26 February 2012

What Is Sexual Harassment?

As women working in an office, this is unfortunately something we will come across at some time in our careers.  I think men probably experience it as well, but it is not reported as often.

I recall as a young woman working for a large mostly male organization in the late 70s, it was just an expected thing that you would get your bum pinched while walking past someone's desk or have sexual remarks made about you. At the time I just went with the flow and thought it was normal, although I found it uncomfortable. Nowadays this would not be acceptable behaviour. We have come a long way in the law, but also in our thinking on what good office behaviour is.

Further to my blog post on Workplace Harassment and Bullying, I was contacted by a lawyer from California who asked if they could post an article on sexual harassment.  I thought it would be interesting to hear from an expert so they could actually give us real examples and options, but I also wanted to hear from an American lawyer.  Canadian and American law can be very different as well as from state to state and province to province.

Please read the article below sent by an employment law lawyer from California.

Sexual harassment is a serious charge with serious consequences. A victim of sexual harassment may suffer emotional and mental (and even physical) injuries, feelings of humiliation and helplessness, and have their reputation for honesty or good character unfairly maligned.
Administrative assistants, secretaries, paralegals and others with similar job descriptions are often at greatest risk for the type of demeaning conduct or behavior directed at them which could lead to a claim of sexual harassment. Everyone has dealt with obnoxious supervisors, bosses, colleagues and co-workers, but when a certain line is crossed tolerable offensive behavior becomes unacceptable harassment. And since administrative assistants tend to be women who work (for the most part) with men, the traditional power disparities between the sexes that exist in society tend to be magnified in the workplace.
But sexual harassment, which is generally defined as unwanted and unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature, is a touchy subject (no pun intended). Although some conduct may be so egregious that no reasonable person would think it was anything other than sexual harassment, the law does not clearly define what type of conduct or behavior is prohibited; what is merely offensive or distasteful to one person may be unacceptable and intolerable to another. In the end, it comes down to a question of how a reasonable person in the shoes of the person claiming sexual harassment would react in the same circumstances.
An article published in the online edition of the USA Today by an employment law expert looked at several sexual harassment cases and provides a helpful examination of this complicated area of the law.
In one case cited by the author, a female employee at a manufacturing plant filed a sexual harassment lawsuit after co-workers made lewd comments about her, called her vulgar names, and engaged in other offensive behavior after it became known that she had posed nude in a nationally-circulated motorcycle magazine. A court held in her favor, finding that although she may have invited such attention outside of work, she did not want or ask for that attention at work, she did not speak or act in a sexually provocative way at work, and she complained repeatedly to management about the behavior of her co-workers, and eventually quit when it did not stop.
“Postcards from the Edge”
In another case, a female employee at a machine shop used sexually explicit language at work, laughed at dirty jokes that were told by others at work, and displayed at her desk a sexually-themed postcard that was given to her by a co-worker. However, she sued for sexual harassment after co-workers continually passed around copies of adult men’s magazines at work, used sexually abusive language toward her and other female employees, posted sexually-themed cartoons in the workplace, and sent her sexually-themed postcards. After management failed to respond to her complaints, she quit. The jury in this case did not hold the employee’s own behavior against her since she, like many other women in male-dominated work environments, felt it necessary to tolerate a certain degree of coarse behavior, and even “play along” in some instances.
While these examples tend towards the extreme and have unique facts, they do show you how subjective sexual harassment is. It is not like speeding or drunk driving, where the relevant facts can be ascertained fairly easily through the use of technology and applied to the case at hand. Not so with sexual harassment – it is all in the “eye of the beholder”. Reasonable people could look at a set of facts and reach entirely different conclusions. No doubt everyone has felt uncomfortable at one time or another because of a comment, joke, conversation or interaction with someone at the office. But do those whispers, looks or remarks rise to the level of sexual harassment?
Only a judge or jury can answer that question for sure, but before it gets to that point, it would be a good idea to consult with a sexual harassment lawyer who can tell you what the law is and whether your facts can support a claim of harassment. An experienced sexual harassment lawyer can give you a fairly good idea of whether a jury will perceive your experience to be so outrageous that someone ought to pay for it.
Marcelo Dieguez is a practicing lawyer at Diefer Law Group and specializes in employment law and as a sexual harassment lawyer in Orange County and throughout California.
Please See: “What constitutes sexual harassment?” Jane Howard-Martin, USATODAY.com, December 18, 2002

16 February 2012

Minute Taking Q&A

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was giving a webinar on minute-taking yesterday.  There were a few questions that as I pondered last night, I wanted to give a more fulsome answer to today.  Since some of you are on my blog, I thought this would be a good way to answer those questions.

Do you need to record in the minutes when someone abstains from a vote?
This is a good question, but doesn't have a simple answer.  It all depends on what type of meeting you are recording at and what rules they follow.  The meeting recorder should have a good grasp of the rules of order that their meeting follows as that will help to answer questions like this.  But rest assured it is always OK to go back and find the answer.  I keep the rule book with me in the meeting and have tabbed it to some things that I want to be able to find quickly.  Here are some frequently asked questions about voting at a meeting.

