Responding to complaints about pornographic and hostile messages displayed on firefighters’ lockers, the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) asked superior officers to oversee the removal of all offensive materials.
When the firefighters’ union asked for a list of such materials, the department said it didn’t have time to prepare one. Hodgepodge cleanup efforts by superior officers led, not surprisingly, to a heated impasse with the firefighters, who argued that lockers are private space. Finally, the FDNY resorted to an unenforced written policy, asking firefighters to strip their lockers bare.
The department has Mayor Bloomberg’s support, but it probably missed an opportunity by refusing to define offensive materials. A few hours of effort might have spared it a confrontation.
Advice: Nonetheless, the city was legally wise to ban the offensive materials, and you should do likewise. Make sure your sexual and general harassment training emphasizes that potentially offensive material has no place in lockers, cubicles or any other area seen by co-workers, customers or the general public.
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- Remind supervisors to immediately report offensive graffiti, and then remove it
- Have business justification for hiring rules that could cause disparate impact
- Insist on fluent English only if job requires it
- Beware personal liability for COBRA, FMLA, state bias law