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A mayor in Ohio has gotten himself in some hot water for his selective use of pre-employment medical examinations for hirees.
How selective? According to WKYC, one woman claims that the mayor required her and other women, but not men, to be examined by his personal doctor. For his part, the mayor denies the allegations as an act of a “fertile imagination” and claims that he sends all city workers, male and female, to the same doctor for pre-employment exams.
Why would her allegations rise to the level of unlawful activity?
Aside from the obvious sex discrimination (an employer cannot apply one set of policies to male employees a different set to female employees), it also violates the ADA’s requirements for pre-employment medical examinations.
The ADA applies a traffic-light approach to employer-mandated medical exams.
Red light(prior to an offer of employment): the ADA prohibits all disability-related inquiries and medical examinations, even those that are job related.
Yellow light(after employment begins): an employer only may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations that are job-related and consistent with business necessity.
Green Light(after an applicant is given a conditional job offer, but before s/he starts work): an employer may make any disability-related inquiries and conduct medical examinations, regardless of whether they are related to the job, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same job category.
Because these exams fall in the “Green Light” category, the city is in the clear, right? Wrong. Pre-employment medical exams are permitted as long as the employer does so for all entering employees in the same job category. This employee alleges the females were singled out. Thus, unless she worked with all women in her job category (another legal red flag), the city violated the ADA by sending some, but not all, employees for pre-employment medical exams.
Also, pay attention to state laws when conducting medical exams. For example, Ohio prohibits an employer from shifting the cost of any pre-employment medical exam to an employee: “No employer shall require any prospective employee or applicant for employment to pay the cost of a medical examination required by the employer as a condition of employment.”
As for this mayor, these allegations are just the tip of his legal iceberg. It’s also alleged that he uses the n-word to refer to African American residents, and sexually harasses female employees by talking about his private parts and how pistachios contribute to his sexual prowess. Sounds like a great place to work.
For some businesses beyond retail, the holiday season — November through February — is the busy season.
This means heavy workloads, tight deadlines and the need for collaborative teamwork more than ever as many companies are winding down. Research from my company’s research arm, the Limeade Institute, shows that burnout happens when employees have high stress but low well-being. So we’ve come together as a company to keep our people balanced, productive and healthy during this time.
Here’s what we found works best:
Reorganize annual events to alleviate employees’ schedules: Like most companies, we launched annual employee reviews at year-end. Now we’ve moved our annual reviews to February, so employees can approach them thoughtfully and reflect on all they’ve accomplished. We also pushed our holiday party to midyear so our employees can spend their time with family and friends. And while most companies send customers holiday gifts in December, we send gratitude gifts just before Thanksgiving.
Push for real PTO: We encourage employees to use their vacation time by year-end. In fact, our research shows those who take all of their vacation days are more engaged. Some employees prefer to take a long break just after the busy season. Because of this, we roll over up to 160 hours of PTO per year.
Support employee well-being: Throughout the busy season, we developed a Refresh Yourself campaign that promotes employee well-being — something often neglected when the pressure is on. We’ve offered chair massages, fruit-infused water, smoothies, yoga and meditation sessions, stretching stations, brain games and had the leadership team cook breakfast for employees. An optional office decorating contest and ugly sweater competition brings spirit to the office. In the meantime, remote employees receive care packages so they feel included and supported.
Help employees manage stress: Stress is inevitable during the busy season, so we help employees feel energized and motivated versus run-down or overwhelmed. We coach managers on how to help their team deal with stress and bring in guest speakers on how to stay positive in stressful times.
Our advice to those whose holiday rush ramps up during the holidays? Test new ideas, measure success and improve every year.
— Laura Hamill is chief people officer at Limeade and chief science officer of the Limeade Institute.
When we think of pregnancy protection, most of us immediately think of maternity leave — the colloquial term for the 12 weeks of federally mandated unpaid leave available to new mothers under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Some employers offer pay during this 12-week period. Others offer more than 12 weeks. All covered employers are required to hold the employee’s job and reinstate her with the same benefits after the 12 weeks.
However, most employers have additional obligations to pregnant employees. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers with more than 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees suffering from certain pregnancy-related disabilities, unless the accommodation would be an undue hardship on the employer. These accommodations can include modified work schedules, additional leave, temporary reassignment to light duty or modifying work policies to allow more frequent breaks.
