Monday, June 15, 2015

Why don't discrimination laws protect everyone from abuse?

The Huffington Post asks the following question:
Laws Protect Certain Classes from Workplace Abuse: Why Not Everyone?
It’s a valid question. The law only protects an employee from being treated poorly at work if he or she happens to fall into a legally protected category, which, on the federal level, includes race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, and military status. Depending in what state one happens to work, these classes might expand to include sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

The article goes on to argue that “federal and state employment laws should be developed to protect all … from workplace bullying and companies from allegations of unfair treatment via clearly defined expectations for acceptable standards of behavior.”

Here’s the problem with this argument. You can’t legislate being an asshole. The world is full of them, and no set of laws, rules, or regulation will stop this mis-behavior. All it will do is either create an environment in which it is too expensive for employers to employ anyone because of the increased risk and attendant costs associates with firing anyone, or create an environment in which an employer fears managing anyone because of risk that the managed employee will cry “bully” and sue.

Yet, there is a tremendous amount of sex appeal behind the idea of anti-bullying laws. I believe, especially in the politically correct culture in which we currently live and work, that anti-bullying workplace laws are a likely inevitability. All it will take is one state to fall, and the rest will drop like dominoes. 

So, what is an employer to do? Shape up before a legislature requires it. Take a stand against bullies in your business. Treat all of your employees with the respect with which you would want to be treated if in their shoes. Hold your managers and supervisors accountable for any mis-treatment of employees, even if it falls outside one of the legally protected classes. Otherwise, the din of support for anti-bullying laws will grow into a roar that the government will not be able to ignore. While that would be good for my business, it most certainly would not be good for yours.