Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.
Question: My boss and co-worker have inappropriate conversations at work about everything, including sex-related topics. The three of us work in a small space, so it’s hard to ignore, nor do they try to hide it. I don’t participate or show any interest, but that hasn’t helped. I have plenty of specific complaints, but it’s just me against them. I’m also concerned that I won’t remain anonymous. What can I honestly expect HR to do if I get up the courage to report them? – Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: I understand that voicing your concerns in this situation will take some courage, but I believe the effort is worth it. No one should be subject to a pattern of inappropriate, uncomfortable work conversations. But ignoring it rarely helps.
Before you go to HR, let me suggest another path. Try talking with your co-worker and your boss first, one at a time or together. You could explain, without appearing judgmental, that in your small environment, their conversations make you uncomfortable, and you’d like them to refrain when you are nearby. In many instances, this works and your colleagues become more discrete and respectful of you and the workplace.
But if a direct co-worker conversation doesn’t work, you may need to go to a superior uninvolved in the conversations, or to human resources. Be sure to follow your organization’s complaint or grievance procedures. Keep in mind that every organization has its own standards for professional behavior. You’ll find these policies in employee handbooks and union contracts under headings like Business Conduct, Professional Conduct, Employee Conduct, Work Rules, Codes of Ethics, etc. Every employee, including supervisors, can be held accountable to these policies.
I suspect that the problem will be resolved before you find yourself in HR’s office, but once there, you should know that that anonymity is rarely possible when certain complaints are made known. But you can expect that a thorough, good faith investigation will be conducted.
Q: We need to hire a Spanish-speaker, and we have received many applications from DACA recipients. What are the rules regarding these candidates? Can we hire any of them? – Anonymous
Taylor: The answer is yes, you can, so long as their work authorization documentation is current.
DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the federal policy that allows qualified individuals who came to the U.S. as undocumented children to apply for a renewable work permit and defer any deportation action for two years. They are required to complete a form I-9 like any other new employee.
DACA recipients are issued an employment work authorization document, which makes them eligible to work until the authorization expires. When it does, the employer can ask the employee to renew his or her status, just like any other employee with an EAD.
The future of the DACA program is uncertain; but for now, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is accepting applications for DACA renewals, although it is not honoring new requests to participate in the program.
A number of DACA cases are awaiting their turn before the Supreme Court in 2020, and their outcome will determine the future of the DACA program and its recipients. If the program is terminated, the government will provide guidance for employers on how to deal with employees covered under the program.
Remember, though, employers should not ask applicants about their specific work authorizations before a contingent offer of employment is made to avoid any claims of discrimination.