Discrimination

Did You Hear What They Said?

Another update from the Jungle…..

Peter and Paula have worked together for years and are best friends at work. Their friendship grew during the tough years, like taking pay cuts during the recession and working past midnight on New Year’s Eve to salvage the contract with a major client.

They’ve got each other’s backs. Paula covered for Peter when his drinking temporarily got the better of him. Peter lied to their boss about Paula’s frequent absences when she was devastated by the death of her cat. Co-workers rely on them for everything from problem solving to boosting morale. But there is a downside to Peter and Paula’s morale-boosting.

They boost morale by joking and clowning around which makes everyone laugh until it all slides over the invisible line into bad taste. The jokes are sometimes risqué and occasionally sleazy. The raunchier comments are aimed at each other, which is why co-workers haven’t complained. If Peter and Paula aren’t offended by their trash talking, why should others take offense?

The truth is that some of the other women make off color comments too. A few enjoy mild flirtations with Peter without any intention of going beyond words. It’s all a way to relieve the tedium of the daily routine.

But workplaces are constantly evolving as new workers are hired. The new employees don’t understand what Peter and Paula have done for the company which allows them to be occasionally sleazy and off color. Diane and Jane agree that Paula is a cheap tramp who sets back women’s equality every time she speaks. They also agree that Peter is a jerk.

Inevitably, a complaint about sexual harassment slides onto the desk of Sue, the HR manager. She’s heard a spate of these complaints lately and is feeling a bit burned out on the topic. But she’s also been warning Peter and Paula for years that they are skating on thin ice as far as the company’s HR policies are concerned. Now that an official complaint has been filed, Sue calls Peter and Paula to her office.

What options does Sue have?

  1. She can slap the taste out the mouths of Peter and Paula for ignoring her previous verbal warnings.
  2. She can recommend that one of them be transferred to a different department even though that will reduce efficiency in their current department.
  3. She can tell Peter and Paula to save their trash talking for after hours.

Workplace expectations are evolving rapidly regarding sexual harassment and what will be tolerated. Employers should take sexual harassment complaints seriously but not over-react.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Don’t Anyone Touch Anyone!

Another update from the Jungle…..

ABC Corp always seems to catch the latest trends late, thinks Karen. She’s the HR manager for her company and she’s watched for years as the news headlines play out at the office. Now she’s seeing an uptick in sexual harassment claims.

This morning before Karen could finish her first Diet Coke, Vanessa stopped by to complain that Hank had touched her inappropriately. Inappropriately how, asks Karen. Vanessa says that last week Hank patted her on the butt and since then he’s been looking at her in a suggestive way.

Karen sighs inwardly. Before the company switched to electronic records, Karen devoted a large, four-drawer file cabinet to Vanessa and Hank. Vanessa is always complaining about something. Hank has a reputation for saying things that others would leave unsaid often being a little too “friendly” with his hands.

Karen fortifies herself with a second Diet Coke and begins calling in Vanessa’s co-workers to find witnesses. Dorothy says she didn’t see any inappropriate touching but admits that she dislikes Vanessa and Hank and avoids them as if they have the plague. Amanda says that she dances a highland jig to stay out of range of Hank but generally considers him harmless.

Sue shrugs and says that Hank has patted her on the rear many times. When a project is successful, Hank often pats people on the back or the butt. She dismisses it because she thinks he’s just acting like the jock he was. When Sue tires of it, she kicks Hank in the shins, as she did with her older brothers when they were obnoxious. Dan and Joanne confirm Sue’s interpretation of Hank’s hands-on approach to thanking co-workers for a job well done.

Karen sighs deeply and reaches for another Diet Coke before she calls in Vanessa. She tells Vanessa that she believes Hank used poor judgment but it is unlikely that a claim of sexual harassment can be proved. She encourages Vanessa to tell Hank immediately to not touch her if he again pats her on the rear.

What other options does Karen have?

  1. She can institute a new HR policy that says no employee may touch another employee during business hours.
  2. She can encourage Vanessa to join a nudist colony to overcome her sensitivity about the human body.
  3. She can advise Hank to be less “friendly” since not everyone finds his behavior innocuous.

Context is so important. What one person may find offensive another may not. It’s important to take sexual harassment complaints seriously but to not over-react.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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3 Revisions For Your Sexual Harassment Policy

Another update from the Jungle…..

