General Counsel Corner – Workplace Inclusiveness: A Cautionary Tale

Written by Lee Goldberg, Esq
May 17, 2021  

In past blogs I’ve written of the bottom line corporate benefits of a pleasant, respectful, equitable and inclusive work environment. But how do you get your company there? There is most definitely a right way and a wrong way.

I submit the following cautionary tale for your consideration:

Several years ago I was called by a client (a family-owned steel fabrication company) to discuss a recent employment lawsuit they had received. Apparently, the Shop Foreman had posted a notice above the Shop time clock about a new zero tolerance policy. A redacted excerpt from the notice read as follows:

[The Company] has a new CFO. His name is [Employee Name Here]. He will be coming around the Shop to say hello. [Employee Name] is LGGT [sic] … The law requires that you be respectful to [Employee Name]. … There will be no further gay or tranny jokes in the Shop at any time, if he is out here or not. … No exceptions. This is zero tolerance like the drug policy. Follow it or you will be fired.

My shocked reaction, in front of two generations of ultra conservative, devoutly religious clients was a 2-minute stream of obscenities that would have horrified even Howard Stern. I guess my “inner voice” slipped past my “gatekeeper” as he lay stupefied in a roadside ditch.

My clients lost their new CFO, upon whom they were counting to resolve some difficult company financial challenges (He quit in understandable disgust and humiliation), lost their executive search firm to replace the CFO, and became known as a “problem” company among other search firms. It took my clients another 8-months to find a replacement. But hey, look at the bright side … I got a great settlement on the lawsuit … just under $400,000.

All the good intentions in the world will not save you if you handle these issues incorrectly. No, that company did not have HR expertise in-house or on contract. In all, not the best way to handle the matter I’d say.

Implement your company work environment, inclusiveness, and sensitivity training programs the proper way. Here are three (3) recommendations you may wish to consider – there are many others – see your HR consultants for your options:

• Employee Handbook – Make sure your employee handbook is up-to-date, not only with Equal Opportunity Employment provisions, but also with specific provisions regarding workplace harassment (including sexual harassment), inclusiveness, and workplace environment. Do not be afraid to tailor this to your specific company policies and needs – though there are many “canned” forms and formats you can use. Also, you may desire to specify sanctions for violations (though this also has to be done correctly). Your labor/employment counsel or HR specialist can help with this.

• Employee Training – It shows how very important these issues are to a company when it takes the time to train its employees in matters of sensitivity and inclusiveness, just like company safety training (anti-sexual harassment training is now even required by the State – but you can go further). Make sure it is clear to employees that this training is important to your company, and not just another burdensome State requirement that everyone completes just because it is the law. Make the training applicable to ALL employees, including owners and supervisors – and let the employees see you engaged at the training sessions. There are a number of employee training companies and HR consultants that will have training modules that can help with this.

• Consistent and Equal (Non-Discriminatory) Enforcement – Nothing kills a company’s work environment as allowing certain “valuable” employees (or worse yet, ownership) slide on the training or rules enforcement. Don’t be caught saying one thing and doing another. Selective enforcement of the rules not only destroys morale, but it also can lead to expensive legal challenges as well. Once you commit to a policy directed toward workplace respect, equality and inclusiveness, stick with it and strictly enforce it. When mommy and daddy are consistent with the rules, the kids will typically follow. 

While very valuable and necessary to address for your business, these issues can be quite the “high-wire” act. I highly recommend that before wading into these waters on your own, you seek the guidance and counsel of an experienced employment attorney or professional HR consultant.

Your bottom line will thank you.

If you’re looking to hire a new employee in California and don’t know what’s needed, we can help! We have a few resources that you can utilize, we have A Step By Step Guide to Hiring Your First California Employee and New Hire Forms available on our website.

Another good resource to help you is Us! You can reach out to us here.


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