Tag Archives: written employment policy

Anti-Discrimination in the Workplace: Why You Need More Than Written Policies

Contributed by Steven Jados, August 11, 2016

One of the most recent illustrations of the need for written anti-discrimination policies and training comes from a case out of a federal trial court in Michigan. In the case, McCrary v. Oakwood Healthcare, Inc., No. 14-14053 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 16, 2016), a hospital patient stated that he did not want to be treated by African-American hospital employees.

Cutting to the chase: such a request is unacceptable; the customer (or patient, in this instance) is not always right. Nevertheless, the patient’s request was noted in his chart—and the hospital did not immediately reject the request.

41403359 - diverse people and training conceptsThe Plaintiff in the case, an African-American nurse, alleged that the patient told the nurse to leave the patient’s room because of the nurse’s race. Shortly thereafter, the patient was moved to a different floor of the hospital, which was outside of the Plaintiff’s assigned coverage area.

Addressing those facts, the court ruled that the Plaintiff’s claim that she was the victim of unlawful race discrimination based on the hospital’s alleged response to the patient’s discriminatory request should proceed to trial. The court’s decision in that regard was based heavily on the absence of any written hospital policy instructing employees to reject discriminatory patient requests, along with the lack of any training to advise employees on the proper response to such requests.

Employers must be aware that the actions of patients, customers, clients, etc., can expose employers to liability for employment discrimination claims. To limit that exposure before problems arise, employers must have written anti-discrimination policies—and those policies must include specific language prohibiting discrimination by customers.

As always, having written policies is not enough. The policies must be backed up by training—and that training should specifically instruct employees how to respond to and resolve improper customer requests based on racial preferences or other characteristics protected by anti-discrimination laws. There is no better time than the present for employers to review their policies and training to ensure they are updated to address this important issue.

Prevent Lawsuits: Implement Good Employment Policies and Gather Evidence Supporting Terminations

Contributed by Noah A. Frank, May 11, 2016

A recent federal appellate court decision underscores the importance of strong employment policies to establish the company’s expectations and potentially save the company from protracted and expensive litigation.

In Tsegay v. Amalgamated Transit Union, 1235, the court found that a union refusing to arbitrate a grievance did not breach its duty of fair representation to a union member terminated for using a mobile device while operating a passenger vehicle. No. 15-6102 (6th Cir. Apr. 27, 2016).

texting while drivingAfter passenger complaints of texting-while-driving, employer Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Transit (“MTA”) investigated driver Tsegay’s conduct, including video footage. MTA concluded that Tsegay looked at an electronic device in his lap several times in violation of company policy, and committed other moving violations which could be separate bases for termination. MTA suspended Tsegay without pay, and then terminated him following a meeting with his union representative for misconduct as well as dishonesty.

The union proceeded through the first two stages of the grievance process: filing a written grievance, and an in-person meeting with MTA, the union president, and Tsegay. The union presented the evidence (video, passenger’s letter, and MTA policy regarding cell phones) to its members, who voted not to proceed to arbitration. Instead of appealing this decision, Tsegay sued his union for breach of the duty of fair representation.

Tsegay claimed that the union acted arbitrarily by not going to arbitration. He argued that his cell phone records demonstrated that he was not using his phone while he was driving. However, the appellate court noted that there are many uses of a mobile device that may not appear in cell phone records, such as reading old messages, browsing the internet, and playing games. The appellate court found that the union’s decision to not arbitrate was reasonable because it was based on the union members having viewed the evidence.

This case demonstrates how employment policies and gathering the right evidence help avoid lawsuits.  In this case MTA demonstrated:

  • A written policy prohibiting mobile device use while working and driving;
  • Complaints leading to an investigation, and
  • A proper investigation showing the likelihood of a violation.

Employment policies should be written to convey several messages including, outlining appropriate conduct, company expectations, and safety considerations. The policies should:

  • Communicate clearly to multiple audiences (employees,  managers, others working on behalf of the company, and any reviewing administrative agency or jury) of varying education and language fluency; and
  • Provide a clear understanding of what constitutes appropriate and acceptable conduct.

Enforcing reasonable and effective policies will provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory basis for discipline, avoid discrimination/retaliation lawsuits, and help employers successfully protest unemployment benefits. Policies should be reviewed by attorneys to ensure legal compliance.