It’s amazing how quickly our social expectations are evolving on the topic of sexual harassment. Not so long ago, off color comments, body groping and other objectionable behavior was tolerated, particularly when committed by powerful people. All that is changing and employers need to adapt. Here are three suggested revisions for employers reviewing their sexual harassment policy and training.

Managerial Support

Every employer I worked for insisted on annual sexual harassment training for the staff. But most managers never showed up for the training or left early. That’s unfortunate, since the most common form of sexual harassment is still male bosses harassing women subordinates.

But accusing the boss of inappropriate behavior is the fastest path to ruining a woman’s career. That’s why Harvey Weinstein wasn’t publicly accused of sexual harassment until after he lost his status as a Hollywood power broker. Employers can avoid a Weinstein moment by requiring managers to participate in training and to set the example on what behavior is acceptable.

Realistic Training

One employer I worked for used the same training video year after year until employees stood in front of the screen, miming the actors and repeating the dialogue. The scenarios were blindingly obvious, like the woman who gets fired after refusing to date her boss. Everyone got their ticket punched for the yearly training and no one learned anything.

Training materials must include realistic scenarios of everyday occurrences. Training must also acknowledge that deciding what is harassment can be subjective. I once worked with a man who always spoke in double entendres. Most the women in the office claimed that they were outraged, but they continued flirting with him. Was he harassing them or not? That’s a much more realistic scenario than the boss dating his secretary cliché.

Clear Complaint Process

Deciding whether to complain begins with actually reading the relevant section of the employee handbook. The relevant section is usually buried in a long paragraph at the end of the anti-harassment policy section of the handbook. It may not be clear whether the complaint process applies to other situations, including the separate sexual harassment policy.

Assuming the harassed employee decides to make a complaint, she (or he) will immediately have two fears. What if the process requires reporting to your supervisor and that’s the harasser? How does the person complaining avoid retaliation? To be effective, the complaint process should be easy to read, have alternative paths for reporting a complaint, and ensure confidentiality as much as possible.

Our society is evolving.  Employers need to move quickly to adapt.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Go Back To Your Cave

Another update from the Jungle….

Once upon a time, at a company not so different from its competitors, a new employee was hired. Addison was bright, cheerful and had graduated from college near the top of her class. She believed that hard work was all she needed to advance her career.

As with every fairy-tale, an evil troglodyte lurked in a cubicle down the hall. His name was Larry. He joined the company many years ago and never advanced beyond cubicle world. Beneath a façade of pleasant chitchat lurks a very angry employee.

Addison bumps into Larry in the break room as she tries to figure out how to use the single cup coffee maker. Larry helps her while sarcastically commenting about how good life was when they still had the Mr. Coffee machine. Addison finds his acidic commentary mildly amusing and thinks he might be a friend.

Alas for the fair maid. At the next staff meeting, Larry questions the decision of Wanda, the manager, to designate Addison as the leader on a new project. Larry privately thinks he should be leading the team based on his seniority. Addison seals her fate by saying she’d be happy to have his help. Wanda shrugs and agrees. She’s a manager, not a knight in shining armor trying to rescue a fair maid, especially one too stupid to sniff out danger.

Addison’s first hint that she is not going to live happily ever after happens at her first team meeting. Larry interrupts repeatedly with helpful suggestions, all of which she rejects. During the next week, Larry visits each team member to express his concerns about the imminent failure of the project due to Addison’s inexperience.

Wanda hears via the grapevine that the project is tanking so she calls Addison in for a status report. Larry sees Addison walking down the hallway towards Wanda’s office. Quick as a flash he scampers down the hallway, pushes past her, and turns in the doorway to Wanda’s office to smirk before slamming the door in Addison’s face.

When Addison finally meets with Wanda, Larry’s poisonous comments have taken effect. Wanda says she’s worried about progress and needs to replace Addison with an older, more experienced worker.

What should Addison do next?

  1. She can loudly proclaim that Larry the troglodyte has sabotaged her career and begin crying.
  2. She can plot a suitable revenge against Larry, but he’s had years more experience at this sort of backstabbing.
  3. She can search for a mentor to help her learn how to fight troglodytes in the future.

