By: Leah K. Sell, Esq.
While there are many complex aspects of employment law, the basics are principles taught in kindergarten. As we prepare for back-to-school, let’s look at the elementary elements that can help build the foundation of best employment practices:
- Keep your hands to yourself
- Treat everyone the same
- Be respectful
- See something, say something
1. Keep your hands to yourself
Unless the duties of the job require it, or it is a professional handshake, people should not touch one another in the work environment or at work-related events. Employees and employers need to be conscious of how touching can make others feel, either the recipient or the observer. Most legal standards are based upon how the alleged victim felt, not what someone intended. If you must touch, you must get consent and be wary of undue influence on consent because of power positions.
2. Treat everyone the same
When making employment decisions such as who to hire, fire, promote, or discipline, ensure these choices are based upon merit and business needs in a consistent manner. Employees also need to take care to provide the same opportunities and treatment to all of their co-workers. Do not dismiss an older worker from the social media project because “their generation just doesn’t get it.” Take care not to pass over the pregnant employee for a promotion because management doesn’t think she’ll be able to meet travel requirements. When deciding to fire a male employee for tardiness, make sure the next time a female employee exhibits the same behavior, you also terminate her. Consistency is key to ensuring equal treatment and comparable situations will be evaluated if a legal claim arises.
3. Be respectful
We all have opinions and we do not have to like everyone, but that does not mean we should not treat everyone with respect. Remember that what you think is “funny” or “just a joke” could be offensive to someone else. If you would not want it displayed on your front door for your family and neighbors, or on record in court for the public, then it is probably not appropriate to share at work. While managers give feedback and occasionally provide discipline, those actions should always be based upon performance and behavior. Co-workers, similarly, should engage in constructive criticism when warranted, but never based on someone’s age, sex, or race.
4. See something, say something
This applies to all areas of the workplace. If you see a safety hazard, unauthorized visitor, harassment, or any other potentially dangerous situation, say something. There should be reporting structures in place for each employee and the various situations that may arise. For instance, employees may report concerns regarding harassment to a direct supervisor but if they aren’t comfortable with the supervisor, there should be alternative avenues to report, such as to Human Resources. Supervisors should report to human resources, or other members of management as necessary, and they too should always have more than one person to report to in the case of conflict, emergency or other concern. Management should feel comfortable consulting their attorneys for legal advice if they see something, or have something reported to them, and need assistance in determining next steps.
Listen to employees when they say they need help, or something is wrong. Listen to customers to understand what they really need. Listen to your own policies. This means following and enforcing your procedures. Listen when professionals provide guidance and training. Listen to the changes your organization is indicating that it needs. Listening can provide insight into potential problem areas before they become legal complications.
Employment law is a labyrinth of issues and regulations. These elementary elements of best practices, along with solid, consistently enforced policies, and training, can assist employers and employees in working toward making a more positive and productive work environment.
If you are looking for advice on developing policies, training, or guidance on these basic principles or more complex employment law matters, please contact Leah Sell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-261-1600. Leah is an associate at Leech Tishman and is based in the firm’s Pittsburgh, PA office. Leah is a member of the firm’s Employment, Corporate, and Litigation practice groups, as well as the Medical Cannabis and LaunchPad subgroups.
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Leech Tishman Fuscaldo & Lampl is a full-service law firm dedicated to assisting individuals, businesses, and institutions. Leech Tishman offers legal services in alternative dispute resolution, aviation & aerospace, bankruptcy & creditors’ rights, construction, corporate, employee benefits, employment, energy, environmental, estates & trusts, family law, government relations, immigration, insurance coverage & corporate risk mitigation, intellectual property, internal investigations, international legal matters, litigation, real estate, and taxation. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA, Leech Tishman also has offices in Chicago, Lakewood Ranch, FL, Los Angeles, New York and Wilmington, DE.