2020 Recap with Barbara Johnson, Belinda Reed Shannon and Vinnie Potestivo

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.


Today’s Workplace podcast was initially created to keep employment attorneys and human resources professionals informed about the rapidly changing landscape of today’s workplace. The targeted audience has expanded to include more listeners and is relevant to anyone who has an interest in issues impacting the workplace.  Listeners are given a chance to be in the room where it happens by hearing conversations with decision-makers and learning about policy changes that are implemented as new legislation and approaches are implemented. As the first season of the podcast wraps, our co-hosts Barbara Johnson and Belinda Reed Shannon, reflect on the eventful year that was 2020. 

Various distinguished guests have made an appearance such as Dr. H Westley Clark, Courtney Malveaux, and Chrissy Rouselle, with the intent to inform and update the audience on the COVID-19 virus and how it had progressed in the country. Our Guests have also shed light on the changes and context of the policies put in place for the functionality of both the workplace and the country at large as businesses, both small and large, work to incorporate said guidelines, in order to improve workplace safety, keep their company moving and keep their employees working. 

Donna Hughes and Ashley Ridgeway Washington also spoke on the employees that were also affected by the onset of this virus in the healthcare space and dealing with essential workers who are on the front lines, caring for individuals who had COVID-19. While Robert Spencer and Michelle Campbell discussed the challenges of recruiting and onboarding talent during the pandemic as recruiters; although many workers are losing their jobs, there are severe worker shortages in many sectors.  Topics such as productivity, employer-employee relations, and workplace safety were also dominant and consistent topics covered throughout the season of the podcast as employers work to increase safety in the workplace and distinguish what would be essential and non-essential workers. We also see how technology has been pushed to the forefront in facilitating how employers communicate with their employees and candidates for employment, especially those working remotely. COVID 19 will change the way people interact and conduct business going forward as work culture continues to evolve going into 2021.

Join us On Today’s Workplace with our co-hosts, Barbara Johnson and Belinda Reed Shannon as we reflect on the first season of the podcast as well as the insightful views and information, we have received from our well-informed guests about COVID 19 and the various issue that affect the workplace




00m 01s Vinnie opens the audio

00m 40s Speaking about the Podcast and the highlights of the 2020 topics

02m 50s Who is the target audience for this podcast?

05m 03s How did you Barbara and Belinda Meet and how did they become co-hosts? 

07m 14s How did we get our first guess, Dr. H Westley Clark?

10m 31s What was the most shocking thing we discovered as the actual pandemic first hit America here?

13m 05s What were some of the surprising things to learn that businesses did in response to COVID?

16m 12s Who is Courtney Malveaux and what does his agency do?

19m 37s What were some of those successful steps that OSHA took?

20m 37s How did we come to meet Chrissy?

22m 24s What were some of the upsides?

24m 18s How do Donna Hughes and Ashley Ridgeway Washington join our first season of today’s workplace?

24m 18s What are the organizations that Donna Hughes and Ashley Ridgeway Washington are affiliated with?

27m 17s How do you recruit people during the time of pandemic?

32m 22s Closing words                       



Vinnie: Hey there I am Vinnie Potestivo but don’t change the podcast just yet because Barbara and Belinda are here with me, I promise. We are here to talk about what an amazing season we’ve had. I’m the producer, or one of the producers of Today’s Workplace and I’m excited to be here and I’d love to introduce Barbara Johnson and Belinda Reed Shannon. 


Barbara: Hello


Belinda: Hi Vinnie 


Vinnie: How are you?


Belinda: Doing well today. Hi Barbara. 


Barbara: Hi


Vinnie: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to get to recap. What a crazy year. This has been, what a crazy year this has been. 


Belinda: Yeah, I think, when Barbara and I first started talking about doing this podcast, we had an idea of the various HR and employment law topics that we would discuss, and along the way life happened and we know this country faced two different pandemics last year, one Coronavirus, the other social justice. And so, that really shaped, informed and really challenged us to respond to the issues of the day. So crazy is an understatement. What do we think, Barbara? 


