The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled in Riley v. St. Mary’s Medical Center that, while the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”) altered the federal standard for proving a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and as the Pennsylvania legislature has not enacted a similar amendment to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), the higher, pre-ADAAA standard for proving “disability” will apply to a plaintiff’s PHRA disability claim.
An employee who has 20/20 vision asks to bring a service animal—a “seeing eye dog”—into work. Must you permit the employee to do so? You might feel that this is the sort of question for which you don’t need to consult with an attorney. The answer is obviously, “No,” right? What if the employee also trains service animals on the side? Must you allow the employee to bring the animal in to work? The answer might surprise you.
The practice of allowing employees to work from home – telecommuting – is a growing trend. After all, today’s technology allows employees to work from almost anywhere, and telecommuting can be beneficial for both employers and employees. For employers, telecommunicating can be a less expensive alternative to traditional brick and mortar locations. Employees like telecommuting because of the flexibility it provides.
Within the last week, allegations of harassment at the San Diego Comic-Con were in the forefront of every Vulcan Mind-Meld as Geeks for CONsent petitioned the 45 year old convention for better anti-harassment policies and procedures. They took this step since some attendees have found themselves subject to unwanted groping, photography, and verbal bedevilment based upon their choice of costume, as well as traditional protected traits. CONsent says the San Diego convention’s Code of Conduct is just not enough. They want to see a formal anti-harassment policy adopted that provides for a reporting mechanism, publication throughout the convention of zero-tolerance enforcement mechanisms, and training for volunteers who will be responding to harassment reports.
Do these requests sound familiar? They should if you have an anti-harassment policy in your workplace. Effective policies require reporting and enforcement mechanisms and the 3 Ts: training, training, and training. In fact, the stories I’ve read this week make me think they should address a little more. Admittedly, Comic-Con’s four sentence Code of Conduct is insufficient in any employment setting. It’s also true that most work environments have a somewhat more conservative dress code. However, the lesson to be learned from this fantasy world is that effective harassment policies should take into consideration the particular challenges of your workplace.
For instance – and keeping with the theme – the Grand Poobah of Comics, the legendary Stan Lee, has a fairly broad anti-harassment policy for his Comikaze Expo, protecting participants from harassment on the basis of “gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.” The policy further provides specific examples of harassing behavior, including not only offensive comments and touching, but also convention-particular concerns such as stalking and harassing photography and recording.
In another example, Central Coast Comic-Con makes it clear what consequences may follow harassing behavior, including removal from the premises, criminal charges, and more. Its policy directs anyone who feels they are being harassed or who believes they are witnessing questionable behavior to bring it to the attention of any staff member, security, or volunteer for appropriate action.
In an environment fraught with the potential for inappropriate behavior, where people may feel anonymous due to cape and cowl, the need for effective controls is as clear as the light emanating from Hal Jordan’s lantern. Anti-harassment policies are about prevention. Make sure your policy is addressing the realities of your workplace. As the experience at Comic-Con shows, harassment is not just a fantasy. Don’t let it become a reality for you.
As people in the world, we face difficult situations all the time. If someone seems sad or depressed, we may want to help but not know how. When it’s your employee who is going through tough times, you may have legal concerns to worry about too. It’s good to be as prepared as possible beforehand. For example, let’s imagine that one of your employees seems depressed and starts making comments around the workplace about hurting him or herself.