U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced new downsizing plans for the nation’s armed forces in February, explaining that budget cuts are going so deep and coming so quickly that “we cannot shrink the size of our military fast enough.”
About a year ago, a group of private citizens paid for a seven-foot-tall granite monument of the Ten Commandments and gained approval for it to be placed on the north end of the Oklahoma Capitol grounds. Not surprisingly, a satanic group then asked Oklahoma’s Capitol Preservation Commission for permission to erect a seven-foot-tall “homage” to the Prince of Darkness, and a Hindu organization applied to have a monkey god statue join the growing list of Oklahoma statehouse religious monuments. Most recently, the Pastafarians—people who follow the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster—have asked how they can apply for a spot for their statue on Oklahoma’s Capitol grounds. I’m serious.
What does this have to do with your workplace? Hopefully nothing. But it serves as a good reminder about the potential curveballs an employer can face when religious issues gain prominence at work.
by Kara E. Shea
Did you know the fastest rising category of claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is claims based on disability discrimination and/or failure to accommodate disabled employees? This isn’t surprising given that, under the expanded Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), virtually any nonminor/nontransitory impairment may be considered a qualifying disability.
So the crucial question is, once you have determined that an employee or job applicant has a disability, to what lengths must you go to provide a reasonable accommodation? Do you have to provide the specific accommodation requested by the employee? What is an undue hardship? This month, we provide some pointers to help employers navigate the process of determining how or whether to provide an accommodation for an individual with a disability.
by Steve Jones
A Most likely, yes. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on religion. The Act requires employers with 15 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations for a worker’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on business operations. Under Title VII, the “undue hardship” defense requires an employer to show that under the particular circumstances, the proposed accommodation poses more than a minimal cost to or burden on the employer.
by Jane Pfeifle
An employer made an incorrect assumption about a disabled applicant. When a court disagreed with the assumption, the employer paid the applicant more than $50,000. Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, P.C., the firm of article author Jane Wipf Pfeifle, was involved in this case. All facts are taken solely from the court’s decision.
Employers are always searching for ways to empower their employees to do their best work. They invest in training to help workers gain skills, and they develop policies designed to keep the workplace running smoothly, but other components—cultivating cultural intelligence and fostering an environment of inclusiveness—may be overlooked.
Simma Lieberman, a diversity and inclusion/culture change consultant, has advice for employers interested in leveraging the diversity they have in their employees, and it starts with shedding the attitudes that can hold an employer back.
by Brad Federman
Typically, an organization employs inclusion efforts because it notices there’s a morale issue within a certain group or within the organization as a whole, a legal challenge has been filed against the organization, or there has been an effort to organize a union. Unfortunately, many inclusion or diversity efforts fail because they are reactive tactics used to pacify a group or groups. Even much of the discrimination and harassment training that exists is done to stay out of legal trouble or in direct response to a legal issue. What a large number of organizations fail to see is that a reactive effort to respond to workplace issues actually alienates and disenfranchises many employees.
Inclusion has become an approach to working with employees who are different or have special needs. Employees don’t want to be treated well because they are different or because the organization is afraid of a union organizing effort. They want to consistently feel respected, included, and valued. You must develop a strong, clear, and productive culture to demonstrate respect, interest, and value in your employees on a consistent basis.
The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) prohibits sex-based discrimination in pay and benefits. Employers shouldn’t pay different wages to employees of the opposite sex for substantially equal work. “Substantially equal” work doesn’t mean identical work. It means substantially equal in terms of required skills, effort, and responsibilities.
An employer can defeat an EPA claim of discriminatory compensation if it shows the difference in wages was on account of seniority, merit, quantity or quality of work, or any factor other than sex. Such was the case for FNGP, an auto parts manufacturer.
On December 16, 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued its fiscal year (FY) 2013 performance report, which indicates the agency is as busy as ever. According to the report, the EEOC received a total of 93,727 private-sector charges of discrimination in FY 2013, making it one of the top five fiscal years in terms of new charges filed. In addition, a total of 97,252 charges were resolved, nearly 14,000 fewer than in FY 2012.
At the end of September, the EEOC had a pending inventory of 70,781 charges. The average time to investigate and bring charges to resolution was reduced by 21 days, to 267 days per charge. The report also revealed that in FY 2013, the agency obtained a record $372.1 million in monetary relief for victims of private-sector workplace discrimination. That figure represents a $6.7 million increase over the relief recovered in FY 2012, and it’s the highest amount ever obtained in the EEOC’s history. Overall, the agency secured both monetary and nonmonetary benefits for more than 70,522 individuals through administrative enforcement activities, including mediation, settlements, and conciliations.
More than a few HR professionals have combed the Internet, consulted their peers, and examined their own experiences as they search for a crystal ball capable of revealing the future of the millennial generation in the workplace. Some HR pros see enormous potential in well-educated, confident, passionate, energetic, and collaborative team players, while others see the youngest employees as high maintenance—workers who are inexperienced but still feel entitled to high salaries, generous perks, and constant feedback.
With all that’s been written and discussed about the youngest generation in the workforce, it’s easy to forget that generational groups are made up of individuals and that not all characteristics assigned to a particular group apply to everyone in the group. It’s certainly possible—maybe even common—to find Millennials who don’t fit the stereotype, but stereotypes persist nevertheless. It’s also tempting to think that some of the workplace inequalities affecting older generations are no longer an issue for today’s youngest workers, issues such as equal pay for men and women in the same jobs. A few recent studies shed some light on where Millennials stand in terms of pay and opportunities as well as the stereotypes they face as they take their place in the workforce.