Anger in itself doesn't constitute a hostile work environment

Anger in itself doesn’t constitute a hostile work environment

Friend: My boss is kind of a jerk, and he’s breaking the law.

Me: Really? How?

Friend: He makes this place a hostile work environment.

Me: So he’s discriminating against others illegally?

Friend: Well, no, but he makes it uncomfortable to work there. He’s unpleasant, angry, and unpredictable.

I had this exchange with a good friend of mine recently, and the person was so convincing in the discussion that I had to go and look up “hostile work environment” one more time to be sure I was correct. Thankfully I was, but I thought it would be a good reminder to share the key pieces of the law that apply to that specific type of discrimination here.

What is a Hostile Work Environment?

In laymen’s terms, it’s an environment where a reasonable person cannot carry out the functions of their job due to some form of illegal discrimination that is occurring. Remember, all discrimination is not bad. That word has taken on some baggage in recent years, but you should discriminate on a daily basis.

The discriminatory behavior needs to be illegal, and we’re all pretty familiar with the categories that are protected under the law. And just in case you need a refresh on that, I have included the actual verbiage from the EEOC below to remind you.

What the EEOC says about a Hostile Work Environment

Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).

Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.

Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people. Source: eeoc

One last reminder

I ask one thing from you. If this was a good reminder for you, if you didn’t already know this, or if you just think this will be helpful to someone else, please forward this to them! The more people we can educate, whether it’s fellow HR professionals or our management staff, the better off we’ll be. :-)

Like this post? There’s more where that came from. Click here to get updates when new articles are published.

Photo source: soukup

Earlier today the latest workplace flexibility research from the Families and Work Institute and SHRM came out, and there were some very interesting data points in the study. A few quick hits from the 2014 National Study of Employers (link to the full study below):

  • The presence of women/minorities impacts offerings: Organizations with more women and racial or ethnic minorities who are in or report to executive leadership positions are more likely to offer a high level of health care and economic security benefits than organizations with fewer women/minorities in those positions.
  • How are employers preparing their people? Employers are more likely to provide training for supervisors in managing diversity and least likely to have a leadership development program for women (63% vs 11%).
  • The all important culture discussion: Respondents were asked to assess the supportiveness of their workplace cultures… The majority of respondents indicated “very true” to statements assessing whether supervisors are encouraged to assess employee performance by what they accomplish rather than “face time” (64%) and whether supervisors are encouraged to be supportive of employees with family needs and by finding solutions that work for both employees and the organization (58%). Far fewer employers, however, responded “very true” to statements asking whether management rewards those within the organization who support flexible work arrangements (11%) and whether their organization makes a real and ongoing effort to inform employees of the availability of work-life assistance (24%).
  • Twenty one percent of employers overall indicated they must comply with the FMLA but fail to offer at least 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave for at least one type of leave. In other words, approximately one in five employers appear to be out of compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Continue reading

Yesterday I attended day one of the Alabama SHRM Conference. The pre-con session on employee leave management was an interesting one for me, and I quickly saw three key areas where many companies can trip up if managers are not properly prepared. Just a word of warning–none of them are a quick fix. They require training, patience, and more training.

HR’s not the center of the employee leave management universe

employee leave managementWith the managers on the front lines with regard to employee communication, your organization can be in trouble before you ever know what hit you. It’s critical to train managers on what Family Medical Leave Act requirements are and how those should be routed to you or the appropriate person for employee leave management purposes. You should also cover the other key legal areas (Americans with Disabilities Act, etc.) so they know to come to you whenever one of these potentially sticky areas presents itself.

If you assume managers will know what to do, you’re kidding yourself.

Handling the “favorite” child

Another discussion I had today was around ADA accommodations for employees who request them. I think we understand the implications of offering accommodations, and some managers even seem to have a grasp on that side of the equation. I think one of the challenges that spins out of that is how the other employees see the accommodation.

Maybe someone gets an office on the first floor because they can’t climb stairs. Maybe they get a nicer chair because they have back issues. Whatever the case, it’s important to head off any commentary from the unaffected employees if it crops up.

