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Talking About What Matters to Employees
Currently Browsing: Sexual Harassment

Be Sane and Leave Drinking at Work to Mad Men

In the AMC Series “Mad Men,” most of the partners have bars in their offices.  The three martini lunch is alive and well.  Everyone drinks, often to excess.  And alcohol-fueled office parties often lead to disastrous consequences. Indeed, who can forget the episode in Season 3 when, during a wild office party, a John Deere lawnmower, piloted by drunken Lois, takes off the foot of a visitor from England. In most offices, drinking of the type seen in “Mad Men” is a relic of the past.   It is rare for someone to have a single martini at a business lunch, let alone three.  And, many businesses have policies dictating that the workplace must be “substance free.” But, when the workday draws to a close, the rules seem to change.  Work-sponsored events still often include drinking, sometimes to excess. And, just as in “Mad Men,” the results can be calamitous.  Too much drinking lowers inhibitions, leading to inappropriate and sometimes illegal behavior, particularly sexual harassment. A 2004 study published by the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations found that the likelihood of sex harassment increases in a workplace where there is a strong and permissive drinking culture.  The findings of this study are not surprising to lawyers who bring sexual harassment lawsuits.  In our own cases, we have seen a disproportionate number of sexual harassment cases where too much drinking has led to not enough thinking. In order to avoid alcohol-fueled problems in the workplace, employers should consider making a few simple adjustments to policies that permit the consumption of alcohol at work events.  At work-sponsored events, unlimited alcohol should not be available.  Employees who are visibly intoxicated should not be served another drink.  Events where alcohol is being served should be limited in duration. And, drinking-games should be prohibited, as should any activity that tends to encourage employees to over-indulge.  (While this later suggestion may seem to go without saying, almost any employment lawyer can tell you about case where there were drinking games, or people were urged to do shots together.) As an employee, you probably can’t change your workplace culture, and you may not want to do so. Having a drink with colleagues can be relaxing and enjoyable.  A conversation over drinks may also be the key to building valuable business relationships.  But, having too much to drink with your business associates is never a good idea.  Try to limit your alcohol intake at work-sponsored events by switching to tonic water or some other non-alcoholic beverage.  Make...

The Top Five Wins for Workers’ Rights in 2014

The Employee Matters marks the end of 2014 with a“Top Five” list.  Interest in “Top Ten” or “Top Five” lists is so immense that psychologists have even coined the term the “Top Ten Effect,” to describe the “bump” that items on such a list receive in terms of sales.  A list of the top developments in employment law may not cause a run on any stores, but policy makers and working people should take note (drum roll please) as we now count down the list of five developments that will change the landscape of employee rights as we enter the new year. No. 5:  New California Law Says Proof of Sexual Desire is Not Required to Win Sexual Harassment Claim  The California Legislature deserves recognition for a new law that strengthens protection against sexual harassment on the job. For years, employers have tried to defend against sexual harassment claims by arguing that the harassment, although boorish, was not illegal because it was not based upon sexual desire.  This “defense” goes something like this — The boss who “joked” with his female subordinate about hopping over to a motel for the night wasn’t actually attracted to her, so that couldn’t be sexual harassment.  Or as the employer claimed in one infamous case, the ironworkers who hazed a new guy on the crew with threats of sexual violence couldn’t have perpetrated sexual harassment since they were all straight.  Earlier this year, the California legislature took away this excuse when it amended the Fair Employment and Housing Act to specifically provide that “sexually harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire.”  These few short words will provide powerful protection for victims of workplace sexual harassment.  As important, the change reminds employers and the courts that sexual harassment is about abuse of power, not sex. No. 4:  California Supreme Court Guarantees that Undocumented Workers are Protected Against Discrimination  The California Supreme Court took aim at the hypocrisy of employers who hire and exploit undocumented workers. It has often been noted that low wage workers, regardless of their immigration status, are frequent victims of workplace violations. Undocumented workers, fearful that any complaint regarding a violation of these rights might result in their deportation, are a particularly vulnerable group.  This year, in Salas v. Sierra Chemical Company, the California Supreme Court ruled that an employer who discriminates or retaliates against an undocumented worker can be held liable. While the case limits the damages available to these employees, it does provide that employers who violate...

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