ELECTION YEAR? HOLD YOUR TONGUE AT THE OFFICE

This year is an election year and political tensions are running high. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on “the issues,” but not everyone has the right to express those opinions. Although government workers are protected by federal regulations that govern free speech, many workers may not know that private employers can restrict political discussion entirely because of its potential to create a hostile work environment.

Employers are permitted to ban political speech altogether or allow any kind of political banter. In addition, they are allowed to squelch particular viewpoints, allowing Democrats to voice their opinions while Republicans are expected to keep quiet, for example. Employers can also fire employees who hold a different opinion or stance, depending upon the requirements of the workplace.

Employees in the private sector need to realize that if they are at-will workers, they can be fired for anything they do or say, even if it’s outside the workplace. For this reason, all employees are encouraged to understand their company’s stance on political speech in all environments.

Although political discussions among adults tend to remain civil in the workplace, they can quickly devolve into offensive or pervasive problems. The arguments could potentially violate workers’ protections against discrimination based on age, gender, race and other personal variables. Racist or sexist references to candidates, though politically based, can lead to an ongoing hostile environment for people who are forced to listen.

Political speech could even lead directly to a discrimination lawsuit, say professionals, because of the charged nature of many debates. Employers need to be aware that these suits could hold supervisors liable, even if they were not engaged in the political discussions. Employers have a responsibility to make sure that their workers are psychologically and physically comfortable during their time spent at work.

Source: Lansing State Journal, “Political talk best kept away from work,” Dianne Stafford, April 15, 2012

PASO ROBLES POLICE CHIEF ACCUSED OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT

For those who subscribe to the misguided notion that sexual harassment in the workplace is only committed by men, here is a story from Paso Robles, California that suggests otherwise.

More and more male police officers, both current and former, are coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment against the city’s female police chief. The accusations are so severe that they could even garner criminal sexual conduct charges.

Their claims depict numerous incidents of inappropriate touching. Many of the officers who are no longer with the force claim that they were let go in a retaliatory effort.

A number of officers recalled an incident on the Sunday night of the Super Bowl where the female police chief instructed everyone to attend what she labeled a mandatory meeting at the Carmel Valley Lodge. She also instructed her inferiors to sit in a hot tub together where she showed her bare breasts and inappropriately touched a male officer’s genitals. When that man promptly left the hot tub, she touched another male officer in a similar fashion.

Despite the number of commanders, lieutenants and sergeants to witness this display, none of them reported it as a crime and no one alerted city officials to the harassment.

An additional officer told an investigator that the woman also touched his penis while they were riding in the same squad car together on the job.

Under a California penal code, any intimate touching against a person’s will for sexual gratification, arousal or abuse is considered misdemeanor sexual battery. However, when the perpetrator is a public official, punishment for the crime is more severe. The offense could carry either jail or prison time in addition to registering as a sex offender.

Source: Cal Coast News, “Police chief accused of sexually assaulting her officers,” Karen Velie and Daniel Blackburn, Jan. 26, 2012

FORMER CALIFORNIA COP CLAIMS SHE WAS SEXUALLY HARASSED

History is rife with incidences of discrimination and persecution against women. And while it is now the year 2011, women are still often subject to sexual harassment in the workplace and gender discrimination that can lead to a hostile work environment.

According to a recent news report, a former Oakland Raiders cheerleader has filed a lawsuit in Sacramento for ostracism and gender-based harassment while working as a police officer for the city of Vacaville, California.

A number of allegations surfaced in the lawsuit; among them, the reported statement made by a superior indicating that the former Raiderette should not attempt to exercise in the department and gym because her appearance would draw unwanted attention.

The woman also claims that, on one occasion, a police sergeant requested a show of hands from officers who harbored a desire to see her in the nude. She purportedly suffered similar instances of harassment on a regular basis, the lawsuit alleged.

The woman now seeks $1.5 million from the city of Vacaville, the police chief, a retired police lieutenant and 25 other individuals in the sexual harassment suit.

Reportedly, following a need for modified duty in 2007 (as a result of purportedly deliberate injuries sustained during a tactics training class), the woman denied a request for medical retirement and continued to suffer through a hostile work environment and constant sexual harassment in the workplace.

The woman also claims that she was retaliated against after she complained about the discrimination and sexual harassment when the County District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against her for insurance fraud related to a medical claim.

The woman’s legal counsel filed her lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Sacramento mid-August. It will be interesting to see how this case evolves.

No one should be subjected to discrimination based on sex, age, or otherwise. Individuals who feel they’ve been victim to a hostile work environment because of discrimination or sexual harassment may be entitled to compensation for the pain and suffering they’ve endured.

Source: Times-herald, “Ex-Raiderette sues Vacaville–claims she was harassed as a cop,” Ryan Chalk, Aug 19, 2011