Newsflash

Workplace Problem No One Talks About

Imagine how you’d feel if you didn’t get a promotion because of your religion or skin color. The only good news would be that you could probably sue your employer for discrimination.
 
But, what if you didn’t get it because you were overweight?
 
In most parts of the United States, there would be little you could do. But, a handful of local and state governments have       extended anti-discrimination protection to include weight as a protected class.
 
Here’s a closer look at how it works.
 
What is a Protected Class?
A protected class is a group of individuals sharing a characteristic that is protected by law. Race, national origin, sex and religion are commonly recognized protected classes. Unless an individual is a member of a protected class, she cannot sue for unlawful discrimination. A variety of federal laws establish a number of protected classes, including: race, national origin, sex, color, religion, pregnancy, age, disability, familial status and genetic information.
 
One potential protected class that is still up to legal debate is sexual orientation. Some federal courts, as well as the         Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), believe Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 recognizes sexual orientation as a protected class. However, not all federal courts agree with this reasoning.
 
Right now, these federally protected classes do not include weight.
 
Weight Discrimination
There is good evidence that discrimination against workers who are overweight occurs.  Research data finds that individuals suffering from obesity are more likely to be “stereotyped as lazy, unmotivated, unintelligent, sloppy and lacking willpower.” This happens despite scientific studies showing genetics play a major role in an individual’s weight.
 
Studies also show that overweight workers likely suffer the effects of these negative stereotypes, including not getting hired or being passed over for promotion. To help combat this discrimination, a few states and cities have anti-discrimination laws that recognize discrimination based on weight.
 
Currently, only a few jurisdictions prohibit discrimination based on weight: Michigan, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Urbana in Illinois, Madison in Wisconsin, Binghamton in New York and Washington, D.C.
 
Washington, D.C. is particularly noteworthy given the number of protected classes it creates through its D.C. Human Rights Act.
 
Washington’s Law Differs
The D.C. Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and schools. It established the following 20 protected characteristics: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, genetic information, marital status,         personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity (including gender expression), gamily responsibilities (the obligation to support a dependent family member), political affiliation, matriculation, familial status (basically, this means being a parent), source of income, place of business or residence, credit information and status as a victum of an intrafamily office (such as domestic violence and stalking). 
 
All of the above will apply in the employment setting, except for: familial status, source of income, place of business or residence and status as a victim of intrafamily offense. Besides the vast number of protected classes created by the D.C. Human Rights Act, it goes much further than most anti-discrimination laws in other ways.
 
First, the D.C. Human Rights Act applies no matter how small the employer is and even if the victim is an independent contractor. This is significant, as many anti-discrimination laws, especially at the federal level, don’t apply to employers unless they have 15 or more employees. Additionally, federal anti-discrimination laws usually only apply to workers classified as employees.
 
Second, there are few limits on the amount and type of damages a victim of discrimination can recover. If it turns out an employer has violated the D.C. Human Rights Act, the victim of discrimination is entitled to “any relief” the court deems  appropriate. This means a worker can receive equitable   relief, such as reinstatement or a promotion.
 
It also means the worker is eligible for compensatory damages as long as the court deems it “appropriate.” This includes back pay and lost benefits. Punitive damages are possible as well, although they usually aren’t imposed unless the employer’s discrimination is especially egregious. Unlike the federal Title VII statute, the D.C. Human Rights Act places no cap on the amount of compensatory or punitive damages a worker can recover.
 
Third, a victim can go directly to court to sue his or her employer. Most discrimination claims brought under federal law against a private employer must first be addressed by the EEOC before the worker can sue in court. Under the D.C. Human Rights Act, a worker can immediately file a complaint in D.C. Superior Court and bypass the administrative process of filing a complaint with the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR). For those who are wondering, the OHR is tasked with enforcing the D.C. Human Rights Act and is basically Washington, D.C.’s version of the EEOC.
 
