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Employment Discrimination Blog

Friday, November 1, 2013

Recent Study of Georgia Employment Discrimination Reveals Inexplicably High Dismissal Rate

A recent article published by the Atlanta Journal Constitution reveals the alarming rate at which workplace discrimination and sexual harassment claims are dismissed by Georgia courts. According to research of cases filed in 2011 and 2012, close to 80 percent of cases in the Atlanta area were dismissed prior to trial, a steep increase from the already too-high nationwide dismissal rate of 70 percent. Most of these cases fail under Georgia’s summary judgment rules, which require a court to dismiss a case if the case lacks a genuine dispute of a material fact. This common problem plagues employment discrimination cases as they are notoriously difficult to prove.

Possible Reasons for Dismissal Rates in GA

There are a number of possible explanations for the high dismissal rates, namely the aforementioned issue of lack of evidence. In order to prevail in a Georgia employment discrimination case, your attorney must prove that you were terminated, demoted or otherwise treated negatively in the workplace based on one of the protected classes – which include race, national origin, sex, age, disability, pregnancy, color, religion or history of bankruptcy. As Georgia is an employment at-will state, an employer can rebut a discrimination claim by asserting the negative employment decision was made for any other non-discriminatory reason, or no reason at all. By working with an experienced discrimination attorney, you stand a better chance of gathering the evidence you need to advance your claim of discrimination, even if the claim itself proves to be an uphill battle.

While many proponents of anti-discrimination in the workplace criticize the Atlanta court system for its seemingly apathetic approach to discrimination lawsuits, attorneys familiar with employer defense herald the statistics as an appropriate measure of the sheer volume of frivolous lawsuits passing through the federal and state systems. However, it is difficult to conceive how a case can be truly deemed meritless prior to its being heard before a judge a jury.

Contact a reputable and experienced Georgia employment discrimination attorney today

We are dedicated to helping our clients seek justice against their discriminatory employers. We urge you not to be dissuaded by these statistics and encourage you to speak to one of our lawyers today. 


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Overview of Workplace Discrimination Law in Georgia

As an employee in the Georgia workforce, you are protected by certain state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination. If you believe you are being subjected to unfair and unlawful treatment at your job, you have a number of legal options against your employer – all of which offer you additional protection against retaliation by your boss. If you decide to pursue a complaint, you will in most cases launch your initial complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. From there, you can pursue a private lawsuit under Georgia and federal law with the help of an employment discrimination attorney.

Georgia’s Prohibitions Against Workplace Discrimination

To prevail in a discrimination action, you must belong to a protected category of people. The following lists the protected categories under Georgia law, which borrows many of its protections from federal laws. An employment discrimination suit may be based on any of the following:

  • Age: It is unlawful to discriminate against any worker aged 40 years or older. Georgia laws impose possible misdemeanor criminal charges against any employer discriminating against workers between ages 40 and 70.

 

  • Bankruptcy: An employer may not make a detrimental employment decision against any worker based on that worker’s decision to file bankruptcy.

 

  • Disability: Disability laws are covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Georgia Equal Employment for People with Disabilities Code. An employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation for a disabled individual, unless the proposed accommodation would cause the employer extreme expense or difficulty.

 

  • Equal Pay: An employer must pay men and women equally who are performing the same job.

 

  • Pregnancy: Employers are forbidden from discriminating against a woman based on childbirth, pregnancy and related medical conditions.

 

  • Race, Color, Religion, Sex or National Origin: Federal law has long-held it unlawful to discriminate against any worker based on these factors. These laws are based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

 

Harassment in the Workplace in Georgia

Harassment in the workplace is an intolerable violation of your rights as an employee. Federal and Georgia laws prohibit any unwelcome conduct “based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” The conduct must be continuous in nature and severe enough to cause a reasonable person distress and discomfort. This type of conduct could include offensive jokes, emails, name calling, assaults, threats of violence, intimidation, ridicule or offensive objects and pictures.

 

Wrongful Termination in Georgia

If you find yourself out of a job and believe it is based on any of the above-listed characteristics, you may have a cause of action for wrongful termination. Keep in mind, however, that Georgia is an employment-at-will state. This means that an employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all – provided the reason is not discriminatory in nature.

