MOUNT VERNON — Elected officials, department heads, supervisors, board members and employees from around the county gathered at the Memorial Building on Thursday for a refresher course about unlawful discrimination and harassment.
County Commissioner Allen Stockberger urged those in attendance to take the seminar seriously. “Discrimination and harassment,” he said, “not only affects the employer, but the individual[s] involved as well.”
Seminar speaker Cheri Hass, a partner with the Columbus law firm Downes Fishel Hass Kim LLP, used humor, role-playing and real-case examples of what to do and what not to do when discrimination or harassment happens in the workplace. She discussed the oftentimes fine line between workplace banter and harassment, saying that generally the courts do not consider a one-time intemperate remark to be harassment.
“We all have bad days when we say stupid stuff,” she said. Harassment, she said, occurs when abusive or inappropriate behavior is directed at someone because of his or her membership in a protected class — gender, race, national origin, religion, age, disability, genetic information or military status — and develops to the point that it alters the terms, conditions or privileges of that person’s employment.
Hass explained different types of discrimination and talked about recent changes in discrimination law and regulations. One change, she said, has to do with asking job applicants whether they have ever been convicted in a court of law; recent rulings have determined that asking for conviction information on an initial employment application is discriminatory against persons of color. Employers can, however, ask about convictions later in the employment process, but only about convictions related to the job being sought. The time frame of when the conviction occurred must also be taken into account, she said. For example, if someone was convicted of a drug felony 20 years ago while a teenager and has committed no offenses since, the employer cannot exclude the person as a viable job candidate based on that conviction.