Spotlight Series #CAHR16: Tackling the “Tough” Issues in HR

“When you step outside of your comfort zone, you are stepping into your greatness.”

How true has it been in your experience that if you push yourself one step further, nudge one toe outside the box of comfort and safety that you’ve created yourself, that you see big things happening? Stretching just a little further away from your routine can often lead to new challenges but also can result in huge success, conquering of obstacles, making moves, and doing big things! Stepping outside of your comfort zone allows you to take on new challenges, confront those tough or awkward situations, and tackle tasks that you never thought you’d be able to face let alone handle with ease.

In attending the annual HR Conference put on by our friends @PIHRA (Professional in Human Resources Association) last week at the Long Beach Convention Center in Southern California, our team at Peoplescape was able to learn new strategies for impacting our client’s businesses in positive ways, and also to embrace the tough workplace issues that I’ll discuss here. We know some of these are hot topics throughout your work place, and many of them are sensitive and have the potential to create chaos and unrest for some individuals. Hold on tight, we have several bumpy roads to navigate! Buckle up.

Transgender Employees: Identification of employees as male or female, and the details that surround this gender identification are becoming more prominent in workplace litigation as we enter the last quarter of 2016. The case of Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby (June 2014) set a precedence for the court to back up an employer’s claim that within a closely-held corporation, the religious belief exemption can dictate certain things such as contraceptive options for medical benefits.

Another big piece in this puzzle was seen in the case of Obergefell vs. Hodges (June 2015), which upheld the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment and stated that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples.

State legislation was quick to react to both of these cases, resulting in 100+ bills across 22 states with new legislation on use of restrooms for transgender individuals, marriage-related religious exemption laws, and much more.

As discussed in our conference session on this heavy topic, in many cases, the HR representative within your organization may not have a personal issue with any of these issues and may, in fact, be incredibly open-minded and forward-thinking. However, the boss (who may or may not be from an older generation and have more conservative views based on the era he or she grew up or religious convictions or personal moral beliefs) could be the potential problem in these scenarios. Our moral and religious beliefs are very important to us as individuals, because who we are at the core is often shaped by our beliefs, upbringing, family and cultural influences. But, it is our job as HR professionals and business leaders to uphold the law, protect the employees in our organizations, and to make sure that discrimination and bias are as marginal as humanly possible.

Same-Sex Couples: When it comes to same-sex couples, the most common concerns from an HR standpoint within the workplace are medical benefit coverage and social work events in which guests accompany your employees. According to, “As long as a couple is married in a jurisdiction with legal authority to authorize the marriage, an insurance company can’t discriminate against them when offering coverage. This means that it must offer to samesex spouses the same coverage it offers to opposite-sex spouses.” Of course, we again encounter the scenario of whether or not the boss (or the person signing your paycheck) agrees with this legislation. Once again, it is our job as HR and business leaders to explain the law to our executive management team, and to assure them that while their religious beliefs are valid, they must abide by the federal and state law on these delicate topics. In severe cases, sensitivity training might be a good option for your organization’s leadership team to tackle these issues with factual information and to walk away with a solid grasp on the legal ramifications of non-compliance.

The same goes for corporate events in which you allow employees to bring guests. It is not anyone’s business if Joe in the sales department brought his brother, best friend, or fiancé who happens to be male to the dinner. If you as the employer allow guests, then you must be open to the variety of relationships that may walk into that event. And you must treat everyone with the same respect, as well as encourage that of all of your employees and guests. Pretty hefty responsibility, right?

Social Media in the Workplace: With the onset of “Bring Your Own Device” policies that we discussed on our blog last month, social media in the workplace continues to be a hot button issue for many employers. Keeping the lines clearly drawn between what is and is not allowed in the workplace, if personal devices are allowed to be on and visible during work hours, and many other nuances pertaining to this matter, is critical in maintaining accountability companywide. In the case of Holmes v. Petrovich Development Company, which was decided in the California Court of Appeals in 2011, the court ruled that an employee does not have a right to privacy on company-owned devices (even if he or she takes that device home at the end of the day). In this case, the employee’s emails were sent to and from her personal email on a company device, and those emails were deemed company property and not protected by privacy laws. Unfortunately for the employee in this case, those emails were full of details about how she was planning to sue the company. Eek!

The bottom line with social media is to maintain detailed and strict company policies on your devices (company property is not protected by privacy laws), and to review and update those policies regularly. Your technology use policy should also be clear on what personal devices are allowed in the workplace, whether utilizing social media during work hours is permissible, and what guidelines are in place to ensure productivity instead of handing out cash for employees to be on IG, Facebook and Twitter, all under the guise of a normal “work” day.

In closing, although these topics can often be tough to tackle, there is hope! At Peoplescape, we can assist in developing strategies that work specifically for your workplace, and help you to adopt policies and procedures in keeping with your business culture, your sales and marketing strategy, and in compliance with the law. For more on how to revise your company’s policies and guidelines, or to find out about corporate training, please follow us on Twitter @PeoplescapeHC or LinkedIn, “like” us on Facebook, or send us an email today. #HRConsultants #workplace #HRBlog #policies