Editor’s note: Today TLNT is launching a new column called “ER Trips.” Each installment will be a new trip into the world of employee relations to provide you with insights to help you avoid tripping over thorny issues at work. The column will be written by Kayla Moncayo, an ER professional and self-proclaimed HR fire-breather. Buckle up! Things are bound to get bumpy.
Not long ago, two colleagues found themselves in a debate about best practice. Both were subject matter experts, respected in their fields, and expected to weigh in on these best-practice matters.
One employee has a transgender daughter, and one does not. As the debate increased, the employee without a transgender daughter placed this sign outside of her own office, right across from her colleague’s door:
Of course, you may recall this incident. The press covered this story because the colleagues were Congressional members debating The Equality Act making its way through the Senate. Majorie Taylor Greene (R) hung the sign outside of Marie Newman’s (D) office after debate about the Act heated up not long ago.
Prior, Newman had hung a “Trust The Science” sign, as well as a trans flag, outside of her door, intending for Greene to see them everyday. So it was fairly clear that Greene’s anti-trans sign was in response to Newman’s messages.
While the press continued to cover this as a story about Republicans and Democrats, every HR professional rubbed their temples at this oh-so-familiar workplace harassment dance happening inside the U.S.government. Yet regardless of these two women being in Congress, the fact remains that their work offices are in the same hallway, they have fundamentally different beliefs causing friction in the office, and Greene has a history of hate speech in the workplace.
It’s an employee relations nightmare. And a foggy one, at that.
The EEOC defines harassment as “…unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”
The foggy area that the American government found itself in as an employer with this specific instance is in the simplicity of the EEOC’s outdated definition. Newman is not transgender herself, so although Greene’s own colleagues had stripped her of her committee titles because of her frequent hate speech, the debacle of hanging a sign outside of her colleague’s office may not constitute legal “harassment.”
But it could certainly be considered workplace bullying, which is a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes either physical or emotional harm. Except, there’s no U.S. law against workplace bullying, unlike with our European friends.
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Nonetheless, Greene is an employment lawsuit ticking time bomb and each time she’s accused, and her actions have been substantiated mostly by her own Twitter feed, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that she targets protected classes within her workplace.
The real question for HR professionals is: Are you willing to be the bomb squad for your own org?
All across our companies are Marjorie Greenes, ticking time bombs flirting with EEOC definitions. They are kicking holes through the walls of psychological safety in your workplace. They are begging you to spend your bottom line on legal fees and PR invoices when their stories finally break.
All too often, though, employers find themselves in reactive bomb detonation instead of proactive bomb searches — and the costs are so much more than monetary.
It is therefore imperative that we stop waiting for the EEOC to catch up and instead set strong workplace boundaries that enable time bombs to be removed immediately. You can make safer workplaces by engaging your HR Bomb Squad in the following ways:
- Write people-centered policies that exceed federal and state legislation. Start with how you want your loved ones to be treated at work, and write policies that ensure that type of treatment. People-centered policies allow the HR Bomb Squad to remove a bomb with less fight from the business.
- Empower managers to put culture first. Simon Sinek says it best in a two-minute video about Seal Team Six of the Navy Seals picking culture fit over high performers. It is critical that we teach our managers that culture will always be more important than hard skills. Culture will get you to performance every time, and it will reduce the amount of time bombs that the HR Bomb Squad has to remove.
- Sweep like hell. Bomb squads sweep buildings, crowds, and luggage like people’s lives depend on it…because they do. You must have a pulse on more than just your stakeholders. Anonymous surveys, 360-leadership reviews, Slack channels dedicated to feedback, and old-fashioned monthly (virtual) office hours during which employees can come to you to give you a real sweep of the land are absolute musts for the HR Bomb Squad.
There are Marjorie Greenes spread throughout our workforces, and it’s our job to become HR Bomb Squads to mitigate risk and ensure the safety of the people we serve every day. Don’t fog this up, HR.