The views expressed on today’s program are those of the speakers and are not the views of Today’s Workplace, the speaker’s firms or clients, and are not intended to provide legal advice.
With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, came a drastic change in our way of life as people grappled with the disease and its far-reaching impact on the communities, businesses and economy of the United States as well as the world. In response to this, state and local governments were forced to implement shutdowns and enforce quarantine, to keep their citizens safe. The duration of the lockdown period had a deep impact on several businesses which led many to suspend day to day operations or closed down during state-mandated quarantines. Now as the country slowly begins to open its doors again, it does so in an unprecedented way of life. With the reopening of the economy, employers are making preparations for a return to the workforce in the new normal of post-pandemic life.
Depending on the services these businesses provide, they will now have to create a work environment that must adjust to the challenges that may arise post-pandemic as their employees return to work. It is especially important to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees both physically and psychologically, as they are invaluable assets. Due to the urgent need to apply and maintain this new dynamic, the Human Resources department has become more valued than ever by both large and small companies. It is imperative for HR managers to keep abreast, and implement the various brand new legislation and guidance.
When considering how their workers will return to work, whether that will be in the physical workspace or from a remote location, companies are deciding the philosophy and work culture within the workplace that will enable practices or provide a work environment that promotes social distancing. The Human Resources department must now consider the best way to communicate with their employees about this change in order to revamp the ways they operate in the workplace and strengthen employee relations.
Join us today as we discuss COVID-19 and how it modifies the dynamic of the workplace with our guest Chrissy Roussell. Christiane (Chrissy) Roussell Willis is Senior Vice President of People & Organization (Human Resources) at Sony Pictures Entertainment in Culver City, CA. In that role, she is the head HR business partner supporting the Strategic (Corporate) Functions. She joined Sony Pictures in December 2019 as Vice President of Employee Relations after serving as Counsel at Davis Wright Tremaine in Los Angeles, where she had an employment counseling and litigation practice. Prior to DWT, Chrissy served as Senior Counsel in the Employment Litigation Group at 21st Century Fox in Los Angeles. She also practiced at the law firms Morgan Lewis and Hunton & Williams (now Hunton Andrews Kurth), as well as served in a human resources role at Broadcom Corporation.
Outside of Sony Pictures, Chrissy is an adjunct professor at USC Gould School of Law, where she teaches HR Compliance. She also serves on USC’s Black Alumni Council and Marlborough School’s Equity, Enrollment, and Education Board Committee. Chrissy is also the President of the Los Angeles Chapter of The National Smart Set, an African-American women’s charitable and social organization. Chrissy is also a Past President (2015) and Lifetime Member of the John M. Langston Bar Association of Los Angeles. Previously, she was an inaugural member and the first Chair of the Ambassadors Council of the California Minority Counsel Program (CMCP) and was an inaugural recipient of CMCP’s Marci Rubin Emerging Diversity Leader Award.
Chrissy received her B.A. in English from Georgetown University, her J.D. from USC Gould School of Law, and her Human Resources Management Certificate from Loyola Marymount University. She is a native Los Angeleno who enjoys cheering on her Lakers and Dodgers with her husband Jabari and toddler daughter Sabrina.
21m 18s Summary of previous podcast topics
22m 17s Introducing Chrissy Roussell
23m 57s How have you seen the pandemic disrupt business?
25m 43s How are you helping your organization respond to all of these different regulations?
27m 29s Describing significant HR policy changes that you had to put into place and how do you make this approach?
32m 33s How would you describe your company’s philosophy with respect to how you are dealing with employees at this time?
35m 22s Describe unique issues that have arisen with new workplace safety guidelines and requirements
39m 12s Employee relations conflicts
43m32s What steps is your organization taking to address the concerns?
47m 08s Do you receive push back from employees about the initiatives and recognition of institutional racism?
49m 30s Who are the main stakeholders in shaping and formulating the company’s response?
52m 22s Who are the individuals responsible for the decision-making and coordination for COVID19?
54m 09s What are some of the complaints that are coming from employees nowadays?
