What You Need to Know About Lactation Accommodations

Breastfeeding employees who are returning to work usually know how much extra work pumping is going to be. They’ve thought about the bulky pump and its multiple attachments, how they can bring it into and out of the workplace inconspicuously, whether they’ll have time and a private spot to express milk, and where they’ll be able to store the equipment and their milk.

Employers can ease their minds and make their return to the workplace a less stressful experience by being thoughtful about the lactation accommodations they will provide. Lactation accommodations may feel complicated, but the requirements are actually fairly straightforward. Here are the basics you need to know.

Federal Law

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires all employers to provide reasonable break time and a private place that is not a bathroom for employees to express breast milk during work hours for one year after their child’s birth.

This time doesn’t have to be paid except to the extent that it runs concurrently with other paid break time. For example, if an employee would normally get a 15-minute paid break, but needs 30 minutes to pump, the first 15 minutes would be paid while the second 15 minutes could be unpaid. Note, however, that you shouldn’t be any stricter about timing for an employee taking a lactation break than you would be with an employee taking a regular break. So, if you actually allow people to take 20-minute paid breaks (even if your policy says 15), lactation breaks should be afforded the same leeway.

Employers that have fewer than 50 employees don’t have to provide these accommodations if doing so would be an undue hardship—this means it would cause significant difficulty or expense, which is a high threshold to reach. Federal law also prohibits retaliating against employees for taking lactation breaks.

Recent Updates to Federal Law

Enacted this past December, the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, or PUMP Act, expands the current federal requirements to now cover exempt employees as well as nonexempt employees. This law applies to employers of all sizes but (still) has an exception for employers with fewer than 50 employees if they can show that providing accommodations would cause an undue hardship.

Along with the PUMP Act, Congress also passed the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. As a result, starting in June of 2023, employers with 15 or more employees will need to accommodate employees’ and applicants’ known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless it would create an undue hardship. Employers also cannot take any adverse action against an employee or applicant for requesting or using an accommodation.

Previously under federal law, employers usually only had to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and applicants if they also provided accommodations to other employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work due to a disability.

State and Local Laws

Many state and local laws offer protections to lactating employees that go above and beyond what is required by federal law. For instance, a common requirement is that employers provide lactation breaks for longer than one year. Some states set an age limit at two or three years, while others don’t set a maximum age at all. And at least two states have provisions requiring lactation breaks to be paid.

A growing number of states also have broad pregnant workers’ fairness laws. These laws generally entitle employees to pregnancy-related accommodations, such as seating, lifting restrictions, more frequent breaks, and flexible schedules, unless the accommodation would cause the employer an undue hardship. Employers generally can’t require a doctor’s note to prove that the pregnant employee needs these accommodations.

Lactation Break Logistics

Here are some requirements and best practices that we recommend as the minimum standard for creating a supportive environment for lactating employees:

  • Provide a private, clean, and secure space. A private room, separate from a bathroom, should be designated for employees to express milk (this doesn’t have to be the only thing the space is used for, though lactation should be given priority). This room should have a comfortable chair, a flat surface for the pump, and an electrical outlet. The room should also have a lock and be free from interruptions. The Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health offers solutions for employers that are short on space.
  • Ensure access to refrigeration. An employee’s milk will need to be refrigerated until they go home. Make sure they have access to a refrigerator for this purpose, located close to the pumping room, if possible. If you can’t provide a separate fridge that is convenient for the lactating employee, they must be allowed to use a communal fridge for storage.
  • Offer flexible break time. Employees need time to express milk, and this time needs to be provided on a schedule that works best for them. The frequency and duration of lactation breaks will vary depending on the employee and can change over time. Employers can generally expect an employee to need two or three lactation breaks in an eight-hour workday and for each break to last around 30 minutes. Expressing milk usually takes 15 to 20 minutes—additional time is needed to set up the pump before and clean the pump attachments after.
  • Educate and support. Share your lactation policies and procedures with employees. The employee handbook is a good place to do this. If an employee needs assistance overcoming any obstacles to pumping at work, be prepared to answer questions and propose solutions.
  • Remember that remote workers need time too. Remote workers who are lactating will also need time to pump or breastfeed. Make sure they have the same schedule flexibility as those who are in the workplace.


If needed, create or revise your current policies on breastfeeding and expressing milk in the workplace. A well-crafted policy will be specific to your workplace, and tell employees about:

  • The flexibility allowed in their work schedules for lactation
  • The designated location or locations they can use to pump
  • Where the employee can store their breast milk
  • Whether they have the option of continuing to work while pumping
  • Whether any part of their lactation breaks will be paid (obviously, if they do continue to work while pumping, that time must be paid)

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FMLA Turns 30: Let’s Get Back to Basics

For 30 years, HR professionals have been working with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law enacted to protect employees’ jobs and medical insurance when they need to take unpaid time away from work for certain family and medical reasons.

While FMLA has been around for a while, you may be new to the law because your organization has grown to the point where it only now applies to you or you’ve just had your first request from an employee for leave. Whatever your case, it never hurts to review the basics. FMLA can get pretty complicated, even for employers who have been granting and administering leave for years.