All the work put in to provide accommodations and assist the employee can be undone by insensitive comments from other peers. I’d hope that nobody would say anything, but I’ve been around long enough to know it’s always a possibility. Situations where people think someone else is getting a benefit they don’t have, even when it’s related to employee leave management, tend to cloud peoples’ judgement at times.

Changing the mindset

Picture yourself as a supervisor with an employee on intermittent FMLA status. That’s a pretty typical employee leave management situation. When it comes time to rate employee performance, how are you going to keep the leave separate from the actual performance on the job? If I was in that situation, I admit that it would be a difficult proposition.

I think supervisors need support and encouragement to continue focusing on the work accomplishments and getting people back up to full productivity, not looking at what is not getting done due to someone being on leave for some protected status.

It would be very difficult not to, in some corner of your mind, consider the employees on FMLA as slackers compared to the rest of the staff. In this example you can substitute USERRA or ADA just as easily. I think it’s important to get it out there and off the table as soon as possible when discussing with managers.

“I know Katy’s leave is making it tough on you guys to get your deliverables completed on time, but let’s focus on the positive side of things and work to get her back up to speed as quickly and safely as possible. She’s a good worker and wants to get back to work full speed as soon as she can.”

Simple, easy, but probably a rare conversation.

Again, these are only a few of the key areas that I’ve seen can become issues if not dealt with early in the process. Have you seen these play out well (or not so well) in your own organization? Care to share any best practices around employee leave management?

Today I’m going to dispel the myth that culture is a form of hiring discrimination. Well, I’ll actually prove that it’s true, but in a different way than most people would expect. I use culture to discriminate against candidates  in every interview for every job we post. I look at how we do things, what attributes we find valuable in a candidate, and how well the person fits into those categories. In the video below I explain this in more detail.

This week I’ll be running a series of videos on culture topics, from defining culture to leveraging it in the hiring process and more. I’m a culture junkie and believe that organizations that use it well can differentiate themselves from the competition. It’s a strategic competitive advantage. Use it well. Other videos in this series:

  1. Defining corporate culture
  2. Hiring for culture fit
  3. Unique corporate culture ideas Continue reading

statistical adverse impact analysisStatistical Analysis of Adverse Impact: A Practitioner’s Guide by Stephanie R. Thomas

I know, adverse impact analysis is not my usual fare.

However, I’m working on a new project, and I need to expand my horizons a bit. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I thought I might pick up an idea or two, but I wasn’t prepared to be sucked into the world of statistics and how they can be used to prove (or disprove) a claim of adverse impact.

Being in the government contracting industry, I have the OFCCP and the EEOC to think about, which means the topics in the book were exactly what I need to know to do my job better.

Highlights from Statistical Analysis of Adverse Impact Continue reading

I9 verification documents-challenges and solutions

i9 verification documentsI was wondering what suggestions you or others in the HR community have related to ensuring that new hires show up for orientation with the required forms(s) of ID for completion of the I-9. Currently, I include a copy of the back of the I-9 form when I send their employment offer letter and include instructions to the new hire that they will need to bring the appropriate form of ID with them to their orientation.

I am amazed at how many folks show up for orientation without the necessary ID. Then they want to fax a copy of their Social Security card, passport, etc. to me the next day – which in reality ends up being a week or so later, if at all. I don’t think faxed documents are acceptable but sometimes that is all I can get. Am I the only HR person who has this problem? Thank you for any advice! -L-

When I got this email from a reader, I was secretly relieved. Not because she was having problems with her I9’s, but because I realized I wasn’t the only one who had those same issues. It’s such a critical piece of the hiring process that our companies expect us to get right, but we are dependent on employees (many times at remote sites) to get us the I9 verification documents we need.

And as a side note, no, faxed copies are not supposed to be accepted, because you haven’t seen them in person to verify their authenticity. You need those originals or someone from your company to see those originals who can verify the documents in person.

So how can we combat this issue? Continue reading

Recently I attended a training, and the speaker offered a great piece of advice that I have taken to heart.

Before you make the ethical decision that you’re considering, can you see yourself defending it from the witness stand in a courtroom?

Ouch, but true. When we sometimes are sliding into those gray areas around employee relations and other “soft” parts of HR, it would be smart to keep that in mind.

Ever had to defend a decision in court? How did it go?