Author Archives: Vanessa L. Goddard

MAKING MONDAYS IN HR A LITTLE LESS MANIC

The beginning of a workweek is hectic for most people, and it’s no different in HR. Nothing quite throws you off your game as showing up Monday morning and unexpectedly learning that two employees have quit.  Here are a few thoughts on how you can make your Mondays a little less manic.

Start preparing early

At the end of the week, take a little bit of time to clear your desk and tie up loose ends.  If you’re in the middle of a project at the close of business on Friday, get yourself to a logical stopping point.  Make notes of where you need to pick up when you return.  Set reminders on your phone/calendar for the following week.  Then, clean your desk off.  Nothing makes a Monday a little more manageable than a clear surface greeting you in the morning.

Use your time over the weekend to handle things that may distract you during the week. Then, spend a little time on Sunday getting ready for the big day.  If you can get through any of your emails, you will be able to hit the ground running Monday morning.  Also, consider getting to work 30 minutes early to start the week.  That little bit of extra time could mean the difference between beginning your day with a frown or a smile.

Make a list

I am a huge proponent of lists.  I love marking things off of them.  It gives me a sense of power over my work, and that feeling is magnified when things appear overwhelming.  Make a To-Do List for your week.  Then, take that list and break it down into manageable parts that you can accomplish on a daily basis.

Schedule wisely 

One suggestion that may help you accurately schedule tasks is to keep track of how long it takes you to work through your routine duties.  If you only schedule an hour to enter and review payroll, but it really takes you three hours to do it, you will be perpetually behind schedule.

Emails can be a major time suck, even when you tackle some of them the night before your workweek begins.  Schedule times throughout the course of the day to address email messages rather than handling them as they come in, which takes you away from some other task you’re trying to mark off your list.

Finally, when you make your schedule, work on projects requiring the most brain power when you are at your best.  If you hit the 2 p.m. slump like I do, set aside that time for one of your more mundane tasks.

Learn from your mistakes 

At the end of the day, see where and how you were derailed from your list.  Is there something you could do differently to make sure this doesn’t happen to you tomorrow?  You may find that a few tweaks to your schedule enables you to maintain higher productivity.  Don’t accept defeat.  After all, Monday is never more than a week away.

NINER, NINER, TITLE IX’ER: WHAT EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS NEED TO KNOW

Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs and activities.  Recently, the spotlight on Title IX has zeroed in on sexual violence in schools.  The month of April saw a lot of activity in this area with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights issuing a Q&A on the subject.  Additionally, the White House issued its first report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, and launched notalone.gov, a website designed to educate students, parents, educators, and schools on ways to deal with sexual violence.  Congress is also in on the action, having recently amended the Clery Act via the Violence Against Women Act, requiring reporting on additional campus crimes and proposing further amendments at the end of July.

For educational institutions, the duties they have towards students under these laws are evolving quickly.  Of course, that makes staying on top of the changes challenging.  The keys to compliance will be training and updating policies.  With regard to training, you need to know who your “Responsible Employees” are under the law.  Responsible Employees are the folks at your institution whose knowledge of sexual misconduct can be imputed to the institution.  They include any employee (1) who has the authority to redress sexual violence or harassment, (2) who has been given the duty of reporting incidents of sexual violence or other misconduct to the Title IX Coordinator or other appropriate school designee, or (3) whom a student could reasonably believe has this authority or duty.  Your policies should define who these individuals will be, and it’s important that they get some very specific training on their responsibilities (detailed below).

