The “IT” Factor

Ever worry about a new employee negatively impacting the workplace culture?

Employees who positively impact the prevailing workplace culture are a much sought after commodity!  They just have that something.  Call it the IT factor, these people seem to exude a combination of creativity, attention to detail, a sense of urgency, an ability to get people to follow a vision, a pragmatic approach, the ability to delegate, and on and on.   Thus, interview questions that determine culture fit may be something to consider.  The most successful hires fit both the job and your workplace culture. These are sample interview questions that will help you assess whether your prospective employee is a good match with your workplace culture.

.    Describe the work environment in which you are most productive and happy.

.    What are the characteristics exhibited by the best boss you have ever had?

.    Describe the management style that will bring forth your best work and efforts.

.    What is the single most important factor that must be present in your work environment  for you to be successful?

.    Tell us how you really feel about teamwork?

.    How would your coworkers describe your work style and contributions?

.    Tell us about an occasion when you believe that you delighted an internal or an external   customer.

.    Describe the role that you are most likely to play on the team.

.    How would coworkers describe the role that you play on a team?

.    When working with people, describe your preferred relationship with them.

.    How would reporting staff members describe their relationship with you?

Sexual Harassment Updates: employer liability, non-supervisory harassment and gender discrimination

Let’s talk about employer liability.  For those of you who have not had harassment updates over the past 2-3 years, it is important that you become familiar with some recent decisions.

The issue of employer liability is naturally one of concern to all cities. In 2013, in a case known as Vance v. Ball State University,the Supreme Court stated that a hostile environment depends on whether or not the harasser is the victim’s supervisor. But the termsupervisor may not mean what a lot of us think it does. Supervisor does not refer to an individual’s title or the city’s job category, but rather anyone who has the power to:

  • Undertake or recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee; or
  • Direct the employee’s daily work activities.

Therefore, for example, crew leaders who, on a daily basis, direct the activities of employees are considered supervisors in the eyes of the court. “Dig the hole here, not over there!” perhaps gives you all an idea of how simple it is to fulfill the courts version of what a supervisor really is.

And here is the really scary part: the Court held that an employer isalways liable for a supervisor’s harassment if it culminates in a tangible employment action…even if the organization has/had no knowledge that harassment was taking place. There is absolutely no affirmative defense to liability in these situations. Wow! That seems harsh doesn’t it? The key then is to continue to educate your workforce. Encourage non-supervisory employees to rebuff a “supervisor’s” advances or derogatory comments of a racial, sexual, or profane manner. Let them know that the organization will support them for reporting any actions that create discomfort. Furthermore, tell anyone of “supervisory” status to avoid making any offensive comments or exhibiting any offensive behaviors. Remind them that harassment does not just refer to actions and comments of a sexual nature, but all offensive actions and behaviors pertaining to any protected class as well as any comment or action that is reasonably perceived as derogatory.

What About Non-Supervisory Harassment?

The Court also addressed the issue of employer liability by employees who are not supervisors. The Court stated that liability exists if the employer was negligent in failing to prevent harassment from taking place.

Also relevant is evidence that an employer did not monitor the workplace, failed to respond to complaints, failed to provide a system for registering complaints, or effectively discouraged complaints from being filed.

In harassment wherein the perpetrator is not a supervisor, the employer may avoid liability or limit damages by establishing an affirmative defense that includes two necessary elements:

  • The employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any harassing behavior, and
  • The employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.

Is It Discrimination If the Genders Are Treated the Same?

Harassment does not violate federal law unless it involves discriminatory treatment on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age of 40 or older, disability, or protected activity under the anti-discrimination statutes. Federal law does not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not “extremely serious.” Rather, the conduct must be “so objectively offensive as to alter the ‘conditions’ of the victim’s employment.” The conditions of employment are altered only if the harassment culminated in a tangible employment action or was sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.

However, a relatively recent ruling suggests a new way of looking at discrimination. In the Case of Christopher v NEA, a supervisor behaved in an equally degrading manner to both men and women within his supervisory purview. But the Ninth Circuit stated that equal degradation (the absence of discrimination) does not defeat a claim that the genders were treated differently.

How is it possible to treat the genders the same, yet differently, I wondered.  As I read further in the case, the Court’s answer appeared:

“…because there may be a subjective difference between the way the degradation was perceived and experienced by the different genders.”

Therefore, an ill-tempered supervisor who creates a hostile environment by repeatedly cursing, for example, may subject your City to liability regardless of intention and regardless of whether the conduct is overtly discriminatory.



The Fire in our Neighborhood

On Monday of this week, the air was shattered as sirens screamed from eight trucks arriving at the burning house across the street in my neighborhood.  The second story puked black smoke and the air had an acrid, choking odor.  My driveway was completely blocked and, like everyone else within the six block radius, Rebecca and I ventured out to voyeuristically watch the action unfold.  Firefighters—all men in this particular instance— from three different departments worked in unison to put out the fire.  They entered the home in full “battle” gear, replete with oxygen strapped to their backs, and began ripping out the ceiling to shoot foam into what was an apparent electrical fire.  We watched through the window as best we could, although sometimes the smoke covered them from view. 

When the fire was completely out, the soot covered men gathered in a circle and talked.  From a distance, they appeared animated as though they were reenacting their actions. 

The residents of the burned home also gathered in their own sort of huddle…and cried.  In tennis match fashion, my eyes darted back and forth between the two groups, and I was struck by their differences.  But as I watched, a question came to mind. 

Why huddle?  What is it about groups that we seem to need?

The question, while seemingly absurd, may only appear so we fail to examine it.  Groups exist everywhere—in sports, business, worship, recovery and yes, even the Bunko group.  There must be a reason and a benefit.

Research suggests that support from others actually accomplishes two things:  (1) it may make us better—physically and (2) it may help us make decisions.  So, to believe that huddling simply “helps us feel good,” may diminish what actually occurs.  Perhaps huddling in groups offers us the opportunity to share, bolster, encourage, offer hope, mentor, and make better decisions. 

I started thinking about the groups of which I am a part and about how I am in these groups.  Do I listen?  Do I encourage?  Do I bolster? 

Think about it!

The Dog and the Tornado


“I’ll make a deal with you buddy.  You let me sit here through this tornado, and I promise not to bite you!”  This is what some of the staff in Forney imagined a dog to say who unexpectedly decided to ride “shotgun” in a city vehicle.  Today, that dog is my teacher and he/she reminds me of something that should never be forgotten.

Amidst the storm, a City employee left his vehicle door open while he rushed into a building, and then back out, before the tornado struck.  Upon seeing the black funnel loom into view, he sprinted to the car, dove inside, shut the door, and rammed the thing into drive.  Suddenly, and to his right, he was aware of a being who had not been there before:  a large blue-eyed dog staring right at him.  Having neither time nor interest in shooing the dog out, he sped away from the tornado, the dog riding shotgun.  Word is that the employee and the dog spent the rest of the day and night together as he, along with all city employees, responded to the crisis.

The army of tornadoes that tore through north Texas recently wreaked destruction in the Kaufman county city of Forney.  An entire subdivision was destroyed as furniture, cars, pianos, and motorcycles were swept away and left in thousands of tiny pieces.   A grandmother protected her grandchildren by using the bathtub as a fortress.  One Forney staff member bolted from his car for the protection of a building only to look back and see his vehicle lifted up like a toy Matchbox car by the ferocious funnel and pitilessly dumped in a field two hundred yards away.  Miraculously, there were no fatalities.

That evening, I knew what the newscast was going to show.  It’s always the same; homeowners sifting through the rubble looking for photos and precious items passed down from parents or grandparents.  And all who have experienced something like this always utter the same phrase: “things can be replaced.”

City Manager Brian Brooks and HR Director Leigh Corson told me the dog story a few days after the storm and I laughed at the vision of this big ole canine diving into the car and staring at the driver.  I can only imagine that both the driver’s and the dog’s eyes were as wide as saucers.  Perhaps the dog was saying: “what are you waiting for buddy, can’t you see that a tornado is coming?”  Perhaps, like I said up top, he was promising not to bite in exchange for shelter.  But what I really think was going on was something age-old, a need that we humans share with each other, as do dogs; the need to belong with each other, for shelter, for affiliation, for survival:  both physical and emotional.

Today, I’m thinking about expressing my appreciation to those whom I share my private and work life.  I’m sure the City employee was grateful to share a night with a blue-eyed dog.