Tag Archives: SHRM Annual Conference

EEOC Commissioners Feldblum’s and Lipnic’s Clarion Call to Prevent and Stop Harassment

I am pleased to share my latest post to the SHRM blog regarding the EEOC’s report on the prevention of workplace harassment.

Today marks the 30th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s holding that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. It seems obvious to all of us today, but it was not at the time the EEOC took the position. It was not until SCOTUS said the EEOC was right that the EEOC’s enforcement position became the law of the land.

Today, SHRM had the honor of having EEOC Commissioners Chai Feldblum and Victoria Lipnic present, to an overflowing crowd, “Agency Update: EEOC’s Task Force on Harassment in the Workplace.”  After receiving a warm introduction from Lisa Horn, SHRM’s Director of Congressional Affairs, who acknowledged the strong relationship between SHRM and the two EEOC Commissioners, the two EEOC Commissioners talked about the reason for the Select Task Force, the study it conducted and the report it is releasing today (Check out www.eeoc.gov).

The Task Force was announced in January of 2015 by the EEOC’s Chair, Jenny R. Yang. Her message: We have made a lot of progress, but the problem is persistent. She named Commissioners Feldblum and Lipnic as Co-Chairs of the Task Force.

Commissioners Feldblum and Lipnic made clear the purpose of the Select Task Force was to prevent harassment before it becomes actionable. This includes not only sexual harassment claims but also harassment claims based on other protected groups, such as race, color, age and religion.

Last year alone, the EEOC collected $164.5 million for workers in cases alleging harassment. That does not include recoveries by plaintiffs’ lawyers.

For employers, however, harassment is not only an economic risk, but also a business risk. First, there is the reputational cost. There also is decreased productivity and higher turnover.

The Commissioners emphasized that having policies and procedures is not enough.  According to the Commissioners, the importance of leadership is key.

Leaders must make clear that harassment will not be tolerated.  But a commitment (even from the C-Suite) is not enough.   Like all other employees, leaders must be held accountable for what they do—and what they don’t do.

There must be a “proportionate” response to harassing behavior.  To use an expression familiar to all of us in the HR community, “one size does not fit all.”

But, it is more than holding all employees accountable for unacceptable conduct, even “superstars” who bring in the money.  The Commissioners emphasized we must hold accountable those whose job it is to prevent and correct harassment.

Although these were not the precise words used, the message for supervisors and above was clear: to see or hear harassing behavior and do nothing is to condone it.

Throughout the discussion, the Commissioners made clear that, when talking about harassment, they were talking about inappropriate behavior with regard to a protected group (such as sex, race or ethnicity), even if it does not rise to the level of severity or pervasiveness to be actionable.  The goal: to stop it before it becomes actionable.

That led to a critical discussion about training. The Commissioners made clear that, while training is necessary, it alone is not enough.  Rather, it must be part of a “holistic culture of non-harassment that starts from the top.”

Further, to be effective, the training ideally should be “live, in person and customized to your workplace.”  Moreover, the training should be developed with “risk factors” in mind.

The EEOC report that will be released tomorrow includes “risk factors” that make harassment more likely.  Younger workers, workers who work in remote locations and those who are dependent on tips, for example, are at particular risk.

Based on my experience, I agree fully with the EEOC that the training must focus on what is inappropriate, even if it is not necessarily unlawful.  If you focus only on the legal, then individuals who engage in inappropriate conduct may feel more secure in their inappropriate conduct because it is neither severe nor pervasive enough to be illegal.

The EEOC Commissioners also talked about “bystander training” that is common on many school campuses.  They talked about adopting this kind of training so that co-workers feel empowered to intervene and have the tools to do so.

Recognizing that the law does not require civility, the EEOC Commissioners also called for civility training. Feldblum said that incivility and disrespect are “gateway drugs” for harassment. I agree.

Stated otherwise, if you tolerate incivility and disrespect, your culture will be fertile for harassment claims. I surely hope the NLRB was listening.

To minimize your NLRB risk, employers are well advised to give examples of civil and uncivil behavior. Providing specific examples, properly phrased, makes it less likely that the NLRB will believe a reasonable person will perceive the guidance as discouraging behavior protected by section 7 of the NLRA.  So there is no confusion, this is my take on how to mitigate (not eliminate) the risk.

An underlying theme is the importance of creating not only policies, but also a culture that brooks no retaliation. Fear of retaliation is the number one reason why employees suffer in silence.

According to studies cited by the Commissioners, approximately 70-percent of employees who feel harassed do not report it.  That is not good for them or their organizations.

The EEOC’s presentation was a clarion call for all of us to do more to prevent and stop harassment. It will not go away on its own. It’s on all of us, with HR playing a key role, to be part of the fight.

On a personal note, it was an honor to have been on the Task Force with co-SHRM member Patricia Wise.  I think I can speak for Patty and me in saying that we both learned  a great deal as a result of the study and dialogue, and we are ready to help do our part in helping companies do the right things for their employees and themselves by eliminating the persistent but conquerable problem: workplace harassment.