56m 10s What about complaints from people managers and leaders?
59m 19s have you made any adjustments to management and how to approach employee complaints?
1 hr 1m 20s In terms of formal legal complaints, have you seen any changes since COVID-19 life?
1hr 2m 49s What are the top three pieces of sound advice you like to give any employer out there?
Barbara: Okay. Welcome to Today’s Workplace. In previous episodes, we’ve had some very informative discussions about the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and its far reaching impact on the communities, businesses and overall economy of the United States and indeed across the globe. As a consequence, state and local level, governments have imposed a wide range of shutdown and quarantine orders designed to keep its citizens safe. This has had a profound impact on businesses and many forced to suspend operations and, or totally closed during state mandated quarantines. Slowly but surely, these orders are being lifted. The economy is reopening and employers are preparing for a return to managing the workforce in the new normal of post pandemic life. Today, we are extremely fortunate to have Chrissy Roselle, to give us an inside look at the adjustments and challenges organizations have had to make and return to work post pandemic. Chrissy, why don’t you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself?
Chrissy: My pleasure, first of all, thank you so much for having me. I love the idea of this podcast and an honor for me to be a part of it, but I’ll tell you a little bit about myself. I graduated from USC law school in 2006. And since that time I’ve been primarily practicing as a management side employment attorney at large law firms supporting a variety of clients in various industries, various size companies across the country. I’ve also had the pleasure of serving in HR role at Broadcom Corporation and also as in-house employment counsel at 21st Century Box prior to the merger with Disney and currently I’m the vice president of employee relations and policy at some fixtures in Culver City, which is adjacent to Los Angeles.
Barbara: Well, we’re really happy to have you here today. Christie, thank you so much. And we know based on that background that you have a lot of insight as to what organizations are struggling with now, as they not only deal with remote workers, but any essential workers, they have to be site, returned to work issues. And so let’s jump into some of the issues that we want to discuss. And the first thing I wanted to ask you is that from your position as an HR leader for employee relations, how have you seen the pandemic disrupt business? As we know it?
Chrissy: One of the biggest things that I noticed is, as we often say those with whom I work, we are building the plane while we are flying it. We all fortunately recognize that none of us have ever been through anything remotely like this before. It’s very difficult to compare this to any experience any of us has previously had. And so we’re really just doing the best that we can. A variety of issues have arisen, particularly in the entertainment industries specifically at Sony, we have so many different types of employees. We have about 8,000 employees within the United States.
We have 50 TV shows right now, and several films that are in production across the globe. And so you can imagine where you have everything from traditional office workers to those who are working on production. There are a whole host of issues that have arisen and there are some people and to continue working, I work on the Culver City lot and there are those who have never stopped working. So a lot of those facilities and security and other support roles like that. And now that there are some productions that are back shooting, there are a variety of employees who back working and must be physically there to do their jobs. So we’re dealing with a whole host of issues and doing the best we can.
Barbara: There have been a number of legislative acts and government agencies that have issued guidelines for post Corona Virus workplace in terms of the regulations that you have to keep up with. So how have you been able to keep up with it all and how are you helping your organization respond to all of these different regulations?
Chrissy: Well, I must say that HR department, as well as the legal department are more valued than ever by the entire company. The rest of the company is looking to us insistently, what do we do? How do we do it? And just making sure that everything is done according to the various brand new legislation and guidance, where we feel like something new is coming out, either federally or locally, if not every couple of weeks, even every week or every day, constantly be aware of what’s going on. We are moving consistently with our employment lawyers and our labor lawyers. They’re the ones who are making sure that we’re up to date on the latest guidance and the latest requirements. They’re even little things that changed, like within Los Angeles County, before it was, if you have five confirmed cases of COVID within a particular period of time, you must report it to the Los Angeles department of public health. Then that got reduced to three cases. So even something that minor needs to be aware of, because we do have people that must be in the workplace; that are in place, and we have had, as many places have a few confirmed cases. And so we need to understand what to do.