Here are the basics of what your policies and training should do:

  • Define the following terms: sexual harassment, sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking
  • Prohibit dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking
  • Disseminate a Notice of Nondiscrimination
  • Designate a Title IX Coordinator with contact information
  • Establish grievance procedures for prompt, equitable resolution of complaints
  • Define who the Responsible Employees are
  • Identify who can accept confidential reports of sexual misconduct
  • Train Responsible Employees to:
    • Inform students before they reveal information they may wish to keep confidential of their duty to report certain information to the Title IX coordinator
    • Inform students who may accept confidential reports
    • Inform students of their option to ask the school to maintain confidentiality
    • Inform students of their right to file a Title IX complaint with the school and to report the crime to campus or local law enforcement
    • Provide students with information regarding campus resources for assistance
    • Provide students with information regarding off-campus resources for assistance
    • Discuss safety issues
  • Prohibit retaliation against anyone participating in the process

These are just the basics, which already represents a tall order.  What I’ve noticed in talking with educators and students is that the practicalities of the situation make compliance challenging.  One educator asked me, “how am I to interrupt a sobbing student to let her know that I can’t keep her confidences if she tells me she was assaulted?”  The law seeks to protect victims as much as possible, but the reality comes across uncaring because there’s a list of information you have to provide to a traumatized student.  Certainly, additional training in how to deal with victims of sexual assault could be helpful to your Responsible Employees.

Highlighting another problem was a Resident Assistant who asked: “Some of these people are my friends.  Are you telling me that if someone comes to me as a friend and says she was assaulted, I have to tell on her?”  The answer was “yes.”  In my view, the fact that some students are Responsible Employees for institutions of higher learning is particularly fraught with compliance dangers.  Not only are these students asked to remember a litany of information, they must report on their friends and live in conditions where they may be subjected to retaliation from the alleged perpetrator and his or her friends for making legally-required reports.  Clearly, the disincentives of reporting from the front lines are significant.

As I mentioned, all of this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Talk to your counsel for legal advice.  Talk to your abuse crisis counselors for assistance with the psychological aspects of Title IX.  Talk to each other.  And don’t hesitate to drop me a line here with your own views on the new Title IX, either.

“WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?” LESSONS FROM COMIC-CON

Within the last week, allegations of harassment at the San Diego Comic-Con were in the forefront of every Vulcan Mind-Meld as Geeks for CONsent petitioned the 45 year old convention for better anti-harassment policies and procedures.  They took this step since some attendees have found themselves subject to unwanted groping, photography, and verbal bedevilment based upon their choice of costume, as well as traditional protected traits.  CONsent says the San Diego convention’s Code of Conduct is just not enough.  They want to see a formal anti-harassment policy adopted that provides for a reporting mechanism, publication throughout the convention of zero-tolerance enforcement mechanisms, and training for volunteers who will be responding to harassment reports.

Do these requests sound familiar?  They should if you have an anti-harassment policy in your workplace.  Effective policies require reporting and enforcement mechanisms and the 3 Ts:  training, training, and training.  In fact, the stories I’ve read this week make me think they should address a little more.  Admittedly, Comic-Con’s four sentence Code of Conduct is insufficient in any employment setting.  It’s also true that most work environments have a somewhat more conservative dress code.  However, the lesson to be learned from this fantasy world is that effective harassment policies should take into consideration the particular challenges of your workplace.

For instance – and keeping with the theme – the Grand Poobah of Comics, the legendary Stan Lee, has a fairly broad anti-harassment policy for his Comikaze Expo, protecting participants from harassment on the basis of “gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.”  The policy further provides specific examples of harassing behavior, including not only offensive comments and touching, but also convention-particular concerns such as stalking and harassing photography and recording.

In another example, Central Coast Comic-Con makes it clear what consequences may follow harassing behavior, including removal from the premises, criminal charges, and more.  Its policy directs anyone who feels they are being harassed or who believes they are witnessing questionable behavior to bring it to the attention of any staff member, security, or volunteer for appropriate action.

In an environment fraught with the potential for inappropriate behavior, where people may feel anonymous due to cape and cowl, the need for effective controls is as clear as the light emanating from Hal Jordan’s lantern.  Anti-harassment policies are about prevention.  Make sure your policy is addressing the realities of your workplace.  As the experience at Comic-Con shows, harassment is not just a fantasy.  Don’t let it become a reality for you.

SUMMER LOVIN’ IN HR

Vacations and weddings and Daisy Dukes, Oh My!  The challenges facing HR in the summer are unique compared to other times of the year.  As we just hit the official start of the warm weather season, here are a few things HR should be considering as the heat index rises.

