Helping You Move In The Right Direction

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As an employer in California, you no doubt want to provide whatever elements will help contribute to a productive working environment. That desire is often counterbalanced, however, by the understanding that you can only give to a certain extent when it comes to accommodating employee requests.

The advice given to many people is to understand the accommodation requirements mandated by law. That includes accommodations for your employees who are new mothers just returning to work. One need many may have is needing to express breastmilk during working hours. As this can be a particularly sensitive issue, it behooves you to know what the law requires you to do to assist in this regard, and how you can best meet their needs.

Your legal obligation to new mothers

Per the U.S. Department of Labor, you must provide reasonable break time to new mothers on your staff to allow them to express breast milk. This time should not count against their standard break and/or lunchtimes. In addition, you must provide them with a place where they can comfortably and discreetly see to this (in a place other than your office’s bathroom).

Tips for accommodating nursing mothers at work

You can work with employees needing this accommodation to make the experience work more smoothly for all parties involved. Start by ensuring that they have the location needed to express breast milk in private (perhaps an empty office or conference room) where they can preferably lock the door. Talk with your other employees about rearranging meeting and break schedules in order to maintain productivity while a new mother takes her needed break.

Virtually everyone who owns or operates a business is familiar with the concept of diversity and inclusion. While the catchphrase is becoming increasingly common among colleagues, not everyone knows exactly what this entails. The greater difficulty comes in a lack of understanding about how to create an inclusive company culture.

Meeting diversity goals is one thing. However, statistics can fall short unless workers feel as though they are a valuable part of a team. So, what paradigm shifts could promote internal success?

Three ways to increase inclusivity at work

Despite the desire for a diverse workforce, business leaders often struggle to find positive solutions. There may not be one be-all-and-end-all way to implement changes, yet the following approaches may be helpful:

  • Involve organizational leadership during ideation, instead of solely relying on a program designed by external experts. Relying on managers’ hands-on perspective and initiative can go a long way in both formulating and implementing results-oriented improvements applicable to a specific environment.
  • Develop a way for employees to file confidential complaints about harassment or discrimination. Rather than allowing maltreatment to continue out of fear of retaliation, workers must have a way to speak up to draw attention to the challenges that exist within an organization.
  • Consider unbiased hiring practices. Some technological tools may unintentionally remove certain applicants from the job pool. Teams that accurately represent the population rely on technology free from implicit biases.

The overarching goal of developing equal opportunities within a workplace may seem daunting – perhaps even impossible.

However, even when steps don’t provide desired results, efforts indicate recognition of changes that must take place. As with any product or service on the market, being open to trial and error can lead to progress.

According to BuiltIn, diversity and inclusion are separate concepts that rely on each other to succeed. On the one hand, diversity refers to the characteristics and traits that make a person unique, such as his or her race, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. Inclusion, on the other hand, refers to the behaviors or social norms that ensure all persons, regardless of their unique characteristics, feel welcome.

BuiltIn further expands on its definition of inclusion. Per the organization, for a workplace to be “inclusive,” it must provide equal access to resources and opportunities to all individuals. Moreover, every person throughout the organization should receive fair and respectful treatment, and feel accepted, encouraged and valued.

All that said, inclusion sounds nice, but what does it look like in action? Gallup provides a few solid examples.

Intention at every level

According to Gallup, inclusion requires the efforts of every individual at every level, from the entry-level employees to the senior executives. An inclusive work environment is one in which every person, regardless of position, assumes responsibility for the company’s success, and in which every person recognizes the efforts of all others.

Employees who feel valued

In a truly inclusive work environment, no employee questions their strengths, and each feels valued because of what they know they can offer. Employees are motivated to use their strengths to advance the goals of the company and to identify any blind spots.

Leaders who care

In an inclusive workspace, leaders hire, assign work, make promotions and evaluate salaries based on purely objective standards — and they ensure department managers do the same. These leaders cultivate environments in which employees feel safe to express themselves and to raise any concerns without fear of retaliation. They focus on each workers’ strengths and offer ways to cultivate those strengths through development, encouragement and celebration. Finally, they value collaboration and innovation, and they understand that the best outcomes are the result of a collective effort.