Many employers forget about another federal law that protects pregnant employees: The 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy (past, current or potential), childbirth or related medical conditions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — the agency that enforces the Pregnancy Discrimination Act — has provided specific examples of prohibited discrimination. Broadly, an employer may not deny a pregnant employee or applicant access to a job, promotion or opportunities for fear she will have physical limitations, require significant time off or impose high health care costs.
Put another way, an employer must hire, train, promote, accommodate and otherwise treat any pregnant employee who is able to perform the essential functions of her job in the same way non-pregnant employees are treated. This means an employer is prohibited from requiring a pregnant employee to undergo additional medical clearances not required of other employees.
Likewise, if an employee is unable to perform her job due to pregnancy-related conditions, her employer must treat her the same as other disabled workers (i.e. providing light duty, disability leave, etc.).
A number of additional obligations come from often-overlooked state and even city/municipal laws. In fact, most states now have pregnancy protection laws prohibiting discrimination and/or requiring specific accommodations.
Is my state one of them? Most likely, yes. The states with no additional pregnancy discrimination laws are North Carolina, Indiana and Georgia. Even in these states, employers should consider whether local ordinances impose additional regulations.
If my company complies with federal laws, are we automatically complying with state and local laws? Not necessarily. State and local laws are intended to provide additional protections, above and beyond those provided by federal laws. Thus, these laws will often cover more employers and/or require additional accommodations for employees.
An important consideration for small employers is whether state laws are applicable even where federal are not. Title VII, and therefore the PDA, applies to employers with more than 15 employees. However, 13 states and the District of Columbia all have statutes that may apply to smaller employers.
Likewise, employees may have more protections. In Minnesota, for instance, pregnant employees are not required to provide medical documentation when requesting more frequent restroom or water breaks, seating and limits on lifting more than 20 pounds. Neither can employers assert undue hardship in response to any of these requests. These are more stringent requirements than those under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act or ADA.
So, what does it mean if my state has additional pregnancy protection and anti-discrimination laws? Read your state and local laws, and consult with legal counsel about how to ensure compliance with the law.
Review your company’s light duty and reasonable accommodations policy. State and local legislation often require employers to provide pregnant employees with the same accommodations provided to employees with non-pregnancy-related disabilities, such as employees with work-related injuries and disabilities. Some local laws specifically designate the accommodations to which pregnant employees are entitled.
Include pregnancy discrimination education in management training. Supervisors and managers should know how to handle requests for accommodations from pregnant workers as they may field these inquiries before, or more often than, HR. Again, legal counsel can help you create training that covers laws in your specific jurisdiction.
How can a multistate/national employer ensure compliance with all local, state and federal laws? Adhere to the state laws in the most stringent jurisdictions. Or, create a broad policy that does not violate any federal laws and yields to state or local laws as appropriate.
Here is a sample handbook policy:
“(Your organization) is firmly committed to protecting the rights of expectant mothers and complying with Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. [Your organization’s] policy is to treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions in the same manner as other employees unable to work because of their physical condition in all employment aspects, including recruitment, hiring, training, promotion and benefits. Discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sex, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, disability or handicap, any other category protected by federal, state, or local law is a violation of this policy and will be treated as a disciplinary matter.
“Further, (your organization) fully recognizes eligible employees’ rights and responsibilities under the Family and Medical Leave Act, applicable state and local family leave laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Pregnant employees may continue to work until childbirth or until they are certified as unable to work by their physician. Additionally, reasonable accommodation will be made for pregnancy, although state laws usually provide specific guidelines for accommodating pregnant applicants and employees.”
Ultimately, when in doubt, err on the side of offering reasonable accommodations — especially if the company has offered similar accommodations to any employees in the past. A few small accommodations for pregnant employees can go a long way toward maintaining employee morale, retaining valuable talent and minimizing the potential for expensive discrimination claims.
Crystal Stevens McElrath is a senior attorney with Swift-Currie in Atlanta. She practices in the areas of employment law and workers’ compensation defense. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Balancing personal and work obligations is a struggle for busy professionals any time of the year.
But the holiday season — when intense work deadlines collide with a whirlwind of shopping, parties, travel and more — adds an extra layer of pressure and stress that can make employees feel, shall we say, less than festive.
And then, just like that, the holidays are over. Employees are back at their desks, facing a mountain of to-dos that they were desperate to finish before the break but just couldn’t find the time to get to. Silently, they promise themselves that next year will be different: “Next year, I will do everything I can to make sure I have time to actually enjoy the holidays.”