Vacations and Leave

The kiddies are home from school.  Adventure awaits everyone.  For some, perhaps batteries simply need recharging.  Either way, summer months are packed with reasons employees need time off.  Still, work needs to get done, so review those vacation, leave, and sick policies to make sure they are clear and comprehensive.  Do your policies address how vacation is requested, how much notice is required, and what criteria will be used for approving vacations – particularly where more than one employee is requesting the same set of dates?  If employees have already burned up their vacation time before summer, does your company allow for unpaid vacation leave?  If an employee wants to stretch their vacation, by covering a holiday or by using sick leave, how do your policies address those efforts?  By having clear policies and enforcing them, you can avoid a lot of headaches in scheduling while still ensuring that your employees get requested time off.

Office Picnics and Other Outings 

Summer also is a great time to gather your employees together for some outdoor fellowship.  If you plan or hold these events, there are a few things you should keep in mind.  First, if alcohol is served, you need to be sure your underage employees are not being served.  Designated drivers should be arranged.  And, having someone keep an eye on the conduct of those consuming alcohol can avoid problems with inappropriate behavior.  Additionally, because your office picnic is still a workplace event, appropriate attire should be worn.  Finally, bear in mind that injuries at these types of events may raise workers’ compensation issues.

Work Attire 

When the temperature rises, employees may be more inclined to wear tank tops, shorter skirts, sandals or flip flops, or even shorts to work.  If your workplace is conducive to these types of clothing, more power to you.  If your organization is like most, however, you need to be concerned about whether your company policies address appropriate attire during the summer months.  Be specific about what is and is not permitted.  Also, in considering your policy, think about the safety issues that may be implicated by clothing choice.  

Outdoor Work 

If you have employees who work outside, the summer heat can be a threat to their health and well-being.  If you log onto OSHA.gov right now, you will see a vibrant red notice entitled “Preventing Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers.”  Click here to get important and helpful information for protecting your outdoor workers during these warm summer months.

In my view, it’s best to think about these issues before they become issues.  A little advanced planning can go a long way towards fixing your summertime HR blues.

WORKPLACE GOSSIP: YOU KNOW YOU’VE GOT IT; SO HOW DO YOU STOP IT?

“The tongue like a sharp knife . . . Kills without drawing blood.”  ~ Buddha

Perhaps gossip is a part of life, but it shouldn’t be a large part of your business’s work life.  The rumor mill is a poison in the system of a healthy organization, and the impacts are many.  It lowers productivity because workers engaged in gossip are not engaged in their jobs.  For those who are the victims of gossip, their morale and productivity suffer because their minds cannot be drawn away from the anger, mistrust, and hurt such gossip causes them, and some may feel forced to resign as a result.  Trust – the building block for teamwork and harmony – is utterly destroyed by malicious gossip.  Worse, if the gossip leaks outside of your organization, it can harm your business reputation and your bottom line.

If I don’t have your attention yet – or if you think there’s nothing to be done because gossip is a fact of life – allow me to give you some real life examples I’ve come across in my research which might get your attention or change your mind.  I saw one example in which team members on a project began whispering about one of their teammates who supposedly wasn’t getting her work done and was leaving during the day.  This group speculated about what she was doing when she sneaked off.  Eventually, the co-worker heard the rumors about her and became upset.  She had been staying late and working weekends to try to keep up with her part of the project.  She finally felt that she had to stop the rumor mill by telling everyone that her child had just been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and that she had been taking her daughter to specialists for treatment.  This worker was not yet ready to share this deeply personal matter, but she felt she had to in order to protect herself at work.