In the actual situation, the new employee gave up believing in fairy-tales, resigned and joined a competitor, feeling older and slightly wiser. Avoid this fairy-tale by implementing effective HR policies.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Grow Up!

Another update from the Jungle….

Jerry feels besieged and over loaded. He’s the CEO, and he ought to be busy lining up new customers. Instead, he’s staggering from one crisis to the next as his team fights each other.

It all started when Sue accused Wayne of undermining her authority in a staff meeting. At the staff meeting, Wayne asked questions that put Sue on the spot. Wayne always tries to understand the nitty gritty details by asking a lot of questions. Occasionally, his fascination for details is beneficial, like the time his questions uncovered a technical gap that would have cost the company money. But most the time he just comes across as obnoxious and obtuse.

Sue erupted like a geyser. She told Wayne to shut up and focus on doing his own job. Wayne retorted that he couldn’t do his job if the inputs from her team are sloppy and incomplete. Sue naturally defended her team and added that the company was a better place to work before Wayne was hired.

Wayne now refers to Sue as a word that rhymes with witch. Sue uses even more inflammatory language to describe him. Since they’re supervisors, they’ve managed to drag their respective subordinates into the fight.

Wayne’s team buys a different brand of coffee for the break room rather than use the brand preferred by Sue. Sue’s team confiscates all the office supplies in the supply closet. Her team also password protects all their work rather than sharing with Wayne’s team.

Inevitably, deadlines are blown on their latest product. Jerry calls an all-hands meeting to find out what is going wrong. Within five minutes accusations are flying. After fifteen minutes, a shoving match ensues between Sue and Wayne as they blame each other for the delays. Sue hurls a cup of coffee at Wayne. He retaliates by grabbing her notes and shredding the pages.

Jerry is shocked, then outraged. His whole business is on the line for a couple of chuckleheads with the emotional development of children.

What options are available to Jerry?

  1. He can fire Sue and Wayne for breaking company rules on workplace violence.
  2. He can start a side business featuring Sue and Wayne as featherweight prize fighters.
  3. He can counsel Sue and Wayne to act like grownups and work together for the company.

In the actual situation, the employer chose the third option, in keeping with the company’s progressive discipline policy. The employer’s decision was based on an assessment of the supervisors’ capabilities and skills. Both managers were also encouraged to seek anger management counseling.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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See, What Happened Was…

Another update from the Jungle….

Lexington & Concord is a professional firm that hires summer interns every year. El Cee, as it’s fondly known, has a reputation for training summer interns by making them work long hours with minimal feedback on their performance. Interns are happy to suffer knowing that if they survive, they will increase their chances of receiving a good job offer.

Kate, the HR manager, thinks the summer interns should be rewarded for their hard work. She convinces Charles, the senior partner, to have an end of summer party for the interns. Charles reluctantly agrees.

The party is held at the home of Rob, a senior partner in the firm who likes to brag about his possessions.  Unfortunately, Rob and his wife, Sally, choose this day to enact their version of the War of the Roses.

The guests arrive in time to watch Sally yanking off her wedding ring and hurling it into the shrubbery. The members of the firm are used to the Rob and Sally soap opera and swerve around the fight with the ease of practice, headed for the drinks by the pool.

Kate quickly steers the interns to the outdoor kitchen and pool area. After asking several partners to chaperon the interns, she dashes away to break up the hosts’ fight before the neighbors call the cops.  She finds Sally sobbing hysterically, but Rob has vanished.

When Kate returns to the pool, she spies Rob propped against the shoulder of a young intern. As she approaches, Kate hears him making suggestions to the young lady that freeze the marrow in her HR bones.  Before the intern can respond, Kate grabs Rob’s elbow to drag him away. Unfortunately, he staggers against Kate. They both topple into the pool.

Several people dive in to rescue them.  Kate clambers out of the pool and looks around in horror. Her summer party is turning into a Roman orgy with half-naked people frolicking at poolside.

Now it’s Monday morning and Kate is in Charles’ office trying to explain what happened at the party. What should she say?

  1. She can say she’s resigning to start a new career as an event planner.
  2. She can imply that it’s Charles’ fault for not attending and using the force of his disapproval to keep everyone in line.
  3. She can promise to never again share her ideas for boosting morale.