FMLA involves a lot more than job protection: there’s handling paperwork, deciding whether the medical condition qualifies, whether leave will be taken all at once or intermittently, and what happens when the employee returns. Let’s review some of the basic questions employers have about the law.

Are You a Covered Employer?

If you are an employer with 50 or more employees for at least 20 workweeks in the current or previous calendar year, you are subject to FMLA. Elementary and secondary schools are covered regardless of their employee count.

If you’re a covered employer, you are required to hang the FMLA poster at your workplace where applicants and employees can see it—even if you don’t have any eligible employees.

Which Employees Are Eligible?

An employee is an eligible employee if they:

  • Have worked for you for at least 12 months (not necessarily consecutively);
  • Have worked for you at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period immediately before the leave; and
  • Work at a location where you have at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

Remote employees are considered to work at the worksite they report to and where their assignments are made from. An employee’s personal residence is not a worksite for purposes of FMLA.

If you have any eligible employees, you are required to provide the information on the FMLA poster in your employee handbook or by distributing a copy to each new employee upon hire.

What Can an Employee Take FMLA for?

Employees are entitled to take FMLA for the following reasons:

  • The birth of a baby and to care for their newborn within one year of birth;
  • The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job;
  • A qualifying exigency because the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is a military member on active duty.

What Is a Serious Health Condition?

FMLA defines a serious health condition as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves either inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. Both physical and mental health conditions qualify for FMLA leave.

As far as continuing treatment, you may be surprised as to what is covered, especially when it comes to conditions that require intermittent care, such as mental health like anxiety or PTSD or recurring physical ailments like migraines or infertility.
You can find forms on the platform for employees to use with their providers to determine if their condition qualifies.

How Much Time Do Employees Get?

The total time allotted is up to 12 workweeks of leave per year (or longer for military caregiver leave, explained below). You get to define what a year is. You can use:

  • Calendar year or another similarly fixed 12-month year,
  • 12 months forward from the first date the employee starts FMLA, or
  • Rolling 12 months, counting backwards from the date an employee uses FMLA.

Any of these methods are acceptable, just be sure to pick one and stick with it. If you don’t identify your FMLA year, employees are entitled to use whichever year is most favorable to them.

Intermittent leave adds additional complexity to FMLA. Employees are entitled to take FMLA intermittently or on a reduced schedule when medically necessary. You want to be sure you are consistently tracking the time your employees take that qualifies for FMLA. You can find sample tracking documents on the platform.

What Does FMLA Say About Military Family Leave?

The caregiver of a military member with a serious injury or illness may take up to 26 workweeks of unpaid leave during a single 12-month period. You’ll note that’s a longer amount of time than the standard 12 weeks.

What is Job Protection?

Job protection means an employer must return an employee who took FMLA leave to the same position they held when leave began or to an equivalent position. An employee is entitled to reinstatement even if the employee has been replaced or the position has been restructured to accommodate the employee’s absence.

An equivalent position is virtually identical to the employee’s former position in terms of pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. It must involve the same or substantially similar duties and responsibilities and require substantially equivalent skill, effort, responsibility, and authority.

If an employee is no longer qualified for the position (for example, they couldn’t attend a necessary course or renew a license) because of the leave, the employee must be given a reasonable opportunity to become qualified again when their leave ends.

Are There Exceptions?

FMLA’s only real exception is reinstatement of a “key employee.” This is an employee who is salaried, FMLA-eligible, and among the high paid 10% of employees within 75 miles. An employer may decline to reinstate a key employee if returning them to their position (but not continued absence) would cause substantial and grievous economic injury to the employer’s operations. In this case, the employee is still entitled to take their FMLA leave and the employer has specific notice requirements. If you believe that the reinstatement may need to be denied, we recommend speaking with an attorney.

What Paperwork Is Needed?

FMLA has rather involved paperwork requirements. We’ll walk you through the paperwork for an initial leave request.

When an employee requests leave for a reason that might qualify for FMLA, the employer has five business days to provide notice about their FMLA eligibility, rights, and responsibilities. It’s worth noting that the employee doesn’t have to request FMLA leave per se, so it’s important for managers to know the types of leave requests that can trigger FMLA. If the employee isn’t eligible for FMLA, you can stop here.

If the employee is eligible, in most cases, the employer should provide a certification form and, if the leave is for the employee’s own serious health condition, the employee’s job description when they provide the notice of FMLA eligibility, rights, and responsibilities. You can require the employee to provide the requested certification within 15 calendar days after providing them the form, but would need to grant an extension if they try but can’t meet that deadline.

Once you have enough information to know that the employee’s leave is for a FMLA-qualifying reason, you have five business days to provide the employee a designation notice. This notice tells the employee whether their leave—and, if known, how much—will be counted as FMLA.

What is the Right Way to Pronounce FMLA?

We’ll refrain from staking out a definitive position on this controversial matter. Some employers pronounce FMLA “fem-la.” Others “ef-em-el-a.” Our advice is to pick one and, as always, be consistent.