In another example, an employee at an off-site work conference decided it was a good idea to follow two co-workers – the two being long-term friends – who stopped by one of their hotel rooms for a couple of minutes to retrieve something before re-joining their peers at a conference activity.  Using a cell phone, the employee recorded the two co-workers entering the hotel room, but did not stay to record their exit moments later.  The employee who recorded the footage then showed the video to another co-worker who passed it along to the would-be fiancée of one of the videoed employees, along with an opinion that these co-workers had “hooked up.”  Do you think that rumor negatively impacted the ability of the video-taped employee to trust co-workers, not knowing who recorded the video?  How about the employee’s productivity because of all the time spent dealing with the emotional fallout?  Of course, there was a great impact on the personal life of the video-taped employee, too.

Not all rumors are bad, and not all rumors deserve addressing, but employers should be prepared to deal with them effectively nonetheless.  A rumor about the projected increased revenues for a business can have a salutary effect upon stock prices and is an example of a good rumor.  A rumor concerning the future of your organization as a going concern is probably one that top management would want to address quickly, with as many facts as possible, because the damage done by rumor is swift and terrible to behold.  Petty rumors can usually be ignored because it’s the matter of discussing them which extends their shelf life.

So, what can an employer do to abate the damage of gossip in the workplace?  One thing that can be done is to lead by example.  If you have an issue with a co-worker, approach that individual directly and talk about it.  If someone comes to you with a “juicy tidbit of gossip,” talk to them about the inappropriateness of gossiping.  If you have information to discredit the rumor, then share it.  If you can educate your co-workers on the harms of gossip, to both themselves and the victims, then perhaps those people will limit this type of behavior in the future.  Folks in HR may be particularly helpful in this form of grassroots behavior modification because they can identify employees who can be educated to lead by example, which helps stop the rumor mill before it gets rolling.  HR may also be able to identify the chief gossipers in the workforce and educate them to stop the behavior.  Another method to change the culture at the workplace is to hold group meetings of employees where you discuss how gossip is damaging and ask them to place themselves in the victim’s position.  Give examples of what constitutes gossip and rumor (as I did), then let your employees know gossip won’t be tolerated.

Bear in mind, rumor and gossip can have legal ramifications.  A hostile work environment may be created or discrimination perpetuated.  It also may lead to claims of invasion of privacy or defamation, if the circumstances are right.  Employers should address workplace gossip for these reasons, if nothing else.  If you have ever had to conduct a workplace investigation, you know that the rumor mill runs out of control during these times.  And, typically, the employer is proscribed from sharing any real information with workers to combat these rumors.  That’s why having the right culture and policies in place can make a huge difference.

Another thing you can do to institute the right culture is be sure you have the right policies in place to help keep the peace.  Most of them you probably already have in your handbook, but maybe they need a few tweaks.  Notwithstanding everything you have read up to this point, be careful with “no gossiping” policies, per se.  The National Labor Relations Act protects the right of employees to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment.  A no gossip policy might be too broad and, therefore, deemed to infringe on those rights.  A public employer may also have First Amendment concerns if the subject of the gossip is also speech on a matter of public concern.  However, your code of conduct and your disciplinary policy can address certain behaviors which create discord and threaten harmony, making unacceptable activities subject to discipline.  Also, an “open door” policy – where employees can feel free to address their concerns to management and obtain factual information in response – is often a useful tool in combating a rumor before it begins.  Additionally, a good anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policy will usually cover malicious personal rumors.  Just make sure employees are trained on examples demonstrating this coverage.  Don’t forget that your business device/cell phone use policies can cover the pernicious and surreptitious recording of employees, and your email and electronic communications policy is vital to stopping the spread of electronic gossip and rumor, too.

In my view, stopping harassment requires stepping into the shoes of the victim, seriously considering the damage gossip inflicts on persons and on businesses, and then not doing it (or doing something to stop it).  Getting your employees to think twice before engaging in this type of behavior is priceless.  Do you share the same view?

HAPPY EASTER FROM THE EMPLOYMENT ESSENTIALS TEAM

Employers frequently deal with issues touching on employee privacy rights, and in the world of smartphones, social media, Google Glass, and B.Y.O.D., the application of relevant laws in this area is getting more – not less — complex.  Want a primer on all workplace-related privacy issues this Easter? Look in the right margin or click here to download our free Workplace Privacy Toolkit as a gift to you from the Employment Essentials Team this holiday season.  Grab it and put it in your basket today because – like the Easter Bunny – it may disappear soon.  If you like the Toolkit, don’t forget to spread the word, and tell us in the comments below, as well!