If you are experiencing wrongful conduct at your workplace, or were recently fired for possible discriminatory reasons, contact a GA employment discrimination attorney for consultation today.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

As Diversity has Increased, so has Racial Discrimination

The latest annual survey of American Workers and religion by the Tanenbaum Center for Religious Understanding has found that discrimination against Christians, the majority faith in the United States, is becoming increasingly widespread.

The report accompanying the survey implied that business managers have witnessed a rise in religion-related conflicts, including harassment and lack of special religious accommodations as the workforce has become more diverse.

The survey was conducted with more than 2000 adults and found that about a third reported either witnessing or experiencing religious bias.  Roughly another third report some form of failure to make special accommodation such as allowing religious clothing, beards, allowing time off on Sabbath and holidays as well as providing a venue for prayer and meditation.

Nearly half of non-Christian respondents reported witnessing or experiencing managements' failure to make accommodations at work.   A slight majority of all workers stated that Muslims face greater levels of discrimination, not just in comparison to other religious groups, but including gays and lesbians, racial minorities and women.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), since 2001, almost a quarter of all complaints it has investigated involve bias against Muslims, even though they comprise less than 2 percent of the United States population.   Further, discrimination is no longer dominated by issues surrounding dress codes, but has become more personal, in form of name calling and offensive jokes against Muslims.  While this discrimination against Muslims is not systematic in nature, it is prevalent between employees and at times between employees and supervisors.

Almost half of white Evangelical Christians have also suffered discrimination, with respondents finding themselves victims of rumors and gossip in the workplace.   Recent debates about the rights of gay, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals have heightened conflict between such workers and devout Christians who may consider same-sex relations to be sinful.

 If you find yourself in a hostile work environment, because of your religion or any other improper  discrimination, contact our Georgia employment discrimination attorneys today for a consultation. 

 


Monday, July 1, 2013

Employees’ Legal Rights in Georgia

What You Need to Know Regarding Employment Termination and Workplace Retaliation

Most workers with a family, a mortgage or other obligations prefer “permanent” employment to contract or temporary employment because of the security it provides. This is ironic, though, because employers can dismiss even “permanent” employees at any time and without cause. Employers’ right to fire employees transcends reasons pertaining to employee competency and employer finances and means that all of the following scenarios are legal in Georgia in most instances:

  • Termination due to an issue as simple as a single dress code violation
  • Termination because an owner or manager doesn’t “like” an employee
  • Instant termination without any reason provided whatsoever

Though employees enjoy few rights regarding random, sudden and even vindictive termination, they do possess numerous and strong rights regarding employment discrimination. Specifically, employees in Georgia are protected from discrimination due to:

  • Race, national origin and religion
  • Disability
  • Gender (including pregnancy status and issues relating to childbirth and pregnancy-related medical conditions)
  • Age

Employees’ Legal Protections Don’t Just Apply to Termination

In regard to discrimination, limits to employers’ freedom don’t stop at employee firings. In regard to discrimination, Georgia’s employers must also follow strict laws regarding Employee promotions and demotions, employee pay, including overtime pay and employee classification, i.e. exempt vs. non exempt and retaliation.

This means that employees cannot fail to promote an individual due to his or her race, gender or other protected status. It also means that, for instance, employers must take care not to “group” individuals of similar race or ethnicity, then fail to pay them overtime (a common occurrence of this type of violation is the unequal treatment of immigrant restaurant and warehouse workers and other unskilled workers). Additionally, employers are forbidden to retaliate against individuals who report a potential instance of employment discrimination by withholding a promotion or demoting or terminating the individual.

What to Do If You Suspect You or Another Were the Victim of Employment Discrimination

By definition, employment discrimination involves loss. The loss of a job. The loss of advancement or status. The loss of pay. Federal and state employment laws are designed in part to assist the victims of employment discrimination to obtain a fair outcome as well as financial compensation for their loss. These can be provided in the form of:

  • Job reinstatement (including fully reinstated seniority)
  • Back pay for lost wages and benefits 
  • Compensatory damages for out-of-pocket losses, future losses and mental anguish 
  • Punitive damages if it can be demonstrated that an employer acted out of malice or reckless indifference
  • Attorneys' fees, court costs and court fees

The first step in a successful employment discrimination lawsuit is the filing of the claim. A formal complaint, known as a “charge of discrimination,” must be filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Once this is accomplished, the employee can file an employment discrimination lawsuit in court. The charge of discrimination must be filed within 180 days of the first instance of discrimination or retaliation. To learn more about your legal rights under federal and Georgia State employment laws, contact an experienced employment law attorney.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Georgia Employment Discrimination Laws and Workers’ Rights

