Starbucks incident points out employer responsibilities and actions

“Venti Chai Latte with two shots of espresso please.” That is one of my favorite drinks at Starbucks, or maybe an extra strong Americano with cream. On a recent visit, I saw the notice that Starbucks was closing all 8,000 stores on the afternoon of May 29 for unconscious bias education. This stemmed from a recent incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks in which a store manager called police as two black men visited the store and did not place an order, saying that they were waiting to meet with a colleague. As a result of the manager’s action, the men were arrested and charged with trespassing. This raises the question of what is racial-bias and racial discrimination and what employers need to know about it.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has acknowledged the company’s fault, apologizing to the two men and the community and vowing to train and enlighten their employees as well as make such training part of the onboarding process for new partners. https://news.starbucks.com/press-releases/starbucks-to-close-stores-nationwide-for-racial-bias-education-may-29

In its most basic definition, racism is discrimination and negative stereotyping based on race or skin color. Racial discrimination occurs when an employee is discriminated against based on race or national heritage. While it is sometimes obvious and easy to spot, it is more often subtle and difficult to detect. Examples of blatant racial discrimination include the use of racial slurs, slurs masked as jokes or noticeable advancement issues. Signs can also include strategic and obvious assignment of work duties, belittling and condescending conversation and other forms of unfair treatment. Federal laws prohibit this behavior. Racial discrimination in the workplace is strictly prohibited by many federal and state laws. Primary federal laws prohibiting racial discrimination fall under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which says employers cannot:

  • Fail/refuse to hire an employee based on race
  • Fire or discipline an employee based on race
  • Pay an employee less or provide fewer benefits based on race
  • Fail to provide promotions or opportunities to an employee based on race
  • Improperly classify or segregate employees or applicants based on race.

According to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces Title VII, race discrimination is the most common type of reported workplace discrimination. In recent years, companies have had to pay upwards of millions of dollars to compensate victims of race discrimination.

Sometimes racial discrimination is subtle

Another form of racial discrimination is called micro-aggression, which refers to more subtle forms of racial bias such as petty slights or obstacles that can cause serious emotional harm over time or affect people in a variety of ways. Examples include:

  • Comments about a person’s race, including ones that are positive on the surface about the employee but belittle the person’s race (“You’re well-spoken for an Asian man”)
  • Jokes about a person’s race or about the race of an employee’s spouse or children
  • Unusual scrutiny given the actions of an employee of one race as opposed to others
  • Dress codes that are designed to prevent “ethnic” looks by controlling someone’s hair and clothing in a way that’s not necessary for the job.

Recognize the signs and take action

How can an employer recognize racial discrimination and combat racism? What sort of steps should an employee take if they have been a victim or have witnessed it?
In order to report racial discrimination, you first have to be able to recognize it. Here are some of the more obvious signs of disparate treatment and racial discrimination:

  • Assigning an employee job duties below their qualifications and job title, such as fetching coffee or filing
  • Consistently promoting employees of one race over another
  • Giving higher performance reviews to employees of one race over another
  • Not hiring a qualified candidate because he or she “wouldn’t fit in” due to race
  • Assigning employees of one race dangerous job tasks while giving safer, easier jobs to employees of another race.

If you believe you have been the victim of racial discrimination at work, there are steps to combat it and prevent it from continuing. Speak with your manager and/or the Human Resources Office immediately to report it – whether it is something you experienced or witnessed. Human Resources can protect both the affected employees and the company.

Take detailed notes of the occurrence, consult the employee handbook, and notify your business leaders of what’s going on so they can take reasonable steps to prevent it from continuing. Once the complaint is filed, the company is required to confront the issue and stop the behavior. If appropriate action is not taken, it can also be reported to the EEOC.

Although it may be difficult to identify racial bias or microaggressions, employers must address the issue and put a stop to the behavior. If you are a leader within your organization, listen to employees when they speak up about such situations. The first and best way to combat racial discrimination is to be willing to listen, empathize and learn. You can also follow the Starbucks example and ensure that your employees are well educated on what racial discrimination is and how to combat such actions and prevent them from happening.

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Thom Moore, Partnership Manager

How to keep your employees engaged and making a difference

So how do the Self-Actualization Needs from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid from that first-year college course fit into corporate America today?

The top portion of the pyramid relates to spontaneity and problem solving, among other things, which can tie directly to the workplace. Employees want to know they are making a difference in the world around them, including with their customers, peers and communities.

Without having the confidence that they are making a difference, employees become disengaged. This behavior becomes contagious and impacts the bottom line of an organization. Signs of this could be high turnover, low morale, uninspired teams, absenteeism, burnout, poor time management, lack of accountability, and flat profitability. Who wants all of that in their company?

Here are a few strategies for increasing employee engagement that leadership can embrace to create that desirable and engaged organization:

  • Communicate the company goals & direction: Educate employees about how individual roles impact and advance the company. Keep teams in the know about the company’s direction, goals, successes and challenges with regular communications. Use meetings, emails, videos, blogs and other methods so teams are “in the know.” Create incentive goals or gamification programs with prizes and recognition for achievement of established goals.
  • Performance Feedback: Managers and leaders must commit to more frequent and informal feedback. Constant coaching and training (both formal and informal) should be a regular part of the business culture. Break away from the annual performance evaluation as the only time you give feedback to your employees.
  • Celebrate the team and WINS: Have fun at work. You spend a lot of time there so why not enjoy and celebrate the wins of your team and people? Recognize hard work, creativity and new ideas by sharing and celebrating the success. Create an environment where individuals enjoy what they are doing.

Commit to making employee engagement a priority. Creating a survey or a method for honest feedback is a great start, but sincere ownership and accountability from leadership teams is a must. Have fun and be creative with ideas.