Barbara: So can you describe then in light of all these new laws and having to do things differently, can you describe some of the more significant HR policy changes that you had to put into place? And then also talk a little bit about the approach to putting it into places. Is somebody sitting in the legal department, just writing all these policies and then handing them over to the human resources organization, or does it occur in a much more collaborative way?
Chrissy: There are lot of collaboration across legal, our HR department, as well as– we have a department called safety security and sustainability S3. And so they’re hurtful part of developments as well. So because things are changing so rapidly, because there are certain regulations that will, and entitlements that will expire as of this December. We’re not writing policies on a consistent basis. We’re doing what’s required in terms of keeping employees notified. But we’re really thinking through, based on our work environment, what’s the best way to do that, to make sure employees are getting the information that they need. And most of the time it’s not writing a policy. Usually it is communicating with our employees on our intranet with notifications. It’s sending email to them. It’s putting postings up physically in the workplace for those who are there. So those are ways we typically communicate. And then anyone who is returning to the workplace is required to go through a training. So they are notified about what’s new in the workplace, especially those who have not been there. And this is true for most people who haven’t been there since mid-March. So when it’s time for them to return, they need to understand what their work environment looks like now. So for a lot of people, their desk may be in a different place if they don’t have an office, if they’re in more of an open workspace. They may now have some sort of barrier, like a plexiglass barrier, for example, that’s in their area that they didn’t have before. So it looks different. They need to take a different path perhaps to their desks. There might be restricted to use a certain elevator, a certain set of stairs, certain bathrooms. So all of those little things that we take for granted, typically in the workplace throughout the Workday, going to use the refrigerator, going to the cafeteria for a place that has that, those things are all completely different. So we’re making people aware of those things in various ways that they can receive it. Whether that’s through a training. So they’re seeing a PowerPoint, they’re hearing things verbally. They’re also seeing an email about it. And so that’s where we found is the best way to communicate with our employees rather than writing a policy. Certainly any notices that the government is requiring that we posted out, we make sure we do that. And the government’s providing those, but we really haven’t been writing new policies just for this occasion.
Barbara: So no changes to like your leave policies or attendance or flexible scheduling. No changes that you’ve had to make to those?
Chrissy: Nothing in writing. It’s been for most people, in terms of, I’ll speak specifically to the flexible work. Anyone who does not have to physically be at work, to do their job is not required to be in the workplace right now. And actually for most of our patients, our largest employee population is in Culver City. And so for those employees and myself were actually restricted from going to our usual office. For those who work in Miami, some of those who work in New York, for example, they have been allowed to go back. If they need to spend a few hours, they need to pick up something. They don’t have to go through a special process for that. But for those of us in COID leave, there’s very restricted access. So pretty much everybody is working from home unless you absolutely cannot do your job working from home. You have to be in the workplace. And with regard to leaves, those employees who need to be on a leave for some COVID related instance, for example, if they have actually contracted COVID, they tested positive, or they are considered what’s called a close contact. So someone who has been in close contact according to the CDC definition was someone who’s been a confirmed case there certain time off that is provided for them. And we inform people of that in our FAQ’s that are posted on our internet. We have a COVID site on our intranet as a whole host of information. And then if people are not aware of that, otherwise we let them know on a case by case basis. Those instances have come up a lot more rarely because most people there.
Barbara: Chrissy. How would you describe your company’s philosophy with respect to how it’s dealing with employees at this time?
