In This Issue
December 2019 – March 2020 | Volume 7 Issue 1

 

Comprehensive FAQs For Employers On The COVID-19 Coronavirus

Fisher Phillips has assembled a cross-disciplinary taskforce of attorneys across the country to address the many employment-related issues facing employers in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The COVID-19 Taskforce has created a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document, which has been continually updated since first published on March 3 and will continue to be updated as events warrant. You can contact your Fisher Phillips attorney or any member of the Taskforce with specific questions, and a full listing of the Taskforce members and their practice areas is at the end of this publication.

The Taskforce has separately summarized the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the federal legislation signed on March 18 that includes an emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and a new federal paid sick leave law, among other things. A detailed summary can be found here.

Table of Contents

  1. BACKGROUND
  2. WORKPLACE SAFETY ISSUES
  3. ISSUES FOR WORKFORCES THAT TRAVEL
  4. REMOTE WORK
  5. INTERNATIONAL WORKFORCES
  6. IMMIGRATION ISSUES
  7. HEALTHCARE/HIPAA ISSUES
  8. BENEFITS/GROUP HEALTH PLAN ADMINISTRATION
  9. WAGE AND HOUR ISSUES
  10. EMPLOYEE LEAVE/ADA
  11. DISCRIMINATION/HARASSMENT/EEO ISSUES
  12. WARN ACT/PLANT CLOSINGS
  13. USERRA AND MILITARY LEAVE ISSUES
  14. WORKERS’ COMPENSATION
  15. INDUSTRY-SPECIFIC AND PRACTICE GROUP GUIDANCE
  16. FISHER PHILLIPS COVID-19 TASKFORCE MEMBERS

Original article

 

The CROWN: Anti-Hairstyle Discrimination Legislation Protecting Natural Hairstyles in the Workplace

By: Reba Letsa

In a developing state and local employment law trend, wearing one’s natural hair in the workplace has become a right in certain jurisdictions. People of color are most likely to experience discrimination in the workplace based on the style and texture of their natural hair.

The Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Coalition conducted a 2019 study surveying 2,000 working women aged 25 – 64, who are employed in an office setting, or had been employed in a corporate office within the last six months.1 The findings of this study revealed that African-American women are 80 percent more likely to change their natural hair to conform to social norms or expectations at work, and that African-American women’s hair is approximately three times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional in the workplace.2 Discrimination based on the appearance of an individual’s natural hair affects both women and men of color. To illustrate, in 2018, New Jersey high school wrestler Andrew Johnson was given 90 seconds to make the determination of whether to have his dreadlocks cut off or forfeit a wrestling match.3

Natural Hairstyle Discrimination Claims Pre-CROWN

In 2013, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued an employer on behalf of an African-American female applicant whose job offer was rescinded after she refused to cut off her dreadlocks at the employer’s request.4 The employer asserted that the applicant’s dreadlocks ran afoul of their personal grooming policy, which required hairstyles to “reflect a business professional image” and prohibited “excessive hairstyles.”5 The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama dismissed the EEOC’s complaint, holding that a hairstyle constitutes a “mutable characteristic” which is not afforded Title VII protection.6 On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision, noting that although dreadlocks are a natural outgrowth of the texture of black hair, that does not make them an immutable characteristic of race.7

States and Localities that Have Enacted or Introduced the CROWN Act

The Catastrophe Management decision was one of the many cases that inspired California Senator Holly Mitchell to seek reform. On July 3, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 188 into law, which made California the first state to enact the Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act.8 California’s CROWN Act went into effect January 1, 2020.9 Senator Mitchell, who introduced the CROWN Act in the California legislature, testified before the state assembly that “It’s 2019, and from my perspective, any law that sanctions a job description that immediately excludes me from a position, not because of my capabilities or experience, but because of how I choose to wear my hair is long overdue for reform.”10

