Strange Advice: What if a Male Colleague Gets the Wrong Idea?

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Sometimes the best of intentions are communicated so badly that they land with a thud heard around the world. Such was the case when Jhana Education sent an article to their clients entitled “What if a Male Colleague Gets the Wrong Idea?” and proceeded to advise women how not to act the seductress in the workplace.

This is quite the conundrum. Normally Jhana offers a wonderful service by providing documents online to educated assortment of HR/management issues. Their clients include Google, Groupon,Ask, ModCloth and Eventbrite.

Jhana is a hosted, secure and scalable online resource with original content and tools. We provide practical guidance on a wide range of essential business topics like delegation, productivity, running meetings, coaching and more. The important stuff that’s often overlooked but critical to business success.

We’ve developed hundreds of original and practical articles, videos and tools that are available instantly through a dead-simple online platform, ensuring your managers get the help they need, when they need it. And in the process we help you identify and address hot-button issues before they spiral out of control.

So far so good, yes? But back to the aforementioned thud. I’m not sure how this article made it past Editorial. It is condescending, outdated and frankly, insulting. The article has been removed, but in true Gawker style, Jezebel has the screen shots.

The problem with the piece — besides the fact that it treats its target audience like actual sex idiots — is that it once again implies that women are responsible for how men behave and what men think. Here’s a sampling of the advice doled out:

If you act the same way — always professional, but also always like yourself — around everyone, the problematic colleague will be less likely to get the idea that you’re coming on to him. One caveat: If you’re touchy-feely or flirtatious by nature, you might want to dial it back around him and any guys from whom you sense discomfort.

See what I mean? But this one misstep is just that, a misstep from which I hope they’ve learned.

Abel Put That Camera Down: Flash Termination at Patch

On August 9, Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL held a meeting with Patch employees to announce that layoffs would be occurring within the next 7 days in order to bring Patch/AOL back to profitability.

During the meeting, Mr. Armstrong made 3 very basic statements regarding the layoffs:

  • He was fully accountable for all of the errors that were made under his leadership. “Blame it on me”
  • Media leaks didn’t bother him. “I don’t care if you leak information…leaking information or anything around Patch doesn’t bother me…”
  • He required employee re-dedication to the product. “If you don’t use Patch as a product.. you owe it to everybody else at Patch to leave.”

We all know that layoffs are very difficult for all parties involved, and Mr. Armstrong could have finessed the language a bit, but up to that point he was making valid business points. That is, until an employee took a picture.

Via Jim Romensko

“Abel, put that camera down. You’re fired. Out,” Armstrong said. After a pause of about five seconds, he then continued the call as though nothing had happened.

Then after about five more minutes of talking about whatever, he threw in “and the reason I fired Abel before was I don’t want anyone taking pictures of this meeting.” He invoked some kind of comparison to a sports team’s locker room.

This is curious for a couple of reasons. The first being that firing someone in front of a group of employees who are unsure of their own futures is like lighting a match in a kitchen with a faulty stove. It may or may not blow up, but why take the chance? Additionally, he mentioned several times that media leaks didn’t bother him, yet he fires a director for taking a picture? It’s puzzling to say the least.

But, as always, we may only have a small glimpse of what is probably a much larger picture.

You can listen for yourself here:

[via ValleyWag]

UPDATE: Mr. Armstrong has publicly apologized.

UPDATE 2: According to Jim Romenesko, 40% of the staff is being let go.

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DOMA Repeal and Workplace Benefits


What a week it’s been! The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has been very busy this week. Some good and some very bad. But today was monumental.

At 10:00 this morning, SCOTUS handed down a 5-4 decision that invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). From the SCOTUS blog:

The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.

Aside from being a major, major victory in human rights, what does this mean for the workplace?

Under DOMA, there was no recognition of same sex partnerships at the Federal level. This included pre-tax deductions for the employee’s portion of health insurance premiums. So even though a great many companies offered the availability of benefits to the employee for “domestic partner” coverage (quotes intentional), the employee was not able to take advantage of the same pre-tax benefits offered to those employees who were in an opposite sex relationship. Now that DOMA has been deemed unconstitutional, these employees in states that recognize gay marriage (or marriage as I like to call it), have the right to pre-tax benefits along with other financial benefits.