Barbara: I think it’s just been amazing because who knew in January, 2020, what 2020 would be all about. I mean, there was just no way to envision the issues that were going to arise and what I’m so grateful for is the resiliency of the people in this country, the resiliency of Today’s Workplace, and the fact that, we’re still here talking about Today’s Workplace and people are still working. And even though there are tremendous challenges, looking at everything that we’ve been through, it’s pretty amazing. 


Vinnie: One of my favorite byproducts of what I get to do for a living is giving people like you, masters like you, tools to be able to communicate better in media, mass media, or even private media. So, to know that we had a podcast in place and the ability to capture conversations and the right to reach out to people to start conversations is just such an awesome, I really want to applaud you and stand up and I like the instinct to want to record this year. I feel something called. I feel something called and you guys heard it. So, tell me, speaking of callers, who is the audience for our podcast? Who listens to us? 


Belinda: So, we imagined our audience to be HR executives, HR practitioners, as well as employment lawyers. Those involved in helping employers really shape inform the policies and practices that really are not only supportive of their most important resource, their individual employees, but also supportive of the organization. Did I miss anybody?


Barbara: I think that initially, that was the target audience, but as the concept of the podcast has evolved, I think the audience is even greater than that. I think the audience is anyone who is interested in understanding what’s happening in Today’s Workplace, whether it’s the HR practitioner, the general counsel, the employee, the plaintiff’s attorney. I mean, it’s anyone who wants a better understanding of how Today’s Workplace is evolving. 


Vinnie: Yeah, anyone who imagines, or could only think of what those conversations happen in closed rooms with decision makers and policy changes, and you’re right. It’s the C-suites and it’s the HR executives and the lawyers, I, as a former employee of a very large media company, have loved sitting in my chair, eavesdropping in on conversations, really difficult conversations around HR and it’s just resilient, is one of the words that comes to mind. We bounced back, small businesses bounced back, big businesses bounced back, medium businesses took the lead. It was a great year. And, of all the things that we expected or didn’t expect, I’m sort of the third wheel here on Today’s Podcast episode. You two have known each other far longer than I have known either of you. How did you guys meet? And also, how has this been, how your co-hosts now? how cool. 


Belinda: Yeah, we’ve been partners in crime for a long time. I just remember meeting Barbara through one or more of the various professional organizations that we belong to as employment lawyers and, or as, black lawyers. Barbara, at the time when we met, I was living in North Carolina. Barbara was living in Texas and practicing in Texas. And I had just moved to, professionally, to what was called an in-house position. And so, from time to time, we would need to hire counsel, to work on some matters. And I remember getting immediately bogged down in a bunch of employee relations matters and had issues going on in Texas and I remember calling Barbara and we began our working relationship. We became our working relationship very early in my tenure as in-house counsel. In my, I don’t know if I’m accurate Barbara


Barbara: No, I think you’re absolutely accurate. I was a partner with a minority-owned litigation boutique in Houston, relatively new partner. And Belinda was one of those first people who reached out and had work. So, it was for which I was very, very grateful. So we have a long track record going back, over 20 years, and a network of a lot of the same colleagues that we’ve gotten to know over the years. 


Belinda: Yeah, and just for the record, that sense of gratefulness was a two-way street. In Barbara I found an excellent and effective lawyer and she became my go-to for Texas. 


Vinnie: I love that. I got to meet some of your colleagues while we were recording this podcast. Right? I believe Dr. H Westley Clark is a mutual friend of both of yours. Is that how we got to meet our first guest of this- of the entire series? 


