Daddy’s Home 2—fisticuffs in the workplace

November 28, 2017 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

While the holiday season can be a time of great joy and celebration, it also can be loaded with stress. Indeed, the pressures of preparing for the holiday and spending an inordinate amount of time in close quarters with friends and familyBusinessman trying to resist huge male fist and move it can bring long-simmering feuds and frustrations to the surface. This concept is handled with humor and heart in Daddy’s Home 2. Unfortunately, as the film illustrates, such private squabbles can sometimes spill over into public places including the workplace, which is yet another reason for employers to be well-versed on conflict resolution tactics and workplace violence issues.

The second film picks up where the first left offwith our characters navigating the sometimes tricky terrain of forming a modern, blended family. Brad and Dusty (Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) seem to have figured out how to work together in their respective roles of stepfather and father to raise the kids they both love dearly. However, when Brad’s hyper-affectionate, beloved father (played by John Lithgow) and Dusty’s estranged, hyper-masculine and emotionally distant father (played by Mel Gibson) come to town to celebrate Christmas, it’s a recipe for jealousies and conflicts.

When severe winter weather leaves our characters stranded in a movie theater with countless others, the tensions come to a head with theater employees looking on as certain family members attempt to duke out their differences. While the scene makes for an amusing holiday spectacle on the big screen, it also illustrates how quickly tensions can escalate and  employers (particularly those regularly dealing with the public in their day-to-day operations) may find themselves dealing with the unexpected. Indeed, nearly two million Americans each year report having been victims of workplace violence. Here are five employer tips for dealing with workplace conflicts:

1. Establish policies and complaint procedures for dealing with conflicts between employees and those involving any members of the public who may come into the workplace.

2. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) strongly recommends that employers establish a zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace violence. This policy should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel. Employees should know the policy and understand that any workplace violence complaints will be investigated and remedied promptly.

3. Early intervention is key. Train employees on the policies and advise them to report potential issues to management and/or human resources early and before any conflicts have an opportunity to escalate.

4. Assess the workplace to identify methods for reducing the likelihood of an incident occurring, and establish a plan in the event that an emergency situation arises. Consider OSHA-recognized risk factors such as whether employees exchange money with the public, work with potentially unstable individuals, work alone or in isolated areas, work where alcohol is served, or work late at night or in high-crime areas.

5.  Establish a workplace violence prevention program. OSHA provides guidance on establishing such a program as well as various online training and other resources.

The bottom line is that employers have a duty to provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards. It’s important to have the necessary policies and procedures in place to deal with potential emergencies, including workplace violence issues. With that said, we wish all of you a safe and joyous holiday season.

Train ‘em up

September 12, 2017 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

If you’re a poor soul who’s followed enough of my posts to spot patterns, you’ll spot one here. Maybe I’m a broken record, maybe I’m simple-minded, or maybe I really like baseball.  Personal development career

Baseball speaks to me. The U.S. is still a blip in the long course of human history. We cobbled together our identity from bits of preceding cultures, but baseball is one thing we claim as uniquely ours. Annie Savoy, Susan Sarandon’s character in Bull Durham, put it well:

“Walt Whitman once said, ‘I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.’ You can look it up.”

I never go very long without giving Bull Durham another look and, with the Majors moving into the stretch run, it’s been on my brain. Bull Durham serves you a tale of life at baseball’s lower rungs; the spring, summer, and fall rhythms of my adopted Carolinas; and the humor of dime-store philosophy. It’s also irreverent and bawdy, which naturally holds my attention. (I still laugh at the Little League coaches back in the day who took their teams to see the movie without doing their due diligence; those kids got an eyeful and an earful.)

Bull Durham is also a story of molding talent and potential into professional success, which is an angle I suspect interests our readers. The movie’s wise sage, Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), is a veteran minor league catcher with not-quite-enough talent but a Hall of Fame professional bearing. His apprentice, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), is a flamethrowing trainwreck of a young pitcher who’s as outlandish as his name. The big league club dispatched Crash to school Nuke in the ways of elite baseball and basic adulthood, and the two soon threw off a bit of a Yoda/Luke vibe (if Yoda were a switch-hitting whiskey aficionado and Luke had the maturity of a drunk baby).

