The Law is the Basement

My house was built in the late 1890s.  It still has a dark closet that once functioned as a root cellar.  It’s now full of odd, rarely used cooking equipment, Christmas ornaments, and creepy cobwebs.  We now call it the punishment room as a threat designed to spur good behavior in my guys.  No one wants to be in there, but technically, it is a functional closet.

The law is often like that room.  It tells us the minimum of what is expected of us – what is the basement of how we can treat each other.  It’s functional but undesirable.  Just like my guys, no one wants to be in the basement.

But sometimes, the law isn’t even the basement.  It’s lower.  Much lower.  Never has that been clearer than today.  Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in three cases involving whether “because of sex” protects individuals based on their LGBTQ status.  If the Court finds Title VII doesn’t protect the LGBTQ community, employers in 28 states will be able to fire someone because of who they are and who they love.  What’s really scary is that here is a real possibility the Supreme Court will find that the LGBTQ community is not protected.

What will this mean for employers?  I hope nothing.  I hope employers understand how stupid (yes, I wrote “stupid”) it is to discriminate on this basis.  Not only is it unlawful in many states – including Minnesota – it is bad for business.  At least one prominent study showed how LGBTQ-supportive policies were great for employees and business alike.  Being inclusive is the right thing to do.  Period.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Equality Act that would protect the LGBTQ community regardless of how the Supreme Court finds.  But, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to allow a vote on the bill.  It’s likely the bill would pass if it reached the Senate floor.  In the meantime, the message to employers is that Congress doesn’t care if you discriminate.

But you don’t have to.  Employers don’t have to do the minimum.  You can keep employees out of the basement.  We should treat each other fairly and kindly regardless of LGBTQ status.  Here’s hoping the Supreme Court does the right thing, and the Senate does too.

In the meantime, no one can define your worth.  You’re all worthy.  Sending love and hope to everyone today.

 

Photo by isaac jarnagin on Unsplash

Why Talking Remedies Is A Bad Idea

I get to do a TON of respectful workplace trainings, otherwise known as harassment training.  It is one of my favorite things to do.  However, a new requirement for harassment training irks me to no end.

It’s the requirement under California, Illinois, New York, and potentially more state laws that requires that we talk about the remedies available to harassment victims.  I don’t hate the remedies – victims of harassment are entitled to all the remedies out there and then some.  I just don’t like talking about them in training.

Why you ask?  Victims of harassment are already plagued with a seemingly endless list of reasons NOT to report harassment, including retaliation, exposing an embarrassing incident(s), fear of being judged about the clothes they wear, fear of not being able to pay their mortgage, rent, car payment, student loan, child care bills, etc.  Telling them about the remedies available to them, all of which could bankrupt the very organization they’re working for, adds an additional burden to a victim.  Victims of harassment don’t always want to bring down their employer – they want to bring down the harasser or at the very least, make the conduct stop.  They don’t want their friends to lose their jobs too.  Victims went to work for their employer because they believed in the mission, need the work, and want to work there.  Talking about the hundreds of thousands of dollars at play in a harassment lawsuit doesn’t provide comfort, it adds to the load.

In training, I’m doing my darndest to encourage targets of harassment to tell HR or any manager about what is happening.  Trying to reduce the burdens of reporting, encouraging co-workers to help, promising retaliation will not happen, and that HR is a safe place for them to go.  Taking a hard left to “your report could cost this organization tons of money” is halting transition without out much benefit.

The required remedies discussion was probably designed to scare harassers.  It should!  But by and large, employers are on the hook for the money, not the individual harasser.  The harasser is rarely held to account.  They may lose their jobs, but they don’t owe restitution to the victim or even the employer.  It is the organization and its employees who suffer most through the time and resources taken up by a lawsuit.  Yes, in many cases, the organization needed to do better to protect employees, but spelling out its possible demise is not going to convince a victim to raise their voice.

Employers need to do better without a doubt.  And, a good training is a great step.  Scaring victims even more is not the answer.  Dear Legislators, please understand this and let me do my job.  I really like it, and I’m pretty good at it.

End rant.  Thank you.

 

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

The Billy Graham Rule Discriminates

Last week, a Mississippi gubernatorial candidate refused to allow a female journalist to follow him on his campaign because he follows the Billy Graham rule.  The rule is that married men should not ever be alone with a woman to “avoid any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise of [a] marriage.”

As a divorcee, I agree that trust is key to marriage.  However, if the trust between a man and a woman is so weak that he cannot be alone with a woman, then that isn’t really trust.  That’s fear.  As Jeremy White tweeted, the rule “presumes either: A) you can’t be trusted or B) women can’t be trusted.”