Many employers include mandatory arbitration clauses in their employment agreements. These clauses basically say that an employee will first go through arbitration for any employment disputes before he or she files a lawsuit with the court. 

In California, there has been a recent attempt to strike down these mandatory arbitration clauses, but Reuters explains that a U.S. District court put a halt to a law that would go into effect in 2020 for a ban on the clauses. 

New law

A new law passed by the California legislature aimed to stop employers from using mandatory arbitration clauses in employment agreements. It would go into effect on January 1, 2020. It would have put into place potential criminal penalties for breaking the law and using such a clause. 

Injunction

According to the California Dental Association, a judge’s ruling put the law on hold in coordination with previous restraining orders that went into effect at the end of 2019. Business organizations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claim this law violates the Federal Arbitration Act and therefore is not legal. 

As long as the injunction remains in place, the law is not enforceable. The court will likely hear more in this situation to allow it to reach a final decision on whether this law is valid or if it does violate federal law. In the meantime, employers continue to have the right to include mandatory arbitration clauses in any employment agreement. 

As always employees have the right to refuse to sign such an agreement, but the employer would then have the right to refuse to hire that person. 

If the company for which you work is like most companies today, it wants to increase the diversity of its workforce. While setting hiring quotas for particular kinds of workers, such as those of certain races and ethnicities or those with disabilities, may seem like a good approach, the Society for Human Resource Management warns that doing so may put your company at risk for lawsuits alleging discrimination. 

The better approach, per SHRM, consists of widening your company’s entire candidate pool. 

Diversity-enhancing strategies

Some good suggestions for doing this consist of the following: 

  • Encourage your current employees to refer diverse candidates whenever a job opening occurs. You may even want to consider increasing the amount of the referral bonus you pay your employees when they refer diverse candidates. 
  • Place your job ads on a specially created page of your company’s website that stresses your company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. 
  • Remove all unnecessarily restrictive language from your job qualification lists, such as educational attainment level or years of experience, unless the jobs in question require them. 
  • Obtain advice and help from local educational institutions and activist groups. 
  • Update your company’s employee benefit package to include things that appeal to the most diverse possible groups, such as health coverage for domestic partners as well as spouses, family-friendly work schedules, etc. 

Taking these and other steps to increase the diversity of your company’s potential employment pool ensures that your workforce will, in fact, become more diverse. It also lessens the chance that someone belonging to a protected category may file a lawsuit alleging that your company uses discriminatory hiring practices. 

As the nation continues to evaluate its relationship with racial equality, employers and employees across all sectors understandably may be looking at their workplaces with new points of view.

The concept of diversity in the workplace is anything but new, yet it has been fully realized. A fresh approach to this topic may benefit companies and individuals alike.

Diversity includes race and more

As Forbes explains, racial equality at work is only one form of diversity. Discrimination or lack of equal opportunity in a professional setting may as well be experienced by persons of different genders, religions, sexual orientations and more. Many employees may encompass more than one factor, such as an African American woman.

Recruiting and hiring is just the start

A report by NPR indicates that simply hiring people of different backgrounds, religious beliefs and more does not completely address the issue of diversity in the workplace. The daily policies and company culture that employees experience can have a direct impact in truly embracing or blocking diversity. A culture may or may not allow a person to feel empowered to dress or wear their hair in a manner in line with their cultural heritage, for example.

Consider new ways of recruiting

When job applications for professional or leadership positions predominately reflect one or two societal groups only, a company may find it beneficial to consider alternative recruitment methods or locations.

When seeking employees for entry-level positions, for example, a company may launch a recruitment campaign targeted at graduating seniors from historically black universities and colleges versus those institutions where the bulk of students are white.

If you are opening a new California business or expanding an existing operation, you may be hiring workers for the first time. You must abide by the state’s wage and hour laws to avoid a costly lawsuit.

Review and understand the required break and lunch periods for California employees.

Meal periods

State law mandates a meal break of at least 30 minutes for every five hours an employee works. However, you and the worker can agree to skip the meal break if he or she works less than six hours. The same rule applies to waive a second meal break after at least 10 but less than 12 hours of work.

The employee can agree to an on-duty meal period. You do not have to allow employees who work through a meal break to leave early, but you must pay a worker for this type of break. For unpaid meal breaks, the person must be completely free of duty for the entire time.

Exceptions

If you manage California workers in the motion picture industry, they cannot work more than six hours without a 30-to-60-minute meal break. You must allow employees to take a second meal break if they are still working within six hours of the end of the first meal break.

If your company fails to meet these meal break requirements, affected employees can file a claim with the state’s Division of Labor. If the complaint has merit, you must pay the affected workers one hour of pay for every past workday on which they did not get a meal break.

If your company is lacking in diversity, it could signal a need for a diversity initiative. After all, you do not want to violate (or appear to violate) anti-discrimination statutes.

The ACLU notes that the law allows you to set inclusion goals as long as you are careful to keep these in compliance with the law.

Raising the numbers

A number is low if you have a significant imbalance between how many members of a protected group work in your company versus how many work in the labor pool for that particular job outside your company. Your goal is to identify the barriers that have kept the number low in your company and eliminate those through tailored measures.

Setting numerical goals

You cannot set a specific quota or set a certain number of jobs aside for the protected class. For example, you cannot reserve the next six positions for a specific protected class. However, you can set short-term goals such as achieving a measurable statistical improvement each year until you have reached the percentage that meets the larger goal.

Choosing qualified applicants

If you choose not to hire people outside that demographic even though they are more qualified, or fire them to free up a certain number of jobs so you can fill them with the protected class, this causes undue harm. You can only fill relevant positions with people from the protected class who have the qualifications necessary to perform the job.

Identifying solutions

You may need to hire more people, but perhaps part of the problem is the lack of training within the company or biases in the promotion process. You may need to hire a professional from outside the company to assess these factors and help you to identify barriers and solutions.

Allegations of harassment and discrimination within a place of work can have a damaging impact on your business. It is crucial for employers to create an encouraging and welcoming environment for all workers, while also taking claims of discrimination seriously when they arise.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission urges employers to use the following guide to ensure they are setting the right example. Not only will this help you avoid possible legal issues, it will also make your business a better place to be for your staff.

Make diversity a goal when hiring new employees

Qualified candidates for employment do not just exist in one particular group. The fact is that there are many amazing candidates out there, and expanding the pool of contenders to include all people is encouraged in the workplace. Standards for hiring should be objective and based on a person’s qualifications, not their appearance or ethnic background. The same push for diversity should also be present when it comes to promoting workers within an organization.

Promote inclusion in your workplace

An inclusive workplace is one in which every person feels welcomed. Respect for your fellow co-worker is key in this regard, which entails employees treating each other as equals regardless of any differences between them. Modeling these behaviors for your staff is the best way to promote inclusion. Along with treating others with respect, you can also take swift action when issues arise.

Implement a policy for dealing with harassment and discrimination

While taking the above steps should make for a healthier working environment, it will not completely do away with discrimination and harassment. A transparent process should be put into place to deal with claims against other employees. All claims should be investigated in a timely manner using pre-established policies. Employees should also be well-aware of how to report instances of wrongdoing, and it is recommended instructions for reporting should be clearly explained in employee handbooks.

An employee who believes that you have violated his or her rights may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC then decides whether to dismiss the complaint or accept it.

If it decides to accept the claim, the EEOC will then conduct its own non-adversarial investigation into the claims your employee has made in the complaint. The expectation is that you will cooperate with the investigation. So that you understand what you can expect, here are answers to questions you may have about the investigation process.

1. What sort of complaints does the EEOC investigate?

The EEOC may choose to investigate claims against your company related to allegations of retaliation, discrimination or harassment, to cite a few examples. If the EEOC decides to investigate such a complaint, you will receive notification of the charge levied against your business.

2. How long does the EEOC have to investigate the complaint?

Upon receiving the initial complaint, the EEOC has 180 days from the date of filing to complete the investigation. However, if the complaint becomes consolidated with another or otherwise amended, the EEOC must complete its investigation within 360 days of the original filing or 180 days of the latest filing, whichever is earlier.

3. What happens during the investigation?

There are a number of investigative methods at the EEOC’s disposal to look into the matter. You may receive a request for information, to which you have to make an appropriate response. You may have to submit a Statement of Position presenting your side of the story. You may also have to participate in a fact-finding conference or a one-on-one interview with representatives of the EEOC and help arrange witness interviews with employees.

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