Safe Work Environment Act Report

This column appears in the September 17 – 24 edition of the Hartford News…

Community Party Media

Community Party Radio on So-Metro Radio

Commentary on urban issues from a grassroots perspective. Next show: Tuesday, September 29 at 9:00 PM. We’ll talk to Spanish Speaking Center of New Britain CT executive director Mary Sanders about her recent announcement that SSC, a nonprofit that served the city’s poor for 50 years, has closed permanently due to budget cuts. Connecticut Democrats (Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Democratic Party controlled General Assembly) cut SSC’s state funding, while Republican New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart cut the remainder of SSC’s cash flow. A bipartisan effort. Mary, Arshad Saalik and I will talk about CP’s police reform and urban policy plan. The second half of the show will feature an analysis of the 2016 presidential election. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we talk to police officers who were run out of their departments for speaking out against corruption. Auburn, Alabama cop Justin Hanners was fired for taking a stand against ticket and arrest quotas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGeZiWOeGIc&feature=youtu.be Retired LAPD Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey is now speaking out about police culture, brutality, racism and the abuse officers suffer from their superiors. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ynsjv8IaWNg Tune in! http://sometroradio.com/

False Choice: The Bipartisan Attack on the Working Class, the Poor and Communities of Color

Trebol Press has published my first nonfiction book on politics. The Democrats and Republicans spar publicly, but the reality is that these two parties have more in common than they have differences. This duopoly is run on corporatist economic policies that benefit the ruling class, at the expense of the workers and the poor. Global hegemony is at the core of the foreign policies of the Dems and the GOP. False Choice is a diary of national and global issues, set against the backdrop of the Connecticut gubernatorial election between Gov. Dannel Malloy and Republican challenger Tom Foley that was rated as the most negative in the country in 2014. The book also features commentary on politics at Hartford City Hall, including analysis of the highly controversial baseball stadium deal orchestrated by Mayor Pedro Segarra and City Council President Shawn Wooden. Visit the Trebol Press website for ordering info. http://trebolpress.com

Trayvon Martin Act Update

Tuesday I attended a civilian review board meeting at Hartford City Hall. I informed the board about the city ducking CP’s Freedom of Information Act request regarding the list of HPD officers who have multiple sustained complaints against them aka Bad Boy Cops list. We also have not received a response for traffic ticket data in Hartford neighborhoods. We’re trying to find out if residents in low income communities of color are being disproportionately targeted for tickets as a revenue generator for the city, like the Department of Justice found was the practice in Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson was not even the worst offender in the state: several municipalities made more money this way. Missouri lawmakers subsequently passed legislation that reduces the amount of money a city/town can use from traffic tickets toward their budgets. Stay tuned.

This week we’ll share a post from the Undercover Lawyer blog site. Coming in 2016: the Community Party’s Safe Work Environment Act, an anti-workplace bullying bill. https://hendu39.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/real-protection-against-workplace-bullying-safe-work-environment-act/ Visit the Undercover Lawyer: http://undercoverlawyer.hubpages.com/

*****

Hostile Work Environment — 10 Things Bully Bosses do to Cause Lawsuits (Part I)

Introduction: Learn What Bully Bosses Are Told by Attorneys

On the website I promised that since I’m a defense lawyer by day, I would bring you the latest legal information “from behind the lines.” This topic is one of the seminars top employment lawyers provide for their biggest corporate clients. You, as an employee, can now learn what it is that the most expensive lawyers say to managers about what those managers should and should not do, in order to avoid getting sued.

Each of the following 10 points starts as a nugget of advice for a manager or a boss about what they should do to avoid being sued by employees. So for each point, not only can you see what your boss should be doing, but you can flip it around in your head and see how you can use the advice to your own advantage.

