled attorneys are not always preventative practice professionals with years of experience providing harassment training to organizations of all sizes.

An expert in harassment prevention education would be inclined to audit the culture and history of harassment within an organization to determine whether his or her scenarios and activities are sensitive to the particular issues that organization may seek to prevent and/or rectify. Although the best case scenario is a training program does not offend, as the EEOC would undoubtedly attest to following its recent situation with the Oregon State Legislature, it is impossible to predict when an employee or group of employees will take offense to a given scenario or line of questioning.

All of the issues the EEOC has faced in the past two weeks should not place a black mark on their efforts to ensure that companies and public officials receive training on these important concepts. Likewise, it is impossible to craft a training program aimed at preventing sensitive topics and ensure that the sensibilities and uncomfortability of all employees cannot ever be breached. However, if the allegations that the EEOC trainer suggested that victims of harassment should not report incidents due to fear of being labeled a “tattler” are true, then there are serious concerns with the EEOC’s program and facilitators as a whole that must be addressed internally.

Syntrio takes the utmost care in crafting a continuum of learning that is engaging, thought provoking, sensitive to workplace culture and aimed at ensuring employees are comfortable bringing concerns of any kind to the attention of management and leadership. Syntrio also takes great care to staff experts in employment law that have dedicated careers to the prevention of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. We strive to change your culture for the better and to also provide training that will leave your workforce feeling educated and motivated rather than scared and intimidated.

All California Employees Must Complete Harassment Training in 2019

By now, most employers are aware that effective January 1, 2019 California has expanded its law requiring sexual harassment training to not just supervisory employees who are employed in organizations with 50 or more employees, but now to all employees working in organizations with 5 or more employees.

Many employers have been complying with the California managerial requirement since the original AB 1825 was enacted in 2005 by providing bi-annual training for managers and supervisors. Those employers naturally assumed that if they had provided the mandatory training to their supervisors during calendar year 2018 they would be exempt from training until at least calendar year 2020. Not so.

Employees who were trained in 2018 or before need to be retrained

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing just released new guidance on this issue that clearly states that employers must provide training in the calendar year 2019 regardless of whether they conducted training in 2018. Indeed, the DFEH interprets the law to mean “[e]mployees who were trained in 2018 or before need to be retrained.”

Given this official guidance from the DFEH, Syntrio cannot stress enough that your organization must schedule and conduct training for all employees by January 1, 2020. Given the emphasis the DFEH has placed on 2019 as a mandatory training year just weeks into the effective period of the law we can assure you that they will be looking out for those employers who choose to ignore the agency’s guidance and “hide their head in the sand.” We urge you to understand the DFEH’s opinion on this matter and act accordingly.

New 2019 Employment Laws Bring Fresh Challenges for HR

The calendar has flipped to a new year, and with the beginning of the year over 80 new employment laws came into effect on January 1, 2019. These changes signal further challenges for HR employees and employment law training providers alike, as we see no slowing of increased regulation in the employment law arena.

Harassment Law Changes

Among the most sweeping changes, several states enacted changes to their harassment laws. Specifically, New York, Delaware, California, and Washington have all made changes to the laws governing workplace harassment that have a significant impact on how employers need to handle these claims (and educate their employees about these types of incidents).

For example, in New York, Delaware and California the vast majority of employees must receive training on sexual harassment in the workplace. This new requirement offers significant opportunity for companies to train their employees on cultural change and also affords e-learning providers a batch of new organizations to work with on filling their needs.

Sexual harassment training reform is certainly not the only area that employers and industry members need to be aware of. Indeed, California has enacted additional legislation:

  • Employers are prohibited from generally asking applicants about their criminal histories (except in specific circumstances)
  • The state Fair Employment Agency may now investigate claims of harassment between people who merely had a “working relationship” (not just co-workers)
  • Additional laws changing evidentiary standards in harassment cases.

Minimum Wage Changes

Many states (bordering on most) have made changes to their minimum wage structure, and New York has changed the threshold for when an employee can be considered exempt from overtime requirements. Indeed, the dollar figure required before classifying a New York employee as exempt (in addition to the requirement that other standards must be met) will go from $23,660 per year up to between $43,264 and $58,500.

This change will significantly impact the number of employees who are eligible for overtime compensation in New York. All employers who conduct wage and hour training should be cognizant of this fact, and should take notice that misclassification can have substantial financial penalties (as well as statutory attorney fees for plaintiffs who prevail in a wage and hour lawsuit).

 

Syntrio will continue to stay on top of changes in the law and vows to keep you informed of changes to the law that may impact your business and training strategies throughout the year.