Even still, it worked. Nuke caught on, learned to harness his wild pitches, and the big club pulled him out of the bus leagues up to the majors. Why? I think we have to credit Crash’s unconventional, wild, and uncompromising approach, which mixed odd philosophy with practical advice and forced Nuke to fail (and thus learn).

Consider the following examples that we can all adapt from time to time:

  • During a conference on the mound, Crash ordered Nuke, “Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground ballsit’s more democratic.” Very good advice. We all have other people around us to carry the load. If Nuke didn’t slow down, he may have killed his arm and spent the next three decades selling encyclopedias.
  • By that point in their lives, Crash had forgotten more baseball than Nuke might ever learn; still, he waived off Crash’s pitchesa huge no-no for just about any pitcher.  Sure enough, the next batter blasted a home run. Again on the mound, Nuke wondered, “God, that sucker teed off on that like he knew I was going to throw a fastball!” Crash turned and said, “He did know … I told him.” Lesson given, lesson learned. Nuke dutifully threw the pitches Crash called from then on. Recognize that advice is meant to channel your potential, not to hold back your supposed natural brilliance.
  • Crash didn’t limit Nuke’s lessons to baseball. There were tips on handling the sports media. There were tips about life in the majors. And there’s this gem, which isn’t all that meaningful but is too good to leave out: “When you get in a fight with a drunk you don’t hit him with your pitching hand.”  Hey, you never know what advice is going to come in handy when.

So, dear readers, which one are you? If you are Crash, are you willing to take some time and give someone the chance to fail, all in the service of making them a better person on the other end? If you are Nuke, are you willing to recognize experience and wisdom, take your lumps, and emerge better for it? I’m willing to bet that the most successful mentoring, managing, and training occurs when one is Crash, the other is Nuke, and both are crazy enough to make it work.

I just don’t think I can look that up.

Be prepared even if taking the wait-and-see approach

November 21, 2016 - by: David Kim 0 COMMENTS
David Kim

My son is addicted to movie trailers. Don’t get me wrong, I love movie trailers myself, but my son takes it to another level. I recently checked the YouTube history on the iPad we permit our kids to use and found that instead of playing games on the multitude of kid-friendly applications we downloaded, my son has been digesting trailers for upcoming movies via YouTube on a fairly regular basis. The funny thing is, it hasn’t been my five year old son, but rather my three year old who has taken to this habit, allowing me to come to four conclusions.  Coming soon in cinema hall

First, my three year old somehow knows how to navigate YouTube even better than I do. Second, now I know why my son keeps beating his chest like a gorilla and then roaring (Thank you trailer for Kong: Skull Island), as well as why he keeps asking me “Where are the beasts?” (Thank you trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). Three, I guess I need to spend Thanksgiving weekend putting some parental restrictions on the Ipad and/or YouTube before this gets really out of hand. And four, there are a lot of movies coming out soon, which makes sense because it is the holiday season.

Want comedy? Office Christmas Party (referenced in my colleague Robin Kallor’s prior post), Bad Santa 2 or Edge of Seventeen might be your cup of tea. Into comic book movies? Doctor Strange is out, but there’s also Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 coming soon. Hardcore fans of established franchises (i.e. Harry Potter and Star Wars)? Then you’ve got the aforementioned Fantastic Beasts, as well as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Interested in movies with early Oscar buzz and that range from traditional dramas to musicals to even science-fiction? Well, Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, Arrival, Fences, Patriots Day, and Passengers are just a handful of these movies.

Of course, there are certain movies that everyone has individually earmarked as a must see, based either on the strength of the trailer, or due to their personal interests. For example, I’m a Star Wars fan, so there’s no way I’m not seeing Rogue One. However, with so many movies coming out, the majority of us take a wait and see approach for most of these films. If a movie gets universal acclaim and great reviews, or friends recommend that something is a must see, then we will typically raise that movie a few notches up on our priority list.

It’s one thing to wait and see whether you want to see a particular movie. It’s an entirely different animal for employers to wait and see when it comes to compliance. However, with a new administration entering the White House, it is normal to question what changes may come, both when it comes to new regulations, as well as how recently issued regulations may be affected.

