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This article by Peter J. Mladineo was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

July 22, 1998. All rights reserved.

New Rules for Sexual Harassment

The United States Supreme Court has just made some

very big decisions in regard to America’s favorite workplace

controversy.

Two cases, Burlington Industries vs. Ellerth, and Farragher vs. City

of Boca Raton, provide new, clearer guidelines for sexual harassment

that many have praised as beam of light through a region renowned

for its murkiness.

"The pair of 7-2 decisions, issued on the final day of the court’s

term, cut through a thicket of confusing and contradictory lower-court

rulings that had grown up in the 12 years since the justices first

ruled that sexual harassment was a form of employment

discrimination,"

wrote Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times. "The rulings

won immediate praise across an unusually broad spectrum of both

management

and civil rights groups for bringing coherence to the law and

providing

incentives for preventing harassment and dealing promptly with

problems

that occur."

Two upcoming seminars address these new precedents. Grotta, Glassman

& Hoffman, the Roseland-based law firm, hosts a discussion of sexual

harassment and other recent court decisions on Wednesday, July 29,

at 8:30 a.m. at the Woodbridge Place Sheraton. Call 973-992-4800 for

information. Also, American Humanagement Associates gives an executive

briefing on Tuesday, August 4, at 8 a.m. at the Trenton Business and

Technology Center. Call 609-989-9890 for more information.

Highlights of the decisions include these new guidelines:

Employers need an anti-harassment policy. The employer

must take "reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any

sexually harassing behavior." The employee is also required to

"take advantage of any preventative or corrective

opportunities"

regarding the claim the employer provided beforehand.

And an employee who resists a supervisor’s advances need not have

suffered a job detriment to win a sexual harassment suit. This also

means, for example, that an employee who is not promoted because of

incompetence could win a harassment case by drawing attention to

previous

allegations of harassment.

In each of these situations, the employer’s safeguard

in this latter case is an anti-harassment policy. "Employers can

protect themselves from sexual harassment allegations by having a

clear anti-harassment policy and by following through on the

policy,"

explains Dominick Bratti, 35, a partner at Grotta, Glassman

& Hoffman. "It’s a legal way to say they’re going to take care

of the problem. The flip side of that is, the court says the employees

have to use the policy. So you can’t claim that you were sexually

harassed by a co-worker and meanwhile you sat on your rights for two

years. The employee has an obligation to complain under the policy.

There will be less opportunity for an employee to fabricate a

claim."

The company can no longer claim ignorance. The old excuse,

"I didn’t know what the supervisor was doing," doesn’t work

any more.

Kate Butler feels that ignorance of sexual harassment

is part of a workplace culture conducive to sexual harassment.

"All

of this stuff is happening on somebody’s watch," says Butler,

a 48-year-old gender issues consultant and 360-degree feedback

proponent

(U.S. 1, January 7) who started American Humanagement Association

(aha!) 12 years ago. "We have been socialized to turn a blind

eye and a deaf ear when we see icky stuff."

Sexual harassment, she insists, usually happens within sight of

everybody

in the office, and, she claims, sexual harassers always behave

serially.

The problem lies with witnesses not being willing to step outside

their comfort levels to confront. "It’s impolite to stick our

nose in and say stop that," she says.

The typical perpetrator counseled by Butler is over age 50 and is

of high value to the company. "They want to keep him, but they

want to defuse him as a ticking time bomb," says Butler.

"That’s

the most profound work that I do. I change these people. We cry and

it’s not a lot of fun."

But in the end, it’s all in the day’s work for Butler. "It’s the

client’s pocketbook I’m protecting," she says. "Good

management

practices can be completely undone when you’re harboring sexual

harassment

in your midst."

For a small business, training employees about sexual harassment could

turn out to be a rather expensive transaction. One human resource

expert estimates that such a seminar could run in the neighborhood

of $1,500 to $2,500. "Small businesses are going to have to spend

a lot more time educating their managers and their supervisors,"

says Steve Rosenthal, CEO of Employee Management Inc., a

professional

employer organization based in Woodbridge. "It’s not like it used

to be years ago. Today, you have to stay on top of the training

aspect.

There’s a big emphasis on the employers to teach the employees."

