It Starts at the Top
What’s happening at McDonald’s should serve as an important lesson for many employers. In the past two weeks, it was reported that its CEO resigned or was terminated (depending on what news outlet you read) because he exercised “poor judgment” by having an affair with a subordinate. McDonald’s is facing a brave new world without its CEO with the added expense and distraction of defending new and outstanding sexual harassment lawsuits. What lessons can be learned?
In my management training I have been very direct with executives - do not date people in your division or line of report. Full stop. I now have many clients who - like McDonald’s - have enacted polices that prohibit workplace romances.
Why are these policies good and why should you consider one? Several reasons: workplace romance is often a distraction to the business; it takes up time; it causes resentment and jealousy, and it is simply bad for business.
- It can spawn lawsuits or internal grievances, especially when the paramour is getting favorable treatment that others can see.
- There is always a very real risk of a viable claim when the consensual relationship sours and breaks up. Since there was a disparity in power, one partner may claim it was forced, and it is hard to fight that claim.
Combating workplace harassment is not easy. It takes time, training and a real commitment by senior management to lead by example. Walk the walk, and your employees will follow.
New York employers should be reminded that a number of new harassment laws just went into effect in October 2019. We have written about many of these new statutes in prior posts, but if you are not in compliance yet, now is certainly the time to make sure that you are compliant!
What is notable about these laws are that they make harassment easier to prove, and claims more difficult to settle.
Just some of those laws are:
- Restrictions on the use of non-disclosure clauses in certain settlement agreements and releases. (N.Y.S. Exec. Law § 5-336(1)).
- Expanded prohibition of mandatory arbitration (N.Y. Civ. R. § 7515).
- Elimination of the “severe and pervasive” standard (N.Y.S. Exec. Law § 296(h)).
- Expanded legal protections for contractors and vendors and consultants and other non-employees ((N.Y.S. Exec. Law § 296-d).
- Last, an employee’s failure to complain internally is no longer a defense. (N.Y.S. Exec. Law § 296(h)).
With these new laws now in place, this is a good time to get your house in order and make sure your executives and managers understand the risks of the workplace romance.