For the most part, it is the result of the vote that counts, not who voted yes, no or abstained.  If your meeting rules say that they need 50% +1 to pass a vote and there are 10 people in the meeting with voting rights, then you would need 6 people to pass the motion.  If six vote yes, three abstain and there is one no vote, it is still passed and that is all that would need to be recorded.  Read further in the Roberts Rules answers above for more information as there are exceptions. 

At one of our meetings, a board member voted no to a motion and asked to have his nay vote recorded in the minutes.  He wanted it to be known that he was against it.  I recorded that the motion was carried (or passed), but noted that this member had voted no.

The same rules do not apply to every meeting.  For example, in Roberts Rules the Chair and ex-officio members have a vote, but in our meeting governance manual it states the Chair can only vote to break a tie and ex-officio members do not have a vote.  Again, it all depends on what rules your meeting follows and that is what you need to go by.

Legal requirements have to be kept in mind as well.  Your governance manual should be reviewed by a lawyer to make sure your rules and by-laws are within the law for your particular province or state.

Do you record a question and answer in the minutes and assign it to the people involved?
Minutes should not be a he said/she said recording.  If a question is asked and answered in the meeting you need to determine if it is even necessary to put it in the minutes.  It may not need to be recorded if it is not relevant to the outcome of the discussion.  If it is relevant to the discussion, then the parties should not be singled out in the minutes by recording their names, but rather I would suggest the following as an example:

In this scenario, when they were at the first agenda item to approve it, someone asked if Business Arising could be added to the agenda and went on to say why they thought it was important.  Another person in the meeting said they were part of another meeting and found it very helpful to have a Business Arising item.  The group agreed to add it.  I would therefore record it as follows:

1.  Approval of Agenda
The agenda was accepted as presented.
There was discussion on the format of the agenda. Business Arising is to be added to the agenda as a standing item and will be dealt with after the Aproval of the Minutes.

To add Business Arising as a standing item on the agenda.

All you really want to record in the minutes is the outcome.  Sometimes when there is a presentation at the meeting or a report is given and there are questions and answers afterwards, I will simply state in the minutes: Discussion and questions ensued following the presentation or There was discussion and questions following the presentation.  If there is an outcome, I will write: Discusion and questions ensued following the report from the Director of Finance.  Directors are to follow up with their teams and report back on any budget implications.

He said/She said Etiquette
As I mentioned above, minutes are not a he said/she said recording, but at times what the Chair says should be recorded.  For example, in a senior leadership team the Chair wanted the meeting participants to make sure when they submit briefing notes for their individual agenda items that they include recommendations and advise whether it is for information or approval.  I would record this as follows:

1.  ABC Company Matter
The Director of Human Resources reported on the proposed merger with ABC Company and the implications to the current staff.  Discussion ensued.  An email is to be drafted to provide staff with information on the merger.

To draft an email to staff regarding the merger with ABC Company.
(Director of Finance)

The Chair reminded the team that when a briefing note is presented at the meeting, it should have clear recommendations and identify whether it is for information or approval.

I hope this is helpful and answers your questions.

4 February 2012

Minute Taking

The first time my boss asked me to take minutes I gulped and the fear took over.  I'm sure many of you can relate and know exactly what I mean.  As I was walking to the boardroom I chattered nervously to him that I hadn't taken minutes since high school.  It ended up being a ploy to get me to the boardroom for a baby shower - Surprise!!! Whew, I had dodged a bullet, but I knew this, I never wanted to take a job that required minute taking.  But fast forward a bit and now I really enjoy taking minutes. So what changed?

Well... I wanted to progress in my career and knew if I was going to do that I would have to learn to take minutes.  There are not many Executive Assistant jobs that don't require minute taking.  In our office all the administrative assistants also have to take minutes. 

I'm the type of person that when I want to do something I learn everything there is about it.  I bugged everyone I knew that had ever taken minutes and gained confidence by talking to them.  I wanted to know what was required of the minute taker, what were the best practices and I needed someone to break it down for me.  I was blogging at the time so interviewed a friend and skilled minute taker for an article I was writing.  Once she explained the basics to me, my reaction was, "Is that all? I could do that."  I have since learned it is a little bit more than I initially thought, but knowing the basics definitely helped and was the start of getting over the fear so I could then start to learn.

I have two upcoming webinars if you would like to join me.  I want to help others get over the fear as well and the way to do that is through education. Having confidence and knowledge is half the battle.

I have changed the format somewhat to concentrate more on the actual minute-taking process, but there is more to minute taking than just taking the minutes.  The more prepared you are the more confident you will be and the minute taking process will be secondary, but you do need to know how to take them as well so I hope to give you some good tips on that.

I look forward to passing on what people have shared with me, what I have learned through my own experiences and from the benefit of having a boss who mentors me through the bumps of learning how to take minutes well. 

I have two upcoming webinars.  One on February 7 and the other on February 15.   I hope you will join me.