Chrissy: So we’ve been discussing philosophy quite a bit. As you’re aware, there are companies who have came out months ago with what their stance is about people returning to work and having flexibility returning to work. There are some companies like a Twitter that has said you never have to return to the workplace. I know a friend of mine, who’s an in-house counsel for a hospital organization and up in the Bay area. And because we’re real estate’s expensive. Her company decided to drop their lease. And all of them who were working in that building, they have to work from home. They don’t even have a workplace to go to anymore. There are some companies who have said everyone can work from home or will work from home through next July. So there’s been a variety of stances that companies have taken. So we have not let go of any of our leases, still have all of our workplaces and we’re working through what our philosophy will be for those of us who are able to pretty effectively work from home and have been for these past few months. What’s going to be our messaging for when we feel like it’s safe enough for people to return. First of all, there’s been no date given, firstly pictures within the United States. There are some Sony pictures employees who’ve returned in other places around the world. But speaking to the US only, our CEO is simply shared with us that it’s very unlikely that we’ll return to the workplace in 2020. And again, that’s for those of us who can pretty effectively do our work from home. Those people who are not already back because they have to be back in order to do their job. So it’ll be interesting to see, truly we’ve talked about perhaps having a period of time where we don’t follow our typical protocol of requiring doctor’s notes for medical related accommodations and just accepting people’s word without a doctor’s note. We’ve also talked about just going through our usual medical accommodations process of requiring some sort of documentation, whether that would be a doctor’s note or some other documentation to back up, the reason why the person saying they cannot, or it’ll be very difficult to return to the workplace. So I’m not quite sure what that’s going to look like yet, but as many companies are going through, there are a variety of options. And we’re deciding what that will be in real time.
Barbara: No, like you said, we’re living in totally unprecedented times, at least in our lifetimes. Can you describe any unique issues that have arisen in light of all the new workplace safety guidelines and requirements that have been issued?
Chrissy: I’d say for our work environment, productions. Figuring out what to do, what productions has been the biggest thing. Of course productions, It’s our money. That is how Sony pictures as well as the other studios make money. So if our productions are not up and running, if we don’t have the shows to put out, if we don’t have films to put out, then we don’t make our money. So that’s been the biggest challenge is figuring out how do we effectively work with the unions? How do we effectively look at our own workplace and the conditions that we can provide and the supervision that we can provide so that everyone feels safe and is safe and that we can continue to do our best to keep our business running. Obviously we don’t have control over the fact that movie theaters are mostly not open, especially in the biggest markets like Los Angeles and New York, respect to our films. So there’s been more of a focus on TV because we have a bit more control over that. Because as long as there are TV shows that are ready to air, they can be aired, right? Everyone can watch from home without having to go to the theater. So there’s been a real focus there. So that’s what’s been most unique because as you can imagine from any TV show or film that you watch, people often have to be very close to one another. If you have a family, you’re not going to have a mother and a child, six feet apart usually. If there’s a romantic relationship, there’s affection that shown, there’s kissing, there’s hugging. People have to be close to one another. There are scenes where people are fighting and have to be close to each other. So just figuring out how to keep people safe, what frequency of testing needed to happen. And that’s now been determined fortunately. The other people who don’t have to be close to others, those who are on the crew figuring out, well how often should they be tested then? And then let’s think about hairdressers and makeup artists. They have to be close to people. So how do we keep them protected and keep those with whom they work protected? So it’s so many little considerations with what could be hundreds of people that are part of a production. It can get very complicated and not everyone can be in a bubble like we have with the MBA. It would be so wonderful if every production could be a bubble and it wouldn’t affect people’s personal lives and it was financially viable, but it’s not, unfortunately. So there are a handful of productions that have decided to do that. Not any of ours, but I’ve heard like Tyler Perry, that he’s been able to do that for some of the functions in his studio and heard of some others that are going to remote locations to film, TV shows or movies, and everyone is quarantined and they create their own bubble, but that’s not practical or realistic for most productions. People have to live their lives.
Barbara: And see their families who aren’t allowed in levels.
Chrissy: That’s right. That’s absolutely right. Yes. And you think about guest stars on TV shows, for example, someone who just needs to be there for a day or two or a guest director, even if you created a bubble are going to be some people that would still have to come in and some have to travel. And so we’ve been taught those little details. Well, does it make sense for them to get tested before they get on the plane and or after they get off the plane? And then how long do they have to quarantine? How long are the test results take before they can show up on set? So, yes, it’s been a lot and brand new for everyone.
Barbara: So as a, as a follow-up, are you seeing any conflicts coming from either your people who are working remotely or people who are working right there on site, are there any employee relations sort of conflicts that you haven’t seen before?