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Know Your HR Terms: Protected Classes

Protected classes—also known as protected characteristics—come from several federal laws (about half are from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Although we’re usually talking about them with respect to employment, they may also come into play in housing, education, and public accommodations.

The characteristics protected by federal law in employment settings include race, color, religion, age (over 40), sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy), disability, national origin (including ethnicity and accent), genetic information (including that of family members), military service (past, present, or future), and citizenship or immigration status.

While you have a lot of leeway to make employment decisions as you see fit, you’re prohibited from making decisions based on a person’s inclusion in any of these protected classes. Refusing to hire or promote someone because they’re over 40, gay, or from Mexico, for example, would be unlawful discrimination under federal law. Many states also have their own anti-discrimination laws that protect additional characteristics, and employers should make sure they’re aware of those.

We recommend including the full list of applicable protected characteristics in your employee handbook so that everyone is aware of them.

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What a Good Enough Hiring Process Looks Like

The last few years have proved challenging for employers trying to fill positions. Low unemployment, among other factors, made the job market much more friendly to jobseekers than to employers keen to hire them. In this highly competitive environment, some organizations upgraded their compensation packages or experimented with other attractive perks, hoping to stand out as the best. Others re-examined their recruitment and hiring processes or sought help from consultants or vendors. Struggling employers may have been tempted to look for a “magic bullet,” that one thing sure to get them more candidates.

Both the desire to offer a great recruiting experience and the eagerness to find a magic bullet are understandable given the state of the labor market. But both have their disadvantages when it comes to recruitment.

Recruitment is not just one thing—it involves a lot of moving parts and relies on multiple people within the organization. A single-minded focus on being the best can lead to unrealistic goals and misaligned expectations. It can also zero in on one part of the process at the expense of others. Using the best technology won’t by itself solve discriminatory hiring practices. First-rate recruiters can’t by themselves elevate subpar hiring managers. Software that lets people apply for jobs via a text message may sound super cool, but it’s not going to be suitable for every kind of industry or brand.

The good news is that an effective recruitment process doesn’t need to be the best or magical or otherwise super flashy. It just needs to be good enough to fill your open positions.

As a standard, good enough can get a bad rap both in the business world and in American culture generally. Many of us want to be the best. Striving to be “the best” is ingrained in our everyday lives, after all. Theme songs from The Karate Kid to Pokémon evoke that feeling. You probably saw more than a few “Best of 2022” lists last month. When we talk about behaviors and procedures we recommend, we call them “best practices.”

But being the best is rarely necessary. Thinking in terms of good enough helps you set realistic goals that are grounded in the real needs of your organization. With a good enough approach to recruiting, you can focus on what you actually need to accomplish.

Let’s examine what good enough looks like in the four basic parts of any recruitment process: the Need, the Search, the Selection, and the Onboarding. What’s good enough for your organization will depend somewhat on the particulars of your situation, but the principles and practices below should help get you started.

The Need

You have an open position—maybe it’s new, maybe it’s a replacement. Regardless, you need to bring someone into your organization. Being good enough at this stage means that those involved in the hiring process (e.g., the recruiters and the hiring manager) can effectively discuss the need prior to beginning the search for candidates. For that, they’ll need a job description, information about what kind of person they’re looking for, and a salary range. Determine who should be bringing what information to the table. After discussing the need, create a job posting. This job posting serves as the source of truth so you can find the right candidates.

The Search

Now begins the actual search. Finding your candidates can feel like one of the hardest parts of recruitment. Good enough at this stage involves sharing the job posting and training interviewers how to compare the incoming candidates to the need, of course, but it also means finding and implementing ways to make the search easier and smoother for everyone. Software can help a lot here, but more important are good practices. Consider what extra work you may be giving to yourself and your prospective applicants. Are applicants required to submit a resume and then manually enter the information on their resume into the system? Are they required to draft and submit cover letters when those letters aren’t necessary or even part of the decision-making process?

The Selection

Chances are you’re not going to be able to pick the best of all possible employees. You might not even have a candidate who checks every box. But you don’t need the perfect candidate; you need someone who can do the job well enough and can grow in the position.

A good selection process starts with training hiring managers on how to review applications, conduct interviews, and evaluate the candidates in a fair, equitable, and compliant manner. It involves providing regular and reasonable updates to your candidates and following up with them when you say you will. It includes extending an offer and providing the selected candidate with a reasonable amount of time to consider it. The process concludes when a candidate accepts your offer.  

The Onboarding

The onboarding experience finalizes a new hire’s first impression of the company. A bad experience can cause the new employee to regret accepting the offer and may prompt them to quit at the first opportunity. A great experience, however, can set the stage for a long-lasting relationship.

Fortunately, onboarding doesn’t need to be perfect to be great. The first few weeks on the job are going to feel overwhelming. The new hire isn’t going to remember everything they learned.

Good enough onboarding keeps the process simple, straightforward, and consistent. Set up time for the new hire to complete the necessary paperwork, meet coworkers, read the employee handbook, and complete any training. Time between onboarding meetings and tasks—allowing them to process the information and experiences—should also be built in.