Most importantly, take action to gain back the benefits of an engaged workforce with low turnover, increasing profitability and having a staff that is firing on all cylinders.

“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” – Simon Sinek

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Corey Decker, Sales Manager

Neglecting a garnishment could prove costly to your business

Employers receive garnishments for their employees for many reasons. Whether the order is for child support, a tax levy or creditor wage garnishments, it is extremely important that all such orders be handled promptly and accurately or employers can risk major consequences.

In most states, the employer may be liable for the full amount of a debtor’s outstanding debt, as well as interest and penalties. In extreme cases, employers deliberately violating a garnishment order may also be prosecuted criminally and face fines or imprisonment.

For terminated employees and those who have never been employed by the company, it is still necessary to complete any disclosure with this information, otherwise penalties and fines will still apply.

When receiving any garnishment order, the best practice is to send all paperwork received to your payroll specialist as soon as possible.  They must review these documents promptly to ensure that all employer requirements are met in a timely fashion. Depending on the order, this may include not only putting the order into place for future payroll deductions, but also handling written responses to the garnishing authority and/or employee and employee pay records to show earnings available for garnishment.

Proper garnishment administration will not only help your business avoid penalties but will ensure that your employees stay in good standing with the court order, as well.

The payroll team at BCN Services has a wealth of knowledge and experience in garnishment administration.  Please contact us at 1-800-891-9911 with any questions or for further information.

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Dani Austin, Payroll Supervisor

Documenting employee performance is a valuable management tool

How many times are we asked to recall a specific situation from a month or two ago, and just can’t remember the details?  It seemed so significant at the time and we thought, “I’ll remember this.”  If only we had jotted down some notes…

Most of the time, you can just say, “Oh well,” and move on.  But what if it’s related to an employment situation and the information is important?

I think most managers can relate to this:  You think the discussion you had with an employee last week won’t become an ongoing issue, so you walk away without documenting the discussion.  When the employee shows a lack of improvement, you talk with them again thinking, perhaps, they didn’t understand you the first time.  Another couple of weeks goes by and the situation still hasn’t improved.  You don’t have time to address the issue beyond a quick discussion, so you talk to the employee, yet again.

You have talked to this employee three times now and things are getting worse.  You’ve given the employee plenty of opportunity to improve and now you want to terminate them for poor performance.

But there is nothing in writing. And without that documentation, regulatory agencies and unemployment judges often decide that the employer hasn’t done due diligence and rule in favor of the employee.  The perception of objective decision-makers is this: If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen.

Documentation is a valuable tool for managers in a variety of situations. It can be notes a manager keeps about specific situations, positive or negative, including details about actions, dates, times and outcomes.  This is a great way to prepare for regular performance reviews or to establish a written basis for a decision about which employee is best qualified for a promotion.  Documentation over a long time period is especially helpful in those situations, as a manager can look back at trends showing whether or not each candidate would be a good fit for the new position.

In a situation where an employee isn’t meeting behavior or performance standards required for the position, those notes may become documentation of verbal warnings, written warnings, suspensions or terminations, typically in that order.  That stepped process is designed to guide the employee in maintaining their employment or advancing their career.  When the employee doesn’t embrace that guidance, the written documentation is in place to be the basis (and later, a company’s defense) for an employment decision.

That said, as a manager you probably know that even the best-documented situation may not deter an employee from claiming unemployment or filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Specifics of times and dates for behaviors that lead to employment decisions, along with appropriate, progressive disciplining are keys to defending employment decisions in those situations as well.  Most of the time, the burden of proof is on the employer and all of those details help.

Consistent documentation helps managers to remember what has happened and attach times, dates and other details to a situation that you might not remember accurately.  Whether it’s time to make an employment decision (such as a raise, a promotion, or a disciplinary action) or to defend it, documentation can help you remember the important details that need to be included to help others understand the reason for the employment action.

If you need help documenting your workplace situations or suggestions for your managers, contact the experts at BCN Services. We are here to help.

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Trisha Crigger, Human Resources Generalist

Workplace dress code policy can address rules for tattoos

Maintaining professionalism in the workplace is important, but tattoos don’t necessarily take away from that. As tattoos gain popularity across society, acceptance in the workplace is changing.

An article from USA Today, “Workplace Tattoo Taboos Fading,” states that there are three underlying concerns employers have with hiring people with body art:

  • the belief that an employee will not be taken seriously by tradition-minded clients,
  • the concern that the organization’s brand or image might be compromised by outlandish tattoos, and
  • the concern that one person’s body art could be perceived as offensive or hostile to a co-worker or customer.

When discussing body art in the workplace, keep in mind that you are hiring someone based on education, experience and skill. You are hiring this person because they are qualified for the job, not for their appearance.

Some important considerations are: Will visible tattoos affect the work environment? Do our employees see any clients or customers during the work day when appearance may play a part in customer service? Will tattoos be distracting in the workplace or disrupt the work flow?

In some cases, applicants may hide body art that may prevent them from getting a position and then reveal the tattoo or piercing once on the job. You may be able to avoid an issue by taking the opportunity during the interview to discuss company policies and dress code standards that are important if you offer a candidate a position. It may even be significant to share these company standards in the job posting itself. Sharing these policies as early as the job posting could save the company time and weed out applicants that don’t meet your dress code standards.

If it is imperative to your company that tattoos and piercings cannot be visible, you should review your employee handbook to ensure that policies are in place to explain dress code and appearance while on the job. It is important to be specific in the policy if you don’t allow visible body art.

To discuss employee handbook policies and other guidelines, please contact your Human Resources professional at BCN Services 800-891-9911.

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Hayley Diehlman, HR Administrator