Rosenthal’s firm, which acts as the employer of record for roughly

15,000 employees at 800 client sites, also takes care of human

resource

functions — including sexual harassment training. He likens the

new court decisions to the court’s attitude towards other kind of

corporate training, such as 401(k) plans. "The onus is on the

employer to make sure that the employees are educated on investment

decisions," he says. "If the employees lose money on bad

investments,

the employer may be held responsible." Another analogy was the

Supreme Court case concerning the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the

Alaskan

coast. "The courts found that Exxon was liable because it did

not put enough protocol into the training process for drug and alcohol

abuse," says Rosenthal.

While the ramifications of these new rulings may take years

to rise to the surface, many cheer this as a victory of common sense

over a system that offered built-in excuses to management and

gold-lined

opportunities for extortionists. But it may also end up that the only

politically correct salutation in the office will begin with

"Citizen."

"I think there’s an element of political correctness in everything

that goes on these days, especially in this area of the law,"

says Bratti. "People who are not 100 percent-P.C. open themselves

up for those problems."

— Peter J. Mladineo

Top Of Page
Website Advice

If you can’t think of a reason why Web surfers should

bookmark your website, they’re not going to do it. That’s advice from

Blaine Greenfield, a marketing consultant who teaches a course

about Internet marketing at Bucks County Community College.

He also lectures at the New Business Learning Center on "The Truth

about the Internet," on Tuesday, July 28, at 7 p.m. at the Summit

Bank building at 6 East Trenton Avenue in Morrisville, Pennsylvania.

Call 215-736-3156 for more information.

A business can’t thrive on Web profits alone, he says. "If you

think you’re just going to put up a Web page and the orders are going

to flow in it isn’t just going to happen. The Web can be very

effective

as a supplemental medium."

As far as getting traffic to the site, most probably know not to rely

on random new business flow (unless your site has a valuable

generalized

domain name like http://www.business.com or

http://www.-pizza.com).

Greenfield suggest lots of advertising, registering on lots of search

engines, and having a "compelling reason for them to go to your

website."

Another tip: Update the page regularly. And make your search engine

description as specific as possible.

"The Internet has given the small business owner the chance to

compete with any major corporation," Greenfield reports. "The

cost is not prohibitive. It’s come down phenomenally. The caveat is

that if you’re going to do it yourself it’s going to take time, and

you’re going to have to stay on top of it."

Greenfield contributes to a page sponsored by the New Jersey Small

Business Development Corporation,

www.nj.com/njsbdc/marketing.html.

This is a page with resources and articles for the small business

owner.

Here are other sites Greenfield bookmarks on his computer:

Http://www.askjeeves.com. He calls this "the best

search engine out there" because it allows users to search for

information using full sentence queries. Caution: This is a definitely

an example of out-of-the-box searching. Instead of spitting out hits,

this contraption asks more questions. Be prepared to gawk confusedly

at the interface for a little while. And for those who give up, Ask

Jeeves also has a standard parallel search engine — a search

engine

that simply sends your query to several other search engines and

process

those searches simultaneously.

Http://www.dogpile.com. This parallel search engine is

user friendly and fast, and likely to get hits on any search, no

matter

how remote the material.

Http://www.virtualpresents.com. This allows you to send

pictures of everything from a Buffalo to a tube of lipstick. It’s

a nice alternative to E-mail.

Http://www.bluemountain.com. This site lets you send

electronic

cards to loved ones. Write your own poetry, or send a premade card.

The graphics may be paltry, but it’s the thought that counts.

Http://www.anywho.com/telq.html. Got a business’s phone

number but can’t remember its name? Got an old flame’s name and

address

but not his or her phone number? This site is for you. Its software

allows searches to be conducted using telephone numbers, or even

partial

numbers. And it does more standard people/business searches by name.

But as with any people-finding software, don’t expect a high degree

of success.

Http://babefish.altavista.digital.com/cgi-bin/translate?.

Need something translated? This site has language translation software

for English, Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese. Just type in

a sentence or paragraph and suddenly you can see what it looks like

another language. Nifty. Especially for Americans.

Greenfield also observes an increasing public acceptance of

Internet commerce. It has become much easier to convince people to

buy things online using their credit card. "The security concerns

are not what they were six months ago," he says. "They’ve

been improved now to the extent that it’s relatively safe and secure

to order anything."

Which leads to his last point: Don’t operate your website by

yesterday’s

rules. "You want to be as current as possible," says

Greenfield.

"Or you fall by the wayside."


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