When was the last time you said you’re sorry to someone at work.  Last week? Last month? Last year? Never?

There isn’t a right answer to this but I was thinking about this yesterday on the Jewish New Year.

Jews are asked to spend the next 10 days to reflect on the past year and ask those who they may have slighted in last year for forgiveness.

Call it prep work for Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.

First, an acknowledgement (apology?) up front: This isn’t the firm time I’ve written about workplace apologies.

Back then, I referred you to the SorryWatch blog, which tracks good, bad and ugly apologies.  (There is also a category for “Evil Twin” apologies too. Worth checking out just for that.)

More recently, the blog authors recount the apologies of the Royal Canadian Mountain Police in settlement of a massive discrimination and workplace harassment claim a while back.

It’s a terrific and rare example of the power of an apology in the right circumstance.  You can read the whole thing here, but here’s a brief cut from it:

Instead of succeeding and thriving in a supportive and inclusive workplace, many women have suffered careers scarred by gender and sexual discrimination, bullying and harassment. …

Harassment and the lack of effective systems and processes to have prevented it and eliminated it from our workplace is absolutely at odds with what the RCMP is supposed to be. It is at odds with what we all need the RCMP to be.

To the representative plaintiffs here today: Janet Merlo, who has so courageously taken the lead to represent so many women who have been adversely affected, and to Linda Davidson and all the women you represent; indeed to all the women who have been impacted by the Force’s failure to have protected your experience at work, and on behalf of every leader, supervisor or manager, every Commissioner: I stand humbly before you and solemnly offer our sincere apology.

You came to the RCMP wanting to personally contribute to your community and we failed you. We hurt you. For that, I am truly sorry. You can now take some comfort in knowing that you have made a difference. Because of you, your courage and your refusal to be silenced, the RCMP will never be the same.

I must also apologize to all Canadians. I know how disappointed you’ve been with the Force as you heard some of these very public and shameful examples of disgraceful conduct within our ranks.

The SorryWatch blog gives a big thumbs up to the apology because it meets their suggestions for a good apology.  There are five steps to lay the foundation for a good apology:

  1. Say you’re sorry.
  2. Say the thing you are sorry for. (As an aside, this is notoriously hard for my kids.)
  3. Say you understand the import of what you did.
  4. Make amends.
  5. Figure out what steps to take so it doesn’t happen again.

It won’t work in all instances. But in some it will.

So have your employees say “I’m sorry” to one another when appropriate; it may just prevent your next discrimination case from happening.

Flickr_-_Government_Press_Office_(GPO)_-_“Slichot”_Prayer_(2)Today is Yom Kippur – the holiest day in the Jewish year. It’s a time for reflection and a day for atonement as well.

So today I thought it would make sense to share with you something I’ve shared with clients over the years: It is the difference between what the law requires or allows, and what you — whether you’re a business or you’re acting as a supervisor — should do.

Let me give you this example: An fifteen-year employee has lately been having some troubles at work. The performance is ok but nothing that will win awards. The employee doesn’t show up for work for three days and is not responsive to phone calls. A classic no-call, no-show at work.

It is issues like this that pose two different types of questions that employers should be asking themselves. What does the law require us (or allow us) to do? And what SHOULD we do in this situation?

Sometimes, the answers will be obvious and the same for both.  Perhaps you will conclude that in the above example, a termination of employment may be appropriate.

But suppose I tweak the above example to indicate that the employee has not been feeling well of late and there’s a good possibility to believe the employee may simply be home sick or perhaps even hospitalized.  The employee has never failed to call during an absence and has ten days of paid time off remaining for the year.

Going back to the questions above, it starts to get a little messier.

The law may allow you fire the employee — though query whether perhaps the employee should be FMLA eligible.   But in answering the question of whether you should fire the employee, that’s where things get messier.

Often times, its the “should” question that is more of a business decision than a legal one.  In other words, do you want your business to be the type of employer that will be known for taking a hard stance when employees are sick?

That may not be fair — after all the employee still has an obligation to show up.    But in answering the “should” question, you can go deeper than simply looking at what the law requires or allows.  Perhaps it means sending a followup e-mail or even letter to the employee.

Now, I’m not naive enough to think that employers need to bend over backwards to treat employees with kid gloves when those employees can’t take care of themselves and can’t follow rules.  But I do think, on this day of atonement, that the urge to rush to judgment ought to be tempered more often.

Yes, you as an employer may have the power to terminate an employee, but that doesn’t mean that every situation really warrants it.  Consider the law for sure, but also consider the facts and circumstances and ask yourself if what you are doing would seem “fair” to your neighbor.

If not, then rethink the decision. Just because the law may allow you to make a decision, doesn’t mean that its always the best decision to make.

Have you hit the target with your apologies?
Have you hit the target with your apologies?

The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur is quickly approaching.  While most people know that Jews are supposed to fast on that holiday (and ask G-d for forgiveness for their sins), one of the other traditions of the holiday is that Jews are supposed to apologize to all those we have wronged in the previous year.

I must confess I hadn’t thought about that much until I listened to a great podcast recently from Unorthodox, which brought in the publisher of “SorryWatch”, a blog about the art of the apology, to talk about saying you’re sorry.

(And another confession: Sure, I have this blog on employment law in Connecticut — talk about niche! — but the brillance of a blog devoted to apologies is divine! Seriously, it is just an awesome read.  They have lots of posts on why an apology is meaningful.)

