Employee Relations in a Hashtag World

expressive man, shocked

#metoo – #timesup – #enough

You may think you are free and clear of the Hollywood hashtag invasion but… If you have 15 or more employees, you fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended) and several other employment regulations which are overseen by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC.”) Your State most likely has specific regulations as well. For example, as soon as you have four (4) employees in Pennsylvania, you fall under the PA Human Relations Act (“PHRA.”)

This does NOT mean that you need to run screaming out the back door every time an employee says, “I need to talk to you!” In my over 30 years of personnel and HR experience, I have honestly never seen an employer intentionally permit unlawful harassment but “intention” does not count as a defense – it’s the impact of the behavior and/or statement. So, let’s talk about the basics.

You need to recognize there is a difference between inappropriate behavior and potentially unlawful behavior. If an employee is a jerk to EVERYONE, that does not mean he or she is unlawfully harassing coworkers – it just means they are a jerk. Should you do something about it? Of course – jerks make for low moral work places.

Next, in determining if a behavior is crossing the line from inappropriate to unlawful, you need to look at several pieces of information:

  • Is the behavior directed toward someone within a protected class? (age, race, creed, color, national origin, age, disability, etc., etc.)
  • Is the behavior unwelcome? (By the way, HR Managers cringe anytime we learn about employees dating at work…)
  • Was someone with perceived “power” or supervisory control involved?
  • Did it happen one time only or is it “pervasive” and on-going?

For example, if a supervisor asks an employee out on a date and the employee says, “no thanks” and everyone goes about their business, you are probably OK. Now, if the supervisor continues to ask this employee out OR has a history of asking EVERY new employee out on a date, well, it would be time to have a talk with that supervisor about her dating habits. Threw you for a loop there, didn’t I? It’s not just male employees!

There are some surefire ways you can reduce your exposure to these types of claims. The steps are, mostly simple to enact BUT they require prompt and consistent action on your part as a leader within your organization.

  • Develop a policy that educates all employees on Unlawful Harassment
  • Do more than just issue the policy, TRAIN supervisors and employees on Unlawful Harassment
  • Monitor your workplaces for
    1. Equal initiation and participation
    2. Appropriate visuals
    3. Sexual innuendoes
    4. Inappropriate jokes
    5. Derogatory comments about employees (or customers)
  • Have honest conversations with potential “offenders” to help them better understand
  • Document, document, document

On a final note, documentation is critical – in a “contemporaneous” manner. (In simple language – NOW, as it’s occurring.) A PHRC or EEOC claim can take years to work through the system. And I do mean years!. Not every situation needs to rise to the level of a formal, written warning that is placed in the “permanent file.” However, you should make note of simple conversations – send yourself an e-mail, make a note in your calendar – anything that will enable you to demonstrate you DID, indeed, take swift action to address and resolve the matter. Please do not try to remember a conversation that you had asking someone to stop with the jokes – I assure you, you will not remember the specifics in 2020!

You do not need to be afraid of these situations at work, but you DO want to take swift action so that YOU don’t become part of the #problem!

Concerned about your workplace policy? Send it to us at [email protected] for a free review!



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