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...February/March 2006 Issue Number 80

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.

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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.

Fire-Rescue International September 12-16, 2006, Dallas, TX. Linda Willing will be presenting a pre-conference seminar on September 13 entitled “Leading Diverse Teams.”

New York State Women Firefighters’ Weekend September 21-24, 2006, New York State Academy of Fire Science, Montour Falls, NY. Linda Willing will be presenting a workshop entitled “Command Presence.”

 

In the News

Reverse Mentoring

The traditional idea of mentoring is that older, more experienced employees develop relationships with younger, newer workers as a way of helping them to learn more about the organization and to develop a sense of identity with the existing culture. But lately there is attention being paid to the idea of “reverse mentoring”– recognizing that those younger people might have something valuable to offer their older counterparts as well.

Certainly in the modern workplace, young people have interests and skills that are quite different from many older employees. In some cases, these interests are seen as an obstacle to teamwork, as older people may disapprove of music or personal styles that are embraced by young workers. But many older people also find that young employees have much to offer, and much to teach them.

Consider the example of technology. Although many older people are very skilled with using emerging technologies in the workplace, none grew up with computers, cell phones, BlackBerries or iPods. For young workers, technology, and rapid changes in this area, are second nature. It’s not just a joke that if you need to program your DVD player or set up instant messaging on your computer, a teenager is often your best source of information.

Likewise, young workers have different priorities for their lives and may not buy into traditional workplace structures regarding hours, dress codes, or job assignments. Rather than seeing this resistence to tradition as being obstructionist, there is much to learn from being open to new, alternative ways of doing things.

A few years ago, I was working with a fire department that has historically valued longevity. It was rare to find a firefighter who retired from that department without at least 35 years of service. But the newer people coming on the department are seeing their career paths a bit differently. As one veteran firefighter said to me, “They come on the job and think that they’ll stay here 15 or 20 years, and then do something else.” He paused, obviously troubled by this development, then he said, “So we need to find a way to make them more like us.” I laughed. These newer people are the future of the organization, and if anything, the future will require becoming more like them, or at least finding common ground in the middle. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

News Brief

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has implemented the first major changes to required reporting in four decades. The EEO-1 report, which provides the federal government with workforce profiles by ethnicity, race, and gender, has been changed to include expanded categories for both race and ethnicity as well as job classifications. This report is required for all employers with 100 or more employees, or those with 50 or more employees who receive government contracts over $50,000.

Source: Business and Legal Reports, January 31, 2006

Sexual Harassment Update

The First Amendment, To a Point

Do workers retain all of their First Amendment rights to freedom of expression while they are at work? The answer to that question is clearly no, although what limitations may be put on those rights is a continuing issue facing the courts.

Consider the case of five police officers in Hartford, CT who were told that they could not display certain tattoos while on duty. The officers who had the tattoos on the lower part of their arms were required to cover them with armbands when they wore short sleeved shirts at work. The officers filed a lawsuit saying that the rule violated their First Amendment rights. Recently, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying, “A police department has a reasonable interest in not offending or appearing unprofessional before the public it serves.”

The city’s order to cover the tattoos affects only those displayed by on-duty police officers. The tattoos in question were of a particular design that has been associated with veterans of the Vietnam War, and also more recently with a white supremacy group. The city maintained that the First Amendment rights of public employees are more limited than those of the general public.

Case law reinforces this stance. In one instance, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an employer that ultimately fired a man for refusing to remove a Confederate flag emblem from his work-issued tool box, a violation of the company’s anti-harassment policy (see Archives July-August 2003. ) In another case, a police officer who was fired for making sexually explicit videos on his off-duty time won his First Amendment case in the Federal circuit court, only to have the decision reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Employers have the right to make reasonable demands on employees, even if those demands may infringe on absolute First Amendment rights to freedom of expression. Requiring an employee to wear a uniform to work is one example of an employer demand that would be considered reasonable. Requiring employees to wear a uniform that violates their rights under other laws can still be illegal. For example, requiring women to conform to a distinctly different uniform standard that results in adverse impact on them in the workplace could be seen as a violation of Title VII. In the case of the Hartford police officers, any adverse impact they had from the policy against the tattoos was outweighed in the eyes of the court by the employer’s business necessity of serving the public in a professional manner.

This decision upheld the ruling of a lower court, which had dismissed the case in favor of the employer.

Source: Associated Press, February 1, 2006.

© Linda F. Willing, 2006

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