IT CAN’T HAPPEN TO US!

“We never thought it will happen in our organization.”  “There’s no way Joe did that!”  “This has to be a mistake.”

Sexual harassment, hostile work environment.  It is a reality that many business owners have to face.  But many, don’t believe it happened and are annoyed that they have to spend time investigating it.  Some are afraid it is true and now they will have to fire someone.

What is sexual harassment?  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.  Harassment doesn’t have to be sexual in nature.  (Click here to learn more:  http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm)

Companies are obligated to provide an environment that is free from harassment.  Having steps in place that educate your workforce before harassment happens is essential to preventing this activity.  Once harassment has been reported, immediately investigating what happened is crucial.

Here are some steps that can help you prevent sexual harassment in your company:

How can your company help prevent sexual harassment claims?

  1. Have a written sexual harassment policy.
  2. Provide sexual harassment training to your employees and management staff at least once a year.
  3. Stop any behavior that might be construed as harassment immediately.  If a management person walks by two employees having an inappropriate conversation, they should tell them to stop immediately.

What are the basic steps in handling a sexual harassment claim?

  1. Once harassment has been reported or observed to a member of the management team, the manager should report it to the human resources department.  In small businesses, the owner should contact an HR consultant or the company attorney.
  2. A confidential investigation should commence immediately.
    1. The employee claiming harassment should be assured they will not be retaliated against and he/she should immediately report anything he/she feels is retaliation.  Letting the employee go through the story of what happened without interruption helps get their perspective.  Once they have told their story, ask clarifying questions.  Ask open-ended questions.
    2. B. Talk to any witnesses.  Do not lead them by asking “Did you see what happened in the break area at 3PM last Tuesday?”  Instead ask them if they attended the company sexual harassment training, if they can define sexual harassment/hostile work environment, and if they have ever witnessed or have knowledge of sexual harassment/hostile work environment.  Again, let them tell their story and then ask open-ended questions that will help clarify what they saw.
  3. Interview the person who is accused of sexual harassment.  Ask them the same questions as in 2.B.  If they say they are unaware of any incident, start asking questions that will help them remember the incident.
  4. Once all parties have been interviewed, begin piecing the story together to determine what happened.
  5. Make a determination as to what needs to happen next.  If sexual harassment occurred, it doesn’t necessarily mean someone will be terminated.  Actions that can be taken if sexual harassment occurred includes:  verbal warning, written warning, final written warning, suspension, and termination.  There are many considerations that go into determining the appropriate disciplinary action including your company’s discipline policy, precedent setting decisions, the egregiousness of the action, etc.  All decisions should be documented.
  6. Follow up periodically with the employee claiming sexual harassment to ensure no retaliation or further harassment has occurred.  Document all follow up conversations.
  7. All investigation notes and documentation should be kept separate from personnel files.
  8. Consider additional training to employees and/or supervisors as appropriate.

Stopping sexual harassment before it starts, is the best approach.  However, once sexual harassment is reported, swift action must be taken to protect the company.

This article is provided as general information only and does not constitute and is not a substitute for legal or other professional advice. We advise you seek advice from your attorney before implementing any employment policy for your business.

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IT’S THEIR MISTAKE, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO HAVE THEM FIX IT?

Over the past several weeks, I have had three clients ask this question.  Their employee makes a mistake, which typically costs the business money to fix.  On top of that, they usually have to pay the employee (in the form of their hourly rate) to fix the problem.  Business owners see this as unfair, especially when an employee makes multiple mistakes.  After all, if the employee did it right the first time, the employee could be working on another job or project bringing more revenue to the business instead of spending time fixing a problem they created. For example, say your employee entered your customer list into a spread sheet but entered it incorrectly. The employee now needs to go back and re-enter the same information, spending valuable time on their mistake.  If it is the employee’s mistake, why can’t they fix it on their own time or at least have time deducted from their time sheet?

But, in Colorado, deducting pay from an employee’s paycheck due to an error by the employee is not allowed.  Allowable deductions from an employee’s paycheck typically include deductions for taxes, social security, FICA, medicare, garnishments, or other court-ordered deductions.  The employee and employer may have a written agreement signed by both parties for loans, pay advances, goods and services, etc.  These agreements must be in writing and not illegal transactions.  Deductions for insurance benefits, retirement, charities and automatic deposits also are allowed if there is written authorization from the employee.

