complaints

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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Good cover, lousy book

Another update from the Jungle….
NS12016-2Gene is the managing partner of a professional services firm and he’s extremely proud of the team that works with him.  He insists that they follow a reasonable work schedule leaving time for family.  He rewards every employee with a bonus when the firm hits revenue targets.

The result is high productivity and soaring morale. People want to work at his firm and Gene has the luxury of picking job candidates that best fit his philosophy. It was all smooth sailing until six months ago when he hired Avery.

Avery looked great on paper. His three page resume looked impressive, full of academic achievements, extensive industry experience, and a history of community involvement.  Avery showed up for the interview in an expensive suit, looking thoroughly professional. He was relaxed, articulate, and generated a good vibe when he met the whole team.  He seemed like a great fit for the firm and Gene hired him.

Within a week, Avery was a problem.  He told several senior partners that his old firm had a much better system for tracking client services.  Then he told the secretaries they were being unfairly exploited and should go on strike for higher wages.  After that he asked junior staff members why they worked so hard when there was no obvious path to promotions since all the senior partners were years from retirement.

Gene learned about the underbelly of discontent when a delegation of junior staff members cornered him to complain about Avery.  The youngest secretary said she didn’t appreciate being told that she ought to feel exploited. That was one of the milder comments.

Gene’s always been told not to judge a book by its cover.  But it’s obvious that underneath Avery’s polished façade lies a wealth of baggage picked up from the conditions he experienced with previous employers.

How should Gene handle this situation?

  1. He can fire Avery immediately since the state has “at will” employment. But with Avery’s baggage, a wrongful termination lawsuit seems inevitable.
  2. He could try to counsel Avery on his attitude but worries this will simply delay the inevitable outcome.
  3. He can tell Avery that the firm isn’t the right fit and offer Avery a generous severance package in exchange for leaving immediately.

In the actual situation, the firm chose the third option because the management team decided that a toxic personality was too big a risk to keep on the payroll and the severance package limited any possible wrongful termination claims.  Everyone lived happily ever after (except “Avery” who carried his baggage to the next employer’s office).

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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