Most employers know that if an employee feels as though he or she is being discriminated against or harassed in the workplace, there will be the possibility of a lawsuit. While most employers understand this dynamic, they fail to notice many of the common factors that give rise to the situation. One of these is the “New Sheriff in Town” phenomenon.
The phrase “there’s a new sheriff in town” is an idiom used when a new authority figure takes charge. In the workplace, this can happen in a variety of ways—a sale, merger, restructuring, termination, reassignment—any event which results in new supervision for any employee. With new supervision, there is often a change in job standards or goals and, at minimum, management style. Further, a new manager is initially going to feel insecure in their new role and may seek to assert power in unproductive, threatening ways. Mix into this an employee struggling with insecurities and trying to understand why previously praised performance is now deemed lacking and, voila!, you have the potential for discrimination or harassment allegations.
So what should employers do about this? Employers that understand the significance of the “new sheriff in town” phenomenon take steps to reduce the adverse consequences early on, often before any change is made. New standards or goals that are tied to objective criteria are easier for employees to understand and for employers to implement. Further, insecurities can be managed and reduced with proper training and support. This training could include directions about managing the department and a given set of employees, as well as specific training on transitional management techniques. Ultimately, decisions that are well-documented and agreed upon by a network of managers working together to implement changes stand the best chance of surviving scrutiny by the receiving employee… as well as the counsel, judge and jury that may review them later.
This blog is presented under protest by the law firm of Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP. It is essentially the random thoughts and opinions of someone who lives in the trenches of the war that often is employment law–he/she may well be a little shell-shocked. So if you are thinking “woohoo, I just landed some free legal advice that will fix all my problems!”, think again. This is commentary people, a sketchy overview of some current legal issue with a dose of humor, but commentary nonetheless; as if Dennis Miller were a lawyer…and still mildly amusing. No legal advice here; you would have to pay real US currency for that (unless you are my mom, and even then there are limits). But feel free to contact us with your questions and comments—who knows, we might even answer you. And if you want to spread this stuff around, feel free to do so, but please keep it in its present form (‘cause you can’t mess with this kind of poetry). Big news: Copyright 2013. All rights reserved; yep, all of them.