April 18, 2009

How to Waste $267,000 in the Glass Business

By Paul Bieber

It’s easy.

Step 1: Touch two female workers where you shouldn’t.

Step 2: Ignore their complaints.

Step 3. When a legal complaint is filed, ignore it.

Step 4. When the trial is called don’t show up.

You see, Sunfire Glass, a glass blowing company, in Phoenix, Arizona, had an owner who felt he was the BOSS, if many different ways. When his female glass blowers had a hot glob of glass on their pipes, he knew they couldn’t do anything but stand there and accept his advances. They complained, but to no avail. Until they had enough and went to court. The bottom line, the owner has disappeared, his phone is disconnected, and of course, his business is closed.

Now, what about your business. Can you afford a $267,000 fine? And the legal costs? It is not you, of course, but if you have an employee that does this, and you don’t take action, you might as well open the checkbook.

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING THAT GOES ON IN YOUR COMPANY. If your foreman does this, and you don’t take action after someone complains, you are as guilty as the foreman.

You, as an owner or a manager, should never make a sexual joke in your company. Period. Sure, your repertoire of humor will have to change. So be it. Tell stock market jokes, or lawyer jokes. Don’t tell ethnic or sexual jokes. Set the standard for the employees around you.

Rule number 1. Do not, under any circumstance, ever, touch an employee in a suggestive way. Don’t comment on some one’s looks…or their bodies. If you have knowledge about some one’s personal life, keep it secret. No owner should ever gossip about their employees. When you imply thoughts about an employee’s sexual life, and the employee hears about it from a third party, you have a chance to join Sunfire Glass in court. Sure, there were times in my company when I commented on such things, but as I grew to understand potential liabilities, I refrained.

Rule 2. Always discourage ethnic and sexual jokes. This still leaves the meltdown of the Mets, politics and your mother-in-law to have fun with.

Rule 3. If you have to stop and think if it is inappropriate, it is.

One quick war story. I was the manager of Floral Glass for over twenty years, and went to court only once on an harassment charge. We had over 240 employees in three states, with plenty of interaction among peoples of all races, ethnicities and sexual preferences. Here is how I got bit. A male worker in our factory was offended that his supervisor made fun of him because he worked slowly. There was some ‘locker-room’ type humor, on a guy-to-guy basis. And this humor cost us big time, as the worker complained of sexual harassment by his male supervisor. To make a long story short, we paid.

You never know where it will come from. All you can do is work tirelessly to teach and prevent. You will never know what you prevent, what you save, but I promise that you will be better off if you do prevent.

Next week we’ll talk about an harassment policy that will work in all glass shops.