Jonathan Segal is a Partner at Duane Morris, LLP. He has been cited as a national authority on employment issues in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, to name just 3. Jonathan’s many accomplishments are listed on the SHRM18 Conference page.
As an HR professional, I’ve always attended various employment workshops. Jonathan is one of the lawyers I followed on Social Media and I often retweet him or share his articles on LinkedIn. When we were assigned to pick a speaker to interview, I knew I wanted to interview him. You can also follow him on Twitter.
I am thankful that he was willing to share his personal thoughts on HR matters, sexual harassment training, workplace culture, and leadership. This interview will surely encourage you to sign up to his sessions at SHRM18.
GT: As a lawyer, how did you decide to specialize in Employment Law?
JS: I decided to become an employment lawyer because it focuses on people and the relationships between them. I also think employment/HR issues are both interesting and incredibly important.
I have a particular passion for issues involving equality. As employers, we can do a lot to make equality a reality and not just a policy.
My passion for equality is a natural outgrowth of my upbringing. My parents—and my grandparents—were both role models and messengers that there is nothing you cannot do because of your gender and nothing you must do because of it
Most of my family was killed in the Holocaust, and my grandparents were proud and productive immigrants. These facts also inform how I see the world and the role I want to play in it.
HR is the bridge to compliance and culture
GT: Your topics at SHRM18 are all related to Sexual Harassment, do you think with the #MeToo movement, training will be taken more seriously, and harassment claims will be better handled?
JS: We hear a lot about compliance and culture. Some suggest it is one or the other. I think we need to marry the two. Our compliance must take into account our culture and our culture must reflect the values underlying our compliance obligations.
I love your term “bridge,” and I agree that HR is the bridge between compliance and culture.
GT: Many companies have used videos for sexual harassment training and 70% passing rate. It’s one on one and not really interactive. Do you think that’s enough?
JS: I agree a lot of training programs are deeply flawed. That does not mean training of leaders is not important. We just need to take a look at our training and ask how we can make it more effective.
At a minimum, it must be interactive and customized. If it is canned, it belongs in the can.
We need to provide examples of specific behaviors that leaders must avoid, even if they don’t raise to the level of illegality. Remember: power magnifies wrong.
We must provide leaders with guidance on how to respond to complaints they receive and how to deal with bad behavior that they see or hear, even if no complaint. Leaders, and that includes everyone in HR, cannot be passive bystanders.
Differential treatment is not a solution to better training, don’t ignore the fear.
GT: Many employment laws are not new, like Title VII, sexual harassment, ADA, etc. Why do you think companies don’t enforce compliance more to protect themselves?
JS: We must provide guidance on how to navigate the gray areas, such as when giving a hug or compliment on appearance may be okay. We don’t need to implement sterility as we strive for greater workplace civility.
It is important that we talk about how to work human. I fear some men may be so scared of harassment claims they that will or already are avoiding women. There’s a word for that: discrimination.
Don’t discount the fear, although I think it is overstated. Take people where they are and hit the fear head on and provide granular advice on how to ensure there is equitable inclusion.
GT: What advice would you give HR professionals about having courage in the workplace?
JS: Sometimes we need to stand up and fight for what is right, as Johnny Taylor, Jr., the CEO of SHRM, has emphasized. It is not risk free. That is why they call it courage. If there are no risk, then there is no courage.
I think of the VP of HR who spoke with his CEO about another executive who had engaged in serious sexual misconduct. His message was, “one of us will not be here by the end of week”. He’s there, but I am not sure the termination (which was the proportionate response) would have happened if he had not spoken up.
When speaking up, look for an ally. Going at it alone is harder. Try not to attack. Give the other party a chance to save face and agree. Influence based on values and not threats.
I think HR has done so much more than that for which it gets credit. We don’t hear about all the times HR pushes to do the right thing and gets results. This makes me very proud to be a SHRM member.
Click on the link to sign up for Jonathan’s Sessions: