EEOC: Farm Harassed Women Employees

Our economy is dominated by agriculture, as it was before the Industrial Revolution, but for those who toil in the fields working conditions can often be frightening. A lawsuit filed today by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission looks to send a message that our civil rights laws protect farmhands just like any other employees.

County Fair Farm, a farm and produce wholesaler located in Jefferson, Maine, stands accused of violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by creating and maintaining a sexually hostile work environment for female farmworkers since 2003.

The harassment, according to the EEOC, consisted the womens’ supervisors and co-workers repeatedly groping and propositioned them for sex and directing  lewd comments at them about their bodies. And the farm failed to take action to stop the harassment and in the case of one victim the harassment intensified and she was fired after complaining, the EEOC charged,

“Farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and harassment,” said Robert D. Rose, regional attorney for the EEOC’s New York District Office. “They are entitled to the full protection of our laws, and the EEOC will vigorously enforce those laws when farmworkers are targets of abuse.”

Read more about the case.

Friendships at Works: Do’s and Dont’s

Here’s resident columnist Robin Paggi with some sage advice on handling friendships at work–and how employees and employers can profit from socializing in the workplace. And on keeping socializing from getting out of hand and interfering with work.

Friendships at Work

“Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.” Aristotle wrote this sentiment, and I couldn’t agree more.

For example, I recently met a friend for coffee, and my day was brighter as a result because my friend did what he always does: listened intently to my account of my recent mishaps, offered supportive comments, and made me feel better about life in general.

According to social psychologists, my mental and physical wellbeing can be attributed in part to my friend and others like him in my life. Dr. Karen Dill, author, social psychologist, professor at the Fielding Graduate University, and blogger for Psychology Today said such friendships are important because they “fill our need for belonging. Our friends give us someone with whom to discuss our ideas, beliefs, and problems. These are needs that we can’t meet on our own.”

Obviously, friendships are important, and recent research indicates that having friends at work is vitally important. According to the study, “Work-based predictors of mortality: A 20-year follow-up of healthy employees,” published in the May 2011 issue of Health Psychology, employees with “high levels of peer social support” tend to live longer.

Work-based friendships are also beneficial to employers, according to Tom Rath, author of Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. Based in part on research conducted by The Gallup Organization, Rath’s book indicates that an employee with a best friend at work is seven times more likely to be engaged with that work, which is good for business.

Of course, there are drawbacks to workplace friendships.

For employers, the workplace can suffer because employees might spend too much time socializing instead of working; co-workers sometimes cover for each other’s inappropriate behavior (e.g. clocking in or out for the other); supervisors who are friends with their subordinates are sometimes more lenient with them, which creates a sense of unfairness; and a variety of other issues.

For employees, too much or inappropriate socializing at work can negatively impact their professional image; covering for a co-worker’s inappropriate behavior can result in being disciplined; the end of a friendship with a co-worker can negatively impact the work environment for them and their co-workers; and the list goes on.

So, how should employers and employees approach friendships at work?

Employers should recognize that a certain amount of office camaraderie is good for business; therefore, they shouldn’t necessarily put a damper on small doses of personal chit-chat and harmless joking around. However, employers should let employees know when it appears that their interpersonal relationships are interfering with productivity and/or professionalism and even intervene if necessary.

Additionally, numerous experts caution employers and supervisors from becoming too friendly with their subordinates. In her article, “Employers, Employees and Friendship: Can Managers be Friends With Employees?” HR consultant Kate Russell says that, “It is prudent to set boundaries. I advise managers to distance themselves a little. Be friendly, but not friends.” In her article “Boss-Employee Friendships,” Amanda Vogel advises that if “a friendship with an employee even remotely compromises what’s best for business or your success as a manager, it’s time to cut ties.”

Employees would do well to follow the advice from the article, “The Dos and Don’ts of Workplace Friendships” on the Workplace Insights website:

Do:

  • use your breaks to socialize instead of constantly chatting throughout the day,
  • stay focused on your work so you don’t lose sight of the things that need to be accomplished,
  • practice respect and professionalism by refraining from gossiping about co-workers with your work friend.