Barbara: Well, actually I’ve known Dr. Clark for probably close to 20 years around the same time that I met Belinda and just found him to be an amazing individual in that, he is an attorney, he is a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, and he has a master’s in public health, just a little bit of an underachiever but on top of that, he’s just a really great person and so generous with his time and always willing to share information.  So, I first got to know him through his work in the addiction medicine field. He worked at a VA hospital and headed up part of their addiction medicine practice out in the San Francisco area. And he and I were on the faculty of something called the American Society of Addiction Medicine. And so, I got to know him that way, but also knew about the fact that he’s an expert in public health and in fact teachers in that area currently. So, and thinking about people who would have expertise with respect to Coronavirus and what employers should be doing and what was happening, I knew he’d be a good choice. 


Belinda: Yeah. And Barbara and I, this is again, is the point of where we decided let’s roll with some of the issues that are current for employers. And of course, right at the time that we had started talking with Dr. Clark, things were really picking up and businesses were making decisions to shut down, localities were shutting down. And so, I thought that he provided a great voice of the terms of the scientific community and he could really sort out for us and tell us the real story of what’s going on so that we wouldn’t have to rely on the political rhetoric or rely on just a whole bunch of various and different pieces.  So, I found him to be incredibly knowledgeable, resourceful, and quite frankly, easy to talk to discuss this difficult information. 


Vinnie: Yeah. Sometimes when people have so many expertise, they tend to be whittled down to, a Jack of all trades and a master of none. But I have to say it, Dr. Clark was so amazing to hear over those three episodes, and even knowing his accomplishments and his titles, the institutions he’s worked for, it completely makes sense that he had so much perspective and was so generous with his time. The first two episodes we had him on focused more on the experiences that we’re all dealing with. Kind of like as the first wave of COVID was hitting as it really, first approached and impacted businesses. What was the most shocking thing we discovered as the actual pandemic first hit America here? 


Barbara: I guess for me, the most shocking thing was that realization that I think set in for a lot of people of, this is not going to be over quick. I think back to how naive we were in the March timeframe. Oh yeah. We’ll be back to work by June. Everything will be- no problem, everything, you know, by summer, we’re good. We’re good. And I think from talking with Dr. Clark, the realization that this is a longer-term issue, that will go well into 2021, if not beyond. 


Belinda: Absolutely. I just really think that the most shocking thing to me was, again, how much we underestimated the impact. I remember specifically thinking once things shut down in March, I was thinking it was just a matter of weeks before we would bounce back. I just knew life would go on as scheduled from Memorial Day on. And so, as we talked with him more, because we had a chance to talk with him several times, it became clear that this thing and between the novel nature of this- in scientific community, trying to keep up and get in front of it and understanding how very fast it was spreading among the population. That’s what really, became an Aha moment. It’s like, Oh, this is really extremely serious, and something we haven’t seen before. And I think he brought that information to light in our conversation in a very easy-to-understand way. 


Vinnie: Yeah. And, certainly hearing from him, we got to record throughout the year. I know listeners are just now getting to experience what we’ve got to record, as it was happening. Cause who knew how- if it was turning left, it was turning right. If it was speeding up, if it was slowing down. The third time we spoke to him, obviously, the first wave had already approached. I think we were already; I think the second wave was, or whatever. However, I don’t know, in the first wave second wave, so many waves by the way, but another big wave was coming pre-holiday. What would you say from that conversation, what was surprising to learn about what businesses maybe did in response to COVID? From the time between that first wave hit, and when we spoke to Dr. 

Clark towards the end of the year. What, were some of the lessons learned or things that were obstacles that small businesses, meaning all sides of businesses had to deal with?


Belinda: Yeah. I think that businesses quickly learned that the impact of this was more than just the physical threat of the virus that they had to be concerned about, but that they also had to then pivot and start thinking about what they needed to do first and foremost, to keep their employees safe. But then also to deal with the mental aspects of keeping them engaged now that everyone was disconnected from a situation and an organization that had become a very central part of life that people were now sent back home. And so, facing that, I think, was something that- there was not only a physical impact, that there there’s also a mental impact. 