In the actual situation, the firm banned parties for summer interns. HR professionals can help their companies by setting clear guidelines on behavior at company sponsored events.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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My Boss Hates Me!

Another update from the Jungle….

Teresa works at a major corporation, and she’s grown steadily more pessimistic about her job and career. She’s convinced that her boss, Barbara, has discriminated against her, and she complains to HR. Her discrimination complaint is investigated by Audrey, the HR rep.

Audrey invites Teresa to a confidential meeting to get her side of the story. Teresa shows up at the meeting, toting a giant 3-ring binder stuffed full of copies of emails between Teresa and Barbara and copies of performance appraisals.  Teresa says the binder contains proof that Barbara is out to get her.

Audrey has an awful sinking feeling, familiar to any experienced HR person, as she stares at the 3-ring binder. She will eventually have to read it as part of her investigation. She sighs heavily and delays the inevitable by continuing her interview of Teresa.

Teresa spins a tale of slights, oversights, and harsh words that she says add up to discrimination. She claims that Barbara cuts her off in mid-sentence every time she tries to talk during staff meetings. Barbara is rude to her and makes negative comments in front of co-workers. Barbara gives pay raises to younger, less experienced co-workers while telling Teresa that she’s not eligible for any pay increases.  Barbara ignores her and dislikes her while being nice to everyone else in the department.

The next day, Audrey begins reading the 3-ring binder.  After an hour, she has a raging headache but has reached a few conclusions. The emails indicate that Teresa has become increasingly defensive, responding to sometimes non-existent criticism. The performance appraisals completed by Barbara move from neutral (“works well with others”) assessments to mildly negative (“attitude needs improvement”) in the most recent appraisal.

Audrey knows that Barbara has a history of managerial issues. Audrey had opposed Barbara’s promotion to manager because of her lack of “people” skills.  Now Audrey’s sitting at her desk trying to decide what to do next.

What should she do?

  1. She can recommend that nothing be done due to a lack of clear proof of discrimination.
  2. She can arrange Teresa’s transfer to a different manager and hope for the best.
  3. She can tell Teresa and Barbara to stop acting like whiny children and then go have a glass (or a bottle) of wine to wash away the effects of their feud.

In the actual situation, a department reorganization lead to the reassignment of the disgruntled employee. That resolved the immediate conflict but not the long term issue of poor training for new managers.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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I’ve Had It with You!

Another update from the Jungle….

Once there was an executive assistant (what we used to call a secretary) who worked for a toxic boss. Rachel was good at her job, but you’d never know it working for David.  Rachel and David joined the company a few months apart more than ten years ago. They only began working together about two years ago.

Before that, Rachel worked for several managers who gave her neutral or mildly positive marks on her annual performance review.  The unexciting performance reviews kept Rachel on the move, transferring to new managers in hopes of finding a better work relationship.  Now Rachel is desperate to move again because she’s had with David.

David is mean and nasty. He criticizes her work product mercilessly, often when other people are present. He makes snarky comments about her constant noshing, even though Rachel’s explained that she has a medical condition requiring her to eat healthy snacks frequently throughout the day.

David’s nastiness stems, at least in part, from Rachel’s mediocre performance. He’s had it with her, too.  He’ll never admit that his constant disapproval has affected her performance.  After all, he also answers to a difficult boss and doesn’t want to hear any whining from others. He’d love to offload Rachel on another manager but there haven’t been any openings.

Last week, David’s and Rachel’s luck changed. An internal job posting announced an opening for an executive assistant in another department. Rachel immediately submits her resume. The HR manager tells Rachel that she’s not eligible for consideration because David still needs to submit her performance review.

Rachel dashes out of the HR manager’s office and makes it to David’s office in Olympic Gold medal time. She glares at David and demands that he turn in her performance review immediately. David scowls at her. Then he says that he will give her the best damned review she’s ever had if it means he can get rid of her.

What can Rachel do next?

  1. She can complain to HR about David’s abusive attitude but that could make her sound whiny and hurt her chances of a transfer away from him.
  2. She can dump her trash of rotting apple cores on his desk when he’s in a meeting.
  3. She can say nothing and use his “great” review to get away from him.

In the actual situation, the executive assistant moved from one toxic manager to an even more toxic manager. Toxicity should be addressed with HR assistance rather than festering to the detriment of the entire organization.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Want to Know What I Think?