GAME ON! ARE YOU READY TO HAVE FUN AT WORK?

Last time, I introduced the topic of gamification in the workplace.  If you want a refresher on the topic, click here.  This time, I’d like to talk about what I think are some of the best uses of gamification for employers – based on where I believe the most value could be obtained for the employer.  To be clear, I am not advocating gamification as a one-size-fits-all idea, and the last thing employers need is to turn the workplace into a second Facebook account where working with and socializing with your peers becomes entirely digital.  However, there’s no denying that gamification presents an interesting route for achieving common workplace goals.

Recruiting:  Gamification is already a common tool used in tech recruiting, but in my view, the application of the idea in this context could benefit more than just high tech companies.  Within gamification, a subset of tools exist called “serious games.”  These “games” can simulate real-life scenarios that test the skills actually used on the job.  Those candidates who score well in the game are more likely to be better candidates for the job.  Used properly, the potential employee gets a chance to see if your job is really a fit for him or her, too.  Also, if you’re already using gamification internally, reward your employees for referring solid candidates through that medium.  Your current employees are one of your best sources for recruits because they know your business, your culture, and the potential recruit.  Plus, it’s free! 

Training:  Many companies have a variety of trainings which must be completed on an annual basis.  With gamification techniques, you can turn mundane training into a lively, competitive experience.  Who has completed the most modules?  Who received the highest score on the test?  Recognition of these achievements encourages prompt completion of training.  Even better, it generates an electronic record you can use to monitor your employees’ training.  You will know whether their training is complete and up-to-date at a glance.  And, if someone takes several attempts to pass a module, you can identify and act on what is likely a need for additional training. 

Education:  This area is slightly different from training.  You can use gamification to educate employees or recruits on your industry, business, product lines, and processes.  You can use it to teach new skills, particularly where repetition and practice are necessary to solidify the skill.  You can also use it to teach employees how to cope with unusual scenarios they might otherwise not get to experience until crisis descends.  For instance, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses gamification to help emergency personnel learn how to deal with disasters. 

There are some applications of gamification which have more questionable utility to employers than others.  For example, certain research suggests that gamification is useful for enhancing workplace culture by encouraging certain behaviors from employees.  In my view, I’m not sure rewarding smiles or participation is the best use of this resource.  Also, applying gamification to workplace wellness programs – while intuitively appealing – is probably not going to get employers any more bang for their buck than the incentives already used (ex. water bottles, t-shirts, or reduced deductibles), and I’d be willing to bet that no employer wants to present the test case in court involving gamification of what might very well be protected health information.  

Are you using gamification?  Tell us your views on how it works for you.

GAMIFICATION: A 20 POINT WORD

Are you using gamification in your human resources functions?  Have you even heard of it?  Perhaps not, but some predict it’s the future of the workplace.  Gamification is the application of gaming processes to non-gaming applications.  Basically, it makes work more fun and engaging by adding gaming elements and achievements to what might otherwise be boring and mundane tasks.  In human resources, gamification has been applied to recruiting, training, and employee performance. 

Research tells us that a large majority of American workers are not engaged in their jobs.  This disengagement leads to higher rates of employee turnover, lower morale, and less productivity.  Gamification seeks to address these concerns by achieving higher levels of engagement on the job.  Most of you are familiar with the leadership boards used in sales to motivate and celebrate sales and stimulate competition.  Imagine applying those elements to non-sales workers.  