Good enough isn’t about doing the minimum or having the latest shiny new tech; it’s about doing what’s necessary to get the results you want. It means understanding the various pieces of the recruitment and hiring process, setting realistic expectations for yourself and your applicants, and keeping things in perspective as you move from step to step.

For job applicants, candidates, and employees, a consistently good recruitment and hiring process from start to finish is a much better experience than one that is the “best” in one or two areas, but mediocre or subpar in others.

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Four Things Employers Should Know About Pay Transparency

Have you heard about pay transparency? It’s the idea that companies should be open with employees and applicants about pay and, more broadly, what factors they include when making decisions about compensation.

It’s no secret that expectations around pay have changed, and employers need to pay attention. People on the lookout for a new opportunity want to see pay ranges on job postings, and some of them make it a practice not to apply if that information isn’t immediately available. Employees want more clarity about their own pay and how it stacks up relative to their peers, and in a tight labor market, they may hit the road or expend less effort at work if they don’t feel they’re paid fairly.

But pay transparency isn’t just about what current and would-be employees want. Their expectations have now made their way into state and local law. For a sizeable number of employers and their employees, pay transparency is no longer just a “nice-to-have.” Whether you’re in a location that’s passed a pay transparency law or are simply curious about what this new trend might mean for your businesses, here are four things you should understand.

1. Pay Transparency Is the Next Frontier of Pay Equity

The federal Equal Pay Act went into effect in 1963, but it hasn’t brought an end to pay disparities between men and women. Neither have most state laws with the same objective. Long story short: the laws weren’t strong enough, and they didn’t account for all the causes of unequal pay. In many cases, it has been possible for an employer to comply with these laws while still offering unequal pay for essentially equal work.

Often, it’s not that employers have deliberately chosen to pay women less than men for the same jobs. In many cases, the basis for pay differentials has seemed sensible, such as salary history. But it turns out that basing pay on salary history perpetuates discrimination over an employee’s career. Mindful of these facts, cities and states across the country have instituted salary history bans and implemented other legal measures to strengthen pay equality. Pay transparency laws are part of this trend.

So far at the state level, Colorado, California, and Washington have passed laws requiring that employers post pay ranges within job posting and ads, while New York is on the brink (just waiting for the governor to sign). What these laws have in common is a new requirement that certain organizations disclose pay ranges in job postings.

2. Pay Transparency Laws and Practices Encourage Employees to Talk About Their Pay

Once pay ranges are visible on job postings, everyone from job hunters to competitors to current employees can see how their own pay compares to the range offered. That information is useful to job seekers considering whether to apply and how much that type of job pays in the current market. It’s useful to competitors who may try to poach talent. And it’s useful to employees who may wonder whether they’re paid equitably for their work.

If pay ranges are too large, employees will think you’re acting in bad faith or wonder who among them makes that little or that much. If the ranges are reasonable, but you have current employees outside of those ranges, there may be gossip, organizing, confrontations, or all of the above. If the ranges are reasonable and your current employees are paid in line with what you’ve posted (phew), you still may get inquiries about how someone’s position in the range is determined.

3. Employees Have a Legal Right to Discuss Their Pay

That’s right. You may have heard about companies telling their employees not to share how much they make. Or you may have done that yourself. But that’s an engraved invitation to a lawsuit. Under federal law, employers may not prohibit non-supervisory employees from discussing their wages with one another. Likewise, employers may not in any way discipline or retaliate against an employee for discussing their wages or other terms and conditions of employment. Prohibitions of this nature infringe upon employees’ protected rights under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Section 7 protection includes discussions about wages, benefits, treatment by managers, facilities, safety issues, and just about anything else that two or more employees might have a stake in. In addition to rights under federal law, many employees (including supervisors) have protections under state laws that allow them to freely discuss their wages.

We strongly recommend that employers immediately eliminate any written or unwritten policy telling employees that discussion of wages is discouraged or prohibited, or that wages are confidential, and also discontinue any written or unwritten policy of disciplining or terminating employees for this behavior.

4. Pay Transparency Can Be Good for Business

Being open about pay is ultimately a boon for employers and employees alike. First, it saves everyone time and the company money. Recruiters and hiring managers waste a lot of time and energy processing applications and interviewing candidates who are destined to decline any offer because the compensation doesn’t match their expectations or fit their needs. By disclosing compensation up front, employers discourage those people from ever applying. Second, pay transparency on job postings has been shown to increase the number of applicants significantly. Many job seekers are unwilling to apply for positions that don’t indicate a range and others will value the transparency for what it says about your organization. In a tight labor market like we’re experiencing now, employers should take any leg up they can get. Third, it encourages, and makes it easier for, organizations to comply with equal pay laws. You can’t as easily put pay equity on the back burner when pay ranges are front and center.

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Three Ways to Make Holidays More Inclusive

The office holiday party is a time-honored tradition: readers of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol may remember the Christmas party hosted by Ebenezer Scrooge’s old boss, Nigel Fezziwig. While the look and feel of these end-of-year holiday parties have changed since the 1840s, they remain a popular part of the American office culture.

While it’s less common today for companies to host “Christmas parties,” office festivities continue to bear the trappings of that holiday. Christmas trees, wreaths, gifts, and Santa Claus still make appearances in workplace decorations and celebrations.