Don’t:

  • continuously pick up the slack for your work friend,
  • share everything about yourself in case the friendship sours,
  • be exclusive by spending all your time with your friend.

Thus, friendships at work are good for everyone involved, as long as they don’t interfere with work.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

Robin’s last column was on keeping and maintaining employment records.

Before that, she wrote for this blog on the topic of fashion rules do’s and dont’s.

She has also written on making sure terminations are not related to romance.

For other prior columns by Robin appearing in my blog, click here, here, here, and here.

 

 

EEOC to Hold Twitter Chat on ADA

Get your ADA tweets ready. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced that next Tuesday, October 28, it will hold a twitter chat on the ADA featuring Chairwoman Jenny Yang, Commissioner Chai Feldblum and EEOC experts who will answer questions about the ADA in employment.

The 2 p.m. session is part of National Disability Employment Awareness month, in which the EEOC hasn’t been shy about proclaiming its ADA litigation success stories.

And the EEOC is a lot busier under the ADA today than it was when the statute was enacted over 20 years ago; its charge docket has grown almost two fold from 15,000 charges alleging disability discrimination in fiscal year 1993 to nearly 26,000 in fiscal year 2013, it said.

You can see that list of EEOC Enforcement Activities Victories in Court at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/litigation/selected/ada_litigation_facts_10-14.cfm.

And to learn more about National Disability Employment Awareness month and the EEOC’s role therein, go here.

To participate in the Twitter Chat, use the hashtag #EEOC4NDEAM.

Employment Records–Getting it Right

For your Sunday reading pleasure, and as we head back to the workweek, here’s regular columnist Robin Paggi on the importance of keeping and maintaining employment records.

The Life and Death of Employment Records

“It is not deeds or acts that last; it is the written record of those deeds and acts,” said writer Elbert Hubbard. If you are an employer, state and federal laws require you to keep records of your deeds and acts concerning employment issues, such as how much you pay your employees and accidents that happen to them.

While recordkeeping and retention is not a fun topic, it is an important one. Just ask the folks at Morgan Stanley who, according to numerous news sources, were required to pay $15 million to the Securities Exchange Commission because they failed to properly retain and produce e-mail records that were related to investigations of the company.

So, what kind of employment records are employers required to keep and how long do they have to keep them? Like most things in employment law, the answer is “it depends.” According to Edward R. McNicholas, a Washington D.C.-based attorney who specializes in information law, “For a Fortune 50 company with 20 lines of business, you may have 50 or 60 different laws that apply to document retention.” What about for a business owner in California? In general, the California Chamber of Commerce says that employers are required to keep:

  • Recruitment, hiring, and job placement records such as employment applications and employment testing results for two years (or the duration of any claim or litigation involving hiring practices). Note: employers are not required to use applications or testing in their hiring process; however, if they do, they must retain them.
  • Payroll records that identify wages paid each pay period for four years. Wage records such as time cards for three years.
  • I-9s (U.S. citizenship verification) for the later of three years from hire date or one year after termination.
  • Performance evaluations, disciplinary notices, and other items in a personnel file for the duration of employment plus two years. Note: employers are not required to provide performance evaluations or disciplinary notices; however, if they do, they must retain them.
  • Medical records such as injuries on the job and drug/alcohol test results for five years (chemical safety and toxic exposure records must be kept for duration of employment, plus 30 years). Medical records must also be kept in a separate file so that medical information “will remain confidential and will be protected from unauthorized use and disclosure.”
  • Benefits information for six years, but not less than one year following a plan termination.
  • Unlawful employment practices, claims, investigations, and legal proceedings records – until the end of the case (this is why Morgan Stanley got into trouble).

Employment records should be under lock and key with access limited to one person or department. Because employers may store these records electronically, they must ensure that technological safeguards are in place to properly protect the information. With all of the different retention requirements, employers might be tempted to just keep all employment records forever.

