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Remind managers: Keep stereotypes to yourself

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in Human Resources

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: Managers and supervisors should never comment on any aspect of an employee’s sexuality, the ability of men and women to get along or be managed by the other sex, or the relative age of employees.

It’s too easy for employees to misinterpret those comments—leading to an expensive lawsuit.

Recent case:
Robert Howard was 59 years old when he went to work for the American Institute of Public Accountants. His supervisors were two women in their 30s.

Howard later complained that one of his young supervisors asked him whether he could deal with the fact that he was being supervised by young women.

Then, on a trip to an out-of-state conference, Howard complained that his supervisors and other female co-workers engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct. For example, Howard said one of his supervisors asked him to accompany her to a male strip club. Howard refused, and the supervisor told him he must be uncomfortable with his manhood. Other female co-workers commented on how “hot” some of the men at the conference were.

Eventually, Howard was fired and he sued, alleging he had been subjected to an age- and sex-hostile environment and had been punished for complaining.

The court said everything Howard described could be used to prove his case. It sent the case on to trial. (Howard v. American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, No. 1:08-CV-483, MD NC, 2009)

Final note: Now, more than ever, supervisors and employees should be concentrating on getting work done, not engaging in unproductive banter. As more employees lose their jobs, more will sue. That’s when uncouth behavior comes back to haunt employers.

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