Vol. 4 No. 1 Spring 1998 Braun Consulting News Page 2
button  A $35,000 Mistake... Employees Right To Privacy Handled Carelessly Brings Home A Costly Lesson

Denny's restaurants paid the price for carelessness in a case where a supervisor who requested time off revealed that he was HIV-positive and the information was inappropriately handled. The information was disclosed to employees who had no need to know about his medical condition.

The employee filed an EEOC charge alleging that he was discriminated against in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The HIV-positive employee said several other coworkers and customers learned about the condition, and that there was harassment in the form of intrusive questions, avoidance, and rejections by other employees and customers.

Another employee was even threatening to sue Denny's, claiming that they had exposed her to risks of contracting HIV.

As a result, all Denny's restaurant employees are now required to attend a one day "civil treatment" training session to familiarize themselves with employment laws such as ADA, policies and procedures had to be updated, an individual had to be designated whom employees could go to with complaints, and assurance had to be given that the complaints would be investigated promptly. (Try estimating those costs just for fun!)

There was also a payment of $35,000 in damages and attorneys fees. The bottom line... make sure that medical records are kept separate from other employee records and that medical records be strictly limited to those who have a need to know.

Don't underestimate the cost of being careless in situations involving a persons right to medical privacy in the workplace.

button  Domestic Abuse & Workplace Violence -
A Liability Issue For Employers

Because domestic abuse usually takes place in private many businesses have tended to see it as a personal and not a workplace problem.

Today these lines are becoming blurred, and "looking the other way" may become a liability issue for companies who don't confront this issue head on. The unpleasantness of these situations makes it completely understandable that managers may shun becoming involved, but that won't stop a company from being involved if the situation gets out of hand.

Failure to act can now get employers in big trouble where domestic violence is concerned. If an employee or coworkers are assaulted or killed by an abuser and a company knew or should have known about the situation, then that company could be defending its self in court.

Courts have held companies liable for negligent hiring, negligent retention and for failure to warn because domestic violence that crosses over into the workplace may be predictable and preventable.

One company was sued for $5 million when an employee and several coworkers were killed by the employee's ex-partner. The woman said her partner had threatened to kill her at work (the one place he knew he could find her) and the company was found negligent because it failed to act.

Companies may consider a "zero tolerance policy" regarding domestic violence. Occupational Health and Safety Act regulations obligate employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace, and dangers in the workplace as the result of domestic violence are not an exception.

In addition to the trauma and upset caused by these situations, companies loose money when domestic violence lowers productivity and raises health-care costs.

Consider these figures from the U.S. Department of Justice:

  • 74 % of employed battered women are harassed by their abuser at work
  • 56% are late for work and 28% leave early at least 5 days a month
  • 54% miss at least three days a month
  • 75% have used company time to deal with their violence related matters.

    Here are samples of some policies which have been effective for some companies:

  • training management and employees to recognize the signs of domestic violence

  • making informational pamphlets on abuse available in private places such as restrooms

  • offering affected employees flex time

  • offering up to 3 weeks paid leave to get out of the abusive situation

  • establishing extra security or warnings to employees once someone reveals a threat

  • letting victims know they will not lose their job simply for disclosing the abusive situation (this is a key point)

    And last, but not least - confronting domestic violence where it crosses into the workplace is the most cost effective thing to do for a company, it is also the right thing to do.

    You might save someone's life!

    Braun Consulting Group - we tackle the tough problems of our clients head on, and help them solve the problems that need experience and resolve!
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