The “Three Strikes” of Illegal Employer Action

Now that two full months have passed in calendar 2015 it is a good time to take a quick look at the most common forms of misconduct committed by employers. Indeed, employers are commonly making mistakes and violating laws in today’s workplace, and the only way to reduce these incidents is to keep the issues in the forefront. When managers can identify a problem before it gets out of hand, proper training and education can have he or she prepared with a solution.

Employers are Understanding that Litigation is a Sunk Cost

Fewer employees fear the perceived team of expensive defense attorneys and threats of retaliation if they complain about employer misconduct than in years past. As such, more employees are carrying out their threats of filing a lawsuit against their current or former employers. With that knowledge in mind, employers are beginning to see that fighting the problem on the back end using high priced attorneys is not the way to run a business. Instead, the common management pitfalls are ripe for training to proactively combat the problem, and many business owners are taking an offensive approach to employment law and human resources issues.

1. Discrimination

Discrimination claims are by far the most common form of employee lawsuit. Discrimination is when someone is treated less favorably (or more favorably in some cases) because of his or her membership in a protected class (i.e. race, sex, religion, etc.) There are longstanding federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace, yet it persists as the most common form of employee charge today. Although employers are doing their best to eliminate bias in the workplace, certain prejudices persist among rogue managers, and therefore discrimination is a problem that is not going away.

2. Retaliation

Retaliation is a form of discrimination that occurs in conjunction with a discharge or other adverse employment action such as a demotion, pay decrease, lack of promotion or other disciplinary action and occurs as the result of an employee complaint or refusing to commit what he or she believes to be an illegal act (among other things). By learning how to properly handle employee complaints and requests to exercise statutory rights there is a great reduction in the risk that a retaliation claim will even be brought by a disgruntled employee.

3. Wage and Hour Violations

Unless your company employees all overtime exempt employees you are obligated under federal law to pay added compensation for employee hours worked in excess of forty in one week (there are also states that impose even stricter requirements on employers such as California). As you are also undoubtedly aware, the federal law requires payment of a minimum wage of at least $7.25 per hour (or higher in many states).

There are a significant number of traps that employers fall into with respect to the wage and hour laws, and managers are wise to learn the intricacies of federal and state wage and hour laws. Your employees certainly are brushing up on their internet research!

Syntrio is Available to Discuss Cost-Effective Training

The aforementioned topics merely scratch the surface of the three most common types of employee lawsuits. All companies can benefit from taking a proactive approach toward employment law issues, which is why Syntrio offers a robust LMS containing products that meet nearly every compliance need that can arise within a company or particular industry. Further, if something you need is currently unavailable, our team of experts will develop a course custom-tailored to suit your needs.

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

 

Relax, it’s Just a Pinch? This Could be the Wrong St. Patrick’s Day Mantra

For many, St. Patricks’ day conjures images of day drinking, parades, hoards of people wearing green, and of course the singling out and systematic battery of those who choose not to conform. Although the pursuit of a civil battery action against someone who pinched another on St. Patrick’s Day sounds ridiculous, there is a growing segment of the population who is offended by what they consider to be a vile and non-playful holiday tradition.

As with anything else, employers need to be cognizant of the sensitivities of their employees at all times, and should follow a strict set of guidelines when it comes to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, or any other holiday that could cause even the slightest offense. Failure to do so could have expensive results.

Background on St. Patrick’s Day in the United States

The tradition of wearing green on St. Patrick’s day started in the 1700’s in the United States when revelers felt wearing green would keep leprechauns away. The green-wearing clan would pinch anyone not wearing green as a reminder that the leprechauns were going to sneak up on the abstainers and cause them harm.

As you can see, the tradition carries with it a long-standing sense of “in-group” versus “out-group” mentality. While innocent in nature by most social standards, this sort of divisiveness is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be prevented in the office setting. Therefore, it is extremely important to set some guidelines reminding employees that while the company encourages celebration and expression of beliefs and all heritages, employees have a right to be free from offensive touching in the workplace. In short, it is best to leave the “pinch” to places where it is more acceptable, wherever that may be.

St. Patrick’s Day Can be Stressful

A woman recently wrote an article articulating her stress over St. Patrick’s Day while growing up. Therein, the author detailed her account of forgetting to wear green and being pinched and ostracized by her classmates, leading to psychological turmoil years later.