One example of this is the U.S. Department of Labor regulations with respect to overtime exemptions, which employers have likely begun preparations to comply with over the past several months. These regulations, which were published in May 2016 and become effective December 1, 2016, drastically increase the minimum salary level an employee must be paid in order to be considered exempt from overtime under the white collar exemptions. I won’t go into any further detail on these new regulations as they’ve been in the news for a long time and employers should not only know about these new rules by now, but likely have begun preparations for compliance months ago, whether it be increasing salaries, converting employees to non-exempt, or taking other appropriate business measures.

However, with a new administration in power, it is natural to ask whether there is any chance these new regulations will be modified, amended, or even repealed or overturned. Currently, there is a lawsuit pending in the Eastern District of Texas (consolidated from two separate lawsuits, one brought by over 50 business entities and organizations and the other brought by 21 states) seeking to enjoin the new overtime rules and ultimately arguing that the DOL exceeded its authority in establishing certain components of the regulation. The court has indicated it will provide a ruling on the preliminary injunction motion by November 22nd, and if injunctive relief is denied, a hearing on November 28th on the expedited summary judgment motion will be held.

Even if this litigation does not impact the new regulations, as most experts suspect, there is the possibility of legislative or other agency action that could be taken. The various options that exist are too voluminous to list or delve into here, but it is important to be aware that the coming months may shed further light on these possibilities.

The bottom line is that employers have to be prepared to comply effective December 1, 2016. Employers can certainly take a wait and see approach, balancing the cost of compliance with the risk of liability, to see whether any potential changes to the new regulations come into play through the efforts of the new administration or through judicial means. However, employers must carefully balance this risk as there is no guarantee that any relief, whether it be judicial, legislative, or executive, will occur.

Exercise Aniston-esque restraint when analyzing offensive employee posts

February 22, 2016 - by: Ed Carlstedt 0 COMMENTS
Ed Carlstedt

by Ed Carlstedt

This week’s employment law lesson comes to us from the movie Horrible Bosses. In the movie, Julia (played by Jennifer Aniston) is a dentist who employs dental assistant Dale (played by Charlie Day). After Julia uses her boss status to torture and torment Dale for most of the movie, Dale finally records her improprieties and delivers to her the following long-overdue payback speech:

This is what’s gonna happen. I’m going to take a two-week-long, very expensive holiday with my fiancée. Let’s call it a honeymoon. And YOU’RE going to pay for it! Then I’m going to return to a nice, rape-free workplace from now on. Because if you so much as LOOK at my sexy little a**, Julia, I will have yours locked the f*** up you CRAZY B**** WH***! Man, that felt GOOD!

In the movie, Dale’s quote is an amusing moment of vindication and redemption, one that Julia’s conduct warrants. You literally find yourself rooting for Dale as he delivers the obscenity-laced tirade. The notion of telling off a horrible boss without fear of reprisal is every Woman Watching Shocking Message On Social Network Late Nightaggrieved employee’s dream. And in the movie, there was nothing Aniston’s character could do other than sit there and take it. But in real life, what does an employer do when an employee posts similar obscenities about it on social media. Well, if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has anything to say about it, you might have to adopt an Aniston-esque approach to responding to the potty-mouthed employee.

In Pier Sixty, LLC, 362 NLRB No. 59 (Mar. 31, 2015), a managerial-level employee of a catering business (Bob) asked several staff-level employees to spread out during a fundraising event and stop chitchatting. One of the employees was so offended by the manager’s instructions that he posted the following on Facebook:

Bob is such a NASTY MOTHER F***** don’t know how to talk to people!!!!!! F*** his mother and his entire f****** family!!!! What a LOSER!!!! Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!

Shortly thereafter, the employer learned about the Facebook post, conducted an investigation, and terminated the employee. In analyzing the employee’s Facebook post, the NLRB found that his comments were protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) because they pertained to concerted activity and union activity. The NLRB found that the employee’s comments (all of his comments, including the F-bombs and accompanying family love-making references) were protected. Therefore, the NLRB found that the employer violated the NLRA when it terminated the employee for his participation in protected conduct, and it awarded him back pay.

