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Preventing Discrimination in the Workplace

In our previous article, we discussed what workplace discrimination is. But what can leadership and management do to help prevent workplace discrimination from occurring in companies?

Establishing a plan to help prevent workplace discrimination from happening is vital to a company’s success to help facilitate a positive culture and employee morale. 

Develop Policies

Developing a clearly-written anti-discrimination policy is essential. This information is part of the employee handbook. Every employee handbook should have a clear policy about discrimination, and upon hire, employees should receive a copy and sign an acknowledgment form. The policy should be broad, covering a range of potential discrimination types, outlining how discrimination complaints are filed, submitted, handled and resolved.

The Discrimination policy should clearly state:

  • Discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity or pregnancy) disability, age or genetic information is strictly illegal. There is a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination. Provide examples and definitions of prohibited conduct. 
  • Provide reasonable accommodations to employees or applicants that require religious or medical exemptions, as required by law.
  • Clearly state how employees can report discrimination.
  • The policy should say that employees will not be punished for reporting or participating in discrimination claims.
  • Protect the identity of employees that report discrimination, to the extent possible.
  • Provide employees with prompt, thorough and impartial complaint investigations. 
  • Describe the consequences for employees that violate the non-discrimination policy. 
  • Research all federal, state and local discrimination laws to ensure these are all covered in companies’ handbook policies.

Consistent Processes to Resolve Complaints

If complaints arise, it’s vital to resolve them quickly and effectively. Workplace discrimination can lead to legal issues and cause employees to lose trust in their employers. Consistently address and resolve issues, highlighting that the company expects everyone to receive fair and equal treatment. Establish a process that fits your company’s size, resources and overall structure to make sure that you can successfully resolve complaints.

Educate Employees

Merely giving employees copies of a handbook and going through the onboarding process doesn’t constitute educating them about discrimination. In fact, some states require that companies regularly provide anti-discrimination training programs. Whether or not you’re required to do so by law, it’s best that companies are proactive in educating employees about discrimination. Employees need to be aware of the policies and procedures in place, how to report allegations and what falls into the zero-tolerance category for discrimination. 

Companies should also conduct separate training for management and supervisory personnel to quickly identify potential discrimination claims and fight to address them immediately. 


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What is Workplace Discrimination?

You can’t turn on the news or scroll through your newsfeed without reading about discrimination and racism. This two-part article focuses on combatting workplace discrimination, but first, we wanted to explain what exactly defines workplace discrimination. 

Discrimination is when a person or group is treated less favorably due to their personal characteristics or circumstances.

Some discrimination is direct, for example, not hiring someone because of their skin color or religious beliefs. 

Then there are types of discrimination that are indirect, such as imposing requirements that discriminate against certain groups. For example, you may have a policy that requires a specific dress code or hairstyle, but ultimately this could discriminate against certain groups.

Small business owners and employers have legal responsibilities under U.S. federal employment anti-discrimination laws. However, the laws companies are subject to depend on the size of their business.

  • 1 or more employees – Employers must provide equal pay for equal work to both male and female employees. 
  • 15 or more employees – You must comply with the aforementioned equal pay rule based on gender and race, color, religion, sex, national origin, genetic information, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • 20 or more employees – You must follow all the laws above, but you are also subject to not discriminating based on age. The age factor depends on each state, but with most states, it is 40 and over. 

It’s also important to note that companies may have specific state and local employment discrimination laws they are required to follow. 

Stay tuned for the second part of this article, where we’ll discuss workplace discrimination prevention techniques. 


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Employment Law Liabilities Employers Face Post-Pandemic

COVID-19 has exposed employers and companies to an onslaught of legal litigation. Here are the top employment law liabilities employers face post-pandemic.

Wage and Hour Claims

With more employees working at home, many employers have abandoned their traditional time tracking methods. Employers should set clear expectations about regular check-ins and employee breaks to help prevent any issues. Employers may also be required to reimburse employees for some expenses related to telework, such as high-speed internet, cell phone or equipment costs.

Sick and Vacation Leave

Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), imposing a federal paid sick time mandate. Employers with fewer than 500 employees must provide their employees with a specific amount of time off for reasons associated with COVID-19, such as they become ill, have to care for a child when their school has closed, etc. Many employers have already been reported for denying leave, requesting improper documentation, miscalculating employees’ pay and retaliating against them for taking leave. 

