Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This...April/May 2006 Issue Number 82

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events  

Fire-Rescue International September 12-16, 2006, Dallas, TX. Linda Willing will be presenting a pre-conference seminar on September 13 entitled “Leading Diverse Teams.”

New York State Women Firefighters’ Weekend September 21-24, 2006, New York State Academy of Fire Science, Montour Falls, NY. Linda Willing will be presenting a workshop entitled “Command Presence.”


In the News

The Age of Incivility

A couple years ago I was on a flight from Baltimore to Denver. The plane was packed, and I was grateful to have an aisle seat. The person next to me in the middle seat was a distinguished looking older man. In the seats behind us, a family with several children was settling in across both sides of the aisle. The father, a man in his thirties, leaned over to the man next to me and said cheerfully, "I just want to apologize in advance because my little girl really likes to kick the seat in front of her, so she'll probably bother you on this flight."

I don't think I'm the only one to think that the public world is getting ruder all the time. Cell phones ringing during church. Couples having full volume conversations at the movies. People who let the door slam in your face rather than holding it for one second. The use of profanity so commonplace that sometimes you're suspect if you don't swear.

Where is all this leading? Not surprisingly, public confrontations between people, both at work and in private life, are increasing. And the results can go far beyond someone simply being offended. Career and volunteer firefighters brawl at a fire scene. A firefighter awaits sentencing after smashing a co-worker's face with a chair. These incidents are examples of how normal interaction can escalate to criminal behavior when limits are not established and recognized.

Being civil to others we interact with in our lives is not just a nice thing to do. Maintaining a code of civility creates an atmosphere of professionalism and sets boundaries on behavior that cannot be crossed without severe consequences. When those lines become blurred, as they often do in our increasingly impolite world, dangerous outcomes can result.

Sources: Business and Legal Reports, February 23, 2006

             Newsday, March 16, 2006

   , March 10, 2006

             Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2006


News Brief

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has published final regulations interpreting the United States Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act (USERRA), a law that protects employment rights and benefits for service members upon their return to civilian life. This is the first time since 1994 that the DOL has developed regulations to explain and clarify this law.

Source: Business and Legal Reports, December 2005

Sexual Harassment Update

Harassment by Independent Contractors

Is an employer liable for sexual harassment by someone who is not technically an employee? Consider the case of Lisa Dunn, a nurse at a small hospital in southern Illinois. Ms. Dunn frequently had to work with a surgeon named Thomas Coy, a man about whom several women in the hospital had complained. The hospital took no action to control Dr. Coy's offensive behavior, saying that they had no control over him as an independent contractor who simply saw his own patients within the confines of the hospital. 

Ms. Dunn finally quit her job after her complaints went nowhere and she felt she was experiencing retaliation from Dr. Coy for having raised the issues. She sued the hospital for violation of Title VII, but a lower court granted summary judgment to her employer, accepting the argument that because Dr. Coy was not technically an employee, the hospital could not be liable for his actions.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The court ruled that the hospital was responsible for providing a nondiscriminatory work environment, regardless of who or what must be controlled to reach that goal. The court wrote, "Because liability is direct rather than derivative, it makes no difference whether a person whose acts are complained of is an employee, an independent contractor, or for that matter a customer." The court continued, "Employers have an arsenal of incentives and sanctions (including discharge) that can be applied to affect conduct. It is the use (or failure to use) these options that makes an employer responsible; and in this respect, independent contractors are no different from employees."

The standards of liability for workplace harassment were clarified in the 1998 U.S. Supreme Court rulings Burlington Industries v. Ellerth and Faragher v. Boca Raton. Different levels of liability may apply depending on what type of harassment is taking place and who is doing it. But just because someone is an independent contractor, the employer does not get a free pass. As one judge in this case wrote, "Outsourcing has come into vogue at all levels of government as a means of cutting costs, but farming out public functions to private contractors does not relieve state or local governments of their Fourteenth Amendment obligation not to intentionally discriminate."

Source: Lisa Dunn v. Washington County Hospital and Thomas J. Coy, 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 05-1277

© Linda F. Willing, 2006

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