The Billy Graham rule discriminates against women.  Full-stop.  If a man cannot be alone with a woman, he cannot mentor her through a tough situation.  He cannot take her with on a business trip to a client site.  He cannot meet with her to give her a performance review.  As a result, the woman will miss out on significant business opportunities.  She’ll miss out on activities that are critical for her success and advancement.  She’ll be held back.  This is discrimination plain and simple.

As my friend, Suzanne Lucas advises, we should “flip it to test it.”  Instead of a woman, let’s say a man cannot be alone with a black man for fear that man will claim racism. No business trips, mentoring sessions, or performance reviews for the black man.  Or a Native American.  Or an Asian American.  Or a Latino.  Or a Jew.  Or a Muslim.  Or an older man.  We’d all agree that this would be discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion, and age, right?  (Readers – this is where you nod.)  The Billy Graham rule perpetuates the idea that men are only safe when they are with men like them.

Instead, we need to treat each other like humans.  We see women and everyone else as humans, colleagues, partners, and equals.  We don’t withhold support, advice, and opportunities for fear of a complaint; we treat everyone with respect.  Period.

 

Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Deep Breaths about Wage Theft

As of July 1, 2019, Minnesota’s new Wage Theft Law will go into effect.  If you read anything about this new law, it is easy to assume it places many, many new obligations on employers.  But, like many things, take a deep breath.  The new law isn’t nearly as onerous as you might think.

First, the new law requires employers to follow old laws.  Employers have to pay employees.  Employers have to pay at least minimum wages.  Employers have to pay overtime.   Employers have to have paystubs with a bunch of information on it that specific how the employee earned pay (pay period dates, what is regular pay, what is overtime, what deductions are for, employer name, address, and telephone number, etc.).  None of this is new.  What is new is the amount of penalties that accompany failure to follow these laws.  Those have increased and failure to follow the law could include very real criminal penalties.

Second, if you have offer letters, much of the new “notice” requirements are already in your offer letters.  Start date, how much the employee earns, basis of pay (salary or hourly), when employees will get paid (weekly, biweekly, twice monthly, etc.), exempt vs. nonexempt status, any commission structure (if applicable), what shift the employee is assigned (if applicable), PTO or vacation and sick time accrual, deductions to pay, employer address, and telephone number – these should already be in your offer letter.  The only “new” pieces are when the first payday will be, any allowances (like meals and lodging), and an offer to put the offer letter in a different language if needed.

Third, when employers roll out new policies, you need employees to acknowledge them.  Prior to the new law, employers could roll out new policies without employee acknowledgements.  Now you need them.  To avoid piecemeal acknowledgements, it may be best to review your handbook annually and when updates are necessary, require employees to acknowledge the changes all at the same time once per year.  More frequent changes are going to require more frequent acknowledgements.  This could be a bit of a pain to both do and track.

Fourth, when you change wages, employees need to acknowledge those changes too.  For example, if Jimmy is going to get a raise, you give him a writing (email, letter, performance review) that his wages are increasing and have him acknowledge the increase.  Again, most employers already do this, but now it is mandated by law.

That’s it!  The Wage Theft Law looks like it could be hard to comply with.  But, in reality, it is not as big of a deal as it has been made out to be.  Take a deep breath, you got this.

 

Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash

Saying Something Calculus

Full disclosure:  While visiting Consulate General Jerusalem in 2011, Vice President Biden heard it was my birthday and then kissed me on the cheek.  At the time, it was weird.  At times, it was a cool story to tell, but it remains weird. 

“Why didn’t she say something?”  “She should have said, ‘don’t touch me.’”  “We need to have a conversation.”  These are all common responses to women who have shared their uncomfortable interactions with a variety of powerful men – including Vice President Joe Biden.  Look closely at them.  Note how all of them place an obligation on the target of the questionable behavior and never on the person engaging in that behavior.

That is why these responses are flat-out wrong.

I get the argument for the responses.  How is someone supposed to know that their behavior is inappropriate if no one tells them?  Are we expecting everyone to be a walking encyclopedia (or Wikipedia for you youngsters) of cultural norms?  Most certainly not.  That said, you do need to use some emotional intelligence and plain-ole common sense and treat everyone with respect.

Emotional intelligence is “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.”  Being aware of other people would suggest that when you’re going in for the hug, you see the look of panic on the individual’s face.  Controlling your own emotions means you don’t kiss a colleague when you successfully complete a project because we don’t kiss in the workplace.  Handling interpersonal relationships judiciously is understanding that not everyone is a hugger.

Common sense – albeit rare contrary to the very term itself – is defined by being aware of social norms and how they change.  Yes, #metoo has changes our cultural norms.  But the movement hasn’t changed all social norms.  Some are still not understood by all.  The way to know what those social norms are is by being aware of what happens culturally.  Read or watch the news.  Read a book.  Watch the news.  Meet with friends and family.  This is how cultural norms are formed and learned.

