Two Cases Exemplifying the Value of Positive Employee Relations

If you like positive employee relations, you might be interested in two legal developments I saw today.

  • First, an NYC employee alleged that her company’s parental leave was misleading: she claimed the policy appeared to offer more weeks of protected leave than it actually did.
  • Second, the 7th circuit ruled that a gay employee was permitted to sue the Catholic church for hostile work environment, notwithstanding the ministerial exemption, a legal doctrine which, broadly speaking, allows religious employers to hire who they want to perform ministerial duties by barring the application of the US’s anti-discrimination laws against them.

What can employers learn from each of these cases?

One lesson may be HOW you do things in your organization is as important as WHAT you do in your organization. The leave administration practice in the first case may have been “legal,” but there is no doubt it was not received well, and now the company is faced defending a lawsuit — and a class action one at that. Ouch. In the second case, while the church may have been within its rights to terminate this employee, its treatment of him prior to termination was problematic. This case underscores that, at least in the 7th Circuit, the ministerial exception will not give religious employers carte blanche to violate anti-discrimination laws, even if certain hiring/firing provisions are exempted. Bottom line: Even “permissible” actions can create risk if you are not careful in how you deliver them. Treating employees well and mitigating risk means more than just strictly complying with the law.

What other lessons do you see?

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