Managers can help them out. Supervisors can make it easier for their workers to find time to experience the joy of the season by rethinking office traditions such as the company-hosted holiday party. While this annual celebration can be fun and meaningful, it is also one more commitment for employees in an ultra-hectic season. In fact, only about one-third (36 percent) of workers surveyed by my company, OfficeTeam, describe this event as entertaining. A nearly equal percentage of professionals — 35 percent — give it a big thumbs down.
However, there shouldn’t be a rush to cancel the eggnog and tinsel just yet. Taking a different approach to how the office celebrates the holidays could be all that’s needed to make employees feel they’re attending an event that’s well worth their time — and for the company to feel satisfied that its budget is well spent.
Take Justin Gray, founder and CEO of LeadMD, a marketing and sales consultancy company based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He brings his entire team together for an annual holiday weekend at a local resort. The company pays for remote team members and their significant others to travel to the event.
“It’s a great team-building exercise, and it lets people know that we care,” Gray said. “I think of everything we do for our teams as an investment. If you want the best from your employees, you have to create experiences where they feel appreciated.”
Hosting a low-key get-together before the holiday break can be a good option for employers, too, said Susan M. Heathfield, a human resources expert and writer. Heathfield is the owner of two Michigan-based businesses: management consulting firm Heathfield Consulting Associates and software company TechSmith Corp.
“We decided a long time ago that the holiday season is the absolute worst time of year to have a company party,” she said. “It’s so hard to get people together. They just don’t have the time. Plus, they would rather spend what time they do have with their family and friends.”
Heathfield said TechSmith officially closes for the holidays at noon on Christmas Eve and hosts a casual lunch at a local tavern for any employees who want to attend — and they are welcome to bring their family members, too. Then, in February, the firm really pulls out all the stops.
“We hold an extravagant party to celebrate our company’s founding birthday,” Heathfield said, adding that almost all of TechSmith’s 285 employees usually attend this annual event, and most invite their family and friends along, as well.
Giving All Employees a Break
Shutting down the office between Christmas and New Year’s Day has become a common practice for many employers. Heathfield and Gray both agree that doing so has a strong, positive impact on employee morale — and can help with retention and recruitment efforts, too. Gray said he has received “so many notes ” from staff members over the years, expressing their appreciation for this simple gesture. “And we have an unlimited paid time-off policy, too!” he said.
For companies that can’t close down their office during the December holidays, Gray offers a suggestion: “Consider providing a ‘floating week’ option that can be used around Thanksgiving, during the Christmas holiday season, or during the summer,” he said. “There are low productivity valleys in every business. You can capitalize on them to provide big value for your team while still providing great service to your customers. Just be sure to clearly communicate to your teams the number of staff who can be off at a given time.”
Flexible scheduling practices throughout the year can also help workers maintain their work-life balance — and prevent them from facing a mad rush during the holidays, said Heathfield. “A lot of pressure at the holidays is self-imposed,” she said. “People are trying to do too much in too little time.”
Like Gray, Heathfield also encourages employees to take their vacation at less busy times of the year, when they can really rest and come back to work recharged.
Welcome in the New
While the end of the year is a logical time to reflect on team accomplishments and set new goals, managers might want to wait until after Jan. 1 to dig into numbers and talk strategy with their staff. However, they need to be careful not to pile on too much too soon in the new year: Taking time off and then coming back to heavy workloads can be stressful for professionals during the holidays.
Instead, managers can consider planning a team celebration to ring in the new year and get energized for the first quarter. This event could take the place of the traditional team celebration in December — thereby also helping to reduce employees’ end-of-year stress. In early January, when all staff members are back from the holiday break, everyone can be taken out to a restaurant. Just going out for burgers doesn’t cut it: Supervisors should try to invite employees somewhere special.
During the meal, people are encouraged to talk about their holiday experiences. After everyone has had a chance to catch up, the conversation can shift to business. Leadership should outline the company’s objectives for the year and get everyone focused on working toward them.
“Goal setting is important at both the individual and departmental level,” Heathfield noted in an article that discussed the New Year’s lunch strategy. “Employees also need to see where their job and goals fit into the bigger picture.” She urges employers to keep the atmosphere of the post-holiday lunch “positive, uplifting and forward-looking.”