Is this an issue? It depends. While some people view these symbols as more secular than religious, not everyone sees them that way. Moreover, not every person who follows a particular religion wants to see images and practices associated with their religion brought into the workplace. On the other hand, many employees welcome holiday celebrations at work that honor their own religion and those of their coworkers. 

Given diverse religious views and declining rates of religiosity in the United States, employers who would like to be inclusive around the holidays may need to do more than name the year-end holiday party something neutral. Here are three steps to get you started. 

1. Ask Your Employees What They Want

First and foremost, survey your employees to find out which holidays they would like to see observed and their thoughts on what observance in the workplace should look like. Observing a holiday doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll close up shop for the day, and you may want to make this clear to employees when asking for their preferences. When considering their suggestions, make sure you’re treating everyone equitably. Ending up with decorations related to some holidays but not others may be fine if that reflects everyone’s wishes, whereas allowing people of one religion but not another to take paid time off to attend a worship service could lead to claims of discrimination.

2. Celebrate Occasions Throughout the Year

Once you’ve found out how your employees want to observe and celebrate holidays, mark the company calendar. You might, for example, encourage employees to share how and why they observe certain holidays with colleagues on a general Slack channel or through a company newsletter. Allowing for time and space to talk about religious practices—both celebratory and somber—helps employees understand why a coworker may be fasting, lighting candles, praying during the workday, wearing special attire, or taking time away from work. Observing multiple holidays throughout the year also makes it less likely that an end-of-year party will feel exclusionary.

3. Keep Year-End Company Celebrations Separate from Holiday Observances

Even with ongoing observances, many of your employees may expect some sort of celebration in December. You can avoid people feeling excluded by focusing your celebration on the accomplishments of your employees and the company during the past year, rather than making it about the holidays.

Inclusion doesn’t take a break at the holidays. On the contrary, the holidays, whatever time of year, present a great opportunity to recognize, celebrate, have fun, and help make employees feel that they belong.

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What Employers Should Know About Trauma in the Workplace

2008 was a difficult year. The Great Recession was underway. People lived in a constant state of worry. In workplaces across the country, employees informally gathered after official meetings, trying to decipher what their leaders had shared and what information they’d held back. If the larger implications of the recession were abstract and theoretical, the possibility of layoffs felt very real.

If you worked during this time and didn’t lose your job, you probably had friends and acquaintances who did. Your leaders may have done their best to keep you updated as you pondered the fate of your employment, but that didn’t stop the whispered discussions in the hallways and bathrooms. You may have wondered what the real story was, when decisions would be made, and what would happen to your livelihood. It was a time when people were expected to continue to work as they had before—or put in even more effort—all while raises and benefits were on the chopping block.

In the aftermath, some people felt pressured to pretend nothing remarkable had happened. Their leaders wanted them to carry on, push forward, and, most importantly, not talk about the hard business decisions that were made or the pain those decisions caused. The struggle was real, but that stark reality wasn’t acknowledged out in the open. As a result, both those who lost their jobs and those who didn’t felt anxious, confused, insecure, and distrustful.

At the time, you might not have referred to the mere prospect of a layoff as a “traumatic event.” But it was. Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing experience. And that recession was most definitely distressing. It caused deep and widespread psychological harm. It affected people’s mental health at a time when society took mental health much less seriously than it does now.

When a distressing event occurs in or affects the workplace, leaders need to be ready and able to support their employees before, during, and after the event. That goes whether the event has its source in the workplace—like a layoff, acquisition, or serious workplace injury or death—or impacts the workplace from the outside—like a pandemic, natural disaster, or act of violence.

Responding to traumatic events poorly (or not at all) can make a bad situation much worse. In fact, an inadequate response to trauma can itself become a source of additional distress.

Let’s examine how you can prepare your workplace to weather a traumatic event, support your employees throughout its duration, and help them process their emotions in the aftermath.

Preparing for Traumatic Events

First, you must build trust with your employees before things get bad. If you don’t start from a place of trust before something bad happens, it will be difficult to establish it when you are in the middle of a stressful, chaotic, and challenging situation. To create relationships built in trust, act with transparency, clarity, and consistency. Demonstrate that you care personally for your people. Show them the trust that you want them to show you.

Second, plan for trauma. You may already have plans in the event of emergencies, disasters, or major business disruptions. Make sure those plans account for the emotional state of employees during and after the event. Train managers to recognize signs of distress and what’s in (and not in) their power to manage. Emphasize the importance of transparency, clarity, and consistency. You don’t want to make matters worse by acting chaotically.

Third, establish a communication plan for emergency situations. Employees should know where to go for important, up-to-date information. Leaders should know who will be involved in these communications—who initiates, who reviews, and when and how the communication is shared with employees.

Fourth, practice. Review your plans and run through them on a regular basis so leaders understand their role. Share these plans with your employees as appropriate. Not everyone will read them, but putting in the effort will gain you some trust with many employees.

Navigating Traumatic Events

We all know you can plan and plan and plan and plan, but when a moment of crisis comes, you begin to panic. That’s okay. Take a moment to breathe and calm yourself. Bring your response team together and get organized. Outline what needs to happen, including communications that should go out to employees. Make sure everyone is on the same page.