Vinnie: I think we were all surprised with how infectious, I think this disease COVID ended up being, or actually still is and continues to be, and infectious. And we were all very surprised by-


Belinda: Well one of the things, he did do very well is explained to us where this particular virus fell in the spectrum, as it relates to some of the other pandemics that we were aware of, like SARS and Ebola virus, and even explaining to us the difference between this and the flu, that was very helpful also.


Vinnie: Well, speaking of infectious, in the best way possible, we also got two episodes with Courtney Malveaux from OSHA, which I absolutely enjoyed from beginning to end. Even things that didn’t make the podcast were all of my favorites. 


Belinda: Yeah. 


Barbara: Courtney is so passionate about what he does, and it does definitely come across people who practice in this area, it tends to be a very niche practice. And it’s one where OSHA has certainly kind of come from behind to be at the forefront of what we’re dealing with. And it was just wonderful to have someone who’s so knowledgeable, like Courtney, be able to explain to us what’s happening, the general duty clause, what employers need to understand going forward. That was very useful. 


Vinnie: No, for people who don’t know OSHA or Courtney, who is he, and what does his agency do? 


Belinda: Oh, go ahead, Barbara.


Barbara: I was just going to say, Courtney is in private practice with Jackson Lewis. He works out of the Richmond Virginia office. And his specialty is with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and how to assist employers and complying with those regulations. OSHA’s mandate is that employers are required to keep employees safe and COVID is viewed as a threat, a hazard in the workplace. 


Vinnie: Yeah. And that’s why OSHA is absolutely critical to how businesses respond. So, OSHA correct me if I’m wrong, OSHA might have some influence on that piece of paper we have to put in mark, like the public area of our workplace that says like how to be safe or is that possibly, it might have influence over? 


Barbara: That’s part of what they do.


Belinda: What are the very small things that they do? I mean, I think they do a lot in clearly, depending on the physicality and the dangerous nature of certain industries, OSHA, it has to be more involved. But I think the one thing about Coronavirus and COVID 19 has introduced is, the need for a whole lot of more industries and more workplaces to be more actively engaged in make a workplace safety. I mean, there’s a baseline general standard of workplace safety that all employers follow, but to have the- I think they’ve had to increase and double down on their measures because of this Coronavirus and the fast-spreading nature of it. And so, having Courtney on to really kind of help us understand how the agency works. It’s a federal agency, but a federal agency that also, which was news to me, also works along with the state OSHA agencies. And in some cases, the state is the defining authority, if they might have an agreement with the federal agency, so the federal agency, doesn’t oversee that particular state. And I thought that was pretty interesting. 


Barbara: And one of the things that Courtney was really excited about is the fact that president-elect Biden has actually campaigned on the idea of strengthening OSHA and increasing the enforcement capacity of OSHA. And so, we expect this as an agency that will become even more important into the future. 


Belinda: Yeah. And it seems like that’s pretty timely, given what’s going to be needed to, to keep Coronavirus under control in the workplace. Once employers start returning nonessential employees to the workplace. 


Vinnie: Yeah. I hear you a lot of – it’s not necessarily, what they have to, what businesses have to be doing. It’s really what they could be doing, in addition, to what they have to be doing. What were some of those successful steps that OSHA took? What were some of those changes or policy changes or influences that they had in businesses that were successful in response to COVID? 


Barbara: Well, I think one of the things is that OSHA had to step in because of some serious concerns in certain industries, like the meatpacking industry, rightly or wrongly. And so, it’s had to- it’s been under a lot of pressure to really address issues around the central workers who are continuing to be in the workplace during the pandemic. 


Vinnie: Awesome. Well, I said awesome, because I’m already looking at our next episode, which was with Chrissy, who I also- I just really have to say, I really appreciated working with you two, on this. I’ve learned so much about how things work and how things don’t work, by the way. How did we come to meet Chrissy? 


