Unit 3: Legal Issues
Unfortunately, dysfunctional conflict can create adverse work environments for anyone who meets with the disagreeing parties, including customers, clients, employees, managers, and company leadership. Remember the four ways employees, managers, and organizations resolve conflict: negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and litigation. For the reasons we discussed in Unit 2, going to court to resolve your disagreements should be the last resort.
Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.
3.1: Laws to Protect Workers
Employees, managers, organizational leaders, and human resource departments should be well-versed in local, state, and national laws that protect employees' rights. Most governments have enacted laws to help their constituents avoid working in a hostile environment by dealing with sexual harassment, negative stereotypes, personal and cultural bias, and other forms of discrimination. Dysfunctional workplace situations are not only hurtful and damaging, but they can also be physically dangerous for the victims or others who try to respond to ineffective and disgruntled employees responsibly.
3.2: Hostile Work Environments
A hostile work environment is one where employees feel uncomfortable and unable to perform their job. There is no single standard for a hostile work environment. The burden of proof is on the employee to show that their claims are fair and their employer discriminated against them due to a protected class such as gender, age, race, national origin, disability status, sexual orientation, or similar protected traits.
As part of their collective bargaining agreements, most union representatives insist that employers create clear and formal grievance procedures so that union members can register complaints or violations of the employee contract. Most of these policies dictate that employers must respond appropriately to their employees within a specific timeframe with an amenable resolution and appropriate procedures for going forward.
Aggrieved employees usually send a grievance letter to their direct supervisor or the company's human resource department. Employee grievance letters should detail the event that led to their grievance, concern, problem, or complaint, with details, such as the date, background, actions taken, and recommendation for remediation. For example, complaints may include sexual harassment, discrimination, health or safety concerns, inappropriate supervisor behavior, adverse working conditions, or inappropriate work assignments.
Employees typically send a grievance letter to the human resources department when they are unsatisfied with the response they receive from their immediate supervisor or manager. Employers follow different policies and procedures to respond to or address the complaints they receive, such as formal investigations, communicating with other relevant employees, having open discussions with supervisors, or offering the aid of a mediator. Many human resource departments offer procedures to appeal decisions, such as written complaint processes and involvement from additional parties or supervisors.
3.3: Fear of Retaliation
Employees need to know they will not jeopardize their career or suffer negative consequences if they express disagreement, or report a grievance or workplace wrongdoing. Examples of retribution from coworkers or managers include demotion, reassignment to undesirable work assignments, and wrongful termination.
Fear of retaliation discourages good employees from reporting infractions and abuses such as sexual harassment and discrimination. This can lead victims to shoulder years of hurt, anger, frustration, distrust, and resentment. Organizations that fail to investigate infractions will miss opportunities to rectify practices that can damage all employees' morale and destroy unit cohesion and teamwork.
The report could describe an isolated incident or reveal a common practice perpetrated by an individual or group of employees that should be disciplined. Employee retaliation can lead to serious instances of workplace bullying and cause an organization to ruin its reputation for fairness, lose credibility among its customers, and damage its public image for integrity. They also risk losing their committed and valuable employees who leave the organization to search for better opportunities.
3.4: Not Meeting Expectations
During the annual performance review process, managers have an opportunity to have frank and open discussions with employees about job performance, to clear up any misunderstandings regarding expectations, and create solutions for problems, disputes, and points of conflict. Managers can use these meetings to direct employees who are struggling or unhappy onto a more productive path. You can think about this process as another method of conflict resolution.
Take a moment to review the discussions in Unit 1 about the benefits of functional conflict in the workplace, reasons for dysfunctional conflict, and some different ways individuals approach conflict and disagreement. An open discussion that details the interests and concerns managers and employees have and finds common ground can help both parties arrive at a solution and chart a new path in the future.
3.5: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, is a federal agency Congress created in 1965 whose actions are mandated as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act of 1967, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.
The EEOC is charged with investigating claims of employment discrimination and enforcing federal laws prohibiting these practices. For example, if the EEOC has reason to suspect an employer is responsible for discriminating against its job applicants or employees based on their race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, it will collect evidence to support its case and can legally punish or sue the employer.