Federal and Georgia laws pertaining to employment discrimination are intended to be fair, intuitive and easy to understand. Yet, often, employers make mistakes when managing issues relating to employees’ illnesses, disabilities and religious rights, and even employees’ gender and race. Employees, too, often fail to understand their full rights when involved in employer/employee disputes regarding possible discrimination. The seriousness and frequency of employment discrimination in Georgia is evidenced by cases described by the American Civil Liberties Union’s website; it discusses recent cases in Georgia involving:

  • Employees’ right to work while living with such diseases as AIDS and epilepsy
  • Muslim employees’ right to wear a religious headscarf while at work
  • Employers’ obligations when a customer makes a racially motivated request
  • Laws protecting whites and males when an employer seeks to increase the diversity of its workforce
  • Employees’ rights to religious conversion
  • Pre-employment credit checks and racial profiling
  • Veterans’ employment rights, including the rights of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Workplace bullying combined with discrimination
  • Employers’ failures to promote individuals with diabetes and other diseases
  • Obesity, age, race- and gender-related activism and numerous other areas and issues

 

What Constitutes Employment Discrimination in Georgia?

If you are an employer or employee in the state of Georgia, it’s important to remain up to date and knowledgeable about your legal rights and obligations. A good start includes an understanding that, in our state, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of age, religion, disability, race, ethnicity, national origin and gender. Employment discrimination relating to these protected categories usually involves:

  • Firing/termination
  • Promotions, compensation and benefits
  • Hiring practices
  • Work environment
  • Disability leave, maternity leave and retirement options
  • Lay offs

 

In What Instances Is Discrimination Not Discrimination?

It may be helpful to understand discrimination that is perfectly legal. Though it may seem objectionable, employers in Georgia are perfectly within their rights to fire you, deny you a raise or promotion or reduce your pay based on:

  • Your bankruptcy history (though some courts have ruled that, while current employers can discriminate against employees based on bankruptcy, potential employers cannot)
  • Your political views
  • Your appearance
  • Nepotism (meaning favoring someone who is related to someone over someone who is not)
  • Your credit history

 

Overlap between what is legal and what is not is common. For instance, an employer can discriminate against you because you are overweight, but may not be able to legally do so if your weight is linked to a disease. Your employer can discriminate against you because you dress badly, but your employer may be breaking the law if it has a dress code for women but not for men. And while you can be fired for your political views, if your political views are tied to working conditions or another issue involving employment law, your may be protected from discrimination. To be sure of your obligations and rights regarding employment law in Georgia, the best move is to contact an experienced employment law attorney. 


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Employment Discrimination in Georgia: A Quick Overview of Your Rights

Employment law in Georgia and the U.S. as a whole is highly complex, so it’s understandable that employees most often have only a generalized understanding of their rights. Questions and comments such as  “That’s illegal”, “I wish they’d handled this differently” and “Can they do that?” are regularly heard on the job. Accurate and detailed information, though, is needed to fully understand whether one’s legal rights have truly been violated. 

One area of employment law that involves frequent legal violations is discrimination law. This is because U.S. law clearly states that employees must be treated equally and fairly in regard to their:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Age 
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • National origin
  • Personal bankruptcy history

Other classes of people that are protected from employment discrimination in many jurisdictions include gays and lesbians, the unemployed and people living with HIV/AIDS; people are also protected from discrimination due to marital status in many locales. 

What Employer Actions Are Barred and Mandated Via Anti-Discrimination Laws?

In many jurisdictions, employers can fire employees because of body piercings, hair styles, style of dress and countless other issues that may seem highly irrelevant to job performance. Employers cannot, however, treat employees differently just because they are a man or a woman, because they’re “too old”, because they’re from a specific country, because they’re black, white, Asian or another race, or because they’re disabled. They also can’t treat an employee differently because he or she has at any point in life filed for bankruptcy. Specific actions employers are barred from under anti-discrimination laws include:

  • Firings/termination
  • Failing to provide fair job and shift assignments
  • Harassment
  • Failing to compensate equally
  • Limiting advancement opportunities
  • Failing to pay overtime pay
  • Failing to allow rest and lunch breaks

What Does a Typical Successful Discrimination Lawsuit Look Like?

