Millennials and EEO Law
Tips on Meeting New Challenges in the Modern Workplace
The workplace has changed a lot over the last 50 years – from drab and dimly lit offices filled with the clickety clack of manual typewriters to modern offices with yoga mats, natural lighting and movable workstations.
All those physical changes are combined with plenty of changes to the workforce. One of the biggest changes, and one that affects virtually every federal agency across the board, is the entrance of the so-called Millennials.
This is a favorite topic for Edward Loughlin, Senior Trial Attorney at the Office of General Counsel for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As a lawyer for the EEOC, Mr. Loughlin understands the very real issues that multi-generational staffs present to all federal agencies.
In his presentation at MicroPact’s 462 Symposium titled “How Technology and a Changing Workforce Will Continue to Impact EEO Law and Workplace Culture,” Mr. Loughlin took attendees through some of the basics and some of the more detailed aspects of dealing with the latest generation to enter the federal workforce.
To paint the full generational picture of today’s federal workforce, it’s good to understand exactly what we’re talking about. There are three distinct generations currently working for the government:
- Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)
- Generation X (born 1965-1980)
- Millennials (born 1981-present)
While all three generations have changed quite a lot in the last few years (Baby Boomers are one of the largest groups of users on Facebook today), the Millennials are having the most significant impact because they are bringing so many new factors to the workplace. For instance, while a Baby Boomer may love Facebook to view photos of her grandson, a Millennial may use Facebook to organize a boycott of a business and do it from their work computer.
In short, Millennials more so than any other generation bring technology and their technology habits into the workplace. And that is what EEO professional needs to be hyper-aware of these days.
There are roughly 76.4 million Millennials in the United States, according to the U.S. Census. That translates into about 27.4 percent of the total population, and 25 percent of the total workforce. While Mr. Loughlin didn’t have current data on what portion of the federal workforce is made up of Millennials, it’s safe to assume that it is close to the 25 percent mark.
That percentage is only going to grow larger with each passing year.
Social Media in the Workplace
While a lot of us may connect with a co-worker or even a boss via LinkedIn, most of us would likely steer away from connecting on Facebook. This isn’t the case with Millennials.
A jaw-dropping 70 percent of Millennials say they have already “friended” a manager or co-worker on Facebook. (More on why Mr. Loughlin and federal law tells us this is bad later.) Other interesting data from a 2013 report titled “Social Media and the Rise of Millennials” include:
- 40 percent think that blogging about workplace issues is acceptable.
- 56 percent won’t accept jobs from companies that ban social media.
- 71 percent don’t always obey social policies at work.
Some additional information regarding Millennials and attitudes about social media at work comes from the Ethics Resource Center’s 2011 report titled “Generational Differences in Workplace Ethics.”
- 16 percent say it’s OK to post opinions about a co-workers politics on social media.
- 26 percent say it’s OK to post a bad joke told by their boss on social media.
- 40 percent say it’s OK to post “feelings” about their current job on social media.
While these results apply to all employers – not specifically private or federal – it’s worth noting that there is plenty of evidence that suggests Millennials see very little different between a big company and the federal government when it comes to working. In fact, most data suggest they show very little loyalty to any employer.
No laws are broken when an employee tells his or her friends on Facebook that a co-worker voted Republican or Democrat in the last election. However, the rubber hits the road when you consider the legal implications of this information being shared on a social media platform that connects a manager with one or both of the employees.
Social Media and EEO Law
There already are some very real examples of the dangers social media and its use can bring to the workplace when it comes to EEO law. Most of the legal cases listed below hinge on Facebook. (I have included links to a variety of resources with more of the specifics.)
Involves an employee referring to a supervisor’s “creepy hands” on Facebook and a sexual harassment complaint.
Involves an employee posting suicidal thoughts on Facebook and a manager, who was “friends” with the person, not interacting as dictated by EEO law.
This one involves a complaint about a co-worker’s blog that contained sexual and derogatory comments about an individual.
Centers on the fact that violating an employer’s social media policy is grounds for legitimate termination.
Tips of Dealing with the New Challenges
To ensure your organization maintains compliance with EEO law, Mr. Loughlin offered some very useful tips. More training is needed across the board, but some of these are based on common sense approaches to workplace issues.
- Apply the same discrimination, harassment, accommodation, and retaliation concepts to social media. Social media may be “new” but the employment law concepts are not.
- Add social media language to existing IT, confidentiality and harassment policies.
- Make sure employees understand that their “friendships” and “connections” with subordinates on social media platforms may burden them with additional responsibilities.
- Train all supervisors and HR professionals on the appropriate and inappropriate use of social media during investigations.
- Do not request user names and passwords or surreptitious methods to gain non-public information.
Taking these steps and continuing the discussion about how the federal workplace is always changing are sure to keep all EEO professionals prepared and equipped to do their jobs.
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