Addressing Domestic Violence Problems in the Workplace

DVAM_Posters2October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I shouldn’t let it close without acknowledging the impact of domestic violence in the workplace.

Over one million women and over 800,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States. With that many people impacted, you can be sure that some percentage of your workforce has dealt with domestic violence issues in their families.

Managers and Human Resources professionals need to know how to address domestic violence issues when they surface in the workplace. Not only can domestic violence bring its violence into the work site, but the victim might also have performance issues, when she (or he) is injured and cannot do the job, unable to come to work, or emotionally unstable because of the abuse.

The goals in addressing domestic violence should be (1) care and concern for victims of abuse, (2) maintaining the safety of the entire workforce, and (3) improving the productivity of your employees. While you need to have a victim-centered approach to the problem, you also have a duty to the workforce as a whole. In some situations, you might need to raise the issue of domestic violence to protect yourself and others at work.

There are many employment law issues that can arise in domestic violence situations, including questions under Family & Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and federal and state sex discrimination laws. Consult an employment law attorney if you suspect an employee is a victim of domestic abuse that is causing concern in your workplace.

When I worked in an employee relations capacity at one employer, we had to tell an employee not to come to work to minimize the likelihood of her abusive spouse trying to follow her to work. She was able to get to relatives out of town, but her absence raised questions of pay for the time off and how to code the absence. We agreed to pay her for her absence, and showed it as a personal leave that did not impact her attendance rating.

For another example of a domestic violence situation that spilled over into the workplace, see here.

If you feel you need to explore whether domestic violence is an issue for your employee, questions to start with might include

  • Do you feel safe at work?
  • Do you feel safe coming to work and going home?
  • If you think you need them, do you have any difficulty using the physical and mental health benefits we provide?

These questions start with workplace issues and may permit your employees to engage in discussions of problems in their home lives.

Keep a list of local domestic violence resources available, including phone numbers for hotlines and women’s shelters. Remember that many victims are men, so know which resources provide services for male victims as well. Your state’s domestic violence coalition website will probably have good resources in your area. To find your state’s coalition, click here.

Also, get some materials from these local resources to keep in your Human Resources area so employees can contact these domestic violence services on their own. Employee Assistance Program referral information is also important to have at hand.

Here are some other things you can do to minimize the risk of violence in your workplace:

  • Whatever you do, be aware of your own safety and the safety of other employees. Review your workplace security procedures and have a security guard close by. If you don’t have security guards, have another manager or trusted employee within shouting distance who can make an emergency call.
  • Where you think there is a serious risk of violence in the workplace, alert local law enforcement and ask them to patrol your premises or stand by while you talk to the employee.
  • Make your staff aware that they should not give out last names, addresses, home phone numbers, personal email addresses, and other personal contact information of any employee to anyone other than approved managers.
  • Similarly, instruct your staff to talk only to employees about work-related matters. They should not talk to employees’ family members without specific approval from the employee, which should be requested only when absolutely necessary.

Remember, you cannot force employees to use any the EAP or any other domestic violence resources you offer. But it is your duty to take all appropriate measures to reduce the likelihood of domestic violence problems spilling over into the workplace and harming your workforce or reducing your organization’s effectiveness.

When have you had to address a domestic violence issue in your workplace?

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Crisis Management: Lessons from Ebola for All Employers

ebolaUntil a few days ago, I didn’t think the Ebola crisis was likely to have much impact on the American workforce. I still don’t think that most U.S. employers will have to deal with Ebola exposure on their premises. But as I listen to the news, I have come to believe that there are lessons that all employers can learn from what has happened since the first Ebola patient was identified in Dallas.

First, let me emphasize that employers in the healthcare field do need to prepare immediately for the possibility of their employees being exposed to Ebola. They need a plan to implement at a moment’s notice. I am not experienced in dealing with infectious diseases, so I won’t presume to tell healthcare managers how to address the risks to their employees.

Second, many workplaces have had to deal with health scares in the recent past, from the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) to the 2009 swine flu (H1-N1) pandemic. Even if Ebola does not spread, other health issues will impact employers in the future. We all need to be prepared.

pulsenet-team-300pxFor the general employer population, here are some questions we should be asking:

On Health Scares:

1. What should we do if employees report exposure to Ebola or another infectious disease? Do we quarantine them? Will we pay them while they cannot work? What monetary and non-monetary support will we provide them and their families or help them obtain from other community resources?