Belinda: So again, Chrissy was one of the lawyers in our network that we would meet through our employment lawyer or other mentoring organizations, and actually Chrissy and I connected very early in her career as a lawyer. So, she came along several years after Barbara and I. So, she’s kind of like next generation, but has had an amazingly successful career. She’s a really delightful individual. And at this point, I met her when she was at a law firm, but at this point now, she’s a senior vice president at Sony music. 

So, hearing from Christie, the corporate strategies that were used to respond to COVID-19 are very interesting because of her senior-level role. She was charged with working with the CEO and other senior managers to make decisions and set things in place. So, I thought it was really interesting to have her and have that discussion. 


Barbara: Yeah. And I thought it was interesting, the advice that she gave as far as just being flexible and the importance for employers to be flexible during these difficult times and recognize the stress and strain that employees are under. And that’s incredibly important. 


Vinnie: Yeah. We called her podcast, Improving Employee Relations During the Pandemic with Chrissy Roussell. What were some of the upsides to what we just went through, courtesy of people like Chrissy and again, policymakers and decision-makers. Any? 


Barbara: I think that we finally- there was finally a breakthrough and one of the biggest myths for a lot of employers that productivity is increased by- FaceTime is the most important element to productivity, no actual presence at the office. And I think that one of the breakthroughs is that, as Chrissy talked about, you know, they found out how to ensure that employees still feel connected and productive, even if they’re away from the office, but just to listen to this year, things that they had to do, the sheer number of things that they had to do to give everyone the ability to work from home in a very short period of time, and to make policies about the office and who could come in and when. You know, and when, and all of that was very interesting in terms of wrapping your mind around what employers had to do in order to keep their company moving and in order to keep their employees working. 


Vinnie: Yeah, I think we heard from people who, I guess OSHA represents a very broad reach of business types. And obviously Sony is a familiar name. We know that the pandemic had an impact on a tremendous amount of types of workers, but specifically on essential workers. And we were lucky to have Donna Hughes and Ashley Ridgeway Washington, join us to talk about that. And how did they come to be; how do they join our first season of today’s workplace? 


Barbara: Once again, both of them are individuals that we’ve known for a number of years and thought they would be ideal guests and that they both are in the healthcare space and dealing with essential workers who are on the front lines, in terms of actually caring for individuals who have COVID-19 as well as trying to deal with how to keep their people working and safe. They have a combination of both essential workers, as well as those people who are not essential and who are working remotely. And so, a great choice as far as imparting information about their experiences.


Vinnie: And for people who aren’t familiar with them, what are the organizations that they are affiliated with? 


Barbara: Well, Ashley Ridgeway Washington is with CHRISTUS Health, which is a not-for-profit with facilities throughout the Southwest. And then, Donna Hughes is with Emblem Health, which has offices, locations, throughout the Northeast. Primarily in the New York City, New York area, New York City area. 



Belinda: Yeah. And I thought our conversation with them was very interesting because of course healthcare is one of the major, you’re a frontline worker type of organizations, these hospitals and what not. And so, Donna and Ashley both had to immediately help their organizations pivot through response and working situation where, like Barbara mentioned, there were both essential workers, large groups of essential workers, as well as smaller groups of nonessential workers. So how do you keep, in addition to keeping their employees safe, they actually have responsibility for setting policy over facilities that actually had to keep customers and our patients safe also. 


Vinnie: Yeah. We actually had such a great conversation. We have them back. Can say that? can’t I say that?


Belinda: Yes, you can, you can


Vinnie: Season two


Barbara: They’re coming back, they’re coming back. 


Vinnie: And there’s lots of things looking forward to, but one of the things, speaking of looking forward, as we rebuild even our- the workplace of recruitment is vital for the success of Today’s Workplace, the survival of Today’s Workplace. That was actually the topic of the podcast that we had with Robert Spencer and Michelle Campbell. Do you want to tell us a little bit about some highlights from that podcast? 