Workplace Safety

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and OSHA show that COVID-19 is a recordable illness, which means that employers face risks for failing to comply with reporting and recording requirements. Employers will face workers’ compensation claims if employees contract COVID-19 on the job. If state workers’ compensation does not cover claims, employers could be liable if they were negligent in enacting safety measures to mitigate employees’ exposure.

Discrimination Claims

As employers have employees begin returning to work, those with employees suffering from pre-existing conditions may be reluctant to return. Employers may be subject to discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if they unfairly deny an employee to work remotely with reasonable accommodation. If employees have been working remotely during the pandemic, this may make it even more difficult for employers to deny specific requests. 


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Incorporating Transparency in Leadership

More people are looking for transparency in leadership in all walks of life, whether in politics or the workplace. Employees want to know who, what, when, where and why, primarily when decisions affect them. They want to trust that those making decisions are looking at the big picture and taking their interests into account. 

While the push for more transparency may cause leaders to feel stressed, they don’t need to vet or check every decision, as that is virtually impossible. 

Some decisions can be made with relatively little to no input, while other more important decisions may require extensive research, analysis, discussion and consideration. It’s also the areas in between that can draw even more criticism and create problems, so leaders should practice transparency to help maintain employees’ trust.

Leadership Transparency: Quick Case Study

With COVID-19, a lot of businesses are reducing hours or closing their doors. If executive leadership in a company determines the best financial course of action is to reduce employee work hours, this needs transparent implementation. 

What Happens with Top-Down Decisions That Lack Transparency

No matter how executives communicate their decision, it will be unpopular with employees. One person in a leadership position usually clearly communicates the decision to all employees, fending any questions that may arise, such as:

  • What was the decision involved in reducing hours?
  • How did leadership come to this decision?
  • Who was involved in deciding to reduce hours?

Do not blindside managers with public announcements. It damages the respect between managers and their employees. In turn, managers resent leadership for making quick decisions without receiving any input from them. It makes managers feel set up to fail because their teams stop having faith in them and lose all trust. All too soon, employee morale tanks and leadership is left wondering why. It’s simple: because the decision blindsided everyone.

Implementing Transparency

There’s a better way to deliver bad news to managers and employees to avoid these issues. A strong, positive culture that revolves around leadership and having effective communication is a necessary foundation for growing and maintaining a company. 

Here are the top two ways to successfully implement transparency at work.

  1. Frequent Sharing – The right frequency of sharing sensitive information to ensure that employees are aware of any ongoing issues and any emerging issues. It doesn’t mean notifying employees about every single decision, but it’s best to avoid blindsiding them with major decisions that they didn’t foresee possibly coming. Keeping people in the loop can make a huge difference in how employees react to the news.
  2. Feedback – Simply sharing a one-way street, also doesn’t make employees feel better about decisions, so it’s vital to collect and listen to employees to gain more clarity and understanding. Constructive feedback and discussion can often highlight new perspectives or even reveal alternative options that might work better for the company in the short and long-term. Few things in the workplace destroy employee morale more than not considering their feedback. 

Having a good company culture that revolves around transparency can help benefit companies in our current COVID-19 world and post-pandemic. Use this opportunity to create a healthy workplace culture where employees feel valued.


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How to Take a Kinder Approach to Firing Employees

As an HR professional, if you’ve ever had to fire someone, you know this is one of the hardest parts of the job. However, every good business leader knows that sometimes the best decision for a company is to dismiss an employee. In fact, according to a Harris poll, nearly 40 percent of Americans have lost their job before. 

Employees report that being treated with respect is something they need and want from their employer. In fact, employees say that appreciation and recognition, as well as the opportunity for development, learning and growth, are less important than their need for respect. 

Even if an employee isn’t working out, it’s essential to treat them with respect. Here are some tips for terminating an employee with integrity and compassion.

Opportunities for Improvement

Companies should have two different types of employee termination: attitude-based and performance-based. If an employee is failing to meet clear job criteria, management and HR must set employees up for success. Employees need to be aware of any performance issues, and management needs to help set expectations for a solution. 

Employees need a clear timeline to improve performance – between 30 to 90 days – and management should regularly check-in to gauge their performance. Break down goals into more manageable milestones. However, if an employee has shown no improvement by the end of the probationary period, it’s acceptable to have a hard termination conversation. 

If an employee has a poor attitude, this can quickly evolve into a toxic workplace for other employees. One bad employee that has a negative attitude can soon corrupt and poison an entire team. Management can still be respectful and say, “Is there something going on? When you act this way, your attitude impacts our entire company and your coworkers.” 