Lawsuits
Given how few jurisdictions recognize weight as a protected class and the prevalence of weight discrimination in the workplace, much of the weight discrimination case law focuses on obesity as a disability. The law is not fully settled on this question, but there is a pending case before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Richardson v Chicago Transit Authority,  No. 18-2199) that addresses whether obesity is an “impairment” under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
 
As for lawsuits specifically alleging discrimination based on weight as a protected class, the number of cases is far fewer, although there is one in particular from a few years ago that received a lot of press. The case (Smith v. Hooters of Roseville Inc., Circuit Court for Macomb County, Michigan, No. 10-2213-CD) involved a Hooters waitress from Michigan who claims she suffered from             discrimination because she weighed too much, despite being 132.5 pounds and five feet eight inches tall.
 
Unfortunately, the case was not decided on the issue of weight discrimination. After spending time in court arguing whether the waitress had the right to sue or was required to arbitrate her grievance, the case made its way to arbitration where it settled.
One case that concluded on the question of whether an employer was guilty of weight discrimination was Harris v. Hutcheson. In this case, a dental hygienist alleged she was fired because her boss viewed her as being overweight and made constant comments indicating his displeasure with her size. However, she ultimately lost her case because the court concluded that she was fired for her professional conflicts with a recently hired dentist and not for her weight.
 
Bottom Line
Weight discrimination creates a significant and often ignored problem in the workplace. A few jurisdictions have recognized this, but more could be done.
 
Tom Spiggle is author of the book “You’re Pregnant? You’re Fired: Protecting Mothers, Fathers and Other Caregivers in the Workplace.” He is founder of the Spiggle Law Firm, he works to protect the rights of clients facing pregnancy and caregiver discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination in the workplace. To learn more, visit www.spigglelaw.com/.
 

Kinder Houston Area Survey reveals lingering concerns in wake of Hurricane Harvey

The 38th Annual Kinder Houston Area Survey was released May 13 at the popular Kinder Institute luncheon at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Houston.
 
Stephen Klineberg, the founding director of Rice’s Kinder  Institute for Urban Research and an emeritus professor of   sociology at Rice University, conducted the survey. 
 
More than 1700 locals  — business and community leaders —  attended the big event, and witnessed Jeffrey C. Hines, president and CEO of Hines, accept the Stephen L. Klineberg Award. The award recognizes an individual who has made a lasting, positive impact on Greater Houston. 
 
Economic Hardship
Traffic continues to reign as the area’s biggest problem, according to survey respondents (36 percent). Meanwhile, the outlook on other issues is improving. Only 15 percent of respondents said crime is the biggest problem in the city of Houston, and 67 percent rated job opportunities in the area as excellent or good.
 
Despite the positive outlook on job opportunities, the survey reflects the prevalence of economic hardship in Harris County. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed said they could not come up with $400 in an emergency. This number is close to the national average, recently reported by the Federal Reserve Board.
 
In addition, 25 percent of survey respondents lacked health insurance, 31 percent reported household income of less than $37,500, 35 percent said they had problems paying for housing and 33 percent had difficulty buying groceries.
 
The survey indicates more people than ever in the Houston area are calling for government programs to address these inequalities. Sixty-six percent said government should act to reduce income differences, 62 percent said government has a responsibility to help reduce inequalities, and 53 percent said welfare benefits generally provide an opportunity for recipients to improve their situations. These figures compare with 45 percent, 51 percent and 34 percent, respectively, a decade ago.
 
Education
About two-thirds of survey respondents said education beyond high school is necessary to obtain a job that pays more than $35,000 per year. No one was more certain of this than Hispanic immigrants (76 percent).
 
This recognition of the importance of education could be related to the change in opinion on the need for additional funding for public schools, Klineberg said. Fifty-six percent of respondents in last year's survey said more funding was needed for public schools; in 1994, 54 percent said the schools had enough money to provide a good education. Less than half of the respondents in 2018 – 42 percent — said the schools have enough money, if used wisely, to provide quality education.
 
After Harvey
Eighteen months after the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, the survey indicates fewer people in the Houston area consider flooding the city’s top issue. Floods and storms were cited as the area’s biggest problem by seven percent of survey respondents this year, compared to 15 percent last year. Yet, three-quarters continue to agree that Houston will almost certainly experience more extreme storms in the next 10 years, and 53% of respondents are also concerned about climate change. And survey respondents are even more insistent (75 percent this year, up from 70 percent in 2018) on the need for better land-use planning to guide development.
 
