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March, 2015

LIFE’s LESSONS* Spring 2015, Real Issues…Reconstituted Facts

PRIORITIZE THESE TOP FOUR HR AUDIT LIST ITEMS

We are deviating from the usual hypothetical situation here, in recognition of spring cleaning season, to focus on four of my top HR audit list items, and why I would encourage every employer to make them a priority:

1. Review Your Employee Handbook

Many of the local and state laws creating new leaves of absence and protected classifications also require employers to notify employees of their legally protected rights.  Employee handbook policies may satisfy these notice obligations and, even where that is not the case, the policies may need to be updated for consistency with current legal requirements.
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28

January, 2015

When Power Should Go to a Manager’s Head (or at least stay top of mind)

It may seem obvious, but all too often managers seem to forget that power disparities in the workplace can turn otherwise innocuous encounters into fodder for a sexual harassment claim.  That is how Steelcase, a Michigan-based workplace furnishings manufacturer, incurred years of legal expenses defending a claim of sexual harassment by a former sales manager.  She claimed that a regional manager twice held his hand on her shoulder for an extended duration and commented on how she owed him because he had done a lot to get her hired.  These events occurred ten months prior to her termination for poor performance, and based on the absence of any allegedly inappropriate conduct in the intervening months, the federal appellate court ultimately upheld the dismissal of her legal claim.  But the claim might never have been made were it not for the regional manager’s indiscretion in maintaining an extended hold of her shoulder, a touch that might have been received differently had it been among peers.

It’s not just physical touching that can be problematic.  Fry’s Electronics reportedly paid $3.2 million to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation claim a few years ago.  According to the EEOC’s press release (and the EEOC regularly issues a press release when it negotiates a settlement), the case revolved around encounters between an assistant store manager, a female sales associate, and the sales associate’s direct manager.  The sales associate complained to her direct manager that the assistant store manager sent her frequent, sexually charged text messages and invited her to his house to drink.  The sales associate’s direct manager was fired after he reported the complaint.
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1

December, 2014

LIFE’S LESSONS* Winter 2014, Real Issues…Reconstituted Facts

EMPLOYMENT LIABILITY ISSUES AT THE HOLIDAY AFTER-PARTY GATHERING

‘Tis the season for holiday parties, and the headaches that result when staff fail to conduct themselves appropriately in a less formal setting. Advance planning can help minimize these situations, including a friendly reminder from senior management about expected behavior, arrangement for car service on standby to transport those who are too drunk to drive, and possibly even designating certain company representatives to be attentive at the party to inappropriate behaviors. But what happens when the official party ends? Is the company then relieved of further responsibility for the actions of its employees? Unfortunately, that is not always the case….

Antics After the ABC Co. Holiday Party

More than 200 people attended ABC Co.’s annual party. Richard, a mid-level manager, and two of his peers were still revved up when the official party ended at 11 pm. They invited some of the junior staff on their teams to meet them at Blizzard, a bar located a few blocks from the company party. The junior staff spread the word to some of their peers, and by midnight, 25 ABC Co. employees had gathered at Blizzard. Richard bought a round of drinks for the ABC Co. employees who were standing around the bar, and then joined a group of the junior staff in the corner of the room.
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10

November, 2014

LIFE’S LESSONS* Fall 2014, Real Issues…Reconstituted Facts

THREE STAGES OF PLANNING FOR A REDUCTION IN FORCE

With year-end on the horizon, businesses closely assess performance relative to their financial objectives. Workforce restructurings and staff reductions may be a knock-down effect of such assessments, to enable a business to maximize efficiencies and reduce costs. Assume ABC Co. is undergoing just such an assessment.

Bernice, the Head of Sales, plans to consolidate her teams by eliminating all district sales manager roles and designating up to three sales supervisors in each region, who will perform some local management functions in addition to their regular sales duties. Bernice’s plan will impact 10 employees, in six different states.

Lucas, the Head of Production, plans to cut 15 junior staff roles by automating and consolidating functions. In selecting among the employees whose functions are not directly impacted by automation, Lucas is considering performance, cross-training, attitude, flexibility in scheduling/overtime, and special skills.
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10

November, 2014

LIFE’S LESSONS* Summer 2014, Real Issues…Reconstituted Facts

WHEN IS ASKING SOMEONE OUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT?

A single request for a date does not amount to sexual harassment, or does it? That all depends on whether there is a back story. Let’s consider what can unfold….
Jerry, age 27, was recently hired as an associate at Acme. Jerry does not have any direct reports, but he has been assigned as a summer intern mentor. Jerry was invited to Acme’s summer welcome event, at which he met Paula, an intern in the department, who is entering her senior year at college.

Jerry was struck by Paula’s easy laugh, and the following day he initiated a conversation with her over Acme’s instant messaging system. Over the next several weeks, Jerry regularly IM’d Paula, asking about her hobbies and interests, and sharing information about himself. Paula never initiated the exchanges, but she would reply. Once, Jerry invited Paula and her mentor to join him and his intern mentee for lunch. Paula declined due to a conflicting meeting with her supervisor.
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