Fridays with Frank – Feb 21, 2020

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Happy Friday!

We’re all creatures of habit to some extent. It’s just part of our charming personalities. Right? (Go along with me for now, I promise there’s a point buried somewhere in this post.) I know mixing things up is better for my brain, but sometimes not having to think is the way to go. For me, the uninterrupted flow of my morning routine has been a pillar of stability in my otherwise unpredictable workdays for years—until last week. That’s when the reality of two very frightening words entered my life—bathroom remodeling. For two weeks, I’ve been a guest in my spouse’s sacred domain: scheduling showers, cautiously using counter space, and doing my best to erase any signs of my presence as soon as I’m done each morning. Fortunately, today marks the end of that adventure and a return to our separate morning routines—our marriage still intact.


Many of us have also developed habits and routines at work. Raise your hand if you get annoyed when someone parks in “your” parking spot at the office. Or, maybe you like to arrive 20 or 30 minutes early to have your first cup of coffee and go through email.

Ken (not his real name), by all accounts, is a good employee and manager. With the company for more than a decade, Ken’s dedicated to its success, and respected by his employees. One of Ken’s most appreciated traits is that he takes personal responsibility for any issues involving his team. He takes the focus off the problem and moves everyone forward to a solution. To do this, Ken has a habit of using self-deprecating humor to diffuse potentially tense situations. 

 Last Wednesday, Barbie (also not her real name), a member of Ken’s team, made an uncharacteristic and significant error in a document she sent a new client’s executive team. The client’s CFO caught the mistake and emailed everyone on the distribution list. As expected, Ken took responsibility, promised a corrected copy by the end of the day, and wrote, “sorry, I must have been having a blonde moment!” (Wait…a what?!)

Barbie was infuriated and embarrassed by what she called Ken’s “passive-aggressive, stereotypical, gender-based attack” on her and her intelligence. Believing she was the victim of hostile work environment harassment (something she remembered from the state-mandated harassment prevention training), Barbie submitted a written complaint to the controller/HR director, Ms. Beasley. (An employee for more than 40 years, she felt honored when the CEO added HR to her responsibilities last year!) Seeing how upset Barbie was, Ms. Beasley told her to take the rest of the week off with pay while she “looked into the situation.”  

During their meeting Monday morning, Ms. Beasley explained that she talked to Ken and that she believed Barbie “completely misunderstood” Ken’s email. “He was taking the focus off your mistake by making fun of himself!” When Barbie pushed back on her explanation, Ms. Beasley smiled a knowing smile and said, “I’ll bet this whole kerfuffle happened at the wrong time in your cycle, didn’t it? I can’t tell you how many times I overreacted to the silliest things and bit Mr. Beasley’s head off…bless his soul.”         

Is your head ready to explode? Welcome to my world! This is usually about the point when I get a call from an executive who doesn’t understand what went wrong or what to do next.

Let’s do a little armchair analysis of what happened:

  1. Was Ken’s comment about “having a blonde moment” potential hostile work environment harassment? Probably not. Barbie is blonde. But that fact doesn’t matter because “blonde” is not a protected category under state or federal anti-discrimination laws. Barbie’s attempt to link her gender to a poorly-conceived blonde joke is, at best, weak because hair color is not linked to a specific gender, re-enforced by the fact that both Barbie and Ken are blonde. 
  2. Was Ken’s “blonde moment” comment OK? In my opinion, it was inappropriate. Yes, Ken is blonde, and taken in context, he was clearly referring to himself. However, at its core, the comment relies on a perceived stereotype that blondes are dumb. Someone—not Ms. Beasley!—should work with Ken to help him better understand the issue and avoid stepping in it going forward.   
  3. Was Barbie overreacting? No, I don’t think Barbie overreacted. Regardless of the intention or nature (innocent, passive-aggressive, harassing, etc.) of Ken’s comment, it resulted in an immediate and extremely adverse reaction from Barbie. There are likely other issues—work-related stress, burnout, conflict, or personal misfortunes, financial distress, health concerns—that are at the root of the reaction. Another clue is that the error she made was described as “uncharacteristic.” My educated guess is that something else is causing Barbie a high level of stress. That stress, combined with her perception of Ken’s comment, caused her to react as she did.
  4. Ms. Beasley (open palm to forehead). Wow, where to begin? Unfortunately, there are still a significant number of Beasleys of every gender and age working in companies everywhere. Intelligent, dedicated, and well-meaning, their lack of HR training and experience can sometimes be detrimental to the company and its employees. Here, let’s say she did a lot wrong.
  5. Surely giving Barbie two days of PTO while Ms. Beasley “looked into the situation” was appropriate and generous, right? Wrong. It’s rarely, if ever, appropriate to move, reassign, or remove the complainant from the workplace. Regardless of whether the time off is paid, removing the complainant from the workplace can be perceived as a punishment and retaliation for their complaint. In my experience, the only exception is when the complainant requests time off, and it should be provided with pay for the days they were scheduled or would typically work. Otherwise, when it’s appropriate or necessary to separate the parties during an investigation, the alleged harasser(s) should be moved, reassigned, or suspended with or without pay.