Several other cases adhere to the sentiments of the Pier Sixty case, including Three D, LLC v. NLRB, 2015 WL 6161477 (2d Cir. 2015), and Whole Foods Market, Inc., 363 NLRB No. 87 (Dec. 24, 2015). These cases demonstrate that employers should be extraordinarily careful when disciplining employees over social media posts, particularly when the posts or questionable conduct pertains in any way to conditions of employment.

Based on these decisions, the NLRB and courts are likely to broadly define protected activity under the NLRA, even when the employee’s comments are riddled with profanity and make statements damaging to the employer. Thus, just like Jennifer Aniston in Horrible Bosses, employers may be forced to turn the other cheek when confronted with what appear to be obscene and inflammatory employee remarks. To the extent you are an employer considering disciplinary action based on an employee’s social media post, we highly recommend you consult with counsel before taking such action.

Don’t matter if you’re black or white

February 16, 2016 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS
Brian Kurtz

Somewhere between outrage, bewilderment, and comedy falls the news that a U.K. production company has cast very very very white actor Joseph Fiennes as Michael Jackson in Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, a short film about a rumored post-9/11 road trip involving Liz Taylor, Michael Jackson, and Marlon Brando.  hip hop funk dancer dancing man

There has been much criticism of this particular casting decision, especially against the backdrop of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. But what about any black actors who believe the casting of a white actor is discriminatory? Turns out they probably don’t have a case.

A few years ago, black applicants for ABC’s The Bachelor sued the network and the show for race discrimination. They alleged the show overwhelmingly preferred white contestants over blacks. A federal district court dismissed their action and made some interesting points. The court pointed out that the plaintiffs’ theory would call into question how certain networks target an audience (Ovation, Telemundo, BET) as well as the demographic makeup of the casts of various shows (The Shahs of Beverly Hills, The Cosby Show).

The money money quote from that decision is, “To the extent that these networks and programs discriminated and discriminate in their casting choices, would they not be subject to civil liability under prevailing state and/or federal antidiscrimination statutes, but for the First Amendment? There are other examples: Would applying anti-discrimination laws require a playwright to consider white actors to play Othello, black actors to play Macbeth, or a male to play Lady Macbeth? For that matter, could a dramatist face civil liability for staging an all-female version of Romeo & Juliet?”

Fair points.  The only thing keeping 2 Broke Girls from becoming The Golden Girls is freedom from the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The Intern: delightful movie—risky employment practice

January 12, 2016 - by: Marilyn Moran 0 COMMENTS
Marilyn Moran

Well, the Golden Globes were Sunday night and all of Hollywood tuned it to celebrate the best of film and television. One movie that was noticeably absent from the nominations (at least in my opinion) was The Intern, a heartwarming film starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway, that tells the story of a lovable retiree who interns at an e-commerce fashion company when its CEO agrees to participate in a community outreach program that places senior citizens in internships. Although the movie highlights the benefit of internships (both for the intern and the company), in recent years the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has taken a dim view of companies that use unpaid interns to augment their workforce.  Internship

Approximately half a million Americans hold unpaid internships every year, with about 40 percent of those working in the private sector for for-profit companies. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the DOL (and courts) consider six criteria for determining whether an internship can be unpaid:

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the intern’s benefit;
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities, and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern isn’t necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern isn’t entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

The DOL has found a violation when only one or two of the six factors are met, while courts usually weigh the factors more evenly. As a general rule of thumb, however, the more an internship is used to benefit the employer, and the employee performs productive work, the more likely it is that the intern is an employee and therefore entitled to be paid properly. Conversely, the more an unpaid internship program is structured around a classroom or academic experience (instead of the employer’s actual operations), the less likely the internship will be viewed as employment.

The bottom line is that if you are a for-profit employer and have unpaid interns, there is a very good chance you may be violating the FLSA. To be on the safe side, you should talk to an employment attorney about your company’s internship program or pay the interns at least minimum wage (plus overtime for any hours worked over 40 in a workweek). Oh, and while you’re at it, go see The Intern. It’s a great movie!