Let’s say, for example, that your employees have to satisfy multiple training modules on an annual basis, and maybe it is like pulling teeth to get their cooperation to timely complete these modules.  I know this stretches the imagination but bear with me.  Now suppose that these modules have been modified to allow for leveling-up as skills are attained (or refreshed).  Employees both earn badges for each module completed and earn points based on how timely they completed these modules.  Co-workers could see who has earned badges and who the point leaders are.  Suppose then that the top scoring employees got an actual reward – like half a day off or a two-hour lunch break – for completing their annual training.  Some employers have found that gamification has replaced pulling teeth.  

Think about what gamification has done in this very simplified example.  It breathes a little competition and interest into otherwise mundane or painful tasks.  It engages employees.  It modifies employee behavior to achieve a result desired by the employer.  Success within the module results in leveling up and ultimately a reward, which means that feedback is immediate.  It sets clear goals to be achieved, and those goals are achievable.  It provides feedback to managers as well.  An employee who is having trouble with a module will be identifiable, and additional training can be given to that employee to help him succeed.  Lastly, HR is assisted by the computer’s retention of those who have completed each module, making recordkeeping easier. 

One selling point of gamification has been that it will keep the “gaming generation” feeling more engaged and committed as they enter the workforce.  However, I recently spoke with a start-up founder of a gamification app who also happens to be a member of the “gaming generation” about to enter the workforce and he wasn’t buying that selling point.  He told me that he and his peers are no more attracted to an employer who uses gamification in recruiting, training, or other processes than those who did not.  Beyond that, he made some other valid points that you might want to take to heart if you’re considering adding gamification to your workplace: 

  • Adding gamification just for the sake of having it adds no value.  The gaming generation is used to beating the game and moving on because they’ve gotten all they wanted out of the game.  Think about the $70 video game you got your kid for Christmas only to have him announce to you before you even rang in the New Year that he had already beat the entire thing.
  • Adding gamification to a bad product (or a bad process) still leaves you with a bad product (or process).  Gamification doesn’t fix something that’s broken, but it can help you get more out of your workers where specific behaviors need to be modified.
  • Gamification doesn’t work unless the incentives are real.  The person I spoke with could see where gamification has valid application in the health and wellness context because the individual is seeing and feeling the results as they get healthier, and the competitive element can keep you motivated.  Badges and leaderboards alone won’t always make gamification work, though.

The jury is still out on whether gamification techniques have the efficacy to be the wave of the future in human resources practices.  In my view, gamification might add value to the workplace in a few areas.  I’ll talk about those next time.  Until then, what do you think about gamification?

 

IMAGE ISSUES? A PROPER DRESS CODE CAN FIX THAT.

Did you know that 98% of your clientele will judge the reliability and strength of your business based upon the appearance of the first employee with whom they interact?  Probably not, because I just made that up, but what if they did? 

Company dress codes are often treated like an afterthought rather than as a policy which should be thoughtfully drafted, timely updated, thoroughly explained, and seriously enforced.  Many employers don’t think about them until faced with an employee who is inappropriately attired, and then they discover that their policy doesn’t cover the specific situation, or that it’s simply never been enforced.  Admittedly, sitting down with an employee to discuss their fashion sense or personal hygiene is an uncomfortable scenario for any manager.  However, a properly drafted and circulated dress code can ease that situation. 

As a general proposition, employers can require employees to abide by set standards for their workplace attire, and employers have many reasons for such standards.  For instance, employers may wish to establish a desired public image, to ensure workplace safety, or to promote worker productivity and morale.  No dress code is a one-size-fits-all, however, and you should not assume that one standard is sufficient throughout your organization.  For example, a business may have employees who work in manufacturing a product, employees who run the office, and employees who conduct outside sales of the product.  In each of those areas, an employer may have different employee dress expectations.  Manufacturing employees typically require special safety gear, like steel-toed shoes, gloves, or protective glasses.  They may be at risk for injury if they wear long necklaces or bracelets while at work.  Outside sales personnel are typically the face of the company and require a more professional appearance.  Office staff may be in a better position to wear casual clothing while they work, but when office or sales staff enters the manufacturing area, additional dress codes may apply to them.   