Managers should also make a point to let all their employees know how much they are appreciated — both before and after the holidays, and really, all through the year. Failing to do so could not only undermine employee morale and productivity but also jeopardize the firm’s ability to retain talent.
The top three types of recognition that employees value most? Money, paid time off and a personal thank-you from their employer. And the return on investment for a sincere thank-you can be significant for managers, according to Gray. “I hand-write notes to each employee every year, and that has been one of the most appreciated activities I do — beyond even big commission checks, charitable donations and sharing stories of customer success,” he said.
He added, “To create a connection with your staff, you have to be willing to go one-on-one. I know that if I foster individual connections with my employees, in return, they are going to go deep when I need them to.”
This month, I spent a long weekend before the midterm election supporting my brother-in-law’s campaign for a state Assembly seat in rural Wisconsin.
We traveled to several campaign offices and spent the days knocking on doors in small towns. Approaching strangers’ houses to ask them about their political affiliations or their plans to vote can be an uncomfortable experience at first. But it quickly becomes energizing as you encounter incredibly interesting people and witness their reactions.
For me, being part of the boots-on-the-ground effort to motivate voters was deeply inspiring, and it renewed my appreciation for the tireless work that happens outside the cable news cycle.
I was struck by the varied examples of people stepping up and stepping into an opportunity to do something for their community. Whether actually running for office, as my brother-in-law did, or staffing a field office, managing a campaign, hosting an event or attending a town hall meeting, there are countless ways to engage in local issues. And it got me thinking about all the other ways I — and our industry — could be adding to important local and national dialogues.
Given the big challenges facing our country, I can think of no group more qualified or capable of influencing our political climate than HR and benefits leaders, who all have expertise in many of the areas being debated at the national level. HR leaders know all about balancing competing interests, creating equal opportunities and managing complex health and financial programs.
We know how to create policies and programs that can scale. We also know that a solid safety net benefits not only those who need it but also the community around them.
Katherine Eyster, deputy director of workplace programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, agrees that HR leaders have valuable insights: “HR professionals have a key role to play in sharing their experiences with policymakers and advocates to ensure that legislation is thoughtfully and effectively designed with real companies and workers in mind.” Through her organization’s work, more than 75 companies and business leaders recently endorsed the need for a strong national paid family and medical leave policy.
“For too long the false narrative has endured that what is good for workers is bad for business, when evidence shows time and again that when workers thrive, businesses and the economy grow,” she said.
Adding our voices to the national debate is an idea gaining momentum among HR leaders. Rosemarie Day, founder and CEO of Day Health Strategies, has a forthcoming book about engaging in politics to protect access to health care. In it, she presents a “continuum of involvement” that shows the various ways to get involved.
She shares ways you can speak as a private citizen or spokesperson for your organization. The first step is getting (and staying) informed, followed by sharing information, supporting a cause, speaking up, showing up (at events, rallies and more), organizing people and even running for office.
“As a society, we need safeguards and safety nets,” she said. “Benefits managers can represent the human side of capitalism, and they know the limitations of what private companies can do and the gaps that are very critical for the government to fill.”
Renee Lutzen, director of health care product management at UMB Healthcare Services (one of our clients), is a member of the Employers Council for Flexible Compensation. In that capacity, she has been able to visit legislators and regulators and educate them about the issues we face every day.
“Legislative offices are interested in and very receptive to hearing real stories from real people — those of us who are working in the industry of health care, HR and benefits administration. We’re not just sitting at a desk crunching numbers against theoretical concepts. We have real-life examples we can share on how current health care policies are impacting individuals along with insights on the potential effects proposed policies will have,” she said.
This year, I’m vowing to get more involved and helping others do the same. As for my brother-in-law, he lost by a tiny margin, but I have no doubt he’ll have a fantastic career in public life. His efforts and the integrity and vision that guided his campaign inspired thousands of people in his district and beyond. I hope our efforts will do the same.
According to The American Lawyer (sub. req.), Hogan Lovells has suspended one of its partners in its London office for watching porn at work. How did it catch the offense?
An IT employee read his internet logs? No.
He forgot to close his browser when he went to the loo and his assistant walked into his office? No.
He visited an unsafe site that spammed his entire office with malware? No.
Would you believe that someone caught him through his office window? From RollonFriday:
On Monday morning a lawyer with Irwin Mitchell, whose London office is separated from Hogan Lovells by a narrow lane, looked out of their window and straight into the partner’s office. Sources told RollOnFriday that the Irwin Mitchell lawyer was shocked to see the Hogan Lovells partner watching porn at his desk, with his back to the window.