California’s CROWN Act expands the definition of “race” under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to include traits historically associated with race, such as hair texture, and natural or protective hair styles such as braids, dreadlocks, and twists.11 After January 1, 2020, employees who allege discrimination based on the appearance of their natural hair are permitted to seek remedies under California’s FEHA which include back pay, front pay, reinstatement, out of pocket expenses, attorney’s fees, and punitive damages.12 California’s CROWN Act applies to employers who employ five or more persons throughout the state.13

Similar legislation has also been enacted at the local government level. On November 5, 2019, the Montgomery County Council unanimously voted to enact the CROWN Act.14 Under the Montgomery County CROWN Act, “race” includes traits historically associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles, and “protective hairstyles” includes hairstyles such as “braids, locks, afros, curls, and twists.” The Montgomery County CROWN Act is distinct, in that the law establishes its own remedy, permitting individuals who are discriminated against because of the appearance of their natural hair to seek up to a $5,000 penalty through the Montgomery County Office of Human Rights.15 Montgomery County’s CROWN Act is not limited to the employment context and applies to other places of public accommodation such as taxi services, and group homes.16 Montgomery County’s CROWN Act went into effect February 6, 2020, and applies to all employers in Montgomery County with one or more employees.17

Other states and local jurisdictions have followed California’s lead in enacting similar anti-hairstyle discrimination legislation including New York and New Jersey.18 According to the CROWN Coalition, approximately 20 states have introduced, or formally declared their intent to introduce, their own anti-hairstyle discrimination legislation such as Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.19 Cincinnati, Ohio’s law took effect on January 1, 2020, and applies to any individual who employs ten or more persons within the City of Cincinnati.20

Anti-hairstyle discrimination reform has also been introduced at the federal level. On December 5, 2019, Cory Booker, a U.S. Senator from New Jersey, introduced a federal CROWN Act bill in the United States Senate, and companion legislation was also introduced in the House of Representatives.21

One of the most recently introduced state anti-hairstyle discrimination bills is Maryland’s Senate Bill 0531, which was introduced on January 30, 2020.22 This bill proposes to expand the term “race” to include “protective hairstyles,” which is defined in the bill as a hairstyle designed to protect the ends of the hair by decreasing tangling, shedding, and breakage including braids, twists, and locks.23 Employees alleging discrimination based upon the appearance of their natural hair would be permitted to file an employment discrimination claim, with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights as they would for Sex, Age, or National Origin Discrimination claims. If enacted, Maryland’s state CROWN law would take effect October 1, 2020.24

Best Practices for Employers in States that Have Enacted the CROWN Act

The CROWN Act movement quickly evolved into a nationwide trend, and we anticipate that most states will eventually enact some form of this legislation in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, employers in the jurisdictions in which CROWN Acts have been enacted should review their policies to ensure compliance with the CROWN laws. Below are a few best practices for employers to implement to ensure that your personal grooming policy is CROWN Act compliant:

  1. Avoid utilizing subjective and vague terminology in personal grooming policies such as “excessive hairstyles,” as was in the policy challenged in the Catastrophe Management decision, or policies requiring for an employee’s hair to be “smooth,” “contained” or “pulled back,” unless the employer has a legitimate health or safety justification, and consistently enforces the provision without regard to race or ethnicity.
  2. Add clarifying language to your existing personal grooming policy. If your employee handbook currently has a policy in place that requires for an employee to physically present in a manner that is “professional” or to reflect a “corporate or business image,” add clarifying language in the policy that states that the term “professional” is defined to include natural hairstyles such as braids, dreadlocks, and twists.
  3. Avoid outright prohibitions on specific hairstyles historically associated with race, such as dreadlocks, twists, afros, or braids. As the proponents of the CROWN laws suggest, these prohibitions historically have caused a disparate impact on minorities.
  4. Ensure that management and Human Resources professionals in your organization are adequately informed about natural hairstyle discrimination by conducting a training session or providing information to management and staff about the requirements of the CROWN laws. Awareness alone can serve as an effective tool to combat implicit bias.