When possible discrimination occurs in the workplace, it’s important stop guessing whether a legal violation occurred and to seek legal help. 

Discrimination can occur overtly or covertly. An overt action may involve an employer stating that an older individual is being demoted to “make way for young, fresh ideas”. Another example of overt discrimination is a demand for sexual favors in exchange for a promotion or continued employment. Covert discrimination could include long-term failure to promote a female or minority individual despite a demonstrable ability and stated desire to advance. 

Either way, it makes sense to contact an experienced employment law attorney for counsel. An employment law attorney can:

  • Meet with you to discuss your concerns
  • Condct an investigation to determine whether discrimination occurred
  • Determine the extent of your loss
  • Negotiate and litigate with your employer for the financial compensation you deserve and are legally owed

Without legal assistance, your employer will likely be unwilling to admit that discrimination occurred or to offer compensation. If your employer is willing to settle a claim without the involvement of an anti-discrimination attorney, it may be doing so to avoid a larger payout down the road. By working with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney, you can help ensure a fair outcome and, hopefully, the prevention of further discrimination. 


Monday, April 1, 2013

Hiring Immigrants and Anti-Discrimination Laws

Poulan Pecan will pay $500 in civil penalties, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.  The fines are related to the Justice Department’s charge that Poulan Pecan illegally discriminated against work-authorized immigrant workers during the hiring and screening process.  As part of the settlement agreement, Poulan Pecan has also agreed to a year-long monitoring program by the Justice Department of its hiring and screening processes.

The Department of Justice claimed that the Georgia pecan supplier required immigrants to submit more documentation before they could be hired than it required of potential employees who were U.S. citizens.  According to the Justice Department, this policy and practice violates the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The Department of Justice began its investigation in 2012, after an individual called a Justice Department hotline with questions about the legality of the company’s actions when she applied for a job.  The Justice Department’s investigation revealed that the pecan-producing company asked immigrant applicants to supply specific work-authorization documents, as well as more authorization documents, that it asked of U.S. citizen applicants.

Poulan Pecan settled the case before the Justice Department filed a formal complaint.  Gregory Friel, a deputy assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said, “Individuals should be treated equally during the employment eligibility verification process.  This means not placing additional requirements, documentary or otherwise, on individuals based on their citizenship status.”

 

How to Hire Immigrants Without Violating Anti-Discrimination Laws

The Immigration and Naturalization Act covers all U.S. employers with three or more employees.  Here are some examples of hiring and screening practices that would violate the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, according to the website of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice:

  • Refusing to accommodate an applicant’s disability when completing the I-9 (Employment Eligibility Verification Form)
  • Refusing to accept valid and proper documentation in support of the I-9 form
  • Refusing to allow an employee to start work because he or she doesn’t have documentation on the first day (three days are allowed)
  • Refusing to hire a person because he or she is not a U.S. citizen, even though the person has work authorization
  • Refusing to hire a person because he or she “sounds foreign”
  • Having “citizen-only” and “green-card only” policies, unless they are required in your industry by law or regulation
  • Refusing to hire an immigrant, such as a refugee, because his or her work authorization contains an expiration date
  • Rejecting work authorization documents that appear on their face to be genuine
  • Denying the applicant the choice of which acceptable documents to present to satisfy the requirements of the I-9
  • Intimidating or retaliating against an employee or job applicant because that person has filed a discrimination charge, intends to file a charge, or has helped the Justice Department or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with an investigation or other proceeding

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Employment Law, Workplace Discrimination and Related Issues and Developments

In many instances, employment laws address the needs and rights of both employers and employees. Employment anti-discrimination laws, however, focus largely on the protection of employees’ right to a workplace that is free of harassment, retaliation and hostility, and of discrimination based on:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • A past bankruptcy


In many locales and in numerous situations (including employment by the federal government), employees are also legally protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status and political affiliation.

Two recent lawsuits can help employers understand their obligations and help employees understand their rights regarding employment discrimination. The first was covered in February 2013 by a Nevada newspaper and involved both discrimination and retaliation. (To read the article, click here).

The article notes that a school district’s female employee had successfully sued the district following workplace sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is illegal and the school district and the employee ended up settling the harassment case in 2003.