This Hub is Part 1, containing mistakes 1 through 5. Part II of the Hub contains mistakes 6-10 (which are some of the juiciest). So without further ado, here are “The 10 Biggest Mistakes Bully Bosses Make that Cause Companies to Get Sued”:

1. Sloppy Documentation

Most discrimination cases really are not won with some kind of smoking gun evidence that proves the entire case. A single e-mail , or an audio recording of manager yelling and swearing at an employee rarely carry the day for employees who file suit against their boss. Usually, discrimination cases are proven with circumstantial evidence. Although you may have heard someone on television dismissively say “That’s circumstantial evidence,” circumstantial evidence is still evidence. And it can be very powerful evidence. You can use it in court and you can win a case using only circumstantial evidence.

There’s an old lawyers’ example of supposing that you are walking through the woods and find a turtle on top of a tall stump. You don’t have any direct evidence that somebody put the turtle on the stump, but you have pretty persuasive circumstantial evidence for it. All of this is to emphasize the importance of documenting the little things as they happen, because all the little things can be powerful circumstantial evidence of something much larger – like a company-wide decision to get rid of older employees.

One very successful employer-side attorney warned a group of manager that when employees sue employers, they often use documents, particularly e-mail, to show the jury that the manager was acting toward the employee with discriminatory intent. So, the attorney advised, “Always speak and write as if your comments will be held up to a jury some day.” This is something that I tell employers and managers all the time as part of my “day job” as employer-side attorney. “If you’re going to write something to an employee, imagine that it’s blown up to poster size, and then set on an easel in front of a jury.

So likewise, as an employee trying to protect yourself from a bully boss, you should also imagine what your written words will look like to a jury when when you are responding to your boss’s e-mails. Make sure you use a calm, professional sounding tone. Imagine a jury reading your words and then deciding who is the good guy in this situation: is it you, or, is it the manager? Way too often people spout off and lose their temper in e-mails. It will only come back and bite them in the courtroom.

2. Not Following the Company’s Own Policies and Procedures

Rules aren’t used only to hold you, the employee, accountable. You can often spin the company’s own rules around and use those rules to hold your manager accountable. Also, employee manuals frequently promise more than what the law requires. As a result, you can hold your manager to the personnel policies your company has issued, even if your manager isn’t aware of those polices. Courts expect managers to know what your organization’s policies and procedures are. If a manager tells you that the policy is “A” and it’s actually “B”, then it will look like your manager is making up rules in order to get you in trouble.

Let’s say, for instance, that your manager says you must call in by 7:00 am if you’re going to be late for work. But the policy actually states that employees must call in 30 minutes before their shift starts. If your shift starts at 8:00 am, then a jury is going to view your manager as being purposefully deceitful, not just forgetful. It can make your manager look like he’s out to get you, which he or she probably was. Your manager should review a policy, double check that he or she has it right, and check with HR before taking disciplinary action against you.

If you know, then, that your manager has taken disciplinary action against you that contradicts company policy, then make sure that you careully document what happened and get a copy of the rule your manager did not follow. You will have a nice piece of evidence.

3. Inflated Employee Appraisals

This happens all the time. A manager spends years avoiding a confrontation with an employee the manager believes is under-performing. Rather go through the uncomfortable situation of giving a long term co-worker a bad appraisal, the manager just gives the employee “4’s” on a one to five scale — with five being excellent.

The manager might give a few 5’s, and even a few 3’s, but that is as critical as the manager will be. Now let’s say your manager has given you some “3’s”. On a 1 to 5 scale, threes are “satisfactory.” When you’re in front of a jury, what does satisfactory mean? It means satisfactory. It means average or meets minimum acceptable levels. It doesn’t mean “needs improvement or will be fired.” On a 1 to 5 scale getting a 3 overall means you’re doing a good enough job.

If your manager consistently gave you “3’s”, or satisfactory, and then claimed that you were terminated for poor performance or that you were in trouble for poor performance, then your manager was contradicting himself or herself. This will undermine your manager’s credibility. In front of a jury in court your own attorney can say, “Look, here are years and years of positive appraisals that this manager gave my client” [you]. “And sitting here today is the same manager saying that my client has a history of poor performance.” Your attorney probably won’t bother drawing the conclusion for the jury, but allow them to draw if for themselves: the manager is now lying to try to justify getting rid of the employee.