Chrissy: You know, for those who are working on site I think there’s so much gratitude, frankly, that they’re able to be at work. It’s actually a very positive work environment from everything that I’ve heard. I have not received any complaints to investigate. For example, out of people who are currently onsite. People are taking it seriously, that they’re able [inaudible 39:52] here. Some were not able to be there for a period of time, and now they are. So they’re very appreciative. Not that period of time felt like they were not able to work, there are less people around. So I think it helps people typically feel safer and people are just going in, doing their jobs. They’re taking them seriously. They’re grateful that they have work to do and following directions. For those people who were at home. What I found actually is that I’m receiving many, many less complaints about current day to day interactions. Most of the complaints that I’ve received have actually come out of the social justice movement, where now people are feeling empowered and encouraged to share concerns that they may have been holding in their hearts for pretty long period of time. Maybe behavior that they’ve noticed over a period of time, that we finally feel comfortable to speak up about, relationship issues, dynamics that they’re concerned about. Maybe even something that was said to them or that they overheard up to a couple of years ago, that they finally feel comfortable sharing because it’s been weighing on them and they feel like, you know what? This is my time to share. I finally have a space. And although we consistently try to provide a space and an opening for people to feel comfortable sharing. This is a very unique time in our country and in our world. And so I’m really glad that people really feel comfortable coming forward. I know that our leadership within the company has just done incredible work to create an environment where people will feel more comfortable coming forward and feeling like the company will take it seriously, and that we want to know if their issues of their concerns, if there are areas for us to improve in that, we simply may not be aware of. We need to know for us as a company, in terms of leadership, to be able to take action. And I’m really glad that people feel comfortable doing that. So I’m encouraging it. I share with people. Thank you. Thank you for coming forward. I know this took a lot. I know it takes a lot of courage to do this, and especially when people may not feel as connected to work, or they might feel a little more isolated being at home and not being around colleagues, that it can take a lot and to come forward with what those heavy sorts of concerns. So that’s what I’m seeing much more,
Barbara: You know, Chrissy, I’ve heard a lot of people say that we’ve had at least two pandemics and the emphasis on social equity, diversity inclusion and equity is part of that. So what steps is your organization taking to address the concerns that are being raised?
Chrissy: So I am incredibly blessed to be at a company that I feel like is taking this really seriously. You know, I don’t work anywhere else currently, but as I’ve just observed on social media and particular, various companies who have put out statements, who had the black square on their LinkedIn profile a few months ago after George Ford’s death. And there was that day, where was it? Black Tuesday, maybe it was called. And there were companies that gave people that day off, for example. So those really short-term initiatives that companies have taken. Maybe they donated some large amount of money to some social justice organization. What I really appreciate about Sony Pictures is that we are doing a whole variety of things right now that will provide hopefully for sustained change. So to have a long term impact. So we did some of those shorter term things. We created a hundred million dollar fund and asked employees, the organizations that they’d like to see that money go to. And there was a committee that vetted those and, and created a list of organizations where that money would be divided up and go to. There’s also a donation matching program for employees, for those organizations as well. So that’s one of those short-term initiatives, but still impactful and something to be proud of. We also created the Sony Pictures action council, which is a council or committee of a variety of leaders within Sony Pictures at the top top level and some employees ask, why only those who were some of the top level executives in the company? But because those are the ones who can make real change as much as others voices are valued and there’s other space to get those folks input. Those who can really make an impact and create change can make policy, can really change the work environment and drive initiatives longer term or those at the top top levels. So those are the ones who are in the Sony pictures, action council, and that’s across the company, corporate TV, film groups. And then there are committees that each of those council members are responsible for leading, within certain pillars that the council determined were important from a new perspective. And so the committees are aware, there are more of a variety of voices from different levels across the company and people and content, for example, are two of those pillars where we really want to see differences made. So that’s where some of the longer term change will happen. We also created a social justice speaker series called real talk, social justice in our streets and structures. And so since the month of July, every month, we have had a speaker session on a variety of issues, which has been really fantastic. I’ve been very involved in that. I moderated one of the speaker sessions that was on health related issues for the black and Latin X communities. The first one we did, Oh that was back in June. We started in June with a Juneteenth celebration with a couple of my friends. One who’s a professor of African-American studies at Georgetown. I’m also a criminal justice attorney who works on a lot of police brutality and police misconduct cases. We had one on representation and television content, and we’ll continue that back and go on indefinitely and have so much potential in terms of sharing information and raising interesting issues for our employees. And we invite employees from all the Sony companies to those. So I’m really proud of the variety of ways in which we’re looking to make sustained impact.
