Do we need more workplace discrimination laws?
I'll admit it -- despite being in the news business, I can be naive sometimes. I prefer the glass-half-full worldview when possible.
Maybe that's why I was surprised to see a news release from U.S. Sen. Bob Casey's office last week with the headline "Casey calls for end to workplace discrimination."
Really? In 2014? We STILL need to add legislation so people can go to work and not be harassed?
In the release, Casey — who is chairman of the subcommittee on employment and workplace safety — cites the June 2013 ruling in Vance v. Ball State University, saying the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in that case weakened "critical protections against harassment." The "critical protections" are federal laws already on the books that prohibit workplace harassment on the basis of sex, race, national origin, religion, disability, age and genetic information.
In the Vance case, Casey's release says, the court ruled that an employer has no heightened legal obligation to prevent or remedy harassment when the harassment is being committed by someone who has the power to control a worker's daily duties but does not have the power to hire or fire the employee.
As so many legal rulings seem to me, I feel like that's splitting hairs too much. (That's probably why I didn't become a lawyer.)
I'm not so naive that I think workplace harassment doesn't occur. Having been a manager for a decade, I've dealt with several employees who felt they were being harassed because of their gender or their race. But in each case, all I had to do was utter the words "federal law" and the harasser backed off, apologized and ceased the behavior. Many times, the harasser didn't realize that what he or she was doing constituted harassment; they usually said they were "just joking around" with the victim.
But adding more legislation to an already-confusing land mine of a topic? I can't see how that will make any current harassers suddenly realize, "Hey, I shouldn't be doing this." I've always felt it's more proactive to provide training on this issue that includes demonstrations of what harassment looks like or feels like.
One last thought on the headline of Casey's news release: Does anybody anywhere ever call for more workplace discrimination? I'm thinking "no" on that one.