If your personnel file is less than all “Excellent” status, don’t worry. But do work hard to keep your overall review score at least at a level of “3” or Satisfactory or Average or whatever is the middle of the road score at your organization. In truth, this should be fairly easy to do with most (but not all) managers. Do it, and you will have another powerful piece of evidence that the “real reason” you are being disciplined or threatened with termination is NOT your job performance.

4. The “Higher Up” Managers Shrug-off Employee Complaints

If there’s anything that I hear over and over again it’s that an employee complained about a bully boss to a higher level manager, and the higher level manager just shrugs it off, taking no action whatsoever. Defense-side lawyers are trying hard to train managers not to do this, but they do it anyway.

So what does this mean for you as an employee? You should complain to your manager, your HR person, or your boss’ boss. However, expect them not to do much, if anything, about your problem. You should carefully document that you did make these complaints. Send the boss’s boss an e-mail confirming that you had a conversation with them. Briefly summarize the key points and blind copy yourself to a personal e-mail address outside the company before you hit SEND.

This way you will have a copy of the e-mail that shows it was sent to your manager’s boss with the date and the time. It will then be the company’s burden to show (in court or in front of the EEOC) that it responded to you. Will they have? Probably not. Often a boss responds with comments like “I’m not a babysitter” or “boys will be boys” or “I want everyone here to act like adults.” They think that such a cursory response is enough, but it’s not. Their lack of responsiveness to good faith employee concerns is a big cause of employee lawsuits, and a big reason why employees win those suits later on down the road.

5. Managers Who Change Their Story

Another way that bully bosses cause and lose lawsuits is by changing their story. In an organization, sometimes the story of why an employee was terminated changes multiple times. When this happens, the company’s credibility is shot.

At first your boss will claim that you are having performance problems, and that you face discipline or even termination because of these supposed problems. When, however, you address those performance problems your boss will change course, and say, “Oh well, there are the attendance problems you have been having lately.” Then you address those supposed problems. Then your boss (now probably with H.R. Involved) will say, “Well, we’re laying you off because your position is being eliminated.” Does it look like “layoff” is the real reason you’ve lost your job, after management proffered all these different reasons, and keeps changing its justifications?

No, it looks like the real reason was some discriminatory motivation, and your boss was determined to get rid of you no matter how thoroughly you shot down each performance issue your boss raised. That’s why your bully boss changed his or her story – because he or she was determined to get rid of you no matter what.

So although this can be horribly frustrating to you when it’s going on, take heart in knowing that courts frown upon companies that flip-flop on why an employee was let go. Defense lawyers and companies both know that story-swapping by bullying bosses just causes the company to lose lawsuits. That’s why defense lawyers are out in the business world training bosses NOT to change their story around once they start disciplining an employee with an eye on termination.

If this happens to you, there’s no denying that the short term battles with your boss will be agonizing and frustrating. You’ll probably feel like you are caught in a cycle where you lose no matter what you do. But you will know that the bully boss is unintentionally giving you the upper hand in the long term. You are the one who is going to win the war.

*****

Follow CP on Twitter for state, national and world news headlines. https://twitter.com/CommunityParty1 Check out my Facebook page for daily news commentary. https://www.facebook.com/david.samuels.948 Listen to WQTQ 89.9 FM for CP’s public service announcements on our racial justice initiatives https://www.facebook.com/wqtqfm and So-Metro Radio the first and third Tuesday of each month at 9:00 PM for commentary on urban issues http://www.sometroradio.com/ Check out our No Sellout blog (https://hendu39.wordpress.com/) for the complete archive of CP columns and Northend Agent’s archive for selected columns (http://www.northendagents.com/). Contact us at 860-206-8879 or info.community.party@gmail.com

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