1 Crown Coalition, The Crown Research Studyhttps://www.thecrownact.com/research (last visited Feb. 13, 2020).

2 Id.

3 Laurel Wamsley, Adults Come Under Scrutiny After HS Wrestler Told To Cut His Dreadlocks Or Forfeit, Nat’l Pub. Radio (Dec. 27, 2018, 1:43 PM), https://www.npr.org/2018/12/27/680470933/after-h-s-wrestler-told-to-cut-his-dreadlocks-or-forfeit-adults-come-under-scrut.

4 E.E.O.C. v. Catastrophe Mgmt. Sols., 11 F. Supp. 3d 1139, 1140 (S.D. Ala. 2014).

5 Id.

6 Id. at 1143.

7 Equal Employment Opportunity Comm’n v. Catastrophe Mgmt. Sols., 852 F.3d 1018, 1030 (11th Cir. 2016).

8 See Cal. Gov’t Code § 12926(w).

9 Id.

10 Ray Sotero, Senate votes to end hair discrimination in the workplace and schools, Ca. Senate, https://sd30.senate.ca.gov/news/press-releases/2019-04-22-april-22-2019-video-senate-votes-end-hair discrimination-workplace (last visited Feb. 13, 2020).

11 Cal. Gov’t Code § 12926(x).

12 See id.

13 Id.

14 Montgomery, Md. Code §27-6.

15 Id.

16 Id.

17 Id.

18 New York’s anti-hairstyle discrimination law went into effect July 12, 2019 and covers employers with four or more employees. N.Y. Exec. L. § 292.38. New Jersey’s anti-hairstyle discrimination law went into effect on December 19, 2019 and the statute does not include an employee threshold. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-5.

19 The CROWN Coalition is an organization founded by the National Urban League, Color of Change, Western Center on Law & Poverty that sponsors anti-hairstyle discrimination bills nationwide. CROWN Coalition, https://www.thecrownact.com/ (last visited Feb. 13, 2020).

20 Cincinnati, Ohio, Code §914-1-T1.

21 S. 3167, 116th Cong. (2020).

22 S.B. 531, Gen. Assemb., Reg. Sess. (Md. 2020).

23 Id.

24 Id.

Original article

 

Compliance with Changing State and Local Laws is Nonstop

By: Richard I. GreenbergDaniel J. Jacobs and Anna K. Broccolo

In 2019, as in previous years, most of the new labor and employment law legislation was enacted at the state and local level.

Paid Family Leave

Paid family leave statutes gained momentum:

  • As of July 1, 2019, the District of Columbia began collecting taxes from its private sector employers and non-profit organizations to fund a new Paid Family Leave Benefit.
  • Paid family leave compliance measures began in Massachusetts. As of October 1, 2019, contributions to the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Act commenced with a contribution rate of 0.75 percent of employee gross earnings, up to the social security maximum.
  • New Jersey amended its law, significantly expanding leave protections and benefits for employees.
  • Oregon passed a paid family and medical leave law, providing up to 12 weeks of paid leave for eligible employees beginning January 1, 2023.
  • Washington’s paid family and medical leave law, signed in July 2017, became effective in 2019. Starting on January 1, 2020, eligible Washington employees may apply to the Washington Employment Security Department for benefits under this law.

Other Leave Benefits

A number of states and localities implemented additional leave benefits for employees:

  • Minnesota’s Duluth enacted a Sick and Safe Time Ordinance, effective January 1, 2020, providing employees one hour of sick and safe time for every 50 hours worked, with a permitted accrual of up to 64 hours a year.
  • A new Nevada law requires certain private employers in the state to provide employees up to 40 hours of paid leave “without providing a reason to his or her employer.”
  • The Pittsburgh Paid Sick Days Act, expected to take effect on March 15, 2020, requires employers with at least 15 employees to provide employees up to 40 hours a year of paid sick leave, accrued at a rate of one hour of leave for every 35 hours worked.