So if you cannot deduct pay for an employee’s repeated mistakes, what can you do?  The best way to discourage the employee from making repeated mistakes is to go through a progressive discipline process with the employee.  Typically, start with awareness counseling the first time they make a mistake.  Then move to a verbal warning, and written warning(s) if mistakes persist.  Ultimately, the employee may have to be terminated if they continue to make mistakes.  (Sometimes it is necessary to immediately terminate employees.)  The goal of the progressive discipline process is to stop the unwanted and unproductive behavior and help the employee become more effective. However, as many a small business owner will attest to, there are those who just won’t get it. The discipline process helps ensure proper procedure and helps business owners during unemployment or wrongful termination claims.  When disciplining or terminating an employee it is always a good idea to talk to an HR professional or lawyer to ensure you are taking these actions correctly.

This article is provided as general information only and does not constitute and is not a substitute for legal or other professional advice. We advise you seek advice from your attorney before implementing any employment policy for your business.

Paper Pusher Or Strategic Partner?

How does one go from being a HR filing monkey to being a strategic partner with the CEO of a startup company with 125 employees?  It wasn’t a Sunday stroll, but I took what appeared to a droll, humdrum HR job and made it into an opportunity to be a true Vice President of HR. Here is how I did it.

First, the necessary background. After 20 years in management, I decided to become a doctor, or PA, or something in medicine. So my first logical step was to be an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).  I began working for a startup ambulance service. Due to an injury, I ended up with the “light duty” assignment of office work.  My background in management and HR was soon discovered and I was announced as the first HR Director for the company.  However, I was also told by the CEO, “do not talk to the employees, do not write any policies, and just sit in your office and do payroll and benefits”.  I started pondering my next job.

Here I had company owners who had a world of experience in the emergency, get-to-the hospital-quick business, and little interest in management, let alone seeing value in an effective strategic partner with their HR department.

And so it goes with almost all small businesses.

How did I go from being christened a paper-filing HR “clerk” to an esteemed speaker at a regional conference, with the above CEO, on the importance of the strategic relationships between HR and Operations?

I did it by doing three critical things. Consistently.  Here they are.

  1. PROVIDE OBJECTIVE OPINIONS ON EMPLOYEE ISSUES.
  2. SPEAK THE LANGUAGE THE TEAM UNDERSTANDS.
  3. ELIMINATE DRAMA IN THE WORKPLACE.

I suggest you write these down and place them on your computer screen or in a place visible to you each day. Think about how these topics impact your business and how improving these things would improve your company’s effectiveness and your bottom line.  In the meantime, let me know if you feel HR is a strategic partner or a paper-pusher in your business.

Employee Discipline

No one likes discipline.  Managers don’t like giving it and employees don’t like receiving it.  However, it is a necessary part of every organization.  Typically, managers who put off discipline find it even more difficult.   Here are a few tips to help you with correcting employees’ behavior:

1.  Outline your expectations for the employees before there is a problem.  Include your expectations in the interview process, the orientation, as well as the job training.  Communicate your expectations as many times as you can.

2.  Re-focus the employee’s behavior as soon as you identify they are not meeting expectations.  Make the employee aware of the issues as you become aware of them.  Assure them you know they can correct their behavior and provide them with all the necessary tools they need.

3.  If the behavior continues, the discipline process must continue with verbal and written warnings.  All of these warnings should be documented in the employee’s file.  Written warnings should have the manager and employee signatures.  (The employee may refuse to sign the memo.  If that occurs, make note of it on the memo.)

Progressive discipline helps the employees become aware of when they are not meeting your expectations.  It starts with awareness counseling, letting the employee know they need to correct their behavior.  This is a conversation reminding the employee about the expectations, telling them their behavior isn’t meeting those expectations, and asking them to correct their behavior.  If the awareness counseling session doesn’t impact their behavior, a verbal warning is necessary.

In a verbal warning, the manager outlines what is expected, tells the employee what they need to do to correct their behavior, and lets them know if the behavior isn’t corrected, written warning(s) will be administered.  The verbal warning is documented in the employee’s drop file, but not in the employee personnel file (unless a written warning is given).

A written warning is a documentation of the discipline conversation.  It outlines what the manager expects the employee to do and the timeframe the employee has to meet the expectations.  It is typically signed by the employee and the manager.  However, sometimes the employee refuses to sign the written warning.  If that is the case, the manager should note the employee refused to sign the memo on the written warning.  (If the employee does refuse to sign the memo, it is best to have a witness present so they can attest to the fact the manager had a corrective conversation with the employee and the employee was given the memo but they refused to sign the memo.)

Discipline is always a difficult conversation.  However, if you clearly communicate your expectations and correct employee behavior when you first notice an issue, the discipline process is much easier.

For more information, contact me at cberg@courtsideconsulting.com