Another update from the Jungle….

Cyndi is the newest manager at her company. How she got promoted is still a hotly disputed topic. She worked for the company for ten years, taking on progressively more difficult assignments. She paid for management training classes out of her own pocket and thinks she’s earned her promotion.

Tom, the other candidate, and his supporters are convinced that she got the promotion due to an excess of political correctness by the senior management team. They believe the senior management team was scared after the company was sued by former employee Alicia.

Alicia sued after being passed over for promotion for the third time. She alleged that Ron, the CEO, and other male senior managers judged female employees based on “feminine” appearance rather than competence. Alicia wore little makeup and preferred pants suits to dresses.

Without admitting fault, the company quickly settled with Alicia and proudly announced a new diversity and inclusion initiative. Cyndi is the first person promoted to manager after the D&I program is implemented.

Cyndi shows up for her first managers meeting prepared to contribute after all her years of preparation. She walks into the conference room and sees that the chairs are taken at the table. She drags up a chair and politely asks two colleagues to move to allow her to sit at the table. They stare at her blankly for interrupting their conversation.

After a moment, Cyndi deftly shoves an elbow into the side of one manager and whacks her chair leg into the shins of the other one. As they recoil, she pushes her chair into the cleared space at the table and sits down. She smiles graciously at her colleagues and thanks them for moving.

The meeting is about a new marketing campaign to increase sales to women. Cyndi listens in silence for several minutes, awaiting her chance to contribute. Ron solicits opinions from everyone except Cyndi.

Cyndi looks around the table and considers her options.

  1. She can sit quietly and say nothing since she’s new to the group.
  2. She can go home and cry into a glass of red wine because she was ignored.
  3. She can look Ron in the eye and say, “I’m sure it’s an oversight but I haven’t been asked what I think of the new campaign”, and then give her opinion.

The above scenario may seem familiar to many employees.  Diversity and inclusion programs enhance employee retention and attract new employees; but only when properly implemented and with a clearly stated goal of deepening the talent pool.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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The Knife in the Back

Another update from the Jungle…

pic-5Bryan is a serial entrepreneur. Every time he gets a new idea, he starts a new company to exploit the idea. He’s successful at starting businesses, but he’s lousy at running them.

Bryan doesn’t like getting bogged down in the details. So he relies on lieutenants to keep him informed of how things are going at each company. Unfortunately, Bryan doesn’t seem to have noticed that one of his trusted lieutenants is deadlier than a rattlesnake.

pic-1Susan learns this the hard way when she begins working at one of his companies. Her first day on the job, she’s introduced to Elaine who is so friendly and helpful that Susan is duped into thinking she’s nice. But Elaine is a snake in the grass.

pic-2Elaine is an intolerable busybody. She stands near the elevator to track the time each employee shows up for work. She wanders the hallways, keeping tabs on what others are doing and saying. Then she passes every tidbit of information along to Bryan with a special Elaine twist.

Susan learns the truth when Bryan stops by for a quarterly meeting with the company’s management team, of which Susan is a junior member. Bryan marches into the conference room and sits opposite Elaine who is taking notes on pic-4the decisions he makes.

Bryan begins the meeting by chewing out Laura for falling sales in the past quarter. Laura replies that it is impossible to boost sales when her team is starved for resources. She produces a stack of receipts showing that her team has to pic-3buy their own office supplies since Elaine locked up the supply closet and hid the key.

Bryan impatiently tells Laura to stop blaming others for her own failings as a manager. Then he turns on Bob, the CFO, who didn’t have the financial reports ready for Bryan. Bob scowls but says nothing.

pic-6Susan knows that Bob was late with the financial reports because Elaine delayed helping him while she worked on other lower priority assignments. Susan looks at Elaine expecting her to defend Bob. Elaine smirks and remains silent.

What are Susan’s options?

  1. She can point out that Elaine sabotaged Bob but doubts that Bryan will believe her.
  2. She can thank her lucky stars that Elaine isn’t gunning for her.
  3. She can use her accrued vacation to begin hunting for a new job, preferably one without another Elaine.

pic-7In the actual situation, the junior manager soon found herself on the backstabber’s hit list and left the company as soon as possible.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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