I had the opportunity to attend, and indeed the privilege of attending, Toronto’s Pride parade on Sunday July 3. There are people in Canada who feel inhibited from attending and people around the world who would in fact go to jail, or worse, for organizing or participating in a public declaration of the incongruity of sexual orientation that our societies have a tendency to want to hide; that’s why I consider it a privilege to attend.
What’s all of this got to do with running a business and managing workers and not running afoul of the law? It’s about examining the message that you are sending and realizing that as a leader of an organization you have a vital impact on the attitudes and behaviours of your workers. Those attitudes and behaviours manifest themselves in how your workers interact with each other and how they treat your customers. When the message is positive and shows respect for others you stand a better chance of being insulated from legal liability.
During my career as an employment law paralegal and now as a consultant, researcher and training provider I have learned that there is a number one reason why employees sue their employers: they feel they have been treated unfairly. And often they are right. This unfairness shows itself when they are given unclear expectations and then faulted for not meeting them, they are bullied by bosses and they are the victims of discrimination and harassment at the hands of their coworkers with the approval of the employer. This unfairness can be controlled when the organization sends a positive message from the top that confirms you legal obligations. More about this below.
But first, I want to go back to the Pride parade and the topic of messages. Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford, sent a message when he did not attend a huge event going on in his city. Elizabeth May, leader of the Green party, sent a message as she was pulled by chariot along the parade route. Jack Layton, Olivia Chow and Glen Murray all sent messages with their presence. Although, come to think of it, I didn’t see Dalton McGuinty. Anyway, assuming participation demonstrates respect for the cause, the above mentioned leaders sent a message. Workplace leaders need to send a message that demonstrates a commitment to the law.
For example: the human rights laws of most Canadian provinces describe the inalienable right of all persons to be treated with dignity and respect. It could be argued that Mr. Ford failed to recognize this right by not participating. On the other hand it could be just as strongly argued that he had a previous commitment. Just because Elizabeth, Jack, Olivia and Glen showed up does not necessarily mean that they support the rights of all persons to be treated with dignity. They could be looking for votes. Nevertheless, they all sent a message that, in turn, will affect how their followers think and behave; good, bad or indifferent.
With all its noise, nudity, frivolity and glitter the Pride parade left one indelible impression on me: the message that all persons have the right to be treated with dignity and respect for who and what they are.
What message are you sending to your managers, subordinates and customers? Is it consistent with the employment laws that will hold you to account should an employee decide to sue you or a labour inspector should decide to drop in for a random inspection?
Learn don’t litigate.
- Educate yourself in the law that regulates your organization
- Train your staff (especially your managers)
- Reflect on “your message.”