Per Liar Liar, performing background checks on minors can be major issue

November 02, 2015 - by: Ed Carlstedt 0 COMMENTS
Ed Carlstedt

Because I’m a lawyer and because my friends know I love movies, people frequently ask me to identify my favorite lawyer-related movies. My personal favorites are My Cousin Vinny, A Few Good Men, and Liar Liar. To the extent you agree or have lawyer-related movies you like as well, feel free to weigh in. As luck would have it, this week’s employer blog lesson comes from the well-timed juxtaposition of a client inquiry and what has to be my hundredth viewing of Jim Carrey’s Liar LiarSign on the Line

Specifically, a client in the hospitality industry recently asked whether it had to obtain parental or legal guardian consent to conduct background checks and drug screens on its minor employees. Particularly in the summer months, many restaurants and hotels hire minors. Unfortunately, many employers mistakenly use the same hiring materials regardless whether the employee is a minor or has reached the age of majority. Thus, the employers ask their minor employees to sign the required consent forms. But do these minor employees have the legal capacity to execute these forms?

This is where Jim Carrey’s eccentric, ethically challenged character in Liar Liar can teach employers a lesson. As you may recall, Carrey represents a philandering wife in her divorce proceeding in which she seeks half of her soon-to-be ex-husband’s multi-milliondollar estate. Carrey’s client, however, signed a prenuptial agreement containing a fidelity clause. A fidelity clause essentially provides that if one spouse cheats on the other, the cheating spouse isn’t entitled to recover certain identified assets in the divorce proceedings.

As luck would have it, Carrey’s client had slept with at least seven other men and the husband had audio footage of the wife “making love” to the most recent paramour. Carrey, who early in the movie was not exactly morally constrained, was fully prepared to have his client and her paramour lie about their sexual relationship. But then, Hollywood magic intervenes. Carrey’s young son, who was tired of his father’s unfulfilled paternal promises, makes a birthday wish that for one day Carrey cannot lie. The wish comes true, coincidentally, on the very day of Carrey’s family law trial.

As a result of his son’s wish, not only can Carrey not lie, but he can’t allow his clients to provide testimony that he knows is a lie. Indeed, Carrey impeaches his own star witness on the stand, causing the paramour to admit to the “lovemaking” with Carrey’s client. The movie obviously contains a more colorful description of the relationship, but I like to keep things PG. Once the paramour admits to the relationship, all hope for his client’s case appears lost. But then, while reviewing his client’s birth certificate, Carrey has an epiphany.

From the birth certificate, Carrey realizes that his client lied about her age so that she could get married. That is, Carrey’s client claimed she was 18 at the time she married the husband, when in fact she was only 17. As the name implies, Carrey’s client signed the pre-nuptial before she got married. Thus, she was a minor at the time she signed. Therefore, the agreement was void and, as Carrey put it, “[t]he fact that my client has been ridden more than Seattle Slew is irrelevant.” Once the agreement was voided, his client received half of the marital estate. “He shoots, he scores.”

So where is the lesson for employers here? Just like Carrey’s client in Liar Liar, minor employees don’t have the legal capacity to consent to background checks and drug screens. Employers hiring minors should ensure that their new hire packets include appropriate parental or legal guardian consent forms and that the forms are signed and returned.  Without such consent, employers may unintentionally be breaking various state and federal laws applicable to these areas. So, as Jim Carrey tells his recidivist criminal client after he robs someone at knifepoint, “Stop breaking the law, [expletive].”

If you have questions about background checks, drug screenings, parental consent forms, or other employment related issues, contact EntertainHR contributing writer Ed Carlstedt or another attorney with FordHarrison LLP. Ed works in the firm’s Tampa, Florida, office and can be reached at ecarlstedt@fordharrison.com.

#damonsplaining — Matt Damon can do it, but you can’t

October 05, 2015 - by: David Kim 0 COMMENTS
David Kim

Actor Matt Damon sure has had an up and down past few weeks. First, Damon made some questionable comments on HBO’s Project Greenlight, a documentary developed by DSorryamon himself (along with some famous friends including buddy Ben Affleck) focusing on first-time filmmakers being given the chance to direct a feature film. When African-American producer Effie Brown asked the judges to use caution in selecting a directing team for a film project under consideration, pointing out that the only black person on screen was a “hooker who gets hit by her white pimp,” Damon stated that in “talking about diversity” it should be done in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show [i.e., film-making team].” Damon later stated that this was a film-making competition and the job should be attained “entirely upon merit” and not other factors.

