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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Huge Lawsuit Risk: Defining The Workplace Down With Bra Parties

Today's New York Post tries to report on a possible trend (aberration?) of the new ladies-only, private bra fitting party.

There's one twist: these parties are now occurring on the employer's premises. Yes, they are occurring in the workplace.

Laws against workplace harassment have accomplished a lot in changing the work culture as well as ending (or at least driving out of the office) egregious conduct. The horror stories of decades past, including the infamous Wall Street brokerage house which had a "Boom Boom Room," are clearly the exception now. (More likely, they've gone well outside the office.) But one need not survey the court docket to sense and realize that there have been plenty of companies, high-net-worth individuals and public officials who have been targeted and sued -- and been forced to pay settlements or judgments -- for far less overt exclusionary or discriminatory behavior. Some candidates for public office have been driven to suspend or end their campaigns because of the mere unproven allegations of inappropriate behavior, while other candidates get indicted for alleged crimes and remain in office and on the election day ballot.  And as this report indicates, making any class of employees feel left out is definitely not good for business. 

Whether it's the lawyer in me or the "prude", this bra party thing really does not belong at work. The basic existential reason lies in the purpose of the workplace.

The workplace is where people go to in order to support themselves and their families. The duty for one to support his family (sorry, ladies, most of the workers supporting families are men) is essential to the family and as such borders on the sacred.

The workplace is not -- or should not be, anyway -- the place for communal self-esteem building or personal bonding. It is not the place to seek unpaid therapy from co-workers. (I used to tell people I charged for listening to them and billed in minimum increments of one hour. In years past, I actually started moonlighting and tried mining some co-workers for direct business.)  The younger generations who think the workplace is a surrogate parent are setting themselves up to be fired or sued by a co-worker. (Warning: In New York State an employee may be sued by a fellow employee.)  Young, naive business owners who have acquired that notion are setting themselves up for a potentially business extinction level event, i.e., getting sued and facing a "bet the business" lawsuit where losing means everyone loses their job and the company closes, insurance be damned. 

The presence of activities which systematically exclude a class of employees is just astonishingly discriminatory for this day and age. I urge people not to follow the lead of the companies or people cited in this article, not unless you want to invite a lawsuit or threat of one. 

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