One noteworthy change from last year is declining support for specific flood-mitigation controls. Only 56 percent favor prohibiting new construction in flood-prone areas of Houston, compared to 71 percent a year ago. Fifty percent favor increasing local taxes to buy out more homes that have repeatedly flooded, down from 55 percent in 2018.
 
Diversity
Houstonians of all ethnicities are growing more comfortable with the region’s burgeoning diversity – including everything from attitudes toward immigrants to friendship patterns and romantic relationships.
 
 The survey revealed that area residents in every community are more likely today than in earlier years to have close personal friends from each of the other major ethnic groups in Houston. The most powerful predictor of interethnic friendships is age: The survey indicates younger respondents have grown up in a world full of such friendships and welcome what many older Houstonians still find difficult to accept.
 
Harris County has grown more aligned with the Democratic Party in recent years, the survey showed. Area residents have dramatically changed their minds about the moral acceptability of homosexuality, but there’s been little change in abortion attitudes. Most respondents (59 percent) continue to believe abortion is morally wrong, but 62  percent are opposed to making it more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion.
 
Conclusions
Houston-area residents are  expressing significantly more support today than in earlier years
• for policies to reduce the inequalities and address the needs of the poor;
• for more spending on public education, from cradle to career;
• for controls on development to reduce the vulnerability to future flooding; and
• for continued efforts to enhance the region’s urban amenities.
 
The surveys, according the  report, also show clearly that area residents are embracing the region’s diversity and feeling more comfortable in a world of thriving friendships across ethnic communities, religious beliefs and sexual orientations.
 
Additionally, beneath the divisive political rhetoric, area residents appear to be more inclined than ever before to support the many ongoing efforts in the Houston area that are addressing today’s most compelling challenges.
 
It  remains to be seen whether the Houston community as a whole can summon the political will  to make the critical investments that will be needed to position the region for sustained prosperity in this new era of economic, demographic and technological transformation.
 
About the Survey
Interviews for the Kinder Houston Area Survey averaged more than 30 minutes each. They were conducted between February 4 and March 14 by SSRS in Media, Pennsylvania. SSRS surveyed a scientifically selected representative sample of 1,000 Harris County residents; 50 percent were reached by landline, 50 percent by cellphone.
 

8 Handshakes that Hurt Your Influence

Have you ever wondered what your handshake says about you? Your handshake is like your business card. It conveys your confidence, credibility and influence without sharing a single word. Studies have shown this one simple gesture can enhance a social situation and make a positive impact on others.

In our culture, a handshake accompanies almost every introduction and initiates many conversations. It sets the tone for new relationships by signaling others of your integrity. People often admit to judging others based on this small gesture. Because of this, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology encourages everyone to pay attention to their handshake as it has found significant consistencies in a firm handshake and a positive first impression.

Make a great first impression by considering your handshake and what it says about you and avoid these eight types of handshakes that will hurt your influence with others:

Dead Fish
Also known as the limp noodle, this handshake conveys weakness and uncertainty. It gives people the impression you have a passive personality and can be easily overrun. Don’t use this handshake even when tempted to be gentle with a person due to age or gender.

Hand Crusher
Want someone to forget your name immediately? Squeeze their hand with constant force. They'll be so distracted from the pain they'll tune out anything you say. This type of handshake diminishes trust others are willing to place in you. It sends the message you're trying too hard, and people will likely question what you say after that.

Long Lingerer
Few things can make a handshake recipient more uncomfortable than someone who won’t let go of their hand. Handshakes should be no more than two seconds in length. Anything longer begins to cross personal boundaries and feels like a desperate invasion of space.

Hip Hipster
First bumps and fancy handshakes have their place – with friends and family. They have no business in the workplace. They reflect a lack of awareness and a need to be revered as ‘cool’ not credible. Images of frat boys and football parties come to mind instead of experienced professional.  

Brush Off
A handshake is intended to kick-start a meaningful connection. When shaking someone’s hand, be deliberate with your eye contact and don’t rush the exchange. Nothing makes someone feel like they’re unimportant or being blown off quite like shaking hands with a person in a rush or looking around at others.