What does that mean? Essentially, when Americans get health care through their job, their employer pays part of the premium for that insurance plan. Many of those Americans may opt for a family plan that also covers their spouse. Under the current federal tax code, Americans can’t be taxed on the amount of money that their employer puts toward covering the cost of their spouse’s premium. But, while DOMA stood, the federal government couldn’t count same-sex couples as part of that rule. LGBT couples who were legally married ended up being taxed more for their health care than straight couples who were legally married. Now that DOMA is gone, some married same-sex couples won’t pay the federal government more for sharing the same health plan.

The other items of which HR should be aware are FMLA rights (not yet in place) and Green Card Sponsorship.

Emergency leave: Present law does not offer gay and lesbian employees time off from work to tend to a domestic partner or that partner’s family member, according to the Human Rights Campaign. But the guarantees provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act will soon become available to same-sex spouses.

Green cards and visas: There are an estimated 28,500 binational same-sex couples — meaning one partner is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and one isn’t — but DOMA did not allow the former to petition for the latter to immigrate, according to the Williams Institute. But gays and lesbians may now lobby the federal government for green cards or visas for a non-American same-sex partner.

So, what does HR need to do now? The best thing to do is to speak with your insurance broker along with your payroll partner to ensure that the employees affected by this ruling have access to these benefits as soon as possible.

After all, these employees have already waited far, far, far too long.

Oatmeal DOMA

Vance v. Ball State University – SCOTUS Defines “Supervisor”

Sonia Sotomayor, Samuel Alito (photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)

A very important ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States came down today defining (again?) what a supervisor truly is. And made it a little more difficult for an employee to sue for harasssment.

Under Title VII and reinforced with the Faragher/Ellerth Defense, a supervisor is defined as an agent of an employer who has the authority to hire, fire, demote, transfer, discipline or otherwise direct the work of a subordinate employee. Should the supervisor harass or otherwise act in a discriminatory manner or fail to report harassment, the company can be held liable for the actions of the supervisor .

But what happens if an employee works regularly with a company supervisor who can direct work on a daily basis, but not have the ability to hire, fire, etc.? The case before the Court, Vance v. Ball State University , takes this question into consideration.

The theory behind this substitute liability for the employer is that a worker who is the victim of workplace bias is less likely to challenge a supervisor than a fellow employee, because of what the supervisor might do in response. So, the theory goes, the supervisor’s rank contributes to the discrimination on behalf of the employer. A mere fellow employee’s biased actions toward a victim, though, is not to be blamed on the employer, unless the employer was negligent about what was happening in the workrooms.

The facts of the case involved an Maetta Vance, an African-American employee who was allegedly harassed by at least two employees in supervisory positions although neither was Ms. Vance’s supervisor. Ms. Vance subsequently sued Ball State University for harassment by a supervisor. The University did not agree that either of the alleged harassers were considered supervisors as they did not have the authority to hire/fire Ms. Vance. Both the The District Court and Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed with the University. Which is how wound up before the SCOTUS. In a 5-4 decision, determined that a supervisor is as it was originally defined, an agent of the company with the ability to hire and fire.

This is an interesting decision that, in my opinion, takes a very antiquated view on the workplace. More companies than not have very blurry lines when it comes to supervisory duties and very often it’s the CEO who solely owns the ability to hire and fire. And it seems Justice Ruth Bader agrees (as Justice Alito rolls his eyes)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the dissent, the court’s decision “strikes from the supervisory category employees who control the day-to-day schedules and assignments of others,” which “ignores the conditions under which members of the work force labor.”

Ginsburg added, “the Court embraces a position that relieves scores of employers of responsibility for the behavior of the supervisors they employ.” During oral arguments, Justice Elena Kagan cited the abuse of a secretary whose boss “subjects that secretary to living hell, [a] complete hostile work environment on the basis of sex,” but because the choice of hiring or firing her lies elsewhere, is able to get away with it.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. I’ll bring the popcorn.

The Affordable Care Act – Tick Tock

As we all know, the 2014 regulations of the Affordable Care Act (aka PPACA aka Obamacare) are going in to effect in just about six months.

Are you ready for it?

Luckily there is plenty of information out there to help employers make their way through, but sometimes the amount of information can be as confusing as the source of the information. Below are just a few examples of checklists and information that I think to be among the most straightforward:

Speaking of tax information… Self-Insurers – take heed. The IRS has revised Form 720, the “Quarterly Federal Excise Tax Return” to take into consideration the Patient Centered Outcome Research Institue (PCORI) and is due July 31, 2013.

The PCORI is tasked with “advancing the quality and relevance of evidence-based medicine through the synthesis and dissemination of comparative clinical effectiveness research findings” and is funded by a new fee imposed on medical plans.