Sexual Harassment, Gender Identity

Sexual harassment and gender identity laws continued to create new obligations for employers:

  • Connecticut expanded harassment training and posting obligations for employers with at least three employees in the state.
  • Illinois enacted a workplace harassment training law, creating new obligations for employers.
  • New York implemented significant changes to its harassment laws that removed the “severe and pervasive” standard for actionable harassment claims, eliminated the employer defense that the employee did not follow internal procedures, expanded protections for domestic workers and non-employees, and extended sexual harassment policy requirements for employers.

Medical and Recreational Marijuana

Medical and recreational marijuana initiatives advanced across the country, in stark contrast to federal policy:

  • Illinois passed the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes.
  • New Jersey gave job protections to medical marijuana users and created new drug testing procedures under new law.
  • New York City enacted legislation prohibiting city employers from requiring prospective employees to submit to testing for the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana.

Minimum Wage

More than 25 states and localities increased their minimum wages, often significantly well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour:

  • For example, IllinoisMaryland, and New Jersey approved minimum wage increases that eventually will bring the state minimum to $15.00 an hour.

Hair

States passed laws making it illegal for employers to discriminate against certain hairstyles, such as natural, braids, twists, and locs:

  • California’s “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair” (CROWN) Act clarified the definition of race for purposes of the workplace discrimination to include hair texture and protective hairstyles. It also provided a definition for “protective hairstyles.”
  • New Jersey implemented its own CROWN Act in December 2019, which amends the state’s law to define discrimination due to race as including discrimination based on “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles.”
  • In New York City, legal enforcement guidance affirmed that employer policies on appearance and grooming that ban, limit, or otherwise restrict natural hair or hairstyles may be unlawful under the New York City Human Rights Law.

Privacy

Privacy legislation continues to flourish:

For more on the national trends, legislation, regulation, and litigation that will affect the workplace in 2020 and beyond, see our special report, 2020: The Year Ahead for Employers.

Employers should regularly review their policies and practices with employment counsel to ensure they address specific organizational needs effectively and comply with applicable law. Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to answer questions about and assist employers with any workplace requirements.

*Original article

 

Employers Must Use A New I-9 Form For 2020

By: Jeffrey Winchester

The federal government just released an updated Form I-9, and although you aren’t required to use the new version until May 1, 2020, best practices dictate that you should start using it immediately. It has been a few years since United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated the Form I-9, which verifies the identity of new hires and ensures they are authorized to work in the United States. But with this recent announcement, you should take immediate steps to come into compliance or risk financial penalties.

Changes To The Form Are Minor, But Changes To The Instructions Are Important

The new version (which is dated October 21, 2019) brings only a very subtle change to the form itself. Specifically, USCIS revised the Country of Issuance field in Section 1 and the Issuing Authority field (when selecting a foreign passport) in Section 2 to add Eswatini and Macedonia, North, because those countries recently announced name changes.

However, this change is visible only when completing the fillable Form I-9 on a computer. In short, the paper version of the new I-9, except for the date in the lower left-hand corner, will look identical to the current version dated July 17, 2017.

As for changes to the form’s instructions, those are a bit more substantive:

  • Updated website addresses and other contact information – interestingly, the instructions no longer contain contact information for the Immigrant and Employee Rights Section of the Department of Justice.
  • Clarification as to who can act as an authorized representative on behalf of an employer. The instructions make clear that employers can designate “any person” to complete and sign Section 2 of the I-9 on the employer’s behalf. The instructions also make clear that the employer, not the authorized representative, is liable for any violations committed in connection with the I-9, “including any violations of the employer sanctions laws committed by” the authorized representative. The lesson here: while you may choose anyone to serve as an authorized representative, choose carefully and make sure they understand how to correctly fill out Section 2.
  • Instruction that employers who enter information in Section 2, List A should not enter N/A in Lists B and C (and vice versa).
  • Updates on the process for requesting paper Form I-9s (as an alternative to printing them from the USCIS website) and an updated Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Privacy Notice.