In 2006 the employee again sued the district, this time claiming that the district had failed to promote her because of her harassment claim of three years earlier. The employee is quoted as saying that the district “has made it clear that they are not going to promote me…I am being retaliated against." Retaliation following a discrimination lawsuit is illegal and, in this instance, too, the case settled out of court (for $300,000).

The “lesson” from this dual case? Employers who ignore anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination laws face the risk of costly litigation, verdicts and settlements. And employees can often successfully pursue the protection of their rights when they familiarize themselves with laws, regulations and acts such as:

  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1991
  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • The Bankruptcy Act
  • The Civil Service Reform Act
  • The Whistleblower Protection Act

 

In another case, occurring in 2010, a 54 year-old Radio Shack store manager was fired not long after a visiting company vice president had told him, after learning his age, that he might “have a year left” with the company.  The employee’s successor, who was 23 years old, mentioned that he’d been told that the company wanted “some younger ideas” at the store.

Not surprisingly, Radio Shack denied the discrimination charge and instead cited an instance in which a sum of money had been placed in a desk instead of a safe. Nonetheless, a jury found Radio Shack guilty of age discrimination and awarded the former store manager more than $1 million in lost wages, emotional distress and punitive damages. The lesson here? Employers must think twice before firing an employee due to notions that another employee will perform better simply because he or she is a different age, gender, race, etc. than another. Likewise, employees who know their rights can win significant compensation if they can prove they were the victim of an employment law violation. 


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

EEOC Announces Its Enforcement Priorities for 2013-2016

Every four years, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approves a Strategic Plan, which in part directs itself to develop a Strategic Enforcement Plan.  On December 17, 2012, the Commission approved the 2013-2016 Strategic Enforcement Plan with bipartisan support and a vote of 3 to 1.

Much of the Strategic Enforcement Plan, frankly, is filled with the kinds of sweeping promises and legal jargon that one might expect from a government planning document.  However, one interesting area of the Strategic Enforcement Plan is the section on “national priorities.”  In this section, the EEOC identifies a handful of legal issues relating to illegal employment discrimination that it is better able to manage and address because the groups of affected individuals are so large or because the legal issues are so unsettled.  

Eliminating Barriers in Recruitment and Hiring 
The EEOC plans to target recruiting and hiring policies that are either intentionally discriminatory or that appear to be neutral but have a greater adverse impact on protected groups of workers.  The EEOC named the following types of recruiting and hiring practices that it will examine: steering applicants into specific jobs based on race, sex, age, disability, etc.; restrictive application processes; and the use of screening tools like pre-employment tests, background checks, and date-of-birth inquiries.

Protecting the Rights of Immigrant and Migrant Workers
The EEOC stated a commitment to focus enforcement efforts on claims brought by immigrant and migrant workers, who – because of language and cultural barriers – are often unaware of their legal rights or reluctant to exercise their employment rights.

Emerging and Developing Issues
This is the most commented-on section of the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan.  The EEOC identified three emerging employment discrimination issues that it will keep a close eye on over the next four years:

  • Enforcement of the Americans With Disabilities Act, especially issues relating to who is covered, how a worker qualifies for a reasonable accommodation, how a business demonstrates that an accommodation is an undue hardship, and the definition of “direct threat”
  • Whether and how employers are required to respond to pregnancy-related requests for reasonable accommodations
  • Whether and how Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination may apply in certain cases to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered workers

 

Equal Pay for Women in the Workforce
Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, but the EEOC still considers enforcement of equal pay for equal work laws a high priority, especially in the form of compensation systems that appear neutral but have a greatly adverse impact on women.

Enforcing Anti-Retaliation Provisions
The EEOC is always on the lookout for employment policies and practices that discourage or prevent workers from exercising their employment rights.  The EEOC named the following policies as examples of illegal retaliation or obstruction: retaliatory actions against employees, overly broad waivers, settlement provisions that prohibit filing EEOC charges or assisting with an EEOC investigation, and failure to retain records required by EEOC regulations.

Preventing Harassment
According to the Strategic Enforcement Plan, sexual harassment in the workplace has been overtaken by other types of illegal harassment.  “Harassment claims based on race, ethnicity, religion, age and disability combined significantly outnumber even sexual harassment claims in the private and public sectors,” the plan stated.