Barbara: Yeah. It sounds like you have a lot to be proud of, but I’m wondering, are you seeing push back from employees in terms of being resistant to the kinds of initiatives and recognition of institutional racism that it sounds as if your company is making?
Chrissy: No, it’s actually from everything that I’ve observed and I’ve heard it looking at the participation since we easily see the participation on zoom or on Microsoft teams, whatever we’re using; number of people participate, that people have been really excited about it. And I think, you know, when you think about our industry, the entertainment industry, and you look at the cities where we are, we are in places are pretty liberal. And so I think that that is helpful in terms of people, generally our employee population generally being very open to change and to progress and to the concept of anti-racism and some other industries, and some other parts of this country, you might find more employees that are openly resistant to these types of efforts. But I think that for our employee population, I think that in terms of, and certainly anyone who’s open about the way they feel about it, it’s been very positive and it’s been so welcomed because it’s literally coming from the very top from our CEO, the other C-suite executives, our head of diversity and inclusion is incredibly well respected and empowered and has been called upon by pretty much every top leader across the company. What can I do on my team? What should I be saying? What should we be doing? How can I have an open discussion where people feel comfortable? So it’s really great to see that because in my experience, a lot of DNI leaders are just there. Just so the company can say we have one, but are not truly empowered or not a high-level position and are not empowered to really do the best work. And some as well-intentioned, as they may be, may not be true DNI professionals in terms of having education or background or experience, they might have a great passion but might not have the skillset and the background that you ideally want them to have. And ours does. And as part of a great team to work with him as well.
Barbara: So many companies have just kind of done check the box. Versity and inclusion historic.
Chrissy: Right Yeah.
Barbara: Really good to hear that your company is taking a serious look at the issues.
Belinda: Yeah. And when we started talking about these two pandemics. So we’ve got, you know, the medical scientific pandemic of COVID-19, and then we’ve got the social justice issues going on. And I think it would be really helpful for employment law practitioners, as well as HR leaders to really understand in helping to steer the organization in times like these where big decisions have to be made, that then trickled down into tactical actions that the organization takes, that can impact the, the health and safety of the organization can impact the reputation. Who tends to be the main stakeholders in shaping and formulating the company’s response? Who is it? If I was outside counsel, who would I contact if I had some good guidance and who should I be looking to work with?
Chrissy: So I would say from what I’ve observed at Sony pictures, it’s the trifecta of our CDO, our CHR and our chief diversity inclusion officer. Those have really been aligned and collaborating the most on this, the plethora of issues that we’ve been facing. Those three are making decisions that they are the ones who were consulted on what are we doing, or are you okay with what we’re doing? And then those are the three of them that are typically when they are communicating with our employee population.
Certainly in terms of outside counsel, our head employment lawyer, who’s been at Sony for over 20 years. She’s fantastic. She’s using outside counsel a lot, our heading labor attorney, she using outside counsel a lot, because obviously there are a lot of employment and labor related issues right now. And the company is looking to the two of them, and their teams in particular, to make sure that we’re in compliance, but in terms of, from a setting our cultural standards, I think it’s really been our CEO, our CFO, and our chief diversity inclusion officer.
Barbara: So, but on your, so that’s on the social justice side. What about on the COVID-19 response, you know decision-making and coordination for that?