2. Will we change our travel requirements for employees in response to health concerns? If so, how will we get necessary work and communications done with less travel?

3. How will we address our employees’ fears?

4. What has worked and not worked in the responses from the Centers for Disease Control, from the Dallas hospital where Ebola was first found in the U.S., and from the White House? How will we prepare to do better if we are faced with impact from a pandemic in our workplace?

5. Do we know who the local authorities are dealing with health disasters in our area? How do we build channels of communication now?

On Non-Health Crises:

6. If our next disaster is not Ebola (and it probably won’t be Ebola), what is the most likely risk to my company’s employees? How are we working to reduce that risk?

7. If something deadly happens in our workplace, how will we communicate? What audiences will we need to talk to, and what messages does each audience need to hear? Who will be our spokesperson?

It is the responsibility of leaders in every organization to reduce the number of “unknown unknowns.” Only by asking questions such as these, can you be prepared. You may not know what will cause a crisis in your organization, but something will. “How might we handle that?” is a far better thing for leaders to say than “That will never happen here.”

For other posts on crisis management, click here and here.

What is your organization doing to reduce its risks? What are you doing?

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Recognize Conflict Resolution Day on October 16

CRDayWebBanner2014 (1)The Association for Conflict Resolution sponsors Conflict Resolution Day this year on October 16, 2014. The primary purpose of the day is to promote awareness of mediation, arbitration, and other forms of conflict resolution in schools, families, businesses, communities, governments, and the legal system.

As an employment attorney and Human Resources practitioner, I am most aware of how important conflict resolution is in the workplace. How many times have small differences of opinion or small slights between co-workers grown into unsolvable problems?

Managers, HR people, and others in corporate roles should think this week about how to reduce conflict in their workplaces. Some conflict is healthy, of course, but only if the conflict is managed in healthy ways. Managing conflict requires first that it be recognized, and second that there be non-inflammatory methods to reduce and resolve the conflict.

Here are some suggestions of actions to take this week to manage conflict in the workplace:

  • Contact a colleague with whom you have had difficulties and take him or her out to lunch to listen to his or her perspective. Just listen.
  • Get your team together to raise issues where time, budget, and other resources are too scarce. Develop a plan for how decisions on these issues will be made in the future—note that you don’t have to resolve the resource allocation issues themselves, but only agree on the process for decision-making.
  • Develop diversity programs to address conflict over differences in perceptions based on race, gender, and other perspectives. It helps to start small on what can be very emotional issues.
  • Begin to develop an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process in your organization, which might include mediation, peer review, arbitration, and other tools, before employees bring legal claims against the organization.
  • If your organization already has diversity and/or ADR programs in place, use this week to publicize them. Ask for suggestions on how to improve them.
  • Conduct conflict resolution training for customer service representatives in your organization designed to address customer problems before they escalate toward formal complaints and lawsuits.
  • Recognize the best conflict resolution leaders in your organization. These aren’t necessarily the people who paper over issues the best. These are the people who can constructively address conflict in ways that all involved believe are fair and respectful.

These ideas are not limited to corporate workplaces, but can apply in nonprofits, government agencies, schools, and other workplaces as well.

What other ideas do you have for promoting Conflict Resolution Day in your organization?

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Hanlon’s Razor Explains (Almost) Everything

How did I live almost six decades without hearing about Hanlon’s Razor? I read an article in The Wall Street Journal on September 25, 2014, titled The Source of Bad Writing, by Steven Pinker, which described this theorem. Hanlon’s Razor and its corollaries explain almost everything in life.

Hanlon’s Razor states:

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Although no one is certain where this saying came from—variations of the adage have been attributed to persons as diverse as William James, Albert Einstein, and Robert Heinlein—it does explain a lot. One variation states:

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.

If you want to be even more forgiving, here is a more complete series of postulates derived from Hanlon’s Razor. These statements may not be provable, but I believe them to be true:

  • Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice.
  • Never assume stupidity when ignorance will suffice.
  • Never assume ignorance when forgivable error will suffice
  • Never assume error when information you hadn’t adequately accounted for will suffice.

See, which cites here, which links here.

