Category Archives: Employment policies

Rex Tillerson’s First Speech at the State Department: Lessons for Employers

Lessons for Employers

The U.S. State Department has about 70,000 employees. Rex Tillerson was confirmed as President Trump's pick for Secretary of State, and yesterday was his first day on the job.

So Tillerson spoke yesterday to hundreds of State Department employees to introduce himself and talk about their shared mission.

I was impressed by the speech, and I thought the speech could give a lot of guidance to management about the message that companies and government agencies should communicate to their employees.

Here are my thoughts on what Secretary Tillerson said that should be viewed as exemplary:

  1. Tillerson expressed humility. He was Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil, one of the largest corporations in the world (which probably has even more employees than the State Department), but he described himself as "the new guy" that needed the help of the employees.
  2. Instead of bragging about his decades of executive experience in the oil & gas business, he charmingly recounted his wife's message that his career at ExxonMobil was a "41 year training program" for his new job at the State Department.
  3. He showed respect to his new employees. He stressed their extraordinary collective experience and expertise. He noted that the employees had an average 11 years at the State Department, and he said he had been there for 45 minutes.
  4. He stressed cores principles such as that all employees would be treated with respect.
  5. He focused on the shared missions, including keeping employees safe and advancing the interests of the United States.
  6. He stressed accountability and a need to question old ways of doing things to look for ways to better accomplish the missions.
  7. One of the overarching messages was respect, both in recognizing the expertise of the employees and stressing the need to treat employees with respect.
  8. It would be hard to find a better message, coming out of a fantastically hostile election, to try to rally employees around a shared mission.

So employers should watch the speech for the principles it reflects.

Rex Tillerson's Speech at State Department

Here is a link Tillerson's speech from the State Department's YouTube channel, and you can watch the speech in the embedded video window below:

The disastrous consequences of the N-word in the workplace. Just ask Dr. Laura!

Okay, this article has nothing to do with Dr. Laura Schlessinger and her “rant” in which she used the N-word repeatedly on her radio program when responding to an African-American caller. But the ensuing controversy (see articles for and against Dr. Laura), and her decision to end her long-running radio program, highlight the extraordinary significance of the N-word term in American society.

The West Virginia Supreme Court recently dealt with the N-word in a case that highlights the great risks for employers when that word enters the workplace.

In PAR Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Bevelle , — W. Va. –, — S.E.2d –, 2010 WL 2244096 (June 3, 2010) (per curiam), the West Virginia Supreme Court dealt with a claim of a racially based hostile work environment under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, and concluded that the West Virginia Human Rights Commission was justified in finding for the employee. The decision was unanimous. Click here for the WV Human Rights Commission‘s decision which was affirmed by the WV Supreme Court.

A Single Day, With the N-Word Again and Again

PAR Electrical was building “giant towers” for a high voltage electrical transmission line. Richard Wayne Bevelle was hired by PAR Electrical on March 22, 2005, and, after working as a “groundman” assembling the tower bases, was assigned to load helicopters with parts to construct the towers (this helicopter job was described as a “gravy job” by the Human Rights Commission). Mr. Bevelle is African-American.

Continue reading The disastrous consequences of the N-word in the workplace. Just ask Dr. Laura!

WV Supreme Court rules that employer’s policy and prompt action protected it against liability; Colgan Air v WV HRC; 10/25/07

West Virginia Capitol Building at Night October 25, 2007: In Colgan Air, Inc. v. West Virginia Human Rights Commission, 221 W. Va. 588, 656 S.E.2d 33 (1977) the West Virginia Supreme Court addressed claims of harassment (based on religion and national origin) and retaliation under the WV Human Rights Act, W. Va. Code § 5-11-1 et seq.

The plaintiff was a pilot, Rao Zahid Khan, who alleged that his co-workers subjected him to frequent derogatory and insulting comments about his national origin and religion (he was Arabic). The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Colgan Air (a) was not liable for harassment because it had policies and procedures prohibiting harassment and took swift and decisive action after learning about the harassment, and (b) was not liable for retaliation because Colgan Air terminated the employee (Mr. Khan) for a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason–he failed to pass a mandatory FAA proficiency test for pilots.

Continue reading WV Supreme Court rules that employer’s policy and prompt action protected it against liability; Colgan Air v WV HRC; 10/25/07