Not a good idea, according to McNicholas. “If you retain (a record) for too long, it’s very expensive, you expose yourself to litigation risks, and you might be violating privacy rights,” he says.

How does one properly dispose of records? According to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, employers must shred or burn them, or have someone else do it. Employers wanting to hire someone to do the shredding or burning must conduct due diligence to ensure the document destruction contractor knows what it’s doing. Records stored electronically can simply be deleted; however, if the hard drive that stored the information is retired or sold, the drive needs to be demagnetized first. And, obviously, don’t destroy records when you are about to be audited or investigated.

So, record your deeds and acts and destroy them properly. Because, while records retention and destruction is not a lot of fun, staying in business is.

Robin last wrote about religious expression in the workplace. Prior to that, she wrote about depression at work and how domestic violence affects the workplace.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

Before that, she wrote for this blog on the topic of fashion rules do’s and dont’s.

She has also written on making sure terminations are not related to romance.

For other prior columns by Robin appearing in my blog, click here, here, here, and here

Ex-Teachers Allege Harassment by Principal

Loose talk in the workplace can come back to haunt you, especially if it consists of inflammatory remarks about other employees’ race and religion.. Just ask Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences, located in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

The school has been sued by three former teachers–all black women– alleging that the school’s principal, a white woman, subjected them to severe workplace discrimination.

According to the complaint, the principal made discriminator remarks related to women, minorities and religious affiliation.

“Mrs. Lemmon was often discriminatory towards students and teachers who identified with any religion other than Christianity,” the lawsuit alleges. She also supposedly told them that people of different cultures “should just participate in American customs” because “we live in the United States.”

So now it’s for the courts to sort out.

Here’s information from the EEOC on workplace harassment and its prevention. This isn’t a Title VII case but the same principles apply.

 

Braun Electric Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit; Company Ignored Reports, EEOC Says

Don’t turn a blind eye to reports of sexual harassment or stick your head in the sand, pretending not to know that anything unsavory is going on. When an employee complaints that a manager is harassing her, make sure to have HR follow up, investigate, and put a stop to the harassment if it is proven to have occurred.

All well-known principles of sexual harassment law–but also apparently ignored by Braun Electric Company. According to the EEOC, the Bakersfield, Calif.-based company didn’t adequately respond to complaints that a male manager had created a sexually hostile work environment by “grotesque remarks of a sexual nature to female subordinates and [making] explicit sexual propositions on a continual basis.”

Evidently it was all there for everyone to see. Braun’s management failed to adequately address reports of harassment, and supervisors failed to report incidents of harassment they witnessed, the EEOC charged.  One female employee was forced to quit as a result of the ongoing hostile work environment, according to the EEOC.

The EEOC announced yesterday that the company has settled the lawsuit for $82,500. An expensive way to reinforce the message that sexual harassment cannot be ignored and companies have a legal obligation to take complaints seriously and take appropriate action to make the harassment cease.

Read more about the case.

And if you need a refresher on what behaviors constitute sexual harassment and what an employer’s duty is when confronted with allegations of sexual harassment–whether against a manager or co-workers–go to this page on the EEOC’s web site.

Transportation Company Settles ADEA Lawsuit; Drivers Fired Because of their Age, EEOC Alleged

Arbitrary assumptions about an individual’s ability to work based solely on age violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reminded employers last week.

The reminder occurred as part of the settlement of the commission’s ADEA lawsuit against Spartanburg, S.C.-based Atchison Transportation Services, Inc., the largest full-service ground transportation company in South Carolina.

The company stood accused by the EEOC of firing two motor coach drivers because they had, respectively, turned 75 and 76 years of age.

The company used the excuse that its insurance carrier wouldn’t cover drivers past the age of 75–but that wasn’t true, the EEOC said.

To settle the lawsuit, the company agreed to pay $75,000 and institute “preventive annual training on requirements of the ADEA for employees, supervisors and managers.”

Read more about the settlement.

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