That’s a wrap on another Fridays with Frank. Thanks for spending a small part of your day with me, and have a great weekend! 


Posted by Frank Cania, president of HR Compliance Experts LLC.

© 2020 HR Compliance Experts LLC

Please feel free to contact Frank at frank@hrcexperts.com, or 585-380-1566 with questions or for more information.


Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute a legal opinion, and is not legal advice. The facts of each situation should be considered and analyzed individually. Therefore, you should always consult with competent employment counsel regarding any issues discussed here.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Frank Cania and HR Compliance Experts LLC.

Fridays with Frank – Feb 14, 2020

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Happy Friday…and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Did you miss me last week? Or even notice I was gone? Well, either way, my absence was for a good reason. I was traveling to NJ for a special event. My grandson, Connor, turned two last weekend, and Papa had to be there to celebrate. Although I really enjoy my time with all of you each week, sometimes a papa’s gotta do what a papa’s gotta do! 


If you recall, in my last Fridays with Frank I bared my soul to you about the impact that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) has had on my life. Both personally and professionally. (I know, it really explains a lot!) 

Clearly, I am not alone. It’s estimated that four percent of adults in the U.S. have ADHD. However, less than 20 percent have been diagnosed, and fewer still are treated. Although a significant number of people have managed to turn the challenges of ADHD around to their advantage, many more struggle with ADHD-related issues every day. (“Hey Frank, can we move this along? Remember, it’s Valentine’s Day, and a lot of us have plans.”)

The negative impact on the individual is undeniable. But, what about the implications for the workplace? As you can imagine, ADHD has a significant, and often negative, impact there as well. That’s why it’s increasingly important for employers to gain a greater understanding of ADHD so they can recognize the signs in their employees. 

Employees with ADHD can exhibit a variety of behaviors that negatively impact their performance, their co-workers, and, ultimately, the workplace in general. These behaviors often include interpersonal conflicts, tardiness, high absenteeism, excessive errors, a resistance or inability to change, and a lack of dependability. Typically, the consequences include verbal and written warnings, suspension, and eventually termination of their employment. But what if the signs were recognized early? Could the issues be addressed and mitigated for everyone’s benefit? Often, the answer is, YES!   

Fortunately, a majority of ADHD symptoms—and their associated behaviors—can be alleviated with the appropriate treatment and accommodations. Although every individual’s needs are different, accommodations may include a quiet workspace or white-noise earphones to reduce distractions; training on how to best use calendars and notes to track deadlines; written directions, instructions, and training materials for easy reference; dividing assignments or tasks into smaller, manageable sizes; more time for completing work, or a modified work schedule to match the employee’s  peak periods of focus and attention; a system of peer reviews for highly detailed work; and, for an employee with hyperactivity, intermittent breaks to move between projects or tasks. 

Finally, for those employers who find it perplexing to believe ADHD is sufficiently debilitating to warrant accommodations, I offer the following:

  • According to the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (“ADAAA”) of 2008 defines the term “disability” as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record (or history) of such an impairment; or being regarded as having a disability.” 
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) states that the term “‘substantially limits‘ is to be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.” 
  • The EEOC also states that “an impairment does not need to prevent or severely or significantly restrict a major life activity to be considered ‘substantially limiting.'”

It’s clear that ADHD may be regarded as a disability under the ADAAA, or similar state law. What’s more, ADHD may be considered a serious health condition covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

As I’ve said ad nauseam, I’m not an attorney. But, based on my experience, denying reasonable accommodations to employees with ADHD has the potential to create significant liability (read as “cha-ching $$$!). Wouldn’t it be far better for everyone if you sat down with the employee, engaged in a good old-fashioned “interactive process,” and worked something out? I thought you’d see it my way. 

  That’s a wrap on another Fridays with Frank. Thanks for spending a small part of your day with me, and have a great weekend! 


Posted by Frank Cania, president of HR Compliance Experts LLC.

© 2020 HR Compliance Experts LLC

Please feel free to contact Frank at frank@hrcexperts.com, or 585-380-1566 with questions or for more information.


Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute a legal opinion, and is not legal advice. The facts of each situation should be considered and analyzed individually. Therefore, you should always consult with competent employment counsel regarding any issues discussed here.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Frank Cania and HR Compliance Experts LLC.