Consider Alternatives

If someone is unhappy, see if they would be happier somewhere else in the company. Sometimes an employee is burned out and would prefer a new career. If an employee has a strong skill set, this might be an excellent option. 

No matter what happens, HR and managers must document everything to ensure they are complying with termination laws. You may also have to prove later that employees weren’t working out, and other steps were taken before terminating their employment. Teach management to take detailed notes about problem employees, listing specific attitude or performance issues in writing. Remember to document all behavior and performance issues, as these are needed to help minimize potential legal risks.

Ensure Termination is Handled Correctly 

Before management fires an employee, make sure they consult with HR. A termination plan must be in place to help ensure that the company is following all procedures and legal requirements when terminating an employee. 

Be Transparent

If a company exhausts all their options, and they need to let an employee go, it’s best to be detailed and precise. Explain when they will receive their final paycheck, severance pay, returning company property and how benefits will be terminated. Stand firm and don’t give them the impression you may change your mind. Transparency is a critical component when it comes to terminating an employee.


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Why Some Employers Should Accept Job Applications, Even If They Aren’t Hiring

Whether you have a job opening or not, you might find that you occasionally receive unsolicited resumes from applicants. For some employers, this may raise issues for record retention and unlawful discrimination, but for others, having a supply of resumes on hand can be a lifesaver. 

Many industries benefit from having an open-ended supply of resumes on file. This is particularly true for industries that have entry-level jobs and higher turnover rates, such as restaurants and fast-food chains. This allows them to quickly fill open positions while avoiding the hassle and expense of advertising. Even if a company has highly skilled positions, niche jobs sometimes require keeping possible resumes on hand, as this can help eliminate months of advertising to find qualified applicants. 

However, it is important to note there are some legal issues with accepting unsolicited applications and resumes.

  • Record Retention – State and federal employment laws require employers to retain all resumes or applications for a minimum of one year, sometimes longer. If an employer reviews unsolicited resumes and applications, regulations define that as being considered for employment, which means they must be retained according to employment laws.
  • Unlawful Discrimination – Accepting and reviewing unsolicited resumes and applications could potentially expose the employer to unlawful discrimination claims. Government regulations require that employers conduct any recruitment and hiring in nondiscriminatory ways when it comes to protected classes, such as gender, age and disability. Having an inconsistent company policy of not accepting or accepting unsolicited resumes may make the employer liable for discriminating against protected classes. 
  • Affirmative Action – Federal contractors that are subject to affirmative action obligations are required to capture all applicant demographic data. If there is no clear policy in place, this data may be overlooked, subjecting employers to violations.

The bottom line is that unsolicited resumes benefit many companies, while they may be a liability to others. Consult with your legal department or review state and federal guidelines to help make an educated and informed decision about this practice.


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Showing Employee Appreciation

Instead of celebrating Employee Appreciation Day one day a year in March, more employers should learn to value their team and show appreciation for their hard work year-round. 

As we established last week in our article, Uncovering the Root Cause of Workplace Stress, it’s essential to create a psychologically and physically safe space for employees to help ensure they are happy to reduce overall turnover rates.

The following tips highlight the top six ways to appreciate employees throughout the year.

1. Ask Questions

It may seem silly, but just stopping to ask employees how they are doing and engaging in small talk can help break up the stress of important deadlines, strapping bandwidth and juggling multiple projects simultaneously. By incorporating caring, genuine conversations, you’ll enhance your relationships with employees at work.

2. Saying Thanks

Regularly thanking employees for their hard work, dedication and perseverance may seem obvious, but in today’s busy world, the small pleasantries are often overlooked and go unsaid. Instead of implying thanks, saying it has immediate benefits and helps employees see that their hard work is appreciated and positively contributes to the company’s overall success.

3. Checking In

Checking in on employees to see how their workload is, if they have any questions and if there is room for improvement gives them the sense of being heard and understood in today’s chaotic workplace. Engaging with employees on a deeper level helps build stronger relationships, which leads to deeper trust. 

4. Exploring Employees’ Strengths

When employees can showcase their strengths and work in those areas, their performance skyrockets, as they are more motivated to do better work. To help facilitate employees’ growth, identify the unique strengths that will allow them to build further skillsets going forward. By engaging employees and identifying their strengths, you can further boost their confidence and help them navigate their future career paths. 

5. Onboarding and Training

Proper onboarding and ongoing training for employees helps ensure they have the education and knowledge to do their job effectively. Training can significantly improve employee retention rates, setting the tone for employees’ careers at companies. 

