2016 Brings New California Employment Discrimination Law Challenges

As 2015 comes to a close and we prepare to turn the calendar to 2016, employers must prepare for some important changes coming to California’s employment discrimination laws. This post will briefly cover two of the major changes to California’s discrimination and retaliation laws that prompt further training for your managers and employees in the coming year.

Protection for Family Members When an Employee Engages in a Protected Activity

Assembly Bill 1509 is effective January 1, 2016, and adds new protection for family members of employees who complain of discrimination or unsafe working conditions. This law is relevant to employers who employ multiple family members, or have client dealings wherein family members interact.

AB 1509 impacts management training directly, in that retaliation and discrimination training must cover situations where familial relationships cross over into the workplace. Many managers simply will not consider the fact that a refusal to deal with family members of an employee who has made a discrimination complaint will violate the law. In reality, AB 1509 can create liability for companies whose managers take these types of actions.

Protection from Retaliation Related to Disability or Religious-Belief Accommodation

Assembly Bill 987 (also effective January 1, 2016) prohibits employers from taking retaliatory or discriminatory action against those employees who request an accommodation for a disability or religious custom or observance, regardless of whether the accommodation was actually granted.

AB 987 has the practical effect of making a request for accommodation engagement in a protected activity, regardless of whether the request is granted or not. While this seems technical in nature, the application of this new law will have implications on retaliation and discrimination lawsuits in California, as many managers still believe that when a request is denied for good reason there can be no retaliation or discrimination. Managers need to be trained that policies must be revised to reflect that all employees making requests for accommodation must be treated equally.

As you can see, two seemingly minor changes in California discrimination law can have a major impact on the way the law will be applied. If it has been some time since your company has conducted California discrimination and harassment training , the beginning of 2016 could not be a better time to do so.

Syntrio is committed to helping employers avoid the costly mistakes (and associate litigation) that are associated with complicated areas of employment law. We are also able to custom-tailor our courses to fit the needs of your business. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our prevention of discrimination in the workplace courses for management and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your company!

 

Brewing Problem for Ford Motor Company Highlights a Need for Harassment Training for Managers

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In November 2014 a group of four female employees filed a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company in Chicago, alleging that they were harassed and retaliated against as a matter of company policy throughout their time at the auto manufacturing giant. Ford denied responsibility and dismissed the allegations as inconsistent with its way of handling such complaints over the course of the past two decades (following a similar scandal in the mid-1990’s).

The problem for Ford just became much worse, as dozens of female employees have joined the pending class action lawsuit, according to a recent report. An amended complaint filed in federal court claims the harassment the women allegedly suffered was not limited to the south-side plant where the first four women worked, but also was prevalent at the Chicago Heights institution. If successful, the class action lawsuit could cost Ford millions of dollars in damages and attorneys fees.

The amended complaint filed by the now dozens-large group of women claims they were routinely groped, faced sexual assault, and regularly were asked by managers for sexual favors. Further, women who complained were written up, given less-desirable jobs and didn't get overtime, according to the lawsuit.

Harassment Within the Company Allegedly “Widespread” and “Ongoing”

In 2015 there is simply no excuse for a pattern of sexual harassment to pervade an entire facility at a large company, much less spread across several facilities. Simply stated, harassment training for managers is designed to prevent this very behavior from ever occurring, and is further designed to allow managers to detect the flash points for the behavior and stop it before it is allowed to spread.

There is no doubt that isolated incidents of misconduct by rogue managers will continue to occur. However, according to the Ford lawsuit the company culture has maintained “an ongoing and continuous environment [of harassment] in these plants that has never really been effectively remediated.”

Women Allege Retaliation for Complaining of Harassing Behavior

Making matters worse for Ford, following the last round of widespread harassment allegations against the company nearly twenty years ago, Ford allegedly implemented a “harassment hotline” whereby victims of harassment could call in and complain about workplace misconduct. However, according to the current lawsuit, the company was able to gain information as to who was calling in to complain, and the company went so far as to interrogate and discipline its employees for exercising their right to complain.

Allowing sexual harassment to persist within a company culture is bad enough, but retaliating against employees for making complaints (if the allegations prove true) evidences a lack of training and institutional control with respect to policies and practices. All of this adds up to a costly situation for Ford that could have easily been avoided with cost effective and time sensitive harassment training for managers and employees.

Assuming your company wants to avoid the possibility of a situation similar to Ford’s we highly recommend contacting Syntrio to schedule harassment training. Indeed, Syntrio’s representatives are ready to discuss our industry-leading harassment training courses. 

Contact www.syntrio.com 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 organization!

 

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!

