Tips and policies for avoiding sexual harassment issues in the workplace

The Bill O’Reilly sexual harassment controversy has been making headlines for several weeks now.  Many have criticized Fox News and parent company 21st Century Fox for paying the host of their highest-rated show $25 million upon his exit (equivalent to roughly one year of pay under his recently negotiated contract with the network) when the amount paid to settle with five of his accusers was only $13 million.

There are several HR takeaways from this situation that business owners and managers should consider to prevent harassment lawsuits:

  1. Have clearly stated organizational policies that stress zero tolerance for harassment and implement training at all levels of the company based on these policies.
  2. Even if you have taken precautionary steps to prevent harassment, you may still have a claim. It is important to take all claims seriously and conduct a full investigation when a claim arises.
  3. If you determine that harassment has occurred, you must take corrective action. Depending on the severity of the situation, this could be a written disciplinary action, suspension or termination.  The action you take should be appropriate as to ensure that the behavior does not happen again.
  4. Remember to apply the same rules to all employees at all levels, no matter their rank or title within the organization.

BCN Services can assist you in writing and implementing harassment-free policies, conducting workplace investigations and determining appropriate disciplinary action.  If you have questions, please contact us at 1-800-891-9911.

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Alicia Freeman, Operations Manager

Unintentional discrimination can occur without a regular review of policies

 

Practices that have been commonplace in your industry for decades may need to be re-evaluated to determine if they are necessary and relate to your business needs.  A common practice may be seen as discriminatory, even though that is not the intent.

Disparate impact is an employment practice that adversely affects a protected group more than another. It is sometimes referred to as unintentional discrimination. It is defined as: “the adverse effect of a practice or standard that is neutral and non-discriminatory in its intention but, nonetheless, disproportionately affects individuals having a disability or belonging to a protected class” (businessdictionary.com).

For example, 57-year-old John Doe claims he was discriminated against based on his age when the company terminated his employment. John’s employer defends the decision, saying that Bill was fired because the company had received several customer complaints about his performance prior to his discharge.

The employer provides documentation of the complaints, making it necessary for John Doe to prove that other employees, that were younger and working in the same capacity, had also received multiple complaints, but were not fired.

The disparate impact in this example is that John Doe was fired while the other, younger employees, were not.

Situations such as this, makes having a solid disciplinary policy vital in a company’s termination decisions. Many companies have adopted a progressive discipline policy that uses increasingly severe steps and outlines for an employee what to expect for multiple infractions, including customer complaints.

The court ruling that put disparate impact on the map was the U.S. Supreme Court case of Griggs v. Duke Power Co. Duke Power Company, where IQ tests were used as a measure of suitability for a job. The court ruled in 1971 that such aptitude tests have a discriminatory effect because they are not related to actual job performance or business necessity and do not measure any job-related skills/ The court ruled that they are, therefore, illegal. (Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424 (1971).)

Please contact your HR contact at BCN Services if you have questions about workplace practices, how they might be perceived by employees and whether you need to modify your approach.

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Kari Stanley, HR Customer Care Supervisor

 

A consistent approach will help you find the best job candidates

Clients frequently ask us for recommended questions to use during an in-person interview, but there is much more to the hiring process than just the questions you choose.

Our HR professionals at BCN Services will tell you that consistency is key and that you may want screen candidates before inviting them for an in-person interview. You may also want to assess whether there is a good fit between the candidate and your business.

An in-person interview can take a lot of time and, therefore, your company’s resources. Before you are ready to meet a candidate face-to-face, consider phone screening applicants first by asking a few simple questions. You can usually get a pretty good idea whether to move forward based on this initial contact.

Phone interviews take much less time than in-person interviews and allow you to fine-tune your candidate list. Good phone screen questions include:

  • Tell me a little about yourself.
  • Why are you looking for a new position?
  • What are your “must haves” in your new job?
  • What are you looking for from your new employer?

After an initial phone screening, you should have your candidate pool narrowed to a reasonable number of applicants. This lets you focus your time and effort on the most valuable candidates for the in-person interview.

Great in-person interview questions include:

  • Tell me a little about yourself
  • What are your long term and short term goals?
  • Tell me about a time that you had to deal with a challenging situation and how did you overcome it?
  • What motivates you?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses and how are you working to overcome them?
  • Tell me about a time you were juggling multiple projects and how did you deal with them?
  • What does customer service mean to you?

Interview questions to avoid:

  • Are you married?
  • Do you have kids?
  • Have you had any prior convictions?
  • What religion are you?
  • Anything that could cause disparate impact to one candidate over another. According to SHRM, “Hiring managers should keep in mind that even “facially neutral” (those that do not appear to be discriminatory on their face but rather are discriminatory in their effect) job requirements relating to education, experience and physical characteristics may be considered unlawful when the requirements screen out a disproportionately high percentage of candidates on the basis of protected status and are not justified by any business purpose” (https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools.aspx).

After a phone screening and an in-person interview, you may still want to narrow the pool to two or three candidates for a second interview and possibly an assessment of some kind. Many employers use a personality quiz. Others will also use IQ tests, physical ability tests and aptitude tests. You would decide which makes the most sense for your industry and then maintain consistency in using the tests for these positions.

Following a consistent hiring practice can help reduce the amount of time it takes to fill a position as well as maintain compliance with each applicant. Please contact your BCN Services HR professional if you have questions or want to discuss how to implement a new hire process.

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Kari Stanley, HR Customer Care Supervisor