In this Edition... Corporate Culture: The Dos and Don'ts
The corporate climate is ever-changing as technology grows and innovative ways to communicate with one another become more readily available. However, some of the problems workplaces faced 50 years ago, still plague places of business today. This edition will tackle some of those challenges and new ones like the use of social media.
Job Questions that Cross the Line
Finding the right candidate for a position may require an employer to be a little creative in its interview style but interview settings and questions should not impose on a potential employee’s human rights. Both employers and potential employees should be prepared before an interview so that everyone knows what questions are acceptable to ask and to answer.
Questions such as, “Are you over the age of 18?” and, “What are your career goals?” are both acceptable because the first may be important for you to know in order to follow other workplace laws and the second is a better question to gauge what this person wants to accomplish if hired for this position—which should be the most important thing for you to learn rather than what is printed on their birth certificate. Pre-employment age questions to stay away from include: “How old are you?”, “How much longer do you plan to work before you retire?”, “What is your birthday?”. Before asking any age-related question an employer should first ask itself, is the answer really important AND will the answer affect its decisions as to whether or not to hire this person. Please note, only ages 40 and over are protected from workplace discrimination under federal law and ages 40 through 69 under state law.
Learning the religion of someone may make you as an employer feel more comfortable in the workplace, however, it is none of your business. Asking a question such as “What religion do you practice?” or “What religious holidays do you observe?” is inappropriate because the Missouri Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on a person’s religion. Outright inquiring about an applicant’s religion may suggest that the answer could affect the applicant’s chance of getting the job. If an employer is concerned about an employee being able to work certain days of the year, they should rather inquire “What days are you available to work?” or “Are you able to work with our required schedule?”
We live in a world where girls play football and wrestle for their high school teams and dads stay home with the kids while mom works. However, some employers still feel compelled to treat one gender differently than the other. Asking only women, “Do you have or plan on having kids?” crosses that line. Other inadvisable questions include: “Is this your maiden name?”, or “We’ve always had a man/woman do this job. How do you think you will measure up?”. Questions that are “okay” to ask and really get the answers you need to make a good hiring decision include: “Are you able to work overtime on occasion or travel?”, “Have you worked or earned a degree under a different name?”, “What do you have to offer to our company?”.
One employer recently made the mistake of asking a job applicant about his medical history during an interview and refused to hire the applicant based on his response. The employer earned itself a day in court as well as an order to pay the applicant $85K for workplace discrimination. Don’t make this mistake by asking the following questions: “Do you have disabilities?”, “Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations?”, “Do you take any medications?”. A better way to find out if applicants are able to perform the job is simply just to ask, “Are you able to perform the specific duties of this position?”. But, you should ask all of the applicants that question. You should also be mindful about drug tests. Certainly learning if a potential employee uses illegal drugs is important and CAN be asked. However, you can ONLY require a worker to take a medical exam or drug test AFTER you offer the worker the position and as long as you require other employees with similar jobs to do the same thing.
The Department hopes to soon launch a more interactive tool that will help people identify questions that cross the line. For employers, we also offer training about this exact topic that can help prevent your place of business from ending up in expensive litigation. Sign up today!
The Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) is dedicated to investigating and resolving all complaints of discrimination in employment, as well as in housing and places of public accommodation. Education can be the best prevention. For more information on this topic, visit our Discrimination page.
Workplace Fun or Folly?
Some companies strive to establish a fun work environment for their workers. We’ve heard of some pretty creative ideas including a company that established “Pirate Day” where everyone in the office greeted one another with sayings such as “Gooday matey”, while another company instituted a “Bring Your Scooter to Work Day”. More than likely you get emails or see posters in the office about some internal office competition or even the basic bring a snack to work day. Good office morale is important and helps everyone feel that sense of teamwork—but when a workplace is too relaxed, tongues slip and HR policies become foggy.
One company learned too late that jokes can lead a business down a slippery slope to far worse conduct after a jury ordered that it pay $10 million to an employee for sexual harassment. Before she was fired for complaining, a woman who worked for the Kansas City branch of UBS Financial, as an associate for 22 years claimed her supervisor emailed her “funny” sexual jokes before moving on to requests for sexual favors, placing late night phone calls to her residence, repeatedly making inappropriate comments about her breast size, and more. An internal UBS investigation took place and concluded that her claims had no merit. The woman filed a complaint of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights and received a right-to-sue letter, allowing her to pursue her case in court. A jury reviewed the evidence and awarded her $10 million in punitive damages, $350,000 in actual damages and $242,000 in back pay from the date she was fired to the start of the trial.
Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination based on sexual behavior, and under the Missouri Human Rights Act – it is illegal. The Missouri Commission on Human Rights works to ensure Missourians have a workplace free from sexual harassment. So when thinking up fun ways to engage the office, it is highly recommended that themes like “Muscle Shirt Monday” and “Tube Top Tuesday” be avoided. Keep it fun but keep it professional.
For ways to keep your work environment fun and inviting without discrimination, check out these tips. Some good tips include creating a “fun committee,” having a tension release area, and encouraging spontaneity on the job. Rewarding your employees with snack or soda breaks can also keep spirits up. It is possible to have a fun and respectful workplace.
Social Media and the Workplace: Personal, Professional, or Both?
Social media is a constantly evolving force to be reckoned with in the workplace. Networks like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and YouTube have astronomical amounts of users that grow by the day. If the number of users on Facebook were the population of a country, Facebook would rank as the 3rd most populous country in the world, behind only China and India. Their widespread use has led to dilemmas for some companies while allowing other companies to get plugged in to potential new customers. Companies are now trying to answer the question “how to handle social media networks in the workplace and out of the workplace?”
Many businesses create acceptable use policies outlining their expectations of their employees’ use of social media. This can include whether or not social media sites can be accessed during work hours, on work equipment, etc. Happy employees have the opportunity to share complimentary things about their companies, while disgruntled employees have a platform to air grievances, making social media a double-edged sword for many companies. Forward-thinking companies have already created social networking rules for employees and are utilizing this outlet to increase customer satisfaction and sales.
If your company hasn’t yet formulated social media guidelines, now is a good time to start! Engage your employees – odds are many of them are already involved in social media, and working with them can help your business develop a policy that is functional and appropriate. Offer training and have “certified” social media representatives you who trust to represent you – they can monitor discussions about your product or services and can offer personal assistance to anyone who might be having issues. What was formerly viewed as a non-traditional form of customer service is becoming more and more mainstream every day. So don’t miss the train!
For employees—yes some days can be long and hard but your Facebook page or Twitter feed may not be the best place to blow off steam. Keep in mind that you probably are friends with others in your office, and perhaps even your boss, or even an associate of someone you work with. Telling everyone that your job stinks may cause you to lose out on opportunities at your current job or even potential jobs in the future. At a social media seminar held recently in Columbia, Mo., Richard Binhammer, the Director of Social Media and Community for DELL stated that it is always wise to act as brand representative for your company whether on or off the clock. Friends and social acquaintances will appreciate and respect your workplace and what you do and most likely your boss or co-workers will also catch on to your positive attitude. This world is all about networking—you never know when someone wants to look you up as a potential new hire. Potential employers don’t want to end up becoming your bad content generator in the future. We know that there are instances where you cannot bring yourself to say anything nice about your job and if that is that case, remember what your mom always used to say ‘If you have nothing nice to say…don’t say anything at all’.