HR Issues in Entertainment News

Life sometimes imitates art, and that can trigger bias issues for employers, writes our resident blogger Robin Paggi.

HR Issues in Entertainment News

If you’re a fan of entertainment news, but don’t want to get caught reading US Weekly magazine, here’s the latest along with some related HR information (because I see HR issues in everything).

After appearing on the PBS show, “Finding Your Roots,” Ben Affleck asked the show to omit information that revealed that one of his ancestors was a slave-owner (evidently, this is high drama in Hollywood). Affleck explained his actions by posting this message on Facebook: “I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed.” Perhaps Affleck thought people might think less of him because of his ancestry.

People may refuse to see Affleck’s movies because of what his ancestor did if they want to; however, employers may not refuse to hire people because of who their ancestors were or what they did.

Most of us don’t even know who our ancestors were, so how would employers know and why would they care? Many of the people who are currently facing ancestry discrimination are or look like they are of Middle-Eastern descent. Why? The people who staged the September 11 attacks were, the people we have been at war with are, and our current biggest terrorist threat is from the Middle East. It appears that some employers don’t want to employ people of Middle-Eastern descent because of those reasons.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1,040 discrimination complaints were filed between 9/11/2001 and 3/11/2012 by individuals who were – or were perceived to be – Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Middle-Eastern or South Asian. And, in my home state, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) reported that it received 3,421 complaints in 2014 alleging national origin/ancestry discrimination or harassment. Obviously, the issue has not gone away.

Employers must remember that ancestry is a protected characteristic, which means they may not make any kind of employment decisions (hiring, promotion, firing, etc.) about applicants or employees because of who their ancestors were or what they did. Additionally, they must ensure that their employees are not harassed because of their ancestry.

In other entertainment news, Caitlyn Jenner, the reality star formerly known as Bruce, recently joined Twitter after debuting as a woman on the July cover of Vanity Fair. US Weekly reported that just four hours after her first tweet, she had more than 1 million followers.

People other than Caitlyn’s fans might not be so supportive of her or other transgender people. According to the DFEH, 439 people filed complaints in 2014 that they had been harassed or discriminated against because of their gender identity and/or gender expression.

For people unfamiliar with these terms, the American Psychological Association defines transgender as being “an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.” Gender identity refers to “a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else.” Gender expression refers to “the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.”

Employers need to know that it is against the law in some states, such as California, for them to make employment decisions about people because their identification or appearance is not consistent with their body parts or because they have taken steps to transition from one sex to another. Additionally, employers in those states are required to allow employees to dress and act like the gender that they identify with.

Having said that, the EEOC has taken the position that discrimination against a transgender person is a violation of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination in employment.  Therefore, the agency will accept and investigate charges from people who believe they have been discriminated against because of transgender status (or because of gender identity or a gender transition).

Celebrities and their issues might be entertaining, but running afoul of discrimination laws is not. Employers and supervisors must be aware of all forms of discrimination (there are many in addition to those listed above) so they don’t become a story in the news.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

Robin last wrote for us on lessons learned from a recent high-profile retaliation lawsuit. Before that she wrote about a Facebook photo that promoted a firing and before that on making it OK for employees to ask for your help and before that on working in Family-Run Businesses. Before that she wrote on There’s More to Motivating Than Money;  Love at Work: How Should Employers Respond, and prior to that about lessons for employers in the Brian Williams matter.  Prior to that she wrote about giving employees a second chance. Before that she wrote about making sure the applicant is a good fit for the job and before that about  cure for inappropriate behavior at work. Before that she wrote about cyberloafing, on business lessons from a Christmas story and before that about cell phone policies at work. She has also written for us on rules for holiday parties at work and before that about preventing workplace bullying.


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