Creating A Respectful Workplace: Nonprofits Learn Legal Lessons From the #MeToo Movement

January 29, 2019

News, Pro Bono Clearinghouse

Meika N. Freeman, left, Associate, and Joseph C. O’Keefe, Partner, of Proskauer Rose LLP, led the workshop for nonprofit leaders

Nonprofit leaders can register for our capacity building trainings and apply for pro bono legal assistance through NYLPI’s Pro Bono Clearinghouse. If you’re a nonprofit and interested in learning more, click here. To check out other upcoming events click here.

Dozens of New York nonprofit leaders attended a recent NYLPI capacity building workshop about “Creating a Respectful Workplace,” provided on a pro bono basis by employment lawyers from the law firm of Proskauer Rose LLP, who gave an overview of applicable laws with a particular focus on recent developments in sexual harassment prevention legislation recently implemented by New York State and New York City in the wake of the #MeToo movement, common legal pitfalls, and best practices.

Labor & employment attorneys Joseph C. O’Keefe, Partner, and Meika N. Freeman, Associate of Proskauer Rose LLP led the workshop, which focused on new laws addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.  These laws impose requirements upon employers, including nonprofits, such as implementing an anti-harassment policy and interactive anti-harassment training for employees.

“These types of issues in the workplace lower employee morale and productivity, and they need to be addressed, even if it involves senior employees,” said Mr. O’Keefe. “Senior employees should be setting an example for the rest of the employees, and if they are involved in misconduct, this can lead to a hostile work environment for the rest of the employees, especially for the parties involved. It is fundamental in this case for the employer to take the proper and remedial action required.”

Mr. O’Keefe added that harassment or discrimination on the basis of any protected characteristic is unlawful. Under federal anti-discrimination laws, protected characteristics include: race or color, religion, gender, pregnancy, citizenship or national origin, age, disability, military or veteran status, and genetic predisposition. The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) provide further protections, and employers within those jurisdictions must be sure to prevent discrimination on the basis of those additional protected characteristics as well.

The attorneys also discussed how employees’ personal social media accounts may affect the workplace if the content is perceived as discriminatory or harassing by other employees.  Employers should be equipped to address such issues in order to maintain a work environment where all employees feel safe and respected, the attorneys said.

The presenters concluded the workshop by reminding participants that “Good intentions do not count, but actions do.” It is wise to avoid conduct that could be misconstrued and to apply the same standards at offsite functions as you would apply in the workplace.

The attorneys offered employers five questions to ask themselves in figuring out whether their conduct is appropriate:

1)         Would you say it or do it in front of your spouse, significant other, mother or child?

2)         Would you say it or do it if it were going to be published on the front page of a newspaper the next day?

3)         Would you say it the same way to a member of your own sex, race, etc.?

4)         Would you act the same way with a member of your own sex, race, etc.?

5)         Why does it need to be said or done at all – what business purpose is served?

The workshop was co-sponsored by NYLPI and the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York (NPCC), our longstanding capacity building partner.

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