As you do with other workplace policies, try to provide specific guidance to your employees.  “Business casual” and “inappropriate attire” do not have set definitions which are understood by all.  Give examples: “Clothing appropriate for yard work or exercise is not appropriate professional attire.”  Additionally, be specific: “Skirts need to fall no shorter than two inches above the knee.”  Don’t forget to address accessories and grooming: “Employees are expected to maintain good personal hygiene” and “No one may wear necklaces on the operating floor.”  Finally, address your specific business needs: “Employees must wear an employer-provided name tag while at work.”  

The policy should further state that it is not all-inclusive and will be reviewed periodically to keep it up-to-date.  It should also identify an individual (e.g., supervisor) or group of individuals (e.g., human resources) to whom questions may be directed on the appropriateness of attire.  Don’t forget to warn that disciplinary action may result for violation of the policy.  

Once the policy is in place, you must train your employees on the policy if you intend to enforce it.  Consider having employees sign an acknowledgement that they have read and understood the dress code policy as you do with other policies.  Further, when addressing a grooming issue with an employee, do so in a non-judgmental manner.  Use the policy to describe factually the distinction between what the employee is wearing and what the policy permits.            

Of course, when drafting and enforcing dress codes, remember that certain laws may apply.  Religious requirements, cultural practices, and certain disabilities may require an employer to explore whether an accommodation – including an exception to the dress code – is necessary to avoid violating anti-discrimination laws.  You may want to consider adding a procedure for requesting an exception or accommodation in your policy.  

Gender discrimination may also be an issue – and one more difficult to spot.  While men and women may have some different grooming standards, you must make sure the policy is applied evenly and accurately.  For example, if your policy prohibits ponytails and earrings, but the policy is only enforced against males, it may be found to be discriminatory.  On the other side of the coin, requiring women to wear skirts could also be found to constitute gender discrimination. 

The risks don’t stop there.  If an employer is not careful in how it addresses a dress code violation or in how it communicates the dress code, sexual harassment claims may be brought.  Additionally, an employer may face an unfair labor practice charge if it enforces a dress code that interferes with the exercise of Section 7 rights under the NLRA.  This may occur when an employer prohibits slogans or other expressions on articles of clothing.  

Do you have any suggestions on dealing with employee attire/grooming issues?  Do you have any creative accommodations which met both the employer’s needs and the employee’s protected concern that you can share?  If so, I’d love to hear your views.

“’TWAS A YEAR TO REMEMBER: A HOLIDAY TREAT”

‘Twas the month before Christmas,
I’m ahead of the curve.
All our policies in place,
Though I’m on my last nerve.

 

The year’s been a long one,
But we’re on the last leg.
No more laws are forthcoming,
Not even a reg.

 

They thought they could break me.
They tried all year long.
 Every move they made, I countered.
Documenting each wrong.

 

I’ve covered all my bases.
I’ve thought it all out.
No more surprises for HR.
I haven’t a doubt.

 

Criminal records
And background checks
All are compliant
With E-E-O-C specs.

 

Job descriptions are updated,
Acknowledgements signed all around,
Ready to accommodate and pay properly
Our essential functions are sound.

 

Been searching the Marketplace,
Hip hooray Obamacare!
Another minute with that law,
And I’ll tear out my hair.

 

But the notices have been sent,
Employees now know where to find,
Insurance coverage options
May they not lose their minds.

 

Social media has been a challenge
For instance, when an employee did tweet
A company secret or three
He was fired tout-suite.

 

That’s why the company attorney and I
Have become really tight
She’s number 1 on my speed dial
Tho’ no calling at night.

 

But, I’ve held on regardless,
My sanity deprived
Even when the Thanksgiving Turkeys
showed up alive!

 

The holiday party’s up next
With Secret Santas and snow,
But to avoid last year’s lawsuit,
There’s no mistletoe.

 

The booze is gone too,
As well as those cells.
No more postings on Facebook
Of folks wearing just bells.

 

The Christmas bonus is all that’s left.
The turkey debacle won’t repeat,
Because ham’s not an animal,
It’s totally a meat.

 

Merry Christmas!