It is not hard to envision the scenario where an employee who was traumatized as a child at school over a simple holiday tradition may feel uncomfortable with such a celebration in his or her adult place of employment. Therefore, it is simply best to train managers and employees on boundaries for all holidays, including the mid-March celebration. Suffice to say, “Kiss me, I’m Irish” is probably an inappropriate comment to make in the office as well!

Online Training Courses Prepare Your Managers for the Most Abstract of Situations

Prior to reading this article you probably never thought you would encounter a situation where you would need to police the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the office. This sort of surprise is where online harassment training is extremely useful. Syntrio’s courses use real-life scenarios similar to the one discussed above to instruct managers on how to identify potential harassment problems before they start.

Syntrio’s team of experts are ready to show you more about our vast learning management systems, which include a variety of employee-privacy based courses to suit all needs. If you feel you need more specific training to your particular business or industry we would be more than happy to create a custom course for you. Contact Syntrio for more information and remember to follow us on TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your business!

 

The Tablet of Compliance Disaster: Avoiding the Perils of Bring Your Own Device Policies

As Americans, our smartphones and tablet devices are essential elements of the information wardrobe, and we are so attached that we never leave home without them. For many Americans, losing a mobile device brings greater fear than losing a wallet or a purse. Based upon this mentality, it is no wonder that as many as ninety percent (90%) of employees perform work-based tasks from their personal devices, and employers have responded by implementing bring-your-own-device (“BYOD”) policies whether they choose to pay the costs (in some states such as California this is mandatory) or not.

Performing Work Based Tasks on Personal Devices Has Significant Issues

Let’s return to the fear of losing a device that was discussed above. Joe is a registered nurse working at a pediatric clinic. While away on a conference Joe sits down at the airport gate to have a Face Time chat with his family before boarding the plane. After ending the conversation, Joe leaves his phone plugged into the charging station he was using and boards the plane leaving his phone behind. Panic ensues at 30,000 feet.

Joe stores confidential patient vaccination records and other work-related on his phone. Since Joe did not put a password on his phone, the information is now accessible to anyone who finds Joe’s phone. Unfortunately for Joe, an Internet troll found Joe’s phone and posted confidential information about Joe’s patients on his pro-vaccination blog, which publicly calls out parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. Joe and the clinic he works for have just committed major HIPAA and other privacy-related violations.

A Well-Crafted Policy Can Reduce the Risk of Violations

While Joe’s story may seem fantastic and unbelievable, something very similar happened in a train station in New York in late January 2015. Therefore, if your business is going to use a BYOD policy it is extremely important that your employees be fully educated and aware of all potential privacy violations and follow the minimum guidelines set forth in this article in order to reduce the risk of violations.

Outline the Permissible Work-Related Uses of a Personal Device

Your policy should document the allowed work-related uses of personal devices. In Joe’s case, it would have been wise to prohibit employees from transferring confidential information to their personal devices and instead store such information on a company owned, password-protected device.

Ensure that Security Protocols are Followed at all Times

The policy should clearly outline that employees are required to use adequate password and virus-protection measures in order to reduce the risk of a situation like Joe’s from occurring. Today’s smartphones feature wiping mechanisms in the event that a device is lost or stolen, and it is essential that employer policies require employees to have such security measures in place.

Update Human Resources Policies to Include Statements on Privacy

Review social media and other privacy policies to ensure that they are consistent with the BYOD policy. All too often we see employees post work-related information to social media accounts by accident. When mixing personal and work-related uses it is important that all of the HR policies be consistent.

Engage in Privacy Related Training Courses for all Supervisors and Employees

There is simply no substitute for online-based training courses that review the relevant employment and privacy laws that are relevant to BYOD policies. With more and more information available to employees, there is a greater likelihood that it could be co-mingled with personal information and ultimately violate a myriad of laws. Accordingly, the employer is best protected by engaging in short, cost-effective employee privacy training that reviews the risks of exposing client, employee, or patient data.

Syntrio’s team of experts are ready to show you more about our vast learning management systems, which include a variety of employee-privacy based courses to suit all needs. If you feel you need more specific training to your particular business or industry we would be more than happy to create a custom course for you. 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 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!