6. Inclusivity

Having a diverse workforce helps foster creativity and innovative thinking. Encourage employees to connect on a personal level and not only focus on business conversations. Learn what causes stress and anxiety, as well as what brings employees joy and makes them feel valued. 

Spending eight to 10 hours a day with coworkers is a lot of time spent away from our families and personal obligations. By making our work hours fulfilling and meaningful, we can help to enrich the lives of those around us and foster a nurturing, healthy work environment.


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Diversifying Your Workforce

Companies that have diversified workforces experience long-term value creation and increased profitability. Equality between genders also has room for improvement but has progressed significantly over the last 50 years. 

Why Does Diversification Matter?

When most people initially think about diversity in the workplace, they generally assume that this focuses only on gender and ethnicity. However, diversity comes in a plethora of forms, ranging from academic and professional backgrounds, varying socioeconomic classes, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and national origin to mental and physical abilities. 

Taking Action-Oriented Steps

To hire a diverse team that will benefit your business, you need to keep these six actionable steps in mind.

  1. Act – Whether you’re building a new company or a new team, keep diversity in mind from day one.
  2. Send the Right Signals – Pay attention to your vocabulary in job descriptions or on company websites. Use non-gender-specific descriptions, such as “they” over traditional “he” or “she.”
  3. Remove Bias Views – Avoid reviewing any applicant data that could form bias assumptions, such as age, gender, pictures or even names. Some companies also go so far as to utilize voice changing telephone features when conducting interviews so that all applicants sound more neutral.
  4. Diverse Talent – Instead of only recruiting top-rated college graduates from a select group of universities, focus on considering applicants that have real-world experience or attended alternative schools. 
  5. Offer Flexibility and Accommodate Needs – Whether you’re providing flexible work hours or letting employees periodically work remotely from home, it’s important to include all potential applicants in this process. Additionally, consider offering private rooms for nursing mothers, gender-neutral bathrooms and office decor that is non-offensive.
  6. Focus On Diversity at Every Level – Instead of trying to focus on achieving diversity globally, aspire to have diversity for every position within the company. 

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Four Workplace Trends That Positively Change Performance

Workplace performance can be influenced by external factors and even society’s changing ideologies. Gallup’s State of the American Workforce report shows that when employees are positively engaged at work, their profitability increased by 21 percent; however, only 51 percent of employees report being actually engaged at work. The following workplace tech trends will help positively change employees’ work environments, thus increasing their overall performance and profitability.

Prioritizing Workplace Safety

The #metoo movement has helped to address the issues of workplace safety and harassment. Employees that witness harassment are more likely to begin searching for new employment. How well a company responds to misconduct, including harassment and discrimination, is essential, which is why employers need to facilitate more open lines of communication.

Collaboration

Open employment engagement is important, especially as more jobs focus on computer work and being behind a desk. Whether it’s using Google Docs or Slack, incorporating collaborative techniques can help boost employee productivity dramatically. 

Work-Life Balance

Studies show that three out of four employees have a difficult time balancing their family work and other personal obligations. Furthermore, more employers are offering flexible working schedules and arrangements to help employees better balance and manage their time. Employees that can have more flexible work arrangements are more satisfied with their overall work culture. 

Technology to Support Inclusion and Diversity

By building a work environment that embraces inclusion and diversity, you can help encourage employees to produce new, innovative ideas. Different experiences and backgrounds unique shape us, which helps create a multi-talented team.


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Company Diversification Strategies for 2020

Leveraging a market diversification strategy can help companies drive growth and survive an upcoming recession. 

What Exactly Is Market Diversification? 

Diversification is a corporate business strategy where a business can enter into a new industry or market, creating a new product for this market and further diversify their offerings. 

Popular Diversification Strategies

There are three significant types of diversification techniques that businesses can utilize when trying to expand their current market.

1. Concentric Diversification

Concentric diversification is when a company adds a similar service or product to their existing business model. A great example is Apple, which started building desktops, branched out to laptops and music devices, and is now a leading retailer for Smartphone devices with their popular iPhone.

2. Horizontal Diversification

A horizontal diversification model involves adding new, unrelated services or products and offering them to existing customers. For example, when Amazon.com acquired Whole Foods, this is a horizontal diversification strategy because they were able to offer existing customers organic food products.

3. Conglomerate Diversification

Conglomerate diversification is when a company adds new services or products that are entirely unrelated. A superb example is Disney that went from films to creating and operating entertainment parks. 

Companies usually diversify to help earn higher profits, but also to recession-proof their business model, as this can mitigate risks in the event of an industry downtown. 


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