Best Practice: Begin Using New Form Immediately

Although you will be able to use this new version or continue using the previous Form I-9 through April 30, 2020, it makes sense to scrap the use of the July 17, 2017 version and begin using the updated version right away. You should recycle all older blank versions you already have printed, and instruct your hiring managers and human resources representatives to download the new Form I-9 for use with new hires from this point forward.

On May 1, 2020, all employers will be required to use the revised form, so it makes sense to avoid any delay and begin use of the new version immediately. It’s important to remember, however, you should not require current employees to fill out the new I-9 form. Rather, use the new Form I-9 only for new hires moving forward.

Consequences Of Non-Compliance Can Be Costly

Although the changes to the Form I-9 and its instructions are slight, failure to use the new form and comply by the May 1 deadline can result in large fines. I-9 audits have increased threefold in recent years (from 1,360 to 5,981 per year), while worksite investigations have increased even more dramatically (from 1,691 to 6,848 per year).

Potential fines are also increasing – paperwork violation fines can now range between $230 to $2,292 per employee. Civil penalties for knowingly employing hiring or employing unauthorized workers currently range from $573 to $4,586 per employee for the first violation. Second- and third-violation civil penalties can range between $4,586 up to $22,972 per employee. Arrests and criminal convictions for knowingly hiring or employing unauthorized workers are on the rise as well.

Conclusion

It is unlikely that the Trump administration will slow down DHS’s employer-driven immigration compliance mechanisms. Based upon recent actions from the administration to increase enforcement and hire more ICE agents, along with statistics demonstrating significant increases in I-9 audits and worksite investigations, it is increasingly likely you could face enforcement actions in the form of ICE audits, workplace raids, and employee detention.

Accordingly, now is the time to review your I-9s and your compliance policies to minimize exposure should the government show up on your doorstep demanding to see your I-9s. We will continue to monitor the status of all immigration-related activity, including further executive actions, and ongoing and future litigation, and publish updates as additional actions are taken, or information is provided, by the federal immigration agencies, the White House, and the judicial system. Please ensure you are signed up for our legal alert system to receive updates about these and other developments.

*Original article

 

Supreme Court Sides with Employee Who Said He Didn’t Read ERISA Disclosures

By:Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP

A former Intel employee can proceed with a lawsuit alleging that the company’s retirement plan committee breached fiduciary duties by making poor investments—even though the committee argued that he waited too long to bring the claim.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 26 that an early filing deadline didn’t apply simply because the company provided benefit plan disclosures. The employee said he doesn’t recall reading the information, so the retirement plan committee had to prove he had ‘actual’ knowledge of the investments.

What Is ‘Actual’ Knowledge?

In Intel Corp. Investment Policy Committee v. Sulyma, the dispute centered on whether the employee had three or six years to file his claim under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). ERISA states that the shorter limitation period applies from “the earliest date on which the plaintiff had actual knowledge of the breach or violation.” If the employee didn’t have actual knowledge of the alleged breach, then the six-year limitation period applies.

The term “actual knowledge” may seem redundant, but in the legal realm, there are different types of knowledge. “Actual” knowledge means exactly what it says: a person actually knew about something. “Constructive” knowledge, however, includes matters that a person should have known about or could have reasonably been expected to know about based on the information available to him or her. A diligent person, for instance, may have constructive knowledge about information that is readily available in public records or on a company’s website.

The committee argued that the lawsuit was barred because the employee received all the relevant plan investment information more than three years before he filed the complaint. The committee also had electronic evidence that the employee visited the website that hosted the disclosures.