Later, in an interview with Observer Magazine to promote his new film The Martian, Damon stated his belief that one is a better actor the less people know about you, and that “sexuality is a huge part of that.” Damon further noted “it’s tough to make the argument that” Rupert Everett, an openly gay actor, “didn’t take a hit for being out” despite being a handsome and classically trained actor.

Sorry, Matt, but I don’t think people liked them apples. Whether you think Damon’s comments were taken out of context or simply misguided, the fact is that Damon took quite a hit in the media. People took offense to Damon lecturing an African-American woman about diversity and (perhaps unwittingly) contending that race and merit are mutually exclusive. As a result, #damonsplaining became a twitter sensation, defined partly as talking down to a person of color to explain something to them about their own race or culture. He also was lambasted for contending that an actor’s sexuality should remain a mystery for purposes of their art, which causes gay actors to live a secretive life (as actors would likely be assumed straight if they said nothing), denies other gay people a role model to look up to, and perpetuates the fact that LGBT individuals should be shamed to suffer in silence.

As predicted, Damon immediately went on the apology tour. He issued statements and made appearances apologizing for his comments as being misunderstood and advocating the continued discussion of diversity. And then his movie, The Martian, debuted this past week with a massive $55 million opening weekend. I’m guessing Damon is going to be all right.

Employers need to be put in a position to do damage control before the you-know-what hits the fan, like Damon was able to do. In some cases, employers, and their managers, often are given the opportunity to tell their story or state why a comment was misunderstood only after an employee has filed a charge or lawsuit for discrimination. And by this point you’re dealing with increasing litigation defense costs and worries of which side a juror may take in such a sensitive dispute.

The more proactive approach is to ensure you have a robust, written, and clear internal procedure with respect to employee complaints and/or open door policy that is communicated, and reinforced, to all employees. And ensure that all managers/supervisors are well-trained on these procedures and how to handle them. This way, when any employee goes rogue, embarks on a #damonsplaining tangent, or even makes a statement they believe is an innocent remark, any offended party can use these internal procedures and the company can resolve the dispute in a timely and efficient manner that eliminates future issues, including diminishing the likelihood of a lawsuit.

Now please forgive me, but I have to go and check what times The Martian is playing this weekend.

The Devil Wears Prada: Meryl Streep and the Queen Bee myth

Kristin Starnes Gray

You’ve seen her splashed across the big screen, small screen, computer screen, and even your tablet screen, but have you ever actually met the fabled Executive Queen Bee? We’re talking about the stereotypical top female executive who stomps on other women on her way to the top, reveling in her success while ignoring or sabotaging the advancement of other women. According to a recent study by researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland’s business school, this Executive Queen Bee is a myth.  Queen Bee

A recent Washington Post article spotlighted this intriguing study noting, “One of the most enduring stereotypes in the American workplace is that of the ‘queen bee’: the executive female who, at best, doesn’t help the women below her get ahead and, at worst, actively hinders them.” Meryl Streep (an outspoken activist for wage equality and women’s rights) famously and stylishly portrayed a fictional Queen Bee in The Devil Wears Prada, which is based on a best-selling novel of the same name. In the film and novel, Streep’s character (Miranda Priestly) alternates between coldly ignoring and hotly abusing her female minions. For example, she demands that one of her female assistants acquire the new, unpublished Harry Potter novel with the underlying threat of immediate termination for failure to complete this seemingly impossible task. Such characters clearly make for excellent box office and book sales, but are these Executive Queen Bees a reality of the modern workplace?

On the contrary, the study in question found that, in companies with female CEOs, female employees’ chances of holding other high-level positions were somewhat improved. This study casts doubt on the existence of an Executive Queen Bee and suggests that implicit company quotas are to blame for statistics showing that, after a company hired one woman to a high-ranking position (other than CEO), the chances of a second woman landing a top position decreased by approximately 50 percent. Researchers suggest that companies feel pressured to add a female executive to their upper echelon to give the appearance of diversity and then feel like their job is done.