The podcast was a terrific listen for those who are, and are not, Jewish.

It got me to thinking about the art of the apology in the workplace.  Now, I’m not the first one to write about this on an employment law blog. My friend, Molly DiBianca from the Delaware Employment Law Blog, touched it with her three rules for work apologies: Own It. Don’t Overdo It. And Offer a Solution.

The Harvard Business Review has its own advice on the work apology.

[L]eaders should not apologize often or lightly. For a leader to express contrition, there needs to be a good, strong reason.

But in the right way, an apology can help resolve workplace disputes as this post from the JAMS ADR Blog details. Indeed, in mediation, there are ways to use a mediator to get to an apology as well:

Formal face-to-face expressions of regret and responsibility,
while potentially powerful, are rare. By the time the parties
explore settlement, the animosity generated by their litigation
makes it difficult to express anything directly other than
hostility.

Communication through a neutral is easier. Messages
can be passed to the other side, such as an employer’s
regret that an employee’s skills were not better utilized, a
manager’s admission of ineffective coaching or a supervisor’s
acknowledged failure to appreciate the workplace hostility
experienced by an employee. Acknowledgement of shared
responsibility for the failure of the employment relationship,
coupled with empathy for the hardship caused by the
termination, can convey the employer’s respect for the
terminated employee. Once the employee feels respected
and validated, his or her focus can shift from challenging the
employer’s decision to moving on.

Reference letters can substitute for apologies. Positive,
factual statements about the employee (excerpted from past
performance reviews or deposition testimony) communicate
respect and confirm the value of the employee’s contributions.

But I liked the advice given in the podcast. The five-step approach to the apology.

  1. Say you’re sorry.
  2. Say the thing you are sorry for. (As an aside, this is notoriously hard for my kids.)
  3. Say you understand the import of what you did.
  4. Make amends.
  5. Figure out what steps to take so it doesn’t happen again.

It’s not a perfect list, but it’s a pretty good step to start.  Workplaces aren’t always about being right; sometimes, it’s saying you’re sorry for the little things, to avoid bigger things down the road.

25 years ago nearly to the day, my father donated one of his kidneys to his brother.  

What have you done today? Have you done everything you could? Could you have done better? 

They may seem like unfair questions after the first sentence.  

But tonight is the start of Yom Kippur – a Day of Atonement in the Jewish religion and one of the holiest days of the year.  And as part of the services tonight and tomorrow, Jews around the world will be asking tough questions of themselves all with the goal of being a better person next year.  

And so, to honor my father and his heroism and provide education and insights in the employment law context in the way I know best, today’s post is all about organ donation and what employers need to know.  My goal is to begin a discussion this important issue in Connecticut.

FMLA is typically thought of in the medical context or childbirth/adoption process.  But Connecticut’s FMLA statute actually provides protection for those employees who become organ or bone marrow donors.  Donors are to be provided with the same amount of leave (16 weeks over a 2 year period) that, say, new mothers and fathers are accorded.  You can read more about this at the Connecticut Department of Labor website.

This is still a relatively new law — having been passed just six years ago fairly quietly.  Here’s some additional background on the provisions from the OLR Research Report.  

If you’re an employer, what does this mean? Well, for one, your FMLA policies should be updated to let your employees know that they can be a living organ donor — and still have their job protected. 

Employers can also update their FMLA forms to provide for organ donation is a category to check off. Many employers tend to use the Connecticut DOL’s forms (at the end of the regulations) — assuming that they are the most complete forms out there. But even those forms do not include language about being an organ donor.  (Don’t look to the US Department of Labor either; their forms just follow federal law, not state law.)

Enterprising employers might think to seek out the Connecticut DOL regulations for some guidance. But those employers would also be out of luck. Those regulations haven’t been recently updated and say nothing about how employers should handle such requests.  Indeed, if you just read the regulations, you might even think that organ donors are not protected because language about "organ donors" isn’t even there.  (Conn. Regs. Sec. 31-51qq-7 is a perfect example.)

Perhaps a representative from the Department of Labor can take the opportunity to update their website on this category and provide additional information, in the absence of formal regulations.   Without that, organ donors may be left wondering if their jobs are protected if they choose to donate.

In the meantime, employers are on their own to take steps to educate their workforce about the protections offered under Connecticut’s FMLA for organ donation.  Employers should be sure their forms and policies are up-to-date and remove any barriers to organ donation that their employees might think exist.  

Credit should be extended to the many employers that have done a lot in this area, including some local companies (Aetna and Bank of America).  The Workplace Partnership for Life initiative is truly a win-win campaign in which everyone can play a significant role in recruiting potential organ, tissue, marrow, and blood donors. Thousands of U.S. corporations, organizations, and associations are working to create a "donation friendly America" by joining the Workplace Partnership for Life.

(And, of course, if you haven’t become an organ donor, do it today.  You can download the form from the DMV off their website and mail it in. Or when you renew your license, you can become a donor then.  The DMV has a FAQ about the process on their website as well.)

And what of my father and his brother? They’re both living healthy and productive lives.  And we continue to celebrate many holidays together.

If through this post and actions by employers, we can ensure that another family has that same benefit, I think we can say that today was at least a pretty good day and we did what we could. Think about the simple changes that your workplace can make today.