The employee, however, argued that his claim was timely because he didn’t recall reading any of the investment information until just before he filed his lawsuit.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Designing and Administering Defined Contribution Retirement Plans]

Siding with the employee, the Supreme Court said in a unanimous opinion that making documents available to plan participants isn’t enough to prove actual knowledge. The employee could have known about the investments through the disclosures, but his testimony raised questions for the judge or jury about whether he had ‘actual’ knowledge.

“Although ERISA does not define the phrase ‘actual knowledge,’ its meaning is plain,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito Jr. for the court. “Dictionaries are hardly necessary to confirm the point, but they do.”

Kimberly Jones, an attorney with Faegre Drinker in Chicago, said the ruling makes it difficult for plan fiduciaries to invoke the shorter three-year limitations period for breaches of fiduciary duty.

“The Supreme Court was bound by the plain meaning of the language,” she said. “Congress would have to alter the statutory language for the standard to change.”

‘Willful Blindness’ Won’t Work

Employers still have ways to prove that an employee had actual knowledge of ERISA disclosures. “Plaintiffs who recall reading particular disclosures will of course be bound by oath to say so in their depositions,” the court said. Actual knowledge can also be proved through “inference from circumstantial evidence,” such as electronic records.

Additionally, employers can show evidence of an employee’s “willful blindness” to support a finding of actual knowledge, the Supreme Court noted. And if a plaintiff ‘s denial of knowledge is “blatantly contradicted by the record,” the court added, “a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.”

But the retirement committee in this case argued that it didn’t need to offer proof that the employee had read the disclosures. “And that is incorrect,” the court said, affirming a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Employer Takeaway

Employers may have trouble proving that participants read the disclosures provided to them. “Unfortunately, the ruling encourages participants to remain blissfully ignorant and not review important investment disclosures,” Jones said. “Proving actual knowledge seems virtually impossible unless participants testify that they read the documents.”

Michael Klenov, an attorney with Korein Tillery in St. Louis, said many employers already provide clear disclosures in plain language and encourage plan participants to read them.

Employers could ask employees to read through disclosures in person—in HR offices—and sign an acknowledgement afterwards, or they could attach cover letters to disclosures explaining that a failure to read will be deemed an intentional act of willful ignorance. But those steps might not curb litigation. “I doubt many employers would go to such lengths, which may create blowback from employees,” Klenov said, “so I suspect they will more or less maintain the status quo.”

*Original article

 

Take Steps to Keep Political Discussions Civil at Work

By: Kathy Gurchiek

March 3 is Super Tuesday—the day prior to the presidential election when the most states hold primary elections and caucuses to choose candidates—but discussing politics and political issues in the workplace isn’t always so super. With the approaching presidential election, tempers can flare and heated debates can create tension among co-workers. In some cases, disagreements escalate into name-calling, hurling insults or shunning colleagues who hold opposing views.

“Politics is often an emotional topic because government policies impact our deeply held beliefs and values,” said Heidi Collins, vice president of people operations at 15Five, a performance management software company in San Francisco.

“Enforcing an outright ban on political discussion is nearly impossible,” she noted, “unless you want to establish a culture of micromanaging and intrusive monitoring. Stifling communication is also incongruent with modern-day workplace practices.”

A recent survey of more than 1,000 U.S. employees found that more than half of the men (58 percent) and 40 percent of the women fear that disagreeing with their boss or co-workers could hurt their performance review.

“It’s concerning that half of the American workforce is worried that disagreeing with their managers about politics might have repercussions for their career,” said Greg Brown, CEO of Reflektive, a performance management company also based in San Francisco.

“As an employer, you want your employees to have diversity of thought,” Brown noted. “Your job isn’t to suppress this [conversation], but you do need HR, leadership and management to set the boundaries, communicate them to employees and lead by example.”

