Emtrain Blog

Top Questions Employees Asked HR in 2016

Posted by Allison Baker

January 12, 2017

Staff picks for employee questions1.png

Our learner Q&A function is a great way for learners to receive guidance on everyday workplace issues and it also gives us visibility into trending topics in the workplace.

It's been a big year for HR, from new regulations to shiting views about gender identity and unconscious bias in the workplace.

Here are Emtrain's staff picks of top learner questions from the last year highlighting trending areas of concern for HR for 2017.


Employee Q&A: Top Workplace Questions Asked By Emtrain Learners


Topic: Religion in the workplace

Q: I do not work on the Jewish High Holidays. However, these days are not recognized holidays in the same manner that Christmas is recognized (ie paid day off). I feel like there is some push back and resistance from my manager if I ask for these days off (I sometimes get an eye roll with a comment like "there is another Holiday for you?"). Could this be an issue? It makes me feel very uncomfortable to ask for this time off.

A: Thank you for your question. Certainly you don't want to feel uncomfortable taking time off for your religious holidays and your employer has a duty to accommodate your time off for religious observance.

As a best practice, you may want to try having a conversation with your manager about the fact you're feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps the manager is not aware of your discomfort and would alter his/her comments based on your feedback?

If the manager is not open to having a productive dialog on the issue, that's when you may want to consider connecting with someone from your HR team so they can coach the manager about employee rights and making the workplace a respectful workplace culture.


Topic: Gender in the Workplace

Q: On gender identity and gender expression: is this protected at federal level? If so, can you help me understand NC HR2?

A: Gender identity and gender expression are protected by the EEOC and through court decisions. Here's a link to the EEOC website that summarizes their protections.

However, until federal lawmakers pass a bill specifically protecting gender identity and gender expression (as opposed to federal agency and court interpretation) -- then there's the opportunity for states to pass bills like NC HR2.

The Department of Justice has sued North Carolina, claiming their recent law violates federal civil rights and it's likely the matter will end up before the US Supreme Court so we can get a definitive answer.

Q: With the current state of American culture in regards to gender identity, how will gender specific pronouns such as princess (used in this course) change the disciplinary actions of workplace harassment?

A: Such a great question -- thank you! You're right, our society is in transition and that will affect our gender specific pronouns. However, I'm not sure if or how much it will impact the evaluation of workplace behavior.

For example -- calling someone a "princess" in the context of the workplace scene in the course -- that manager was probably thinking more of the person's attitude and demeanor (high maintenance) than her gender.

Further, making one or two comments (even if off color) will not typically create a "hostile work environment" for anyone.


Topic: Pay Equity

Q: If an older female person with two years experience in the company is offered another position at a maximum amount of $11.50 an hour and then a younger male without the experience is offered the position at $11.75 is that okay?

A: Thanks for your question. You'll want to determine if it's the same or comparable position, AND, whether the younger male employee has any prior experience relevant to the particular position (regardless of his experience with the company). If it's the same or comparable position and the male employee does not have more experience for that specific position, then HR should be advised so they can address the situation.

Here's more information about pay equity.


Topic: Unconscious Bias & Diversity

Q: Why is it commonly accepted that "diversity" is "the right thing to do?" Can you provide any case studies that substantiate the claim that "diversity" is a competitive business advantage?

A: Yes, thanks for your question! Take a look at this McKinsey (business consultants) diversity study from January 2015. You may also find this whitepaper on unconscious bias helpful. Let us know if you have any further questions.

Q: Are there best known methods from companies who have successfully shifted the culture of being mindful of UB, especially mitigation of UB in the leadership and management layers?

A: Hello and thanks for your question. Most thought leaders agree that in order to shift a culture, you need a holistic, integrated approach that leverages various components, tailored to the specific workplace culture. Having said that, leadership and management can and should commit to practices that will influence workplace culture, including:

  • Speak up: If something isn't right -- say something. Regardless of the result, you're communicating your values.

  • Solicit opinions: Pay attention to who's talking and who isn't. Solicit the ideas and feedback from those who don't feel comfortable speaking up in group settings.

  • Use inclusive language: Leaders and managers have significant influence over the culture. Words have power so make it a point to use inclusive language whenever possible.

  • Connect with different types of people: In the book, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, the author tells a story of how Sandra Day O'Connor worked with a gay law clerk who adopted a baby with his partner. Although O'Connor's judicial opinions arguably did not support inclusion, her personal connection and respect for her law clerk prompted her to host a baby shower for the clerk when she learned of the adoption. Personal relationships and connections are the key to understanding and shifting cultural norms. Hope that helps!


Topic: Medical Conditions & Disabilities

Q: Why does Medical Condition deal with cancer specifically? What is the definition of genetic characteristic?

A: Thanks for your question. Medical condition was added to the list of protected characteristics to specifically address discrimination against employees with cancer and/or recovering from cancer. Having the BCRA gene (cancer gene) is an example of a genetic characteristic. Hope that helps to clarify.

Q: If an employee has ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), how does one improve their Emotional Intelligence when there are no resources to do so. Also it is important to state individuals with ASD may say things out of context and not be aware. How does that equate into Unwelcome Conduct?

A: Excellent question - thank you for bringing this up! A person with ASD can improve their emotional intelligence skills too, it just takes more time and effort than it would for someone without that challenge. A good place to start your research for EQ resources is the UC Davis Mind Institute. Check out their website which includes a video on job coaches (towards the bottom of the page).

As it relates to workplace behavior, a person with ASD is not going to get "a pass" to make people feel uncomfortable because he/she has a disability - it is up to the person with ASD to identify actions and comments that are workplace appropriate.

Having said that, setting co-workers' expectations that someone has difficulty "reading" social cues would be really helpful in providing a context for, and persuading people to be more tolerant and patient. I hope that helps provide some guidance for you.


Check out a preview of our updated course, which has a Q&A function built into the course with answers from our course experts.

Watch your free course preview!


Do you have a workplace question? Email our experts at experts@emtrain.com and they'll give you some guidance!  

Topics: HR, HR Compliance, Compliance