In The Wall Street Journal article the theorem was used to explain why so much writing is bad. According to author Steven Pinker, bad writing results from knowledgeable people simply not understanding that not everyone knows what they know. He says:

The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation of why good people write bad prose. It simply doesn’t occur to the writer that her readers don’t know what she knows—that they haven’t mastered the argot of her guild, can’t divine the missing steps that seem too obvious to mention, have no way to visualize a scene that to her is as clear as day. And so the writer doesn’t bother to explain the jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply the necessary detail.

What is required, according to Pinker, is that writers get feedback from their readers to find out what is unintelligible in their writing.

How many times have you thought someone had it in for you? I think it is human nature to jump to this conclusion when we are thwarted by bosses and co-workers, spouses and annoying relatives, bad drivers and government clerks. The reality is that the people we encounter in life are simply ignorant or have not considered our point of view, just as we are probably not considering theirs when we jump to the conclusion that they want to harm us.

In my own life, I can apply Hanlon’s Razor and its corollaries to:

  • The idiot cab driver who cut me off on the freeway yesterday, who probably just didn’t see my vehicle when he realized his lane was ending.
  • The parties in a mediation who can’t resolve their dispute, when I can see clearly what they ought to do.
  • My family members, when they again do something I have asked them many times not to do. They probably just forgot.
  • My nemeses, when they behave in ways seemingly designed to thwart me, but probably are just pursuing their own misguided agendas.

I’m not saying that there aren’t times when people want to hurt you. But those times are far fewer than we first believe. Now that I know about Hanlon’s Razor, I’ll try to remember that it’s ignorance and stupidity that causes problems, not necessarily malice.

Can Hanlon’s Razor explain some of the problems in your life?


Filed under Human Resources, Management, Mediation, Workplace, Writing

Play For More Than You Can Afford To Lose

My novel, Playing the Game, is in large part about leadership. The epigraph in the novel is a quote from Winston Churchill:

“Play the game for more than you can afford to lose . . . only then will you learn the game.”

I took the title of my book from this quote. One of the themes in the novel is that there are people in leadership roles who are unwilling or unable to lead, and others who would like to lead who don’t have the opportunity.

I’ve seen many attributions of this quote to Winston Churchill, but I haven’t been able to find the context in which he said it. For me, it means that you have to throw your whole self into what you’re doing, if you want to become good at it. Risk more than you can afford, and then you’ll learn what the “game”-whatever your game is-is all about.

As people read my novel, I hope they will think about the characters I created. Do any of these characters risk everything? Which are pulling back? In what ways to they pull back, and why?

I also hope readers will reflect on their own lives, as I reflected on mine while I wrote the book.

When do I risk more than I can afford to lose? Not very often.

When am I willing to risk something? Frequently. If I hadn’t risked my time and effort and been willing to face some ridicule from colleagues and friends, I would never have published a novel.

I am proud of my novel, and hope that you will take a look at it. You can find it here on Amazon and here on Barnes & Noble.

Thank you, and good luck as you strive to play the game.

Churchill quote


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U.S. Firms Face Increasing Difficulty Obtaining L Visas For Foreign Employees

USCIS bldgOver two and a half years ago I wrote that the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service was restricting their issuance of L visas. This problem continues.

According to one immigration attorney, the L-1B denial rate has increased from 27% in FY2011 to 34% in FY2013. See also US L-1B visa refusal rates increase, March 31, 2104, on

L visas permit managers and employees with specialized knowledge who work for foreign affiliates of U.S. companies to come to the United States to work for the U.S. branches of their firms. L visas help American businesses operate seamlessly around the world, moving talent where the company determines it makes most sense for their managers and key employees to work.

When a company is willing to bear the expense of applying for an L visa for an employee, it is likely that it makes economic sense to the firm to transfer the employee, rather than to find and train an American worker for the job. In my own experience, corporations move their key employees to bring needed knowledge and skills to the U.S. or to further the careers of these critical workers. They don’t go to the trouble of transferring an employee on a whim.

As one immigration attorney told me,

“My client has spent a lot of money on trying to get this employee to work in the U.S. That alone should tell USCIS he’s got specialized knowledge.”

Yet this attorney and others complain of continuing problems getting the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to approve applications for L visas. In an increasing percentage of cases, USCIS is sending out Requests for Evidence (RFEs), which prolong and complicate the visa application process.