And people do talk politics. Research from the Society for Human Resource Management suggests many workers are involved in such discussions at work and those discussions are leading to conflicts:

  • 56 percent of U.S. employees said politics and the discussion of political issues have become more common in the last four years.
  • 42 percent have personally experienced political disagreements in the workplace.
  • 34 percent said their workplace is not inclusive of differing political perspectives.
  • 12 percent have personally experienced political-affiliation bias.

VitalSmarts, a leadership training company in Provo, Utah, found in a February survey of 1,060 of its newsletter subscribers that discussing politics outside of work can have a small trickle-down effect on careers. Managers were asked how they would respond to being at a dinner party and hearing a co-worker they oversee speak sarcastically about a presidential candidate the manager favors:

  • 6 percent said this would greatly hurt the employee’s promotability.
  • 15 percent it would hurt promotability a little.
  • 51 percent said it would have no impact.
  • 23 percent it would help the employee’s promotability a little.
  • 6 percent said it would help a lot.

Respectful Conversations

“It’s important to establish and reinforce company values and a culture where the goal is inclusivity and an appreciation for diverse perspectives,” 15Five’s Collins said. “Still, that doesn’t mean the office should be a perpetual segment of ‘Meet the Press,’ especially if it hinders productivity.”

If your culture is one of infighting, toxicity and competition, she said, “it’s probably a good idea to establish firm rules around political discussions, including an outright ban. But if your culture is one where you actively train employees on how to communicate with compassion, awareness and a focus on connection, HR can just reiterate that when it comes to political conversations, with a suggestion that people try to avoid these conversations at work.”

Those conversations can go beyond “my candidate versus your candidate,” dipping into political hot-button topics such as abortion, religion, gun control and immigration.

Joseph Grenny, co-author of the New York Times best-seller Crucial ConversationsTools for Talking When Stakes Are High (McGraw Hill Education, 2011), offered the following tips on how to share political opinions at work without dissolving into hard feelings and loss of respect:

Frame your conversation as a chance to learn from each other, not to change each other’s minds. Simply being curious about another’s position is sufficient motivation to engage. That may sound like:

  • “I know what I think about this issue, but I’m curious about why you feel so differently. Would you be open to sharing your position with me?”

Explain that you aren’t trying to change the person’s mind or attack his or her position. Then ask for permission to talk about the sensitive topic. Here are some examples:

  • “I’m not wanting a debate, and I’m not trying to change your mind. I just want to understand. I see this issue very differently. Would it be OK if I explained my perspective?”
  • “I’d also like to share my thoughts and get your reaction, if you’re interested.”

Show respect. Others will not engage with you if they don’t feel respected by you. Over-communicate your respect for the other person and his or her opinion:

  • “I value you and your perspective. I want to hear from you. I don’t assume I’m right.”
  • “I would like the benefit of your perspective.”
  • “What have you experienced or learned that led you to feel that way?”

Look for areas of agreement rather than disagreement. If the conversation takes a more dramatic turn, look for the greater principle governing both opinions. Say things like:

  • “I want to find the goals we share and then look at the issue with those goals in mind.”
  • “Sounds like, for you, this ties to lots of things that are also very important to me.”
  • “Can you help me understand why this matters so much to you?”

“Even if you agree with people, but do so in a way that is defensive, posturing or aggressive, it decreases the likelihood they’ll respect you or the outcome will be amiable,” Grenny said. “However, if you can express your opinion skillfully, you can associate with anyone. Ultimately, the key to successful dialogue is to make it safe for others to not only hear you, but to share their own ideas.”

Collins suggests being aware of your environment when having these talks.

“Can others hear you, who may not want to be part of the conversation? Perhaps you can go get coffee or a drink after work if you want to have these conversations.”

And don’t forget the “pause button,” she added.

“It’s important when you’re having emotion-forward conversations to take a moment to breathe before responding back to the person you’re speaking with. In conversations where there can be differing views, taking a breath will help you be more mindful before you speak.”

*Original article