Last Friday was a busy day in Alabama for employment issues. Perhaps the calendar was off by a day: it should have been Friday the 13th, not Friday the 12th.
First, the Birmingham News reported that a federal jury in Birmingham, after a 3 week trial, returned a verdict in the amount of $2.7 million against U.S. Security Associates, Inc, a security guard firm based in Georgia. According to the article, Jamie Marks sued USSA alleging sexual harassment when a district manager repeatedly propositioned her for sex and inappropriately touched her. Robert Gordon, writing for the Birmingham News, noted that "One occasion, Hargrove masturbated in front of Marks the lawsuit said." Marks complained, but was ignored, in part, because Hargrove, who was having an affair with Mark's immediate supervisor, threatened Mark's immediate supervisor, who witnessed the exposure, but lied during the company's investigation. Interestingly, Hargrove remains employed with USSA.
Practice pointer. Once again, let me say that it is important to have policies and procedures in place, and to follow them!!! The jury found, as evidenced by the high verdict, serious violations of the law by the supervisor, and the failure of the company to properly investigate and remedy the situation: the supervisor is still employed.
On January 28th, I wrote a blog entry dealing with violence in the workplace. Tragedy struck in Alabama Friday when a female professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who was just denied tenure, pulled a gun and killed 3 faculty members and wounded 2 faculty members and a staff member. The accused shooter is a 42 year old Harvard graduate, the mother of 4, married to a geneticist and researcher who also works at UAH, and apparantly accidently shot and killed her brother in 1986. The shooter and her husband were taken into custody. In watching the news reports, one student interviewed said that you hear about these situations around the country, but you never expect it to happen to you. Unfortunately, as we are again reminded, violence in the workplace does strike close to home. My firm, Sirote & Permutt, is holding a seminar this coming Wednesday, February 17 addressing violence in the workplace, If you are interested in attending, you can view the invitation here and make reservations to attend. The seminar will take place in Birmingham, but will be broadcast to our Huntsville and Mobile offices.
Practice pointer. Violence in the workplace is a constant threat, and must be dealt with seriously. It strikes close to home, and is unpredictable. Companies must prepare for these situations by having the appropriate policies and procedures in place, training the entire workforce, and be forever vigilant to guard against it.
Last November, I gave a presentation at our year end seminar addressing the H1N1 flu and pandemics in the workplace. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in an announcement made Friday, approximately 57 million Americans have contracted H1N1 since April, 2009. This is about 18 % of the U.S. population. Almost 12,000 have died, and about 260,000 have been hospitalized. Although the experts predicted otherwise, adults between 18 and 64 have been hit the hardest, accounting for 58% of the infections and hospitalizations and 76% of the deaths.
Practice pointer. Although the H1N1 pandemic may be over, other pandemics will hit in the future. When is unknown. In order to keep businesses operating during a pandemic, companies must be prepared with the appropriate plan to cover for absent employees, sick employees and perhaps the interruption of normal life (quarantines, disruption of the food supply, school closings, etc.) Now is the time to prepare by formulating proper procedures and implementing them with the workforce.
This past week, I was invited to speak to the Talladega County Bar Association and gave a presentation on Social Media, including the impact of social media in the workplace. Interestingly, one of the cases I often refer to in my presentations is a case out of North Carolina where a volunteer fireman was discharged for conduct unbecoming a fireman because his social media site made reference to him and his wife practicing the Wicca religion, and that his wife was bisexual. One of the attorneys in Talledega has a very similar situation, where an ex spouse allegedly posted on a social networking site that the other ex spouse practiced the Wicca religion and was bisexual. No, I can't make these things up. It is important to have a social media/networking policy in the workplace to protect the company, it's employees and to safeguard confidential and proprietary information.