Chrissy: I think that’s our head employment lawyer for our general employee population has really been at the head of that in terms of making sure that we’re in compliance with our regulations. So she and her team, she has two other employment lawyers that work with her, and all of them have been with the company for quite some time, with regard to our productions are having labor attorney, as well as a couple of members of her team have been inconsistent negotiations with the unions bending guilds for the past few months that they’ve just been going at it for months. No one thought it would take as long, but it did. And finally came to resolution this week. So I will say those two teams are really critical advisors to the entire company on the COVID-19 issues. Now, I will say in terms of task forces, I’ve been a part of, there are many other divisions that are part of that as well. So our safety, security and sustainability teams critical to that risk management. They’re not using outside counsel. They’re getting the legal advice from our little department, but in terms of their background and their knowledge of safety and security, as well as specifically of Sony pictures has absolutely been critical.
Barbara: You mentioned some of the complaints that you’re getting from people of color and white, of what’s been going on in the country. What are some of the other kind of complaints that are coming from employees nowadays?
Chrissy: That’s certainly what I’ve seen the most. I haven’t really noticed any other things in these past few months. It’s really all been race related. I know some of my colleagues that I’ve spoken to and important relations, cause I’ve really done my best to keep in contact with other ER professionals, particularly in entertainment companies. Some of them have seen arise in gender related claims again. Kind of like a reboot of the Me Too movement. I haven’t seen that. And so it’s really just been race-related, that’s really been it. I can’t think of any COVID related complaints that I’ve received. I’m sure that they’ll come, but I think it’s because most people are not back in the workplace, but when those of us, office workers get back to work and more people are together. And then especially as productions, many more productions get back up and running. I’m sure I’ll get some COVID related complaints for sure, because there’s that whole anxiety and fear and conclusions that people draw that may or may not be accurate that can come sometime like this. So they’re coming, I’m just waiting for those unique complaints of them joked around with some of my colleagues about what some of those might be. So I actually gave her [inaudible 55:53] because these will be stories we’ll tell years from, Oh, back then you remember people were saying this and that and worried about this and that. And hopefully we’ll feel a little more normal some years from now, and this will, this will be behind us.
Barbara: What about from people managers and leaders that they’re now having to manage workforce in a different circumstances? And so any trends that you’re seeing in the types of frequency of complaints from them?
Chrissy: No complaints, but just advice that they’re seeking with respect to COVID related issues, as well as social justice related issues. The biggest theme that I’ve seen is if they’re walking on eggshells, they are afraid of offending. They’re afraid of getting too into people’s personal business. They are afraid of making employees feel uncomfortable of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing. So with respect to COVID, for example, if there’s an employee who is not performing very well, they, some of them are worried that it could be if they’re not in the workplace, because they might have something personal going on at home in terms of their own health or someone within their household, because they have childcare challenges because they might know just enough about an employee, or they might know a lot about an employee, but some of them who don’t know their employees as well on a personal level, and they might know just enough to say, Oh, well, I know that they have a toddler and they have an eight year old who’s in school. And I’ve noticed that performance has really dropped off and it could be because of that. Can I say something? Can I ask? What do I say? I want to support them, but then I also need this work done. And it’s really hard for us to get temps right now, but I need some extra support. And so they’re asking their HR business partners in particular for advice, and then those HR business partners will come to me often if they’re not quite sure, or they just need a gut check in terms of what types of advice do you get to managers? So we’re definitely seeing those themes, certainly not surprisingly related to the social justice issues. As I alluded to earlier, a lot of our leaders were asking for our diversity inclusion teams, help with, what do I say? What do I do? Is it okay to have an open forum for people to share? I don’t want to put people of color on the spot right now, or ask them to represent their whole race by sharing what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling. So those are the sorts of issues that are coming up, and I’m just grateful that they’re asking rather than just sitting at home wondering, or just deciding on their own what to do, even when they’re not quite sure. And just taking a leap or feeling super confident in what they’re getting ready to do. And then it turns out to be a disaster. So I’m just, I’m really glad again, that they’re seeing our HR department as a resource and are coming to us to ask, but those are the biggest issues. They’re really not complaints for the most part. It’s really just not knowing what to do and what to say and not wanting to be probably the next year internal or external headline as to what went wrong.