Regardless of the reason for the disparity, we should all rest a bit easier knowing that we are probably not going to see an actual Miranda Priestly striding into the corner office and demanding an advance copy of J.K. Rowling’s next Cormoran Strike novel (set to be released on October 20, 2015, for my fellow fans of her wizard-free detective series). Employers, however, would be well advised to continue to strive for diversity rather than simply the appearance of diversity. In addition, what a wonderful professional world it would be if we all abided by the Golden Rule while also considering ways to pay it forward through mentorships or other opportunities.  Now someone bring me my autographed Career of Evil manuscript and get Joanne on the phone pronto!

Live long and diversify your workforce

March 02, 2015 - by: Andy Tanick 1 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

The death of Leonard Nimoy this week brought back many memories of the actor’s classic portrayal of Mr. Spock in the original “Star Trek” television series and subsequent movies, as well as his talents as a photographer, writer, and lecturer.Man giving Vulcan salute

Spock, as personified by Nimoy, embodied many qualities that employers value in their workforce, such as intelligence, logic, and loyalty. But as I was lying awake at night desperately trying to think of some justification for paying tribute to Nimoy–who was, by all accounts, truly a kind, thoughtful, and intellectual man–in a blog about employment law, something else struck me: how “Star Trek” depicted the ultimate diverse workplace, decades before anyone was even talking about such things.

Other television shows in the 1960s were beginning to introduce racial diversity into their fictional workplaces, such as Linc Hayes in “Mod Squad” and Peggy Fair in “Mannix,” but Star Trek took the concept to a whole new level. The U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew included not only an African-American communications officer, an Asian helmsman, a Scottish chief engineer, and a Russian ensign, but also a first officer, Spock, who was not just from another nation, but from a different planet and indeed a different species altogether (well, half of him anyway). With apologies to those who believe men are from Mars and women are from Venus, this was the first truly interplanetary workforce.

While the other diverse members of the Enterprise crew did not (as far as I can recall) really act any differently from their American, Caucasian counterparts such as Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy, Spock was a different story. Being of two different worlds, Spock would occasionally let his human emotions show, but for the most part, he conducted himself in accordance with his Vulcan heritage: cold, unemotional, and of course, very logical. The ways in which his personality and conduct varied from his human counterparts often produced conflict on the Enterprise, as well as comic relief. But ultimately, the other crew members embraced Spock and appreciated the different viewpoint and perspective he brought to their traveling workplace.

Today’s diverse workplaces often deal with similar issues, as employees learn to live and work with co-workers from different cultures–albeit not different planets or, for the most part, species. We have learned, for example, that some employees may dress differently based on the customs of their ancestry. Or maybe that a particular female co-worker from a different background may not feel comfortable shaking hands with a male client. We know that during company events, the culinary offerings should include alternatives for those employees whose cultures do not eat beef or other types of foods. And of course, different cultural backgrounds often mean different religious backgrounds. Thus, we try not to make non-Christian employees feel excluded by having “Christmas” parties or scheduling events during those employees’ important religious holidays, and we accommodate employees’ beliefs by allowing days off for religious holidays, providing prayer breaks, broadening the dress code to allow for religion-based clothing preferences, etc.

Not being a “Trekkie” myself, I can’t identify any specific “Star Trek” episode where Captain Kirk had to pause in the mission of “going where no man [or woman] [or other gender] had gone before” to order a special vegetarian meal for Officer Spock, nor do I recall any instances when Kirk had to call time out from his inter-species romantic liaisons to cover for Spock while he had the day off from work for a Vulcan holiday. But hey, it could have happened. If the Starfleet’s Human–make that “Species”–Resources professionals were earning their keep, they would have made sure that the Crew Handbook addressed the need to accommodate the cultural and religious beliefs and practices of all employees–even the ill-fated, red-shirted, anonymous crew members who would accompany the show’s stars in landing expeditions. And if any members of Starfleet didn’t want to accommodate members of different species, I’d like to think that Mr. Spock would have told them that their opposition was “highly illogical.” After all, when it comes to adapting to changing workplace demographics, resistance is futile.

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