There are two types of L visas. The L-1A visa covers managers of a department or function, and the L-1B visa covers workers with specialized knowledge.

Although it should be relatively easy to determine when an employee manages a department or function, USCIS is more frequently demanding specific information on how the person for whom the visa is requested will set policy for the organization or function and what discretionary authority he or she will have. See 8 CFR 214.2(l)(1)(ii)(B) & (C).

Sometimes managerial status is easy to define, but often corporate decision-making is layered in ways that even fairly high-level managers do not have complete discretion to act alone. This does not mean that the manager is not managing an important function or department. Often, complicated approval structures are needed to be sure that businesses comply with employment and other regulatory requirements. Corporations should be given leeway to structure their management teams in ways they think best suit their business and compliance issues.

Similarly, it is often difficult for the company to define specialized knowledge in ways that satisfy USCIS. The regulation defining the level of knowledge required states that it must be:

“Special knowledge possessed by an individual of the petitioning organization’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, or other interests and its application in international markets, or an advanced level of knowledge or expertise in the organization’s processes and procedures. (8 CFR 214.2(l)(1)(ii)(D))

This requirement often proves a sticking point in the L visa application process. Oracle reported that one of its foreign employees was denied an L-1B visa because USCIS didn’t think he had specialized knowledge, even though the employee had written the manual explaining the software in question.

clipart border agentI argued when I wrote about L visas two years ago that

“Businesses should have substantial leeway to bring in foreign employees with knowledge of their business.  Employers know better than USCIS which of their foreign employees are needed here in the U.S.  They should have the flexibility to move workers between their affiliates.

“We ought not penalize employers that are spending the time and money to bring their workers here legally, while ignoring other aspects of current immigration law.”

That is still my position. Firms should be encouraged to bring work to the U.S., and to do so, they need to be able to decide which employees they most need to manage and operate their facilities in this country.

When have you had difficulty with immigration issues?

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Dealing With Your Nemesis

conflict-405744_640I recently was visiting the town where I grew up and encountered someone I’d gone to school with. We were classmates all through elementary and high school, and I always considered her my nemesis.

I got better grades than she did, but not by much. And she was popular, athletic, and a cheerleader from junior high on. Our parents were friends, too, so we sometimes took summer vacations together.

When I saw her recently, I realized how much our lives had diverged since high school graduation. From the perspective of four decades later, I could be glad my life turned out the way it did. I wouldn’t have wanted to face some of the challenges she did. But I sincerely hoped that she was as happy with her life as I was with mine.

Time had made our differences far less important than they seemed in high school.

Then I got to thinking about all the nemeses I’ve had at work. Here were some:

  • The attorney who was slightly more senior than me who grabbed the best assignments and only passed on the grunt work she didn’t want.
  • The HR director who monopolized our mutual boss’s time.
  • The division VP who wouldn’t provide the feedback on incentive plans that the CEO had ordered me to get.

How should we deal with difficult people in the workplace, the ones who seem to be trying deliberately to make our lives a challenge? Here are a few ideas:

1. Talk to the individual. Maybe the person doesn’t know the impact of his or her actions on you. Or maybe there’s some problem that individual has that you didn’t know about. Even if their actions are deliberate, or they don’t care, at least you’ve put them on notice that you’re aware of their behavior.

2. Get support from your manager, mentor, or others. Find out if others have had the same experience. Again, there may be information or history on the situation that you don’t know. What have others done about the problem? Is there a way for you to complain together to obtain relief?

3. Document your issues. When you talk to your nemesis, make sure to put a note in your files. Better yet, send a follow-up email—in a polite tone, or even a friendly tone, if you can manage it—setting out the problem and any agreed changes. A thank-you for any commitments to change wouldn’t hurt.

4. Suck it up. Sometimes a problem isn’t worth confronting. Or sometimes the advice you get from others is not to do anything. You will then have to decide whether you can continue working with that person or not. Whether you decide to stay or leave, at least you haven’t burned any bridges with that individual or others.

Conflict is an unavoidable part of working with other people, so we will all face it at some time. How we choose to deal with conflict determines whether the problem gets better or worse.

Who were (are) your workplace nemeses, and how have you dealt with them?

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