Barbara: So you said that you talked about the types complaints that you’ve seen since the pandemic started. Have you had to make any adjustments to your overall management and approach to addressing employee complaints?
Chrissy: No. The biggest drawback for me is that I don’t get to have that personal interaction that I like to have when I’m conducting an investigation. So in most situations I’m able to speak with people in person. And when you’re dealing with such personal issues, like someone feeling harassed or discriminated against or bullied, or just missed in any sort of way, and people’s work life, for some people’s basically their whole life. And even for those where they do have a robust personal life are, for all of us, our work lives are such a big part of who we are, how we identify, how we feel, how we just move through our day, how we interact with our friends and our family. And so it’s, these issues are very personal. And so for me to not have the opportunity to speak with people in person, like I usually mostly would have that opportunity has been the biggest challenge for me. Fortunately, at least we can see each other using zoom or Microsoft teams, for example. So at least it’s not just a phone call, like there would have been in the past. So I’m grateful for that, but it’s always on my mind to just even go the extra mile, take those extra steps, to do my best, to make people feel as comfortable as possible and to still build the type of trust that’s necessary for there to be the best investigation that I can conduct and make it the most comfortable process for people that I can. So that’s been my personal biggest challenge in my role.
Barbara: Well, in terms of formal legal complaints. So we’ve been talking about what you may have been receiving internally, but in terms of formal legal complaints, have you seen any changes or anything happening since the onset of COVID-19 life for all of us?
Chrissy: I think it’s too soon. I’m not, I mean, I don’t receive all of the complaints or might not be aware of all of them, but because I’ve been here in this role during the period of time when all of this has been happening, most things that have happened in my time, I’ll be aware of, because I’ll be asked about for information and whatnot, but I’m not aware of any unique legal claims, either pre-litigation demand letters or actual lawsuits that have arisen out of this particular time period. But I think, I mean, I won’t be surprised if later, especially with more people returned to the workplace and they don’t feel like their issues are sufficiently resolved internally. If they do report internally, then I could see later in the next year or the year after, seeing some claims that come out of this time even though we’re doing the best we can do.
Barbara: I think we’re getting close to the end of our time together today. What are the top three pieces of sound advice you like to give any employer out there who’s trying to figure out how to manage this new normal in this pandemic or a workplace?
Chrissy: That’s a great question. So first I’d say, be patient. Be patient with your employees, and be patient with yourself as leaders. Because as I mentioned earlier, everyone is just trying to figure all of this out. These are crazy times and very unique, and I think most people are doing the best that they can. And so that’s my first, so be patient. Next. I’d say to be compassionate, there’s unfortunately so much fear and anxiety. And most people have been on emotional roller coaster these past few months. When Michelle Obama mentioned that she was feeling some level of depression, some people went after her thinking, you’re living [inaudible 1:03:59] how could you possibly feel that way? And I remember hearing a reaction of, if you’re not feeling at least low grade depression these days, then you really take another look at yourself and check if you’re human, because we’re all going through something and to, and to varying degrees right now. So I’d say be compassionate. And finally make sure to keep abreast of those federal and local laws and guidance. Use your in-house and outside counsel [inaudible 1:04:29]. If you’re in the HR world, as a resource. Become a member and they’re providing so much great information and use other resources that you trust because the laws and the guidance are changing so regularly, it’s absolutely critical that you stay on top of things and it can be really hard just to do around. So use those resources.
Barbara: Yeah, that sounds like some pretty good advice, easy to understand. And I hope that a lot of our listeners will really use that as a guidance. It’s been so valuable Chrissy talking with you today. We’d like to thank you for providing us with that unique insight that someone in a senior leadership role within the HR organization, with an employment
Law background can offer, particularly in these unprecedented times. And so thank you so much for agreeing to speak with us today.
Chrissy: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.