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...January - February 2006 Issue Number 79

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 areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events  

Leadership Training Seminar April 7-9, 2006. Phoenix, AZ. Sponsored by Women in the Fire Service. Go to www.wfsi.org for more information.

FDIC April 24-29, 2006. Indianapolis, IN.

In the News

Want Happier Employees? Give Them More Work

A recent survey of more than 200,000 workers shows that employees who have too little work to do are less satisfied in their jobs than those who have too much or just the right amount. Those respondents who said they had "much too little" work had a satisfaction rating of only 37 on a 100 point scale. Employees who said they had just right amount of work and those that said they had too much scored 68 and 60 respectively.

Even those who said they had "much too much" work scored higher in satisfaction than both categories of those who said they had too little work. "Although there is a cost to employers when their employees are over-worked, there may be even a bigger cost from being under-worked," said Jeffrey Salzman, CEO of Sirota Survey Intelligence, the company that conducted the survey.

Creating busy-work is not the answer to low morale, however. On the contrary, for work to be a morale booster, it must be meaningful. Give people a structure fire, and they'll give you 100% for an entire shift and longer. Tell them to go paint fire hydrants for the same period of time, and you'll get a significantly different reaction.

Some emergency services personnel complain when given new job responsibilities and say that they are overworked and don't have time for the new tasks. But in many cases, those same workers will find time for the new responsibilities if they see the work as important and fulfilling. Of course, everyone must do tedious jobs at times. However, when people feel that the essence of their work is meaningful, they will have nearly unlimited energy for getting things done.

Source: Business and Legal Reports, January 3, 2006

News Brief

The New York City Fire Department recently graduated a recruit class that is one of the most diverse in the department's history. Of 210 new recruits, 27% represent racial or ethnic minorities. The class also included three women. The FDNY is still 92% white, and includes only a few dozen women out of over 10,000 firefighters.

Source: New York Daily News, December 31, 2005

Sexual Harassment Update

Tangible Employment Action

The term "tangible employment action" is an important one when determining liability for workplace sexual harassment. In 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court established a standard of strict liability for an employer when sexual harassment results in tangible or adverse employment action, defined by the court as "a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits." When such action is not present, the employer may escape liability by proving that it engaged in preventative or corrective measures and that the employee unreasonably failed to utilize the measures the employer provided.

Even given this definition, there is some room for argument about exactly what would constitute a tangible employment action. Consider the case of Kyle Keeton. Mr. Keeton went to work for a restaurant chain and was quickly subjected to sexual advances by his female boss, which he rejected. She subsequently fired him with no other cause other than she felt he "wasn't supporting her." When Mr. Keeton complained to another company supervisor, he was immediately reinstated to a comparable position, but at a location 120 miles from where he had been working. This transfer created a hardship for Mr. Keeton's family, because his wife suffered from a medical condition that made it impossible for her to move with him.

Mr. Keeton sued under Title VII, saying that he had experienced a tangible employment action as a result of the firing and transfer. A jury agreed and awarded him minimal damages as well as his attorney's fees. The employer appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court decision, but not without dissent. Even the majority acknowledged that Mr. Keeton's firing did not meet the standards of tangible employment action, because of his rapid reinstatement. The court majority further stated that Mr. Keeton's longer commute may or may not qualify as an adverse employment action, but agreed that a reasonable jury might see it as such. 

But this decision was not without conflict. A dissenting judge wrote that "mere inconvenience" was not enough to make the case for adverse employment action, and that employers should not be required to "examine the personal characteristics and living situations of each affected employee before taking any action that might even marginally change that person's life." The judge further stated that "what renders the lateral transfer here adverse in the eyes of the majority, then, are not the objective effects of the transfer, but rather Keeton's subjective expectations as to the reasons for being transferred and the particular circumstances of his family life."

In 1998, the Supreme Court went a long way toward providing clear, consistent guidelines for the application of sexual harassment law. But as this and other cases show, there are still plenty of grey areas.

Source: Kyle Keeton v. Flying J Inc. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 04-6023

Linda F. Willing, 2005

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