 
 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Online Toolkit Helps Employers Recruit and Employ Veterans

The federal government recognizes that challenges exist for employers who want to recruit and hire war veterans.  Many veterans, especially those who have seen combat duty, return to the workforce with medical conditions like post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury from explosive-related concussions.  Veterans who are employees may require accommodations in order to successfully perform their work functions.

The medical conditions that veterans bring to the workplace may be unfamiliar to some employers, even those with significant experience negotiating reasonable accommodations for other employees with other types of disabilities or medical conditions.

Keep in mind that PTSD is not automatically a medical condition covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA does not include a list of covered medical conditions.  Instead, the ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.  Therefore, some returning veterans with PTSD may be protected by the ADA, whereas others may not be.

Be that as it may, many employers wish to support returning veterans by offering employment and by offering accommodations so that veterans may perform their jobs.  But, how many employers know what kind of accommodations to offer to an employee with PTSD or a traumatic brain injury?

This is where “America’s Heroes at Work” comes in handy.  Published by the U.S. Department of Labor and launched in mid-December 2012, the America’s Heroes at Work website provides a comprehensive resource service for employers who wish to recruit, hire and retain veterans.  In addition to offering answers to frequently asked employer questions about veterans in the workplace, the America’s Heroes at Work website provides a step-by-step customizable toolkit that employers can use to design and implement a veterans’ recruitment and retention strategy.

America’s Heroes at Work answers questions that employers might have, such as:

  • Will a person with PTSD have violent outbursts at work? 
    “Employees who manage their symptoms through medication or psychotherapy are very unlikely to pose a threat. Employers may help reduce the overall stress in the work environment or mitigate known vulnerabilities to stress by providing a job accommodation.”
  • Does the law require employees or applicants with PTSD or traumatic brain injury to disclose their conditions when returning to or applying for a job?
    “No. Employees need only disclose their disability if/when they need an accommodation to perform the essential functions of the job.”

 

The America’s Heroes at Work website also provides access to a wealth of additional resources for employers who are seeking to offer employment to returning war veterans, wounded warriors and military spouses.

Reasonable accommodations that might support a veteran with PTSD in the workplace include scheduled rest breaks to prevent stimulus overload, job coaching, office locations in quiet areas, and job sharing.

 

 


Friday, November 30, 2012

Fulton County, Georgia Adopts Anti-Bullying Policy to Protect County Employees

 

On November 7, the Fulton County (Georgia) Commission adopted an anti-bullying policy to protect county workers.  The policy applies to employees, department heads and elected or appointed officials, including part-time and temporary employees.

Fulton County Commissioner William Edwards (District 7) introduced the measure, stating that the county’s existing workplace violence protection policies did not adequately protect employees against bullying.

Fulton County’s new anti-bullying provision defines bullying as verbal abuse; threatening, humiliating or intimidating conduct; sabotage or work interference that prevents work completion or performance; or exploitation of a known psychological or physical vulnerability.

The policy requires employees to remove themselves from a bullying threat and report the behavior as soon as possible, either to a direct supervisor or to the county manager if the offender is the employee’s supervisor.  Under the new anti-bullying policy, supervisors must take action to protect the alleged victim, including separating the alleged victim from the alleged perpetrator and investigating the allegations.

The minimum penalty for a first offense is 5-day suspension without pay.  The second offense will result in the employee’s dismissal.

Should private employers follow Fulton County’s example?  Bullying is a common workplace occurrence, according to studies such as the 2010 Workplace Bullying Institute’s survey.  But does bullying do damage to the workforce and the bottom line?  Additional research suggests that it may do so.

Bullying at work may reduce employee productivity and employee morale.  It may also result in higher employee turnover and absenteeism.  Bullying may also result in increased medical insurance and workers’ compensation claims.

In 1998, the University of North Caroline studied 775 targets of workplace bullying:

  • 28 percent spent work time avoiding the bully and the environment
  • 22 percent decreased their work effort
  • 12 percent changed jobs

 

Employers may want to review their workplace violence protection policies and consider adding an anti-bullying provision to their employee manuals.  If an employee is found to be a known bully and repeat offender, an anti-bullying provision may give the human resources department the necessary resources to pursue appropriate disciplinary action.  Adding a short anti-bullying section to the new employee training agenda helps create a workplace environment where all employees know that bullying is not tolerated.

To ensure that your anti-bullying policy complies with federal and state employment laws, ask an experienced business law and employment discrimination attorney to review the policy before you add the final version to your employee handbook.


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