Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
80447
970-627-3732
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Consider This...  July/August 2001 Issue Number 25

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the area of sexual harassment, diversity management and conflict resolution will be discussed.

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Upcoming Events

Strategic Management of Change: July 23- August 3, 2001. Linda Willing will be instructing this class at the Florida Fire College, Ocala.

Women Chief Officers' Luncheon: August 25, 2001 at Fire-Rescue International in New Orleans. Call 630-990-2390 for more information.

In the News

If We Could Shrink the Earth's Population to a Village of 100 People...

Many people have received an email in recent years with this as the lead. If the current population were represented by only 100 people, what would the world look like? The email, attributed to Dr. Phillip Harter of Stanford University, has been used in many lectures, classes, and articles to clearly demonstrate the diversity and inequity of our current world society.

But is it true? The magazine Fast Company recently set the record straight. First, the author of the original piece was not Dr. Phillip Harter, who is a real person, but who only forwarded the email when he received it years ago. The original author is unknown. Second, the statistics presented were not verified by any sources in the original email, and in fact were not completely accurate. Here is the original email, and the second version as verified by facts from various government and world agency sources.

The original email stated: If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look something like the following. There would be:

  • 57 Asians
  • 21 Europeans
  • 14 from the Western Hemisphere, both north and sout
  • 8 Africans
  • 52 would be female
  • 48 would be male
  • 70 would be non-white
  • 30 would be whit
  • 70 would be non-Christian
  • 30 would be Christian
  • 89 would be heterosexua
  • 11 would be homosexua
  • 6 people would possess 59% of the entire world's wealth, and all 6 would be from the United State
  • 80 would live in substandard housin
  • 70 would be unable to read
  • 50 would suffer from malnutrition
  • 1 would be near death
  • 1 would be near birt
  • 1 would have a college education
  • 1 would own a computer

Here are the statistics that could be verified from current sources, including the United Nations, US Census Bureau, Habitat for Humanity, and others.

If the earth were shrunk to 100 people there would be:

  • 60 Asians
  • 12 Europeans
  • 15 from the Western Hemisphere (9 Latin Americans, 5 North Americans, 1 Oceanian)
  • 13 Africans
  • 50 would be female
  • 50 would be male
  • 80 would be non-whit
  • 20 would be white
  • 67 would be non-Christian
  • 33 would be Christian
  • 20 people would earn 89% of the entire world's wealth
  • 25 would live in substandard housing
  • 17 would be unable to rea
  • 13 would suffer from malnutrition
  • 1 would die within the year
  • 2 would give birth within the year
  • 2 would have a college education
  • 4 would own a computer

Food for thought, even in its revised form!

Source: Fast Company, June 2001 and www.fastcompany.com

News Brief

A federal judge in Seattle has ruled that excluding prescription contraceptives from employee health plans is a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and is de facto discrimination against women. This ruling reinforces last December's decision by the EEOC that employers who offer insurance coverage for preventative health care of other types must also cover prescription contraceptives.

Source: The New York Times, June 13, 2001.

Sexual Harassment Update

Belligerence as a Disability

Can someone be considered disabled if s/he does not get along well with others? The answer is maybe, according to a recent federal court ruling.

In Bennett v. Unisys Corp, U.S. District Judge Franklin Van Antwerpen found that belligerence as a manifestation of major depression is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and must be reasonably accommodated in the workplace.

Tina Bennett was fired from the Unisys Corporation in 1998 after an 18 year career with the company and its predecessor. Although promoted to a management position during her career, she also had a history of performance evaluations that detailed her problems with interpersonal skills. Ms. Bennett's peers felt they could not approach her about the problems directly or have a meaningful conversation with her because she had difficulty controlling her emotions and was highly sensitive to criticism. Ms. Bennett was diagnosed with major depression in 1997. The decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Ms. Bennett's behavior could be directly linked to her mental disability, and that she should have been offered reasonable accommodation in the workplace. In fact, Unisys did consider putting Ms. Bennett on a "corrective action plan" in 1998, but decided to fire her instead. Ms. Bennett's lawyers argued that she could have continued to function in her job if she'd had more regular communications with her supervisors, had not been overburdened by work, and had received face-to-face feedback about her performance.

Although this case applies only to the 3rd Circuit of the federal court system, the implications are clear. Depression and other mental impairments are covered under the ADA, and employers will have to be aware of them, and be prepared to accommodate them.

But how do you know if someone is behaving badly because s/he is a jerk, or because s/he has a legitimate mental problem? The average fire department supervisor has very limited clinical knowledge of diagnosable mental illness, after all. Can't you just deal with the behavior, regardless of the cause?

This recent decision indicates that the short answer to that question is no. To avoid this type of ADA claim, employers will have to be more aware of their employees' behavior patterns, and also be prepared to offer remedies for problems. This will mean training first line supervisors to do meaningful performance evaluations. It will also mean using the EAP and other outside resources when there are problems. Most of all, it will mean taking a proactive view of interpersonal problems on the job, and not allowing avoidance to be an option when there are obvious issues.

The ADA is the most recent, and the most contested, addition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The coming years will further clarify what is and is not covered in its provisions. The recent decision by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has expanded the scope of the ADA in the workplace in a way that has a potential impact on every employer.

Source: The Legal Intelligencer, December 13, 2000.

© Linda F. Willing, 2001

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