by Mindy Chapman, Esq.
Outdated workplace posters aren’t just a minor mistake that, at worst, could trigger only a small fine. As a new court ruling shows, poster mistakes can actually breathe new life into supposedly dead employment lawsuits …
Case in Point: The Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City, N.J., employed Hau Wai Yip, a Chinese man who worked as a chef, and Kang Mei Chan, a 40-year-old Chinese woman who spoke no English, as a maid. Their female supervisor eventually fired them.
Both workers refused to go quietly. They sued the hotel for national-origin and race discrimination. Their claims? Yip accused his female supervisor of touching him on his legs and thighs and asking him for sexual favors. Chan said the supervisor told her she could return to China if she didn’t like her job—and that she was too old to be a maid.
The hotel thought it had a silver-bullet defense. It argued that the lawsuits couldn’t proceed because Yip and Chan failed to file their cases within 300 days of the discriminatory act (the termination), as the law requires. Yip filed his complaint with the state human rights agency 332 days after his termination. Chan filed hers 364 days after.
But the lawyers for Yip and Chan argued that those limits should be waived because the workers didn’t know about the laws or the time restrictions. One reason: The hotel failed to post the required notice of employee rights in the workplace.
Result: The court sided with the workers and sent the case to a jury. It said the filing deadlines didn’t apply in this case because, “An employer’s failure to post the required notices of anti-discrimination laws will equitably toll the 300-day limitations period until such time as the employee learns or reasonably should have learned of her rights through some other means.” (Zheng v. Wong, E.D.N.Y., 8/24/09)
Simply stated: Post it, Post it, Post it!
Make sure your compliance posters describe employees’ rights under all federal laws. The laws have recently expanded, so now is the time to make sure all your posters are updated.
Don’t forget about state laws. States often grant additional rights to employees that you need to understand.
Finally, if you have a diverse workforce, make sure your posters are available in all native languages. As in this case, posters in Chinese would have helped defeat these late claims.
Author: Mindy Chapman is an attorney and president of Mindy Chapman & Associates LLC. She is a master trainer, keynote speaker and co-author of the ABA book, Case Dismissed! Taking Your Harassment Prevention Training to Trial. Read her blog at BusinessManagementDaily.com/Mindy.