The target of the inappropriate behavior is doing her or his own calculus.  If I say something here, how will the person respond?  Is it worth sticking my neck out to say “what you did made me feel uncomfortable”?  Doing this mental calculus quickly often results in saying nothing because of ease, expediency, and social respect.  Remember saying something always has a cost.  I knew that stopping the Vice President to tell him that he shouldn’t kiss people would be awkward and potentially off-putting for a visit already fraught with political tight-rope walking, so my calculus was to not say something.

Instead of putting the target in the crosshairs, we should focus on our own behavior.  For this, the most important thing is to lead with respect; respect of the personal autonomy and beliefs of the people you encounter.  In some cases, it would be inappropriate for a woman to touch a religious man, so when I reach out for a handshake, I might receive a polite bow in response.  I am certainly not offended by his decision to stay true to his faith.  And, because I am conforming to a social norm by reaching for a handshake, he is unlikely to be offended by my gesture as well.

One thing I’m leery of is prohibiting touching all together.  If we tell everyone to stop touching, aren’t we turning into robots?  I’ve got some do’s and don’ts on hugging and kissing:

  1. Do know the person you may want to touch before you do it. When you know someone – even if you’ve only interacted online – a hug may be a totally appropriate greeting.  But that’s only because you know them.  People give you clues on whether it is okay to touch.  A stranger?  No hug and definitely no kiss.  By the end of your meeting, it may be okay to hug goodbye.  The only time to kiss goodbye is at the end of a date (and maybe not on the first date).
  2. Do understand that people are all different and people may feel differently day-by-day. Some people will never hug.  Others may hug all the time.  Some will hug occasionally.  Just like we all process grief differently, we all process hugs in different ways on any given day.  A hugger might be having a bad day and the last thing he wants to do is hug.  Be open to this possibility and watch for the clues your emotional intelligence is picking up on.
  3. Don’t assume you can touch everyone because you’re powerful. It is simply not true that “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”  You may be more likely to get away with it because of the power dynamic at play, but no one forgets when someone famous inappropriately touches them.  In fact, if you are in a position of power, like a manager, leader, or “influencer,” it may be appropriate to dial down your normal behavior to hug knowing that others may be made even more uncomfortable because of your status.
  4. Don’t kiss at work.   Not even if your significant other comes to the office.  It’s weird.  (One exception, if you’re in a foreign country and it is socially acceptable to air kiss upon meeting.  Please note the air kiss – no lip contact required.  No lip contact.)

During a recent respectful workplace training, I was asked for the line.  “When does conduct cross the line?”  As I told the gentlemen, I wish I had the answer.  If there was a black/white line, it would be easier for all of us.  However, people have always made things gray and squishy.  It will take our smarts and our hearts to continue to learn about people and make appropriate decisions.

 

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Tired of Bubbly

The feedback I get from people I meet is often “I love your energy, “you’re so bubbly,” and “why are you so happy?”  I am, by no means, a Debbie Downer.  That said, I don’t ever want people to think that HR has to be happy or has to be cheerful all the time. You get to be NOT bubbly.  It’s totally okay.

We deal with some dark stuff.  People come to us when their kids or parents are sick.  We organize FMLA for them in these cases.  When they get a horrible diagnosis for themselves, we figure out the reasonable accommodation to allow them to earn a paycheck while going through grueling procedures.  Some of my hardest days an HRO were trying to find ways to get people home to dying parents. Tears – including some of mine – were shed in my office.  A bubbly response would be insensitive and inappropriate.

We deal with hard problems.  When someone comes to us with an allegation of harassment, we investigate, sometimes hear about horrific behavior, and then try to navigate the difficult waters to rebuild in the aftermath to make things right.  We do pay audits that may uncover discrepancies, we have to beg and plead to find money to rectify the situation.  We advocate for a minority candidate when the hiring manager is concerned about “fit.”  (Ugh.)  We put our credibility on the line to solve these problems.

We do hard things.  It is not easy to do a layoff.  It is really not easy to discipline someone who we like personally.  It is not easy to walk a production floor when there’s a unionizing campaign in progress.  Nevertheless, we do these things, because we’re in HR and sometimes we have to.  We don’t get to hire and promote all the time.

It’s more important to be you. Being you means you have good days and bad days because you’re human. Some of the best HR people I have ever worked with are curmudgeonly – surly even – but they still showed people that they care about them, want what’s best for them, and will advocate for them. We can’t create connections with the people we work with if we’re putting on a forced smile or bubbliness.

My advice is this: work on you. Know you. Then, stay true to that. People will respond to that.

 

Photo by Alejandro Alvarez on Unsplash