You will want to have multiple ways for messages to be shared as your employees will likely not receive messages at the same time, especially if you have people on multiple shifts. If you’re conducting a layoff, for example, meet with each affected employee individually (as you are able) and be sure you are giving them all the necessary information. Then follow up in writing, as these employees will likely be in shock and not remember much of what you said.

Act with empathy and sensitivity to those who are most affected. Sometimes, well-meaning leaders emphasize their own pain at a time when their employees are hurting. Less well-meaning leaders sometimes act in callous or dismissive ways, treating their employees as if they are disposable. Both of these approaches to distressing situations break down trust. They also have a chance to become viral news online, at great reputation risk to the organization.

Responding to Trauma When Things Calm Down

When the dust settles, you may be ready to return to “normal,” but that’s not going to happen. Your world has changed. You need to help your employees adjust to this “new normal” and recognize that the past isn’t coming back.

Your employees will need time to process the event and their feelings about it. Share information about your employee assistance program (EAP), if you have one. Create spaces for employees to connect and talk about the changes. Prepare managers to listen. The trauma following the death of a coworker, for example, will affect the workplace long after the funeral. Grief is personal and not everyone will react in the way you think they might.

In a case like this, you’d want to give your employees time and space to process the event and their feelings, while also providing them with information they need to prepare themselves for what comes next. For example, it could be jarring for employees to see their deceased coworker’s job posted. They may feel as though you are pushing them to a place they aren’t ready to go to yet. Giving them a heads up may help them prepare themselves emotionally to see the job posting.

You cannot shy away from the events you all collectively went through, nor should you sweep the memory of it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen. Being upfront and honest about the experience will be a huge benefit to your employees working through their experience and what it means to them. Trauma will always get its say, but it doesn’t have to have the last word.

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What is Discrimination?

A hiring manager, eager to fill an exciting new role in the company, reacquaints himself with a candidate’s resume as that candidate takes a seat across from him. Looking up, the hiring manager jolts involuntarily, surprised to see a gray-haired man likely in his late 50s—a much older person than he had envisioned for this cutting-edge job. While the interview goes well, the hiring manager feels that the candidate’s age makes him a bad fit.

Elsewhere, a vice president ponders which project manager would be the best person to assign responsibility for the development of a new feature on the company’s signature app. Contingencies aside, the choice is clear: Mikalah has had far and away the most success of anyone on the team and is eager to jump into this new assignment. But Mikalah announced last week that she’s pregnant, and while she hasn’t yet requested leave, the VP assumes Mikalah won’t be able to do as good a job this time around. After a moment’s consideration, the VP opts to assign the project to Doug.

After receiving complaints about unequal pay, an HR director conducts a pay audit of their workplace, discovering that the complaints have merit. By and large, men in the company are paid more than women, and in many cases, the disparities seem to be based only on gender. Merit, seniority, and productivity didn’t seem to enter the equation.

Each of these scenarios illustrates what discrimination can look like in the workplace. Discrimination occurs when people are treated differently or less favorably; it becomes illegal in the employment setting when it’s because a person belongs to a protected group.

Discrimination is often harmful, jeopardizing people’s jobs and careers, adding to their stress, and putting their health at risk. Employers who engage in or tolerate unlawful discrimination can face devastating lawsuits.

Antidiscrimination Law

Under federal law, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an applicant or employee based on age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, national origin, race or color, religion, and sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation). These are called protected classes. Federal law also prohibits discrimination against an individual who complains about discrimination, files a charge of discrimination, or participates in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Federal antidiscrimination laws include, but aren’t limited to, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Equal Pay Act, Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act). You can learn about the requirements of these laws, what exactly they prohibit, and the employee counts at which they apply on the platform.

State laws may offer additional protections to employees as well. For example, a number of states have amended their employment discrimination laws to specifically define race as including traits associated with race, including hair texture and protective hairstyles. Information about these laws is also available on the platform.

It’s worth noting that discrimination doesn’t have to be deliberate to be unlawful. Discriminatory outcomes, intentional or not, can put your organization in a world of hurt.

Types of Unlawful Discrimination

Unlawful discrimination will generally fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Unfair treatment, which occurs when an employee or applicant is treated differently than others who are similarly situated because of a protected class or protected conduct.
  2. Disparate impact, which can happen when a neutral employment policy or practice disproportionately impacts persons within a protected class.
  3. Failing to undertake certain actions prohibited or required by law. For example, failing to reasonably accommodate a known disability of an employee or applicant.
  4. Harassment, which is unwelcome conduct that is based on a protected class. This includes sexual harassment. Harassment becomes unlawful when either enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.
  5. Retaliation, which is punishing an employee (or treating them unfavorably) for complaining about job discrimination or assisting with a job discrimination proceeding, like an investigation or lawsuit.

The best way to avoid discrimination is to base employment decisions only on factors that are job-related.

