Analyze employee handouts for legally explosive content

by on
in HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,People Management

Issue: Ready-to-use employee training materials flood the Internet.

Risk: Your supervisors create liability risks by distributing videos, books or handouts without first vetting them for offensive content.

Action: Review such training materials when possible. Ask supervisors to do the same. Urge them to pass along any complaints to you.

You can't personally review every book, video or training material that supervisors distribute to employees. But it's wise to review as much of those materials as possible for appropriateness and legally dangerous sections. Advise supervisors to do the same. Then be ready to respond immediately to employee complaints.

That advice multiplies in importance because of the huge amount of ready-to-use training manuals, pre-hire tests and other materials available on the Internet, CD-ROM and video. It's easy, and legally dangerous, to dispense information to employees without actually vetting it first.

Case in point: A supervisor gave a book on business attire to his African-American sales rep, who found certain passages offensive. Example: "Blacks selling to whites should never wear Afro hairstyles ... If you are Hispanic, avoid hair tonic that tends to give a greasy or shiny look."

The employee complained to the HR director, who took back the book but never mentioned the issue to the supervisor. The employee quit and filed a race-discrimination claim. Because the company's actions essentially condoned the distribution of racially offensive material, the Pennsylvania commission sided with the employee and awarded him $614,000. (Brooks v. Viacom Inc., No. 200027223, PHRC, 2005)

Final tips: If an employee voices concern about the content of any handouts, pull the content, review it and discipline the supervisor, if necessary.

Leave a Comment