 

Retaliation in the Workplace Can Leave Your Company an Employee Short and Thousands in the Red

In sports and on the playground it is most frequently the retaliating party that gets caught and is subject to discipline. For example, in the recently concluded Stanley Cup Playoffs a Chicago Blackhawks player felt he had his progress impeded and hit his counterpart on the other team in the mouth with his stick. Although the referee missed the initial infraction, he certainly saw the retaliatory high-stick, and sent the Blackhawks player to the penalty box for a five-minute major penalty.  While the Blackhawks player was in the box the opposing team scored the game-winning goal.

You may be wondering why we are discussing hockey in a business ethics and human resources compliance blog. Although many human resources managers and high-level executives understand the concept of coaching their players to refrain from retaliatory tactics in the workplace, a surprising number do not understand that taking adverse employment action against employees who complain about something they even think is illegal in the workplace can have a devastating effect on business.

 Federal and State Laws Prohibit Retaliation

Many federal statutes contain anti-retaliation provisions that prohibit employers from taking adverse employment action (discipline, termination, suspension, harassment) against employees who complain about the employer’s illegal activity.  Further, state and federal anti-discrimination laws include retaliation under the umbrella of prohibited activity when employees complain to management about activity they even suspect is discriminatory or otherwise illegal (even though it may not turn out to be so).

Retaliation Scandal Rocks the Veterans Administration

Employees at Veterans Administration (“VA”) facilities in 19 states have filed complaints alleging illegal retaliation by the VA for complaints about non-compliant scheduling and coding procedures (among other illegal practices). One such complaint stated that an employee was suspended for seven days, had a performance review lowered, and was reassigned just after filing a complaint. Other employees were subject to reassignment and demotion after complaining about alleged mishandling of patient funds, inappropriate use of patient restraints, and other violations of VA rules and procedures.

In addition to the legal ramifications of retaliating against employees for reporting unsafe or discriminatory workplace practices, allowing a retaliatory business culture will undoubtedly drain workplace productivity. Further, as discussed above, although you may feel that an employee is burdening the workforce with his or her complaints, you must remember that the employee has the right to do so and it is the employer who will be caught by the “referee” (judge and jury) and will ultimately be penalized, either by way of costly litigation defense, a large settlement, or public stigma from a large jury verdict.

Cost-Effective Electronic Methods of Workplace Business Ethics Training can Reduce the Possibility of Retaliatory Management Tactics and Increase Employee Productivity

Online compliance training for non-retaliation and other important ethics and employment-related topics is easier and more cost effective than ever. Training companies like Syntrio, Inc. provide high quality training courses .that can be customized to reflect organizational policies and priorities. Periodic training in lawful and non-discriminatory employment practices is an essential part of an effective ethics and compliance program and essential for defending against charges of discrimination and retaliation.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing business ethics and HR compliance training in an extremely comprehensive yet cost-effective and time sensitive manner. Contact us today at 888-289-6670 to discuss the ways Syntrio, Inc. can help your supervisors and HR Professionals ensure that they are up to date with state and federal laws regarding retaliation prevention, non-discriminaton, and other business and employment practices.

 

4 Important Reasons to Prevent Workplace Retaliation

Most employment laws that guarantee rights to individual workers also make it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who enforce their rights or support others in doing so. Still, reports show that more than 20% of employees who report unlawful conduct go on to experience some form of retaliation. Retaliation claims represent a significant legal and financial risk for employers and the following are some of the reasons why preventing retaliation should be a top workplace concern.

1. Most Commonly Laid Charge with Enforcement Agencies Such as EEOC.

In 2012, 38.1% of complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) included charges of unlawful retaliation. That is greater than any other single protected ground including race (33.7%), sex (30.5%), disability (26.5%), and age (23.0%).

2. Broad (and Expanding) Scope of Anti-Retaliation Law… and Penalties for Violations 

Legislative and case developments have significantly broadened the scope of anti-retaliation protection, lowered the burden for establishing unlawful retaliation, and expanded the damages available. What’s more -- charges of retaliation can be successful even if the original complaint is found to be without merit!! 

3. The Effects of Human Nature  

It is human nature to want to strike back at someone who attacks or accuses you of wrongdoing. As a result, retaliation cases tend to be more believable in the eyes of jurors than other forms of misconduct. With higher success rates and greater potential for awarded damages, more claims end up being made.

4. Preventing Retaliation is The “Right Thing to Do” 

Preventing retaliation is the right thing to do. Employers have a moral obligation to protect employees’ rights and employee trust levels drop markedly if management tolerates retaliation.

 

Too often, the topic of retaliation is covered only as an add-on to training on other important employment-related issues. Taking steps to educate managers and supervisors on the scope and specific risks of unlawful retaliation is an essential component of an effective risk and compliance management program. Companies such as Syntrio, Inc. specialize in providing online anti-discrimination, harassment and retaliation training in a comprehensive yet cost-effective and time sensitive manner. Contact Syntrio today at 888-289-6670 to discuss the ways we can help your supervisors and HR professionals ensure that they are up to date with state and federal employment law training requirements.