Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This...

June/July 2007 Issue Number 90

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  


Fire Rescue International, August 23-25, 2007 Atlanta, GA. Linda Willing will be teaching the following workshops at this conference:

Leading Diverse Teams Pre-conference seminar, Wednesday August 22

Leading Diverse Teams-- Company Officer Symposium Thursday, August 23

Unite and Conquer: Finding Common Ground in the Diverse World at Work Sunrise seminar, Friday August 24


In the News

When it Doesn't Look Like Work

A recent six year study of over 23,000 workers has shown that health and productivity were greatly increased when people included a short nap in their workdays. Specifically, researchers found that napping contributed to decreasing death from heart disease by 37%.

Firefighters have long understood the benefits of napping, usually right after lunch during a work shift. Many in the emergency services would agree with Al Kirschbaum, a prominent investment banker, who stated that a daily nap is "incredibly refreshing. I'm much more energized and alert. It's like starting the day all over again."

Why then, do some organizations, including fire departments, forbid napping during the work day? Because it doesn't look like work.

The attitude that work must always look like work has expanded to many workplace rituals. One fire station had a tradition of making a big breakfast together once a month, but were told they could no longer do it, because the time spent on breakfast was better spent on official business. One company officer liked to take his crew out to lunch to celebrate milestones like promotions or significant accomplishments. He was told to stop because it "looked bad" to the public.

Of course it is important that people be productive during their work days and not waste time with personal business. But it is short-sighted to see the activities described above as wasted time. In the case of napping, scientific studies have shown that brief periods of midday sleep can help prevent accidents and improve the quality of work. A 1997 NASA project showed that airline pilots who were allowed to take a short nap during a day-long flight were 100% more alert afterward and performed 34% better. Major railroads did a similar study and now allow their engineers to nap between runs.

As for the other activities, such as group breakfasts or informal celebrations, such events can have a big effect on successful team building. Employees often report that spontaneous recognition among their own team members is more meaningful to them than a more formal, institutionalized event.

No one wants to encourage workers to goof off and waste time. But there is a big difference between a cooperative group breakfast and individuals spending all day at work shopping on eBay. All individuals, regardless of their job responsibilities, need some down time at work, and all groups need time to just be together, learning about one another and developing unspoken team norms and values. Managers who insist that every minute of every day be spent in activity that "looks like work" might be undermining their own aspirations of making the workplace more productive.

Source: Business and Legal Reports, June 6, 2007

News Brief

Massachusetts is considering a law that would make workplace discrimination based on height and weight illegal. Currently such discrimination is banned only in the state of Michigan, the District of Columbia, and a few cities nationwide.

Source: Associated Press, May 17, 2007

Sexual Harassment Update

Time Limits Reconsidered

Lilly Ledbetter was the only female production supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden, Alabama. Over the years, Ms. Ledbetter was given pay raises that did not match her male counterparts, so that by the end of her 20 year career, she was making 40% less than the next lowest paid male supervisor at the plant. Upon leaving her job in 1998, Ms. Ledbetter sued for discrimination under Title VII based on the pay inequity she had suffered during her tenure at the plant. A jury awarded Ms. Ledbetter the highest amount allowable under Title VII. But earlier this month, the US Supreme Court supported the reversal of that decision, saying that Ms. Ledbetter was owed nothing for the discrimination she experienced at Goodyear. Why? According to the Supreme Court, Ms. Ledbetter's claim was invalid because the statute of limitations for filing had passed.

Title VII requires that EEO claims be made within 180 days of the violation. Goodyear claimed that this time limitation meant that only pay decisions made within 180 days of the filing could be considered. Since all the discriminatory pay decisions were made prior to that date, Goodyear said Ms. Ledbetter's claim was invalid. The Supreme Court agreed.

This decision somewhat contradicts a 2002 ruling (Amtrak v. Morgan) where the Supreme Court allowed acts of discrimination occurring prior to the 180 day limit to be considered, since those acts were part of a pattern of behavior that created a hostile work environment. By definition, hostile environments are created by aggregations of multiple incidents, not as a result of one or two discrete acts. As long as a plaintiff can make a clear connection among the prior acts, and one of those cumulative acts is within the 180 day filing period, a valid claim can be made.

Ms. Ledbetter argued that her pay situation was similar in that small disparities in pay accumulated over the years, leading to a clear inequity at the end that could not be determined incrementally along the way. The court majority, however, said that pay decisions are discrete acts, and so any claim made because of them related to Title VII must take place within the 180 day window.

The 5-4 decision was controversial. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her dissent, "The Court's insistence on immediate contest overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination. Pay disparities often occur, as they did in Ledbetter's case, in small increments; cause to suspect that discrimination is at work develops only over time. Comparative pay information, moreover, is often hidden from the employee's view. Employers may keep under wraps the pay differentials maintained among supervisors, no less the reasons for those differentials. Small initial discrepancies may not be seen as meet for a federal case, particularly when the employee, trying to succeed in a nontraditional environment, is averse to making waves."

Past court decisions have made a distinction between cumulative discrimination, which defines hostile environment harassment, and discrete acts, such as unlawful firing. Pay inequity has been a gray area, but is no more. The Supreme Court through this decision has clearly put pay decisions in the column of discrete acts. Possible effects of this decision will be discussed in next month's column.

Source: Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company Inc. US Supreme Court No. 05-1074



© Linda F. Willing, 2007

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