The IM lawyer filmed the absorbed partner on a mobile phone, sources told RollOnFriday, and sent the footage to Hogan Lovells lawyers. It then made its way to the firm’s HR. The partner has now been suspended.
Astoundingly, according to one survey, 3 percent of Americans admit to watching porn at work. And while 3 percent may not sound like a lot, I guarantee you are now doing the math and figuring out who the likely suspects are in your office.
What is an employer to do? After all, the mere presence of pornography in the workplace is enough to set off every sexual harassment alarm bell, and subject an employer to sexual harassment liability if it does nothing.
Hogan Lovells defends its own lack-of-a-policy:
We didn’t block access to websites unless they represented a cybersecurity risk (e.g. they have malware on them). The nature of our work for clients sometimes means we need to carry out investigations in areas which require us to have flexible access. We have reviewed and tightened this policy.
So, what should you look for in “reviewing and tightening” your workplace-porn policy?
What does your technology or internet-use policy say, does it include prohibitions against pornography, and does it sufficiently and clearly explain that violations will result in discipline, up to and including termination?
Do you block websites that might include adult material, or do you trust employees to their own devices. Keep in mind that if you opt for the latter, many adult websites are rife with malware, viruses, and other things that you likely don’t want on work equipment. Also keep in mind that if you opt for the former, you may need to provide for work-related exceptions (like an employment lawyer researching a case, and I speak from experience).
If you are overly concerns that your workplace is rife with porn, you could opt for a porn audit, examining all of your technology assets for inappropriate material.
Once you become aware of any pornography in the workplace, your obligation as an employer kicks in to promptly investigate and implement reasonable corrective action. Failure to act could subject you to a nasty and expensive sexual harassment lawsuit.
Finally, if your investigation leads you believe that the pornography involves illegal activity (e.g., children), immediately stop and call your lawyer, as this is a serious issue that needs serious treatment.
The internet might be for porn, just not watching porn at work, ever (unless you’re an employment lawyer investigating a case).
Sauce Labs Inc. named Heather McLinden vice president of people operations. McLinden will oversee the development of global people strategies, including organizational design, culture and inclusion, talent management and recruiting. McLinden brings more than 18 years of strategic people experience to her role.
Megan Masoner Detz
Varidesk named Megan Masoner Detz as chief people officer. Detz will lead all human resources functions and develop people strategies to help Varidesk’s business growth. As senior vice president of human capital at NTT Data Inc. she helped grow the employee base to nearly 46,000 in seven years.
Children’s Minnesota named Paul Skiem vice president of human resources. Skiem will provide leadership, direction and oversight for Children’s human resources department, including employee and labor relations, organizational effectiveness, talent acquisition and compensation and benefits. He brings more than 30 years of experience in human resources, holding leadership positions for several large health systems in the Chicago area.
Apprio named Chloë Madden as chief human capital officer. Madden is responsible for Apprio’s talent acquisition in alignment with the company’s mission, culture and growth objectives. She comes to Apprio with a deep background in HR management and has strong consulting acumen in diverse areas, including matters unique to government contracting, M&A and international projects.
Harvard Business Publishing named Larry Clark managing director of global learning solutions in corporate learning. As managing director of global learning solutions, Clark will lead the team of learning solutions managers around the globe who partner with clients to design and develop learning experiences.
Global asset manager Russell Investments named Gene Raffone as global chief human resources officer. Based in Seattle, he will report directly to Chairman and CEO Michelle Seitz and serve as a member of the firm’s executive committee. Raffone joins Russell Investments from Navigant, a global professional services firm, where he served as vice president, chief human capital officer, overseeing all aspects of the firm’s people agenda since 2013.
I was a little annoyed — actually I was a lot annoyed — when a friend mentioned that he was pressured to attend monthly post-work happy hour outings with his colleagues.
“I was told I need to be there because I supervise people,” he said, adding the events often extend well past happy hour.
My friend likes his co-workers and enjoys his job, and like Justice Brett Kavanaugh he likes beer. But after a long day at work he just wants to head home. Instead, the edict leaves my friend stressed out and irked because he’s compelled — attendance is not required but strongly suggested — to spend several more hours with the same people he just endured the entire day.
