Thanks to the Supreme Court: Narrower Definition of "Supervisor" Provides Opportunities for Employers
by Terri Eyden on
By Richard D. Alaniz
On June 24, 2013, the US Supreme Court narrowed the definition of who qualifies as a "supervisor" for the purposes of harassment cases. This holding is a significant win for employers and affords opportunities for employers to limit their liability when harassment claims are made.
Overview of Title VII
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits discrimination and harassment in the workplace. In a practical sense, workplace harassment is generated by an individual - whether a coworker, supervisor, manager, etc. There must be someone engaging in harassing conduct in order for there to be workplace harassment. And under Title VII, the status of that person affects an employer's liability.
This makes sense. After all, if an employee is harassed at the workplace by a fellow employee and no one else ever knows about it - no supervisor, manager, or human resources personnel - the company will be in no position to take any action. For this reason, harassment promulgated by a coworker has been judged under a general negligence standard. Only if the employer knew (or should have known) of the harassment and failed to take appropriate action can the employer be held liable. Such a rule is only fair.
However, when a supervisor is the one engaging in the harassment, courts have taken a different approach. In such a situation, courts have recognized that supervisors have considerably more leverage over employees than coworkers. A supervisor has the power to hire, fire, deny a promotion, reassign an employee's duties and responsibilities, reduce or change an employee's benefits, and generally change an employee's employment status. Such power is provided to the supervisor by the employer, and, as such, courts have held that supervisor harassment ought to be held to a different standard than coworker harassment. In fact, in some circumstances the company may be held strictly liable when a supervisor engages in harassment, regardless of whether the company was aware of the harassment.
As originally articulated, holding a supervisor to a higher standard only made sense. However, many courts, and notably the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is responsible for enforcing Title VII, adopted a significantly expanded definition of a supervisor, thus exposing employers to increased potential liability. The EEOC advocated a somewhat nebulous definition of supervisor that focused on the amount of control the individual had over the victim of harassment. Such a definition proved difficult to apply, created confusion, and added unnecessary complexity to harassment cases. Most important to employers, it also transformed many individuals not traditionally thought of as supervisors into supervisors for liability purposes.
You may like these other stories...
Many firms these days claim the bulk of their new business comes from referrals, essentially saying their existing clients do all the business development for them. But this won't work unless you can build true client...
No field likes its buzzwords more than technology, and one of today's leading terms is "the cloud." But it's not just a matter of knowing what's fashionable. Accounting professionals who know how to use...
With tomorrow being Tax Day, you might see some procrastinators at your office filling out forms, printing out paperwork, or getting last-minute tax advice from their accountant so they can meet the IRS’s filing...
Upcoming CPE Webinars
In this exciting presentation Excel expert David H. Ringstrom, CPA shares tricks that you can use with pivot tables every day. Remember, either you work Excel, or it works you!
Is everyone at your organization meeting your client service expectations? Let client service expert, Kristen Rampe, CPA help you establish a reputation of top-tier service in every facet of your firm during this one hour webinar.
In this session Excel expert David Ringstrom, CPA introduces you to a powerful but underutilized macro feature in Excel.
This material focuses on the principles of accounting for non-profit organizations' revenues. It will include discussions of revenue recognition for cash and non-cash contributions as well as other revenues commonly received by non-profit organizations.