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Ask the HR Expert: Diversity, Ethics & Issues

Posted by NEHRA  March 12, 2010 09:00 AM

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Q. My company’s manufacturing plant closed, and about 150 people lost their jobs. A new manufacturing company bought the facility, and the new HR manager is hiring employees from his previous place of employment – rather than hiring back former employees that were previously laid off. Is this ethical?

A. By any formal definition of workplace "ethics", one would be hard pressed to label this recruiting behavior as "unethical." The new owners, and the new HR manager, want to establish their own team, and like many professionals, will gravitate towards those whom they know and have observed. This is a common and typical practice. Is it good employment practice? Not entirely in our opinion. Is it in the best interests of the company to re-hire some former employees who performed well, and supported the company’s objectives? Definitely, yes. The new managers are building a new culture and a new team. It is reasonable to expect that they want to hand pick a new staff to match their emerging vision. In addition, they may be concerned that employees from the prior company will have more difficulty accepting the new culture and changing business directions. With that said, it is to their benefit - and to the company’s reputation in the community - to review the applications of all skilled people, regardless of prior employment. There could be a number of highly talented people who lost their jobs, and are flexible enough to change perspectives, join a new team, and align with the new owners.


Q. If an employee reports to work sick with the flu and wants to stay at work, is the employer within their rights to send the employee home against his or her will? Could this be seen as an employer forcing an employee to use Paid Time Off?

A. Employers have an ethical and legal obligation to protect the well-being of all employees. This includes the responsibility to maintain a healthy and safe environment. Employers need to protect the greater "good" of the workforce, reduce any potential harmful risks, and assure that employees are not exposed to factors that might injure their psychological or physical well-being. An employer has the right - legally & ethically - to send someone home who may spread infectious disease. The self-interests of one ill employee should not outweigh the well-being, rights and needs of the larger group. In effect, it means that an employer may force an ill employee, who has a communicable illness, to use his or her PTO, and will be on solid ethical and legal grounds in doing so. Some employers may elect to allow an employee, when forced to stay away from the work site, to take time at home without pay as opposed to PTO. One last obvious suggestion: An employer should ideally have a written document that spells out all of these policies before a situation arises.


Q. What are a manager’s rights when it comes to verbally reprimanding employees? A manager at my company (retail industry) verbally scolds his employees directly in front of customers, and I feel it is inappropriate. What are my rights in terms of talking with the manager about these public reprimands, without the threat of getting fired?

A. No one deserves to be scolded in front of customers or other employees. However, you did not say what your relationship was to this manager. If your manager is a peer, you may want to speak with him or her privately to share your observations. Include in this conversation any evidence you may have as to how their behavior is impacting others. For example, if a customer has told you they will not be returning to the store because of a situation they have observed, then you should include this information when you speak with the manager. If this manager is your boss, then I would suggest you set up a time to speak with this person, perhaps off-premises, to let them know how uncomfortable you are with the way your manager is choosing to correct your behavior. Ask them to stop doing this in front of others. If your manager doesn't comply, let someone in human resources know. Lastly, if you are an associate with no reporting relationship to this person then I would suggest you either encourage the person who is being verbally abused to stand up for their rights, or look into whether or not your company has a tip line where you can call and voice your complaints anonymously.


Q. We are a small company, and a few new employees have been hired recently. There is great resentment among the more seasoned employees, who feel that management’s general treatment of the new employees is far more favorable. I would like to suggest to upper management that we have some sort of monthly meeting to talk about issues we are facing in the workplace. What is the best way to go about doing that, so that it appears constructive on my part?

A. I'm not seeing how a monthly meeting, where everyone has an opportunity to discuss issues you are facing in the workplace, is going to resolve this situation. In fact, it may backfire if a group of you attack the boss together. Instead, I would suggest looking for specific examples of how this treatment is playing out in the workplace. Once you have this information, you can then go to the owner and share your concerns. If done properly, chances are she will thank you for pointing this out to her, as no doubt she has no idea people are feeling this way.


Q. My company is seeking to develop a questionnaire to assess their current level of commitment to diversity and inclusion. Is there a standard set of survey questions that could be shared?

A. Generally, it is best to be wary of using a standard set of survey questions. It is critically important that with any assessment that you use, whether it is a cultural audit, a diversity and inclusion survey, focus groups, or some other assessment tool, that you are careful to plan a process and design that focuses on getting at the specific data that you are seeking, while also preparing management and the organization for the potential findings and recommended solutions. This is a change-management process and, as such, it needs to be carefully and skillfully designed.

Without careful planning and matching the specific goal and situation to the appropriate methodology and process, many an organization has experienced disruption, push back, upset, and stepped into a minefield that can take enormous amounts of effort to recover from. At a minimum, I recommend that you do ample research on the topic before moving ahead, and, ideally, obtain an experienced diversity consultant to work with you on this.

For research, there are many good sources online, as well as books that are available to you. Here are a few that will help you get going:

Finally, feel free to contact me at for a Diversity and Inclusion Best Practices Checklist, which will take you through the major steps of a D&I effort from a systemic, organizational perspective.

Best of luck to you and your organization, as you begin on this exciting and worthwhile journey!


Q. How explicit can job postings be when it comes to targeting and attracting diverse candidates?

A. States vary on how much they support proactive affirmative action. It is fine to state your employer's commitment to equal employment opportunity and to say that your company welcomes or encourages diversity. However, it is generally best to avoid specifying a preference for a particular gender, race, national origin, etc. Instead, highlight skills and experiences you are seeking, such as:

"Ability to relate well to clients from Latin American countries."
"Experience working with low-income communities."
"Understanding of Haitian-American community concerns"
"Bilingual in Portuguese preferred."

Also, it is always permissible to actively do outreach and advertising through different groups and media outlets (Chinese-American radio stations and newspapers, for example) or to place personal calls to individuals who are well-connected to specific communities (e.g. the director of the local college's African-American Studies department).


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About NEHRA - The Voice of HR Featuring articles and resources for Human Resources / HR professional and hiring managers from the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA).

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