Third Party Issues for Public Sector Employers

This article will cover two topics relevant to cities, counties, and other governmental entities. The first discusses non-governmental agencies and individuals who are advancing their own cause or profit. The second relates to employees who bring in third parties to workplace disputes.

Non-Governmental Agencies and Third Parties

There are a number of non-governmental agencies and individuals knowledgeable about civil rights and constitutional laws. These individuals and groups wish to to bring about changes, or use the law to their advantage. Unwitting managers and employees who do not understand this may fall for sophisticated ploys.

There are any number of stories of the American Civil Liberties Union taking cases to court when individuals are stopped or arrested by police for enforcing ordinances that are later found to be unconstitutional. Often, in order to resolve the matter, the municipality faces a large settlement amount that the organization will use to fund cases in the future.

Police officers are also accustomed to individuals taking their pictures as they come out of the police department. The officers are well aware that, while this is not comforting in any way, it is legal, and the picture taker may be baiting them so he or she can file suit and get money from the municipality for a violation of civil rights.

Those in Human Resources should be aware of this reality and determine ways to make certain that employees have a clear awareness of these concerns when going about their daily duties. Having ongoing conversations with governmental leaders and attorneys will help human resource managers clearly understand the issue so that they can advise on what kind of training would be useful. Human resources managers may also be able to provide a strategic perspective on how management may want to respond to employees when they have difficult and upsetting interactions with third parties.

Third Parties and Workplace Disputes

It is more and more common for employees to wish to bring in a third party to represent them at work. At times, these outside parties have an agenda that is broader than the employee’s desire to have someone speak on their behalf. For example, there are groups helping employees advocate for their disabilities in the workplace and these groups may insist on being involved in the accommodation process. Other times, employees may hire an attorney to represent them in the workplace and that attorney may wish to be involved in any investigation or other process.

When the third party is an attorney, it is always best to communicate with your own attorney, whether employed in-house or contracted by your governmental entity for representation, whether on a daily basis or in court. Their input is important so they can best defend the employer from claims by third parties. Employers Council attorneys have worked closely with these attorneys on a number of matters, such as investigations, to make certain these processes go well.

When the third party is an outside group with a broader agenda, the first step is to find out as much as possible about them. What are the goals of this group? Do they truly align with the interests of the employee?  How have they interacted with governmental entities in the past? It is not unusual for a group with strident beliefs to have a goal that may compromise the employee. The employer may find this knowledge useful when dealing with the situation.

Is the group asking to disrupt processes that the employer has in place? Does this process have a record of being effective for employees? Knowing that strong processes are in place for harassment complaints and requests for accommodation, and that these have had proven positive outcomes for employees, creates confidence for a public sector employer when dealing with an outside group and creating sensible and effective boundaries.

Remember that in any of these situations, you do not have to move forward alone.  Employers Council attorneys and HR professional have experienced and dealt with these situations, and can use this expertise to help you.