Responding to a Complaint

If you receive a complaint that an employee has violated your discrimination policy, conduct a complete and well-documented investigation into the allegations. Assume neither guilt nor innocence and make no promise of a particular outcome. Speak with the employee who made the complaint, the accused employee, and any witnesses they name. Ask open-ended, non-accusatory questions.

Once the investigation is complete, document your conclusions and actions taken. If you determine the accused employee did in fact violate the company’s discrimination or other workplace policy, take the appropriate disciplinary measures, which, depending on the severity of the behavior, may include termination of employment. A memo summarizing the findings should be placed in the accused employee’s file.

It is then important to inform both the accused employee and the accuser about the conclusions of the investigation and any disciplinary measures taken. The complaining employee doesn’t need to know the specific disciplinary action, just that appropriate corrective action was taken. In some situations, it may be advisable to separate employees to limit the potential for future incidents, but care should be taken so this step doesn’t have a negative impact on the employee who raised the complaint.

Companies that do not make changes substantial enough to eliminate discrimination once they become aware of it face greater liability in the event of future issues. You can help reduce risk related to discrimination complaints by conducting a quick, thorough, fair, and well-documented investigation, followed by steps to minimize the risk of such actions happening in the future.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

HR’s Role in a Recession

The prospect of a recession has many businesses and their employees worried. During an extended economic decline, sales drop, jobs disappear, and productivity decreases. Companies have less revenue to invest, and their customers have less money to spend. With their lives shaken by financial instability, people are more motivated to play it safe and less inclined to take risks.

We make no prediction about whether a recession is near. But with the possibility of one on the horizon and the inevitability of one eventually, everyone working in HR ought to be prepared when the time comes. A recession hits more than just your bank account. Stress grows. Tensions mount. Morale falls. People become less productive simply because they’re preoccupied with their personal finances. Each of these affect the bottom line.

HR’s role in a recession is to mitigate stress, resolve tensions, maintain morale, and ensure employees continue to be rewarded for their hard work. This is what HR should be doing all of the time, of course, but economic downturns come with their own challenges. Respect and empathy are key. Let’s look at a few of these challenges and what you can do in response.

Heightened Uncertainty About the Future

If a recession nears or begins in earnest, employees will be worried about how it might affect them. Will their pay be cut? Will they lose their job? Will their retirement savings evaporate? It’s difficult to plan or act when you don’t know what’s going to happen. For some people, waiting for the possibility of bad news induces as much anxiety as receiving that bad news.

Whether your business is booming or struggling, be as transparent as you can be. If your business looks poised to do well despite the overall downturn, deliver that message to employees. Give them that confidence. If navigating the recession will demand more efficient work from everyone, clearly communicate those goals, don’t sugarcoat the consequences if those goals aren’t met, and show your appreciation when they’re achieved. Whatever the case, don’t mislead employees. If you do, they’ll find out eventually and remember not to trust you in the future.

Employee Financial Hardships

A recession doesn’t hit everyone in a company the same way. Even if your organization fares well, the finances of your employees may not be so hot. Their 401(k)s may be tanking. An employee you just gave a raise to may still be worried about paying rent because their spouse or partner lost their job or their roommate had to move away.

Be mindful that your employees’ experiences during a recession will vary widely. Some may take bad news harder or feel less celebratory when there’s good news to share. Don’t assume that employee morale is high just because quarterly financials are on the rise. In times like these, empathy is invaluable. Keep a pulse on what your people are feeling. Point them in the direction of helpful resources.


Recessions sometimes lead to layoffs. A layoff occurs when you terminate the employment relationship because there’s no work available for the employee to do, the company can’t afford to pay for the work, or the company will completely close.

There’s no sense denying it: layoffs are stressful for everyone. That said, conducting layoffs poorly adds a lot of unnecessary stress, increases the chance of lost revenue, and may expose companies to liability. When considering and administering layoffs, keep the following in mind:

  • Learn about your compliance obligations regarding layoffs. The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which applies to employers with 100 or more full-time employees, requires 60 days’ notice before a mass layoff or business closing. Many states have their own versions (mini-WARNs) that kick in at a lower employee count, so be sure to check state law too. Your state unemployment insurance law may have notice requirements as well.
  • Be doubly sure that layoffs are absolutely necessary and that you’re letting the right number of people go. Layoffs mean less work gets done, period. Unless you’re shutting down, you need at least enough people remaining to keep the business running. Quickly rehiring people because you underestimated how much work needed to be done to stay afloat won’t inspire confidence and will likely lead to confusion around to shifting job duties.
  • Determine whether the layoff will be temporary or permanent. If you intend to rehire laid-off employees later, let the employees know and keep them apprised of developments or changes in your plans. You’ll be scrambling if you’re ready to rehire workers at some point and no one can or wants to return. Also, given the waiting times for unemployment insurance, being on-again, off-again with employees can seriously interfere with their income.
  • Be fair and non-discriminatory. Base your layoff decisions on legitimate business reasons and document those reasons.
  • Comply with laws regarding final pay. Many states require that you pay an employee much sooner than their next regular payday if they’re discharged or laid off. If your state law doesn’t address layoffs specifically, we recommend using the deadline that applies to terminations. If your state law doesn’t set a deadline for final paychecks at all, we recommend paying no later than the next regular payday.