I get team building. As a manager I also understand the value in creating a bond with your staff. I’ve found that often grows organically, and a supervisor is crucial to fostering the camaraderie between employees. Supervisor or subordinate, employees should be free to choose whether they hang out together after work.
Still, there’s a bigger picture here that bothers me. It’s the implication that drinking unifies a team.
Ummm, well, maybe. If you agree, why does it have to be happy hour? There are plenty of positive post-work outings that can involve alcohol. There’s softball and bowling and team cribbage. Or what about gathering for trivia night? I mean, who wouldn’t want to meet up with co-workers for an evening of beer and Adam Sandler-themed questions?
Perhaps we’ve been conditioned over the years to believe alcohol and the workplace make for great drinking buddies. We had Hawkeye and Trapper John of “MASH” fame throwing back snootfuls with their boss, Col. Henry Blake. And ad execs from Darrin Stephens to Don Draper basked in the glory of landing an account over martinis — two olives and a twist, please.
Such stereotypes vanished through the 1980s and ’90s. Why? Let’s just blame it on uptight boomers and Gen Xers who are generally overly anxious about everything.
But over the past decade the ascent of the millennials has taken drinking and work to transparent new levels as kegerators and wine down Wednesdays pull bottles of booze out of desk drawers to transform the office kitchen into a workplace watering hole.
Be warned though, says this uptight boomer who enjoys an after-hours cocktail as much as anyone: Alcohol and work can be a slippery slope.
I’ve experienced well-intentioned “you really must be there” post-work drinkfests taking a big-time wrong turn after too many hours together, too many drinks and too few inhibitions. Instead of managing your garden-variety sober workplace-related snit at the office, you’re forced into refereeing an alcohol-fueled scrum that never would have surfaced had everyone just gone to accordion practice or home to walk Chester the dog.
Now that we’re on the cusp of another holiday season, do I need to remind you of the perils of mixing alcohol and decking the halls at work? Of course I do!
Several workplaces ago, some genius replaced our traditional white elephant gift exchange with a secret Santa. You know, pick a name then figure out what your selectee likes. In other words it gets personal, which also complicates things.
I didn’t know this person very well so I gleaned shreds of intel from co-workers. Frankly it didn’t help. I was destined to buy a Harry and David’s gourmet fruit basket or a Sammy the Singing Salmon — something totally awesome but impersonal.
Then came a last-minute tip: My recipient liked going to Mexico. Perfecto! Bueno! Each day I would sneak a little something onto their desk leading up to the big secret Santa reveal. Day One: A map of Mexico. Day 2: A lime. Day 3: A six-pack of Corona. And finally … a bottle of tequila! Viva secret Santa! Viva Rick!
I was so proud of myself, all the sleuthing and planning and secrecy only to discover later that the recipient of my secret Santa-ness was a recovering alcoholic who at the time was wearing an ankle bracelet for a DUI.
Way to go, Sherlock. Just call me clueless.
As much as I understand that a drink or two can build relationships between employees who might otherwise never socialize, beware the perils presented by alcohol at work. Booze alone doesn’t magically transform a workplace into a more productive, positive environment.
I’m not against mixing the two. Just let your colleagues choose whether they’d prefer Alex Trebek testing their trivia skills from the comfort of their couch or an obligatory night of answering “Happy Gilmore” and “The Waterboy” questions in a bar with their co-workers.
Estefany Martinez-Gonzalez and Imelda Lucio Lopez, both crew members at a McDonald’s restaurant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and both Hispanic, claimed that their employer discriminated against them by requiring them to speak English at work (as opposed to their native Spanish).
Taking the record as a whole, no reasonable finder of fact could find that Lakeshore had a policy and culture of requiring its employees to speak only English. Lakeshore … filed seven declarations demonstrating that the so-called English-only policy could not exist because employees attested that they speak Spanish in the workplace or know of employees who openly speak Spanish in the workplace without reprimand. Martinez and Lopez do not contest either the factual veracity or the legal significance of the declarations. Instead, in support of their argument, Martinez and Lopez cite to two instances where Martinez stated she was told to speak English and one instance where Lopez testified she was told to speak English. Martinez and Lopez cite no disciplinary records in which they were reprimanded because they were speaking Spanish.
Thus, there was no evidence to support the existence of an English-only policy. That said, English-only policies certainly raise legal red flags.
As immigration and immigration reform continue to be hot-button political issues, employers take a big risk when they require all of their employees to speak only English at work.