Finally, at a time when we see so much dysfunction in Washington, D.C., it was inspiring to see the bi-partisan collaboration of Commissioners Feldblum and Lipnic.  Bi-partisanship is not dead—at least not at the EEOC.

This blog is not legal advice.

Why is Steve Browne So Geeked?

I am pleased to share my latest post to the SHRM blog.

Why is Steve Browne so geeked?

I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend, Steve Browne. Actually, we just talked. All quotes are Steve’s.

I wanted to learn more about the man who will be speaking on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 2:15 p.m. His topic: “MEGA SESSION HR on Purpose! Five Ways to Own, Lead and Integrate HR Throughout Your Organization.”

I started by asking Steve, when he was a child, what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer: President of the United States.

If ever there were a year he should have run! Missed opportunity, my friend. Okay, I’ll stop there!

We then jumped ahead and talked about his interests in college. He told me that he had started with chemical engineering.

Because he did not excel in chemical engineering as he had hoped he would, he switched to interpersonal communications. And, the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Steve is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa’s, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area. It has 16 locations and Steve has over 1,200 team members.

With unbelievable grass roots support, Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. I think it is fair to say that he is probably the only SHRM Board member who is associated with tie dye.

What about the tie dye? Its roots go back to his “laid back days” at Ohio University where it was “everywhere.”

But it also speaks to who Steve is today. “It’s colorful. That’s how I see life.”

“I hope it makes me accessible. I am not a conformist. I worry about companies that say be yourself, so long as it falls within the company norm.”

Steve also discussed the creativity that goes into tie die. Without a segue, he then said: “If I don’t have creativity around me, I will die.”

That helps explain his favorite movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “It was wildly creative…a bit irreverent…also poignant.” And, he then said again, “wildly creative.”

The person Steve admires most? His mom.

He talked about Lincoln and Ghandi. And then said, “that’s the kind of person my mother is.”

“Fame is fleeting. I’d rather know someone who is authentic their entire lives.”

Steve’s comments made me think: how many authentic people do I really know? And, then, a little deeper: when I am not fully authentic?

We eventually go the $64,000 question: why is Steve so geeked?

Steve laughed in a light-hearted way. But then responded more seriously.

“I find joy in everything around me. I am fascinated by people….authentic people.”

“I just felt that ‘geeked’ was the word. No other word came to me.”

If you know Steve, you can feel his positive vibes. They resonate on social media so follow him at: @sbrownehr.

I mentioned to Steve how I believe many in HR find it hard to stay positive when there are so many workplace battles. His answer demonstrates the wisdom in geekdom.

“You have to remember that people will disappoint you. When people disappoint me, I work with them. When I disappoint them, I hope they give me the grace to work with me.

Steve continued about the importance of HR treating “people as people.” “We can’t have huge programs on engagement but not say hello.”

“People want to be recognized, seen, visible, thanked.”

Steve nailed a critical issue. In my observation, at times, we focus so much on engagement at a lofty perspective, that we lose site of the employees’ existential need for us simply to acknowledge, in a genuine way, that they exist.

“HR is a lot more simple than we make it. People are passionate and they need to unlock.”

“We, in HR, have to unlock ourselves first so that others can too…..be their authentic selves.”

And, how does this tie into what Steve wants his legacy to be as a SHRM Board member? From our conversation, I discerned three (3) themes.

First, he wants to encourage HR to stop “separating itself.” Rather, he hopes HR will see itself, as it is, “as part of the business.”

Second, he emphasized that HR needs to look at what is good not only for the employer but also for the employees. “We need to be there for the employees, too.” Yes, we do.

Finally, Steve said that he does not want people to join SHRM solely because they think it is the “right thing to do.” He hopes people will join SHRM because of all that it offers, which he described as “incredible.”

Yes, Steve wants to see SHRM flourish. My take on his words: because it captures our hearts and our minds.

Steve did mine.

You can follow me, too, at @Jonathan__HR__Law.


11 Words Or Expressions That May Result In Flogging At #SHRM16

I am pleased to share my latest blog post to the SHRM blog regarding the SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition.

Here are my top 11 words or expressions that none of us should dare say at the Annual Convention under penalty of listening to Barry Manilow for 24 hours straight while reading the FMLA intermittent regulations:

11. Buy in

10. Drivers

9. Synergistic alignment

8. Sea Change

7. Paradigm Shift

6 Knowledge share

5. Change agent

4. Value Proposition

3. Leverage best practices

2. Seat at the table

1. Think Outside the Box

I came up with #1 after vetting all 11 with key SHRM stakeholders and the completion of a robust gap analysis.

I would like to add emphasize that, if you think outside the box, you are still restrained by the box! Enough with the boxes already.

Listen for these words and avoid them at all cost. After all, you don’t want to be accused of “drinking the Kool Aid”

I must pivot now to another meeting. I will revert to this list after the meeting. But I hope you are actively engaged in the HR space as you ready for the Annual Conference.

And, remember, I write the blogs that make the whole world sing. This one is for you, for Fanilows.

We can’t smile without you unless you are at #SHRM16. So we hope to see you there! Annual.shrm.org.