The Elephant in the Workplace: What to do When Ethical Issues Arise

The day will undoubtedly come when one of your employees comes forward with an ethical complaint or you will face a dilemma as to whether report an ethical question to upper management. Thoughts of fear will rush through your brain as you consider how to handle the problem, whether dealing with a complaint or reporting an inaccuracy of your own. Without the proper background and framework for how to deal with these situations, some go unreported; worse yet, you may make statements to an employee that are actually retaliatory, and expose the company to even further liability if the employee files a lawsuit. Sound scary? It doesn't have to be.

Dealing with a Complaint

Syntrio’s ethics and code of conduct courses train managers on how to properly report and deal with complaints of ethical violations in the workplace. By instilling confidence in managers as to what constitutes an actual ethics violation, the nuances of dilemmas that will come up in the workplace become clearer, and therefore reporting potential violations becomes less of a mystery.

Remember, ethics is about doing the “right” thing. This can have multiple meanings in different situations. For example, if an employee complains that a co-worker is stealing customer data, the right decision is obvious (you investigate the situation and report the conduct immediately). However, many ethical dilemmas stem from employee complaints that are subtler.

In these situations you need to weigh the utility of reporting the potential violation with the harm it may do the company. For example, if an employee reports to you that his or her co-worker is talking to clients in a rude manner on the telephone you may investigate the situation, but if it is a minor inconvenience it is probably not worth more than having a conversation with the employee about what you have overheard and dealing with it at the micro level.

Dealing with an Ethical Dilemma

Our courses also teach management how to deal with actual ethical dilemmas that arise within the course of their duties. For example, if you determine that the company’s books are inaccurate, how do you deal with reporting the unethical conduct while handling the fear of retaliation? Although the answers are sometimes complicated, we present real-life scenarios to your managers that reduce the mystery and provide you the framework for ethical decision-making.

Getting it Right Requires Training

The aforementioned examples show common ethical dilemmas that come up in the workplace and common questions that arise with respect to reporting unethical conduct managers either hear about or discover on their own. Syntrio is committed to helping companies of all sizes commit to the utmost ethical standards in all aspects of conducting their business, and therefore provides cost-effective ethics and code of conduct training courses that are cognizant of the value of time to modern companies. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics compliance courses and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance that impact your business!

 

Maintaining Strict Adherence to Ethics and Code of Conduct Policies Should be at the Forefront of Business Priority

Ethics can be a dirty word for executives and management employees. Although all businesses like to think that they remain in compliance with a code of conduct, the term itself often connotes trouble or a sign of rough water ahead. In reality, many businesses maintain an ideal of staying at the forefront of business ethics and compliance, yet are unsure how to chart and maintain the proper course. Is it a simple code of conduct? Is it simply following the law? All of these are questions you have probably asked yourself if you are a business owner, executive, or upper-level management employee.

A recent Berkshire Hathaway memorandum from Warren Buffett explored these exact questions. Its contents bring up several salient points that can be applied to any business, large or small, that is seeking to maintain or improve its ethical reputation within the business community at large.

Buffett wrote his December 19, 2014 memorandum to his team of managers. He starts off by clearly stating that Berkshire Hathaway’s priority number 1 “trumping everything else – including profits” is “zealously guarding Berkshire’s reputation.” This is sound advice from one of the most revered businessmen in America. After all, once a business loses its reputation what does it have left? Indeed, protecting company reputations through business ethics courses is our job at Syntrio. Like Buffet, we believe that a business can flourish when it makes ethical principles of operation a high priority.

Buffett goes on to state two more key points that are fundamental aspects of ethical compliance. First, he asks that his managers refrain from doing anything that even calls into question the legality of an act. Buffett’s memo states that if a business action requires the manager to question whether it is ethical it should not be done, despite the impact on profits. While sometimes-difficult decisions need to be made, in general the “eye test” is a good one to rely on when making business decisions. All too frequently business owners and executives are seduced by the allure of high profits and the bottom line, and decisions they make lead to both legal and reputation trouble immediately.

Finally, Buffett writes about the need for trust in succession. A business owner or executive in charge must be aware of the candidates to carry on the business legacy and reputation. By properly training managers in the company code of conduct you can foster a legacy and reputation for high standards of ethics that will filter down from top to bottom. Again, this is where Syntrio can help. With years of experience training managers on adhering to ethical standards of conduct we are positioned to effectively implement a strategy that not only educates your managers on ethical behavior, we can also implement any shifts or changes in philosophy that you see fit by tailoring the courses to your needs.

Syntrio understands the need to balance costs with employee morale and ethical behavior. Therefore, we can help train your managers on the nuances of corporate ethics that will not only keep you compliant with the law, but will foster a positive reputation within the community as recommended by Warren Buffett in his memo. Contact Syntrio 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!