Reduced Hours and Pay Cuts

In addition or as an alternative to layoffs, you might consider reducing hours or pay, but there are rules to follow here as well, and morale is sure to take a hit.

Employers generally have the right to reduce the number of hours an employee works. If you plan to send an employee home before the end of their shift, check state law for reporting time pay. Other restrictions may apply as well—review any contracts you have as well as relevant state or local laws. Exempt employees aren’t paid by the hour, so just reducing their hours won’t in itself lower their pay and save your company money.

If you still need a lot of work done, but can’t make the finances work, pay cuts may be your best bet. You can reduce the rate of pay of nonexempt employees as long as you keep it above the federal, state, and local minimum wages, still pay overtime when applicable, and don’t make the change retroactively.

You can also reduce the salary of exempt employees as long as they don’t fall below the federal and state minimum salary thresholds and, as with nonexempt employees, you don’t reduce the pay retroactively. In addition, to avoid violating the salary basis requirement for exempt employees, any change should be ongoing rather than fluctuating frequently. Federal law doesn’t require advance notice of pay reductions, but some states do, so be sure to check your state’s requirements.

If you need to reduce exempt employee pay below the minimum salary threshold, you’ll need to reclassify them as nonexempt, pay them at least the minimum wage and overtime as required by law, and provide them with any legally required breaks. Avoid reclassifying employees on a short-term basis, however, as it can look like you’re trying to avoid the rules.

As with layoffs, make your decisions regarding cuts to hours or pay in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner—and document, document, document.

Temptation to Cut Programs Deemed “Nonessential”

When money is tight, you must make sacrifices, but it’s important to remember your commitments and consider the consequences of casting them aside. For example, if an employer had committed to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion at their company, but then quickly opted to cut that program to help make ends meet, its employees would no doubt question whether that was ever truly a priority. All the work done as part of that effort could be jeopardized. The company’s reputation in the labor market could suffer.

Take care when deciding what programs and practices to stop. People assess an organization’s values based on where it spends (and doesn’t spend) money. What would your choices say about your values? Consider what message your actions will communicate.

If you really have no choice but to cut programs and practices that speak to your values and commitments, be thoughtful about how you communicate these decisions to employees. Transparency is key, as is following through again on these commitments when your company is back on its feet.

Everyone on Edge

Money problems weigh heavily on most people. Patience wears thin, the ability to collaborate with others deteriorates, and peaceful environments become high-pressure ones. In the event of a recession, you can expect people to lose their temper more quickly, long-standing conflicts to escalate, and new drama to erupt. However, don’t tolerate bad behavior.

Instead, address behavioral and performance issues right away, remind everyone that you’re all working for a common purpose, teach your team effective communication skills, and practice conflict resolution strategies. Ignoring drama or otherwise allowing it to fester will only hasten your best employees out the door.

Bottom Line

Recessions are difficult to go through and sometimes require hard choices. Treating people with respect and empathy sets everyone up for success in the long run.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center

Five Ways to Promote Mental Health in the Workplace

In a survey by McKinsey & Company, 75 percent of employers acknowledged that there’s a stigma around mental health in the workplace. People in the workplace, leaders included, are afraid to speak up about their mental health needs or ask for help. As the McKinsey report notes, employers can’t solve every problem contributing to poor mental health, but there is work they can do to reduce the stigma around mental health and promote healthy behaviors. We recommend these five actions: 

  1. When possible, give employees a little extra time to slow down and rest. Employees may need a moment to breathe or a day to regain their peace of mind, and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for time to take care of themselves. The ability to occasionally function at a medium (or even slow) pace should be built into performance expectations so that employees can avoid burnout or breakdown.
  2. Offer paid time off (PTO), mental health benefits, and flexible schedules if appropriate. In some cases, employees may want to get mental health care but can’t afford it. Losing pay from a missed work shift might be too great a hardship, and effective treatments might be financially out of reach. These financial hindrances can exacerbate conditions like anxiety and depression. In other cases, employees can afford the time off and the treatments, but they can’t make regular appointments work with their schedules. If you can offer PTO, health insurance benefits, or flexible schedules, these can help employees get the care they need.
  3. Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP gives employees access to expert, confidential assistance for substance abuse issues, relationship troubles, financial problems, and mental health conditions. These services are offered through an outside provider that connects employees with the appropriate resources and professionals. These programs enable you to provide professional assistance to employees in a confidential manner.
  4. Make reasonable accommodations when possible. If an employee informs you that they have anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition that’s affecting their work, begin the interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodation(s) you can provide in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies when an employer has 15 or more employees, but many states have similar laws that require employers to make accommodations at an even lower employee count. You can learn more about the ADA on the HR Support Center.
  5. Promote good mental (and physical) health in the workplace. Healthy habits are important for everyone to practice. Consider setting time aside during the week or month for employees to participate in activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness that develop and strengthen these habits. If you aren’t familiar with these practices, solicit the help of your employees. One or more of them may know a lot about these activities and be able to assist you in setting up a workplace program or modifying a program for employees currently working from home.

Article content provided by My HR Support Center