Archive for February, 2012

TRINKETS OF AFFECTION OR TOKENS OF OFFENSE: SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE

Posted on February 15, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

During the month of February, the symbol of the heart is prominent.   We recognize American Heart Month (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/ and we celebrate Valentine’s Day.  It is a time when we take care of our hearts and take care of those who hold our hearts.  But while greeting cards, roses and heart-friendly dark chocolate candies abounded and brought smiles to many faces, some people who found these trinkets of affection on their desks at work viewed them more as tokens of offense.  As harmless as these tokens may seem, when they are given under certain circumstances, this intended act of kindness may be considered sexual harassment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), (www.eeoc.gov ), the United States federal agency tasked with defining and regulating certain civil rights defines sexual harassment as:

“[u]nwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” when

(1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment;

(2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or

(3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”

Based on the EEOC’s definition, sexual harassment can be verbal or nonverbal, physical or visual.  It can range from flirting to touching and from comments to jokes.  It is not even necessary for a person to make an explicit statement.  Circulating an email or picture of a sexual nature can be sexual harassment.  Innuendo can also be considered sexual harassment. And sexual harassment can be directed toward a person of the opposite sex or same sex.

A key component of sexual harassment is that the conduct must be unwelcome.  Conveying that conduct is unwelcome is not always easy, especially if the individual’s job is subordinate to the person who initiates the unwelcome conduct.  Another component of sexual harassment is the severity and frequency of the conduct.  If a single unwelcome act is of a severe nature, such as a sexual proposition, then the single act alone may be considered sexual harassment.  On the other hand, a single act of placing on an employee’s desk a card, which says “will you be my valentine,” without any notice that such a gift is unwelcome may not be considered severe enough to constitute sexual harassment.  Repeatedly giving an employee a card with this message, however, after having been asked to cease doing so could be considered sexual harassment.

The first two categories, characterized as “quid pro quo”, which means “this for that”, have generally been thought to be actions which can only be carried out by persons having the authority to affect an individual’s terms or conditions of employment, such as managers or supervisors who make decisions regarding hiring and termination, performance evaluations, promotions, salaries and even the location at which an individual performs his or her work.  The last category, however, is fair game and can be initiated by persons who not only work for the employer but it can also be initiated by persons who do business with the employer, such as vendors and courier services.  At the heart of the matter is that employees, whether they are paid a salary or wage, whether they volunteer or whether they are under a contract, have a right to work in an environment which is free from unwanted sexual advances.

For information and training on sexual harassment awareness and prevention, call the HR4NON-PROFITS team at 630.830.4443 or visit our website at http://www.hr4nonprofits.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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USING SMARTPHONES IS NOT ALWAYS SMART

Posted on February 1, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

Smart phones are absolutely amazing!  With something no bigger than a hand, a person can: take pictures; make videos; send email and text messages; program calendar reminders; record and store personal and business contact information; watch videos; play games; make flight, hotel and restaurant reservations; pay bills; transfer money between accounts and OH!  Make a phone call!  Smart phones have definitely made life more convenient for individual and business users and have allowed many people to work smarter, not harder.  But there are times and places when the use of a smart phone may not be so smart, such as during non-profit activities and in certain non-profit business settings.

Activities sponsored by non-profit organizations can be very exciting and rewarding and some employees and volunteers may want to make video recordings and take pictures for posterity.  But for other employees, volunteers and particularly clients, there may be a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and making recordings and pictures without their knowledge and permission may violate this expectation.  One way for nonprofit organizations to protect themselves is to implement a policy on smart phone usage.

Melanie L. Herman, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center in Leesburg, Va., (http://www.nonprofitrisk.org/ ) suggests that nonprofits “adopt practical guidelines.”  Ms. Herman states that, “The appropriate guidelines for smartphone or cell phone use depend wholly on the nature of the nonprofit, the clients it serves, the caregivers it employs as staff and volunteers, and the nature of the services provided.”

Organizations who work with children, for example, may want to implement a policy that strictly prohibits employees and volunteers from making videos and taking pictures.  A caveat that nonprofit organizations should be aware of is that certain populations, such as children and some persons with mental disabilities or cognitive challenges, may lack legal capacity to give permission even though they have knowledge that a recording is being made or a picture is being taken.  In such instances the organization may need to obtain the parent’s or legal guardian’s consent.

If an organization does not want to impose a strict prohibition, it may want to implement a policy similar to that used by Merrimack Valley YMCA (http://www.mvymca.org ) in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which limits camera and recording device use to the lobby of its campuses unless explicitly authorized in advance by the executive director.  The policy, which is prominently displayed, provides that, “Anyone caught taking pictures of another person without his or her permission and knowledge will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Nonprofit organization should not make the mistake of developing a policy that is overly broad or too narrowly tailored.  Because of the multiple features and services that are available with smart phones, organizations may want to address other types of use, such as texting.  Many businesses and organizations use text messaging as a quick way to communicate important information.  The organization should caution its employees and volunteers, however, about using slang or abbreviations that are not common, professional and acceptable in business.

“There is no single policy that is appropriate for all, or even most organizations,” states Ms. Herman.  Whatever policy the organization chooses to implement, it should be enforced consistently.

For additional information on developing guidelines and policies, call the HR4NON-PROFITS team at 630.830.4443 or visit our website at http://www.hr4nonprofits.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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