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August 25th, 2014

The “dirty dozen”: top 12 employer harassment mistakes

According to statistics collected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, harassment charges have stayed relatively stable over the past three years, and the number of “cause” determinations has actually declined. (Yay!) Yet employers should still be concerned because the monetary relief has increased dramatically – from $82.1 million in fiscal year 2012 to $97.3 in fiscal year 2013. Dollars going up while cause determinations go down? (Boo.)

In other words, it isn’t Miller time for employers just yet.

In my continuing quest to make sure that none of our readers ever get sued — or, if that fails, never lose a lawsuit — here are my “Dirty Dozen” employer harassment mistakes. Are you guilty of any of these? If so, cease and desist!

THE “DIRTY DOZEN”: TOP 12 EMPLOYER HARASSMENT MISTAKES

  1. Having a harassment policy that covers sexual harassment only — nothing about race, national origin, disability, age, or religion, much less all of those “cutting edge” protected categories we’ve been talking about lately.
  2. Having a policy that requires the accuser to report the harassment through the chain of command. It’s ok to recommend doing it this way, but you need to have an alternative in case the harasser is in the chain of command.
  3. Policy or training that is too legalistic. One of my pet peeves is a harassment policy (or training) that simply recites the legal definition of unlawful harassment with no further explanation. No normal person knows what that legal definition means. It’s much better to provide SFW (suitable for work) examples so that employees know the behavior expectations and when they should complain.
  4. No training.
  5. Training that does not occur unless you’ve been sued. (If you get sued all the time, I guess this is all right.)
  6. Supervisors who, when receiving a harassment complaint, start investigating (or, heaven forbid, making determinations) on their own.
  7. Related to No. 6, failure to timely notify Human Resources or your lawyer about a complaint of harassment. The “lawyer” part is not a sales pitch. You don’t have to let outside counsel (like me) know right away, but do let your in-house counsel know, if you have in-house counsel.
  8. Not promptly separating the accuser and the accused, to (a) prevent further incidents, or (b) prevent further false accusations. (Consider suspending the accused with pay while you investigate. For everybody’s protection.)
  9. Overreaction. For example, firing the accused, a 25-year employee with a clean record, because he told a mildly off-color joke that offended somebody.
  10. Underreaction. For example, giving a writeup to the accused after you’ve determined that he sexually assaulted his assistant in the supply closet.
  11. Failure to follow all leads when conducting your investigation. Unless the accused admits to the harassment right off the bat, interview every witness identified by the accuser and the accused, as well as any witnesses identified by the witnesses.
  12. Failure to follow up with the accuser after the investigation is over. This is crazy, especially if the accuser and accused will continue working together, or if the accusations were serious but you couldn’t do much because your investigation was inconclusive. Follow-up will give the accuser the chance to let you know if any new harassment occurs. It will also show her (or him) that you care about her (or his) well-being. And, if everything is now fine, you can document that each time you check in — the documentation will help you in the event of a lawsuit later.

Illinois unemployment drops to six-year low

August 14th, 2014

Craig Hinz – Crains Chicago News

August 14, 2014

In news with clear political implications, state officials today announced that the Illinois unemployment rate has dropped for the fifth month in a row, to 6.8 percent — roughly where it was when the great subprime mortgage recession began.

And even better, the decline now is being propelled not by people leaving the job force but by the creation of new jobs, with 11,200 positions added just in July.

Look for the announcement to draw a strong reaction from both Gov. Pat Quinn and his re-election foe, Bruce Rauner. I’ll post their comments a bit later. Meanwhile, here’s the news.

The preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped from 7.1 percent in June to 6.8 percent in July, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. The state rate is still somewhat above the national figure of 6.2 percent, but the 0.6 difference is just a fraction of what it was a year ago.

Since July 2013, the Illinois rate has dropped an enormous 2.4 percentage points, from 9.2 percent to 6.8 percent, according to the federal data released by the state. That’s the biggest year-over-year decline since 1984, putting the unemployment rate just above the 6.8 percent level of August 2008.

Arguably the better news is that state employers again are adding jobs.

According to the figures, derived from a different survey than the unemployment data, the state added 11,200 private sectors in the past month, and 35,600 over the past 12 months.

The July gains were widespread across various sectors, with professional and business services up 5,900, manufacturers adding 3,900 positions and construction 1,900 slots. Leisure and hospitality dropped 3,800 in the month.

Like the unemployment data, the job figures trail national growth. But they are much, much better than a few months ago.

“The falling unemployment rate seems to be picking up momentum with the warmer weather,” IDES Director Jay Rowell said in a statement. “That is encouraging even though we know there is still room for improvement.”

Look for Mr. Quinn to emphasize the improvement, and Mr. Rauner the need for more.