Barbara: Oh, absolutely. How do you recruit people during the time of pandemic? And even though there are lots of situations where businesses are closing and people are being laid off, there are lots of employers that have been really struggling just to find enough workers to keep things going. And so, it was great to have Robert and Michelle talk about how employers are going about recruiting during the time of pandemic and some of the tips for both employers and for people who are seeking positions in terms of how they can go about identifying talent and being hired.


Belinda: Yeah. And I thought, one of the biggest surprises for me was getting confirmation from them that businesses acquiring talent and doing recruiting did not slow down. Like Barbara mentioned, there were a lot of small businesses and other businesses, service level businesses that may have had to shut down for a while, but other industries, they kept it moving. Even if they had to move all of their workers, offsite work from home, they still continued to carry on with building their workforce. And so, they were able to give us a really good perspective of that and the adjustments that candidates had to make as well as organizations in the now moving to a hundred percent virtual environment to do this recruiting. And I mean, totally changed things because typically candidates will be flown in if they were serious, they would be flown in and physically meet, or they would be asked to come in to physically meet the recruiters, meet the people who were hiring them. And now we have none of that. Everything’s done over zoom. 


Belinda: Yeah. It was also very interesting just to understand the whole onboarding process now and how employers are bringing people on board and then talking about diversity, how does one go about finding diverse talent during these times. And so, I think those were some important aspects of what we talked about. 


Vinnie: Yeah. Actually, I remember Michelle pointing out the real need for more diverse talent, especially engineers. And I just- that was one of the things that really resonated with me because as a creative, it’s not maybe a topic or a column that I would read in the newspaper, but just being aware of something like that helps the conversation. And I also think the speed and how things, I mean like, wow, you say onboarding recruitment to hire used to take too, one month, two months for the big company, for the Apples and the big public companies. Now we’re talking about weeks, if not days, and the amount of verification levels, I can’t begin to imagine all the ways that this pandemic has had us turn to information technologies and data, and then just gut instincts and with a real intent to make today’s work place the best place it could be. To be even more solvent in the future and to be able to be-


Belinda: Yeah. And the importance of the intentionality of bringing people on board, in other words, how are you going to integrate them into your culture? How are you going to make them feel like they’re part of something? And the importance of employers thinking through that whole integration process.


Barbara: Via a computer screen. Yeah. Remote working situation. Yeah. 


Vinnie: Well, I can’t thank you enough for letting me hop on this podcast with you. And thank you for letting me reminisce about the journey we’ve had. This has been quite an interesting year of conversations for sure.


Belinda: Can I say Vinny, it’s been so much fun and such a pleasure working with you and your team and Ed’s team and helping us produce this podcast. It really took Barbara and I up several notches in terms of our technical knowledge and knowledge of all the wonderful things that go on behind the scenes to make a great podcast. But thank you for all of your time and effort in making us look good. 


Barbara: You’re a great partner. You and Ed are great partners. Thank you so much. 


Vinnie: He certainly is. Any closing words, any closing words, thoughts of 2020? Anything you want to say goodbye to? I know our next episode; we get to look forward to 2021. Anything we want to- any closing words for the end of our season one here?


Belinda: Yeah. Well, real quick. I just hope that the information and the conversations are going to be helpful, useful, and delightful listen to, for our listening audience. Sometimes we have these big issues that we’re dealing with on a daily basis in the workplace. And sometimes it’s just great to talk about it and that’s what we have tried to do. 


Vinnie: Yeah. Well, we have lots more to come, and if you aren’t already, please hit that subscribe button and follow us on our journey. I wouldn’t tell you something I haven’t told my mom and yes, my mom is a follower of this podcasts, but I have learned so much from it, and if you are one of those people who likes the web, you can find us on TodaysWorkplacepodcast.com, but I really appreciate your time today. And I look forward to our next podcast. 


Barbara: Thank you so much. Bye-bye!


Belinda: Thank you


Barbara: Bye