The EEOC’s position is that a “rule requiring employees to speak only English at all times in the workplace is a burdensome term and condition of employment” and presumptively “violates Title VII.” According to the EEOC, an “employer may have a rule requiring that employees speak only in English at certain times where the employer can show that the rule is justified by business necessity.”
The majority of federal courts, however, have shown slightly more tolerance of “English-only” rules. Generally, courts will uphold an English-only rule if the employer can show a legitimate business justification for the requirement. Examples of legitimate business justifications that have been found to justify an English-only requirement are:
Stemming hostility among employees.
Fostering politeness to customers.
Promoting communication with customers, coworkers, or supervisors who only speak English.
Enabling employees to speak a common language to promote safety or enable cooperative work assignments.
Facilitating a supervisor’s ability monitor the performance of an employee.
Furthering interpersonal relations among employees.
Thus, employers should be careful to limit the reach of an English-only requirement only as far as is necessary to reach the articulated business rationale for the policy. For example, English-only requirements have been struck down as discriminatory where the policy included lunch hours, breaks and even private telephone conversations.
If you are considering an English-only requirement for your business, you should not do so without consulting with employment counsel to ensure that the policy is not discriminatory as written or as applied.
Ask any HR professional what they think of their internal communications group and you’re likely to get an answer at one extreme or the other.
Either you’ll hear about an incredibly strong and strategic working relationship or you’ll get an eye roll with a story about how impossible they are to work with. When meeting your HR goals requires reaching and engaging employees — like during open enrollment — ensuring that relationship is working becomes even more critical.
While sometimes seen as a roadblock or gatekeeper, an internal communications team can be a vocal advocate for the benefits team’s goals and vision, supporting their efforts and ensuring campaigns resonate with employees. That is why making that relationship strong and successful is a key goal in our work.
With that in mind, my colleague Lindsay Kohler identified these helpful guidelines for working with internal communications teams. As part of our team, she’s designed and orchestrated global internal communications strategies. In her prior role she was part of the benefits team at Nordstrom, managing all benefits communication and working with Nordstrom’s internal communications group.
Appreciate their role. Internal communications teams are responsible for ensuring that what every department communicates is clear, on brand, in support of business priorities and timely. They need to make sure communications are scheduled so that employees aren’t overwhelmed by competing messages but also don’t miss key events or deadlines.
Internal communications teams have to strike a delicate balance. They are the liaison between every department within every business unit and the employee. At the same time, they’re often accountable to the marketing and PR departments, which have different objectives than HR teams.
By understanding their priorities and how they want to support HR, you can better partner with them to make your communications shine.
Understand what’s important to your executive team. Your internal communications partners will share those same organizational priorities, which should drive your benefits goals as well. Keep those strategic goals in mind as you think through what you want to communicate, and you’ll find it easier to win their support to make it happen.
Bring in your internal communications partner early. When you make sure they’re in the loop from the get-go, internal communications can prioritize resources on your behalf and be your advocate and champion. They can point out potential issues before you’re too far along to change direction. And they can even lend a hand in drafting and delivering communications.
Be open to their point of view. HR teams and communications professionals are bound to have differences of opinion at some point. These disagreements don’t need to be adversarial. By being open to their feedback, you can create a better partnership on behalf of employees.
Treat them as equals, not as gatekeepers. Often, we hear HR teams complain that “everything has to go through so-and-so in internal communications.” On the flip side, internal communications teams assume that they have to say something about every deliverable, because they’re being treated as if they are gatekeepers. A slight change in the way you ask for their review can help you shift to a more strategic working relationship. “Here’s what I’m planning to send; I’d like your advice” is much more collaborative than “Can you review and approve?”
Recognize that your priorities may differ from those of your organization. Internal communications teams do their best to accommodate content from all departments. But there will be times that certain initiatives will have to be prioritized over yours. Don’t let that be discouraging. And remember that getting early buy-in will ensure you don’t get many “no’s.”
Ask your internal communications team to schedule regular summits. Communication summits are an ideal way to generate a holistic view of the communication landscape within an organization. With a deeper understanding of everything employees are being expected to absorb and act on, you can adjust your own communication plans accordingly.
HR and benefits teams and internal communication teams play different roles within companies, but your goals align around doing what’s best for employees. You’ll find that working in collaboration with your internal communications partners will make it easier for you to achieve success.