The new fee affects all plans with plan years ending on and after October 1, 2012. For plan years ending before October 1, 2013, the fee is $1 times the average number of people covered under the plan. Fees are due no later than July 31 of the year following the last day of the plan year..

Luckily, the IRS has ruled that these PCORI fees are deductible

Finally, here’s a video explaining the ACA from KPMG. It isn’t incredibly exciting, but it does get to to the heart of the matter in very plain English.

That’s it for now. Although I do suspect that I will be posting more about this subject as we get closer to January…

“Ugly” Employees Fare Worse

A study done by the University of Michigan showed that employees considered unattractive are more likely to be bullied in the workplace.

The researchers surveyed 114 workers at a health care facility in the southeastern United States. The workers were asked how often their co-workers engaged in cruel behavior toward them (which included saying hurtful things, acting rudely and making fun of them).

People who didn’t know the study participants judged their attractiveness from digital photos.

The unattractive workers were treated much more harshly than attractive employees even when other key factors were taken into account, including age, gender and how long they had worked at the health care facility.

While these are not surprising, they are somewhat disheartening. Throughout our lives we’re taught to treat each other with respect and dignity at all times. The workplace should be no exception. But when you get a group of people together en masse, without the right management, the environment can regress to a high school level.

“Although we like to think we’re professional and mature in the workplace, it can be just like high school in many ways,” said Brent Scott, one of the study’s lead investigators.

The best way to avoid this is to train your managers to hire and evaluate based upon the employee’s skills, not upon how the employee looks, and how the employee meets the requirements of the job.

After all, beauty is truly only in the eye of the beholder.

America’s Worst Charities

It’s always a good thing when companies decide to give back the community, however things can go terribly awry if well intentions are misused and mishandled.

The Tampa Bay Times in collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting and as of June 2013, CNN, have put together a fairly comprehensive list of “America’s Worst Charities“, using data from the last 10 years. In developing the study, researchers found the following:

  • The 50 worst charities in America devote less than 4 percent of donations raised to direct cash aid. Some charities give even less. Over a decade, one diabetes charity raised nearly $14 million and gave about $10,000 to patients. Six spent nothing at all on direct cash aid.
  • Even as they plead for financial support, operators at many of the 50 worst charities have lied to donors about where their money goes, taken multiple salaries, secretly paid themselves consulting fees or arranged fundraising contracts with friends. One cancer charity paid a company owned by the president’s son nearly $18 million over eight years to solicit funds. A medical charity paid its biggest research grant to its president’s own for-profit company.
  • Some nonprofits are little more than fronts for fundraising companies, which bankroll their startup costs, lock them into exclusive contracts at exorbitant rates and even drive the charities into debt. Florida-based Project Cure has raised more than $65 million since 1998, but every year has wound up owing its fundraiser more than what was raised. According to its latest financial filing, the nonprofit is $3 million in debt.
  • To disguise the meager amount of money that reaches those in need, charities use accounting tricks and inflate the value of donated dollar store cast-offs – snack cakes and air fresheners – that they give to dying cancer patients and homeless veterans.

Among the worst offenders named is the Reynolds family.

After spending nearly 20 years building Cancer Fund, the family began spinning off new cancer charities, each with a similar mission and a relative or close associate in control. The family has founded five cancer charities that pay executive salaries to nearly a dozen relatives.

Shame on them.

It’s not all bad news, however, the milk of human kindness does flow rapidly with these charities who only want to do good.

If you are thinking about starting a philanthropic program, make sure you do your research. Organizations like Charity Watch, Charity Navigator and Guidestar are just a few that can help you ensure that your company’s (and your employees’) money is going to a legitimate cause.

Rapid Realty – Tattoo for a Raise

Rapid Realty, a New York City based firm, has found a very unique way to reward its employees. Get a tattoo of the company logo anywhere on your body and you’ll get a permanent increase for every sale made.

Sorry to be a downer here, but this “incentive program” is extremely risky (and tacky) at best. There are a number of religions that forbid tattoos. If the employee follows this tenet of his/her religion, then he/she is not is not eligible for the permanent increase as described. In other words, religious discrimination.

Per the EEOC:

Religious Discrimination
Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.

Religious discrimination can also involve treating someone differently because that person is married to (or associated with) an individual of a particular religion or because of his or her connection with a religious organization or group.

Religious Discrimination & Work Situations
The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

Besides, NY is still an at-will state. And while the company is paying for the tattoo now, I doubt they’ll be paying for the laser removal when the inked up employee leaves.