Wet Weasel
We all get nervous and have anxiety before big meetings or introductions. It's natural. What isn't natural; however, is the feeling of contacting someone's sweaty palms. If probably already know if you are likely to have unusually wet palms before the introduction. If so, carry a handkerchief in your pocket to use just before the introduction. You can wash your hands with cold water to help keep them cool under pressure.

Hand Hugger
We've all shaken hands with someone who uses both of theirs to embraces our both top and bottom. While this is perfectly normal in a personal situation with friends and family, it’s out of place in a professional setting. You can convey a message of warmth with your eyes, smile and choice of words. There is no need to embrace someone’s hand in such a personal manner.

Shugger
The shug is best known as a handshake that pulls the receiver closer to you physically, almost as if you were going to hug them. It forces them to come closer as your hand stays closely tucked into your body. While this type of handshake is common among friendly colleagues and peers, it sends a message of favoritism to those on the outside looking in. Remember, your handshake conveys a message to everyone, not just the person with whose hand you’re shaking.

Perfecting the Perfect Handshake
Practice the perfect handshake first by seeking feedback on yours. Ask someone you trust to help identify areas of opportunity. Then, practice it on others to solicit feedback and more guidance until you've mastered the art. Some keys to the perfect handshake include:

  • Anticipate the handshake. Ensure your hand is free, out of your pocket and not holding onto any items. Switching hands to shake is distracting and awkward.
  • Use your right hand. Even if you're a leftie, our culture dictates right-handed handshakes as key.
  • Maintain a strong, confident posture. Remain upright and refrain from leaning. If necessary, take a step toward the person with whom you're greeting. If you’re seated upon meeting someone, stand up before shaking their hand. This signifies respect to the person you’re meeting.
  • Make intentional eye contact as you greet the other person. Once you hand makes a connection, ensure your eyes connect too. Use a kind greeting such as “nice to meet you” or “great to see you again.” Incorporate their name with your greeting to help better solidify your introduction. This interaction trifecta will warm up anyone with whom you connect.
  • Remain firm throughout the handshake. Grasp the other person’s hand with a firm grip without squeezing. Maintain the grip for two seconds before releasing. Don’t allow your hand to fall limp upon the initial grip.
  • Shake from your elbow, not your wrist. Two or three pumps will do. Any more and your partner will begin to feel uncomfortable.

You want to be so confident in your handshake style that it is second nature. Seeking feedback and frequent practice will help solidify your good habits, so you can concentrate more on meeting the person and less on the impression you're making. The more comfortable you become, the confidence you'll convey.

Stacey Hanke is the founder and communication expert of Stacey Hanke Inc. She is the author of "Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be." Stacey and her team have delivered thousands of presentations and workshops for leaders of Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola, Nationwide, FedEx, Kohl’s and AbbVie. Learn more at www.staceyhankeinc.com.

8 Handshakes that Hurt Your Influence

Have you ever wondered what your handshake says about you? Your handshake is like your business card. It conveys your confidence, credibility and influence without sharing a single word. Studies have shown this one simple gesture can enhance a social situation and make a positive impact on others.

In our culture, a handshake accompanies almost every introduction and initiates many conversations. It sets the tone for new relationships by signaling others of your integrity. People often admit to judging others based on this small gesture. Because of this, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology encourages everyone to pay attention to their handshake as it has found significant consistencies in a firm handshake and a positive first impression.

Make a great first impression by considering your handshake and what it says about you and avoid these eight types of handshakes that will hurt your influence with others:

Dead Fish
Also known as the limp noodle, this handshake conveys weakness and uncertainty. It gives people the impression you have a passive personality and can be easily overrun. Don’t use this handshake even when tempted to be gentle with a person due to age or gender.

Hand Crusher
Want someone to forget your name immediately? Squeeze their hand with constant force. They'll be so distracted from the pain they'll tune out anything you say. This type of handshake diminishes trust others are willing to place in you. It sends the message you're trying too hard, and people will likely question what you say after that.

Long Lingerer
Few things can make a handshake recipient more uncomfortable than someone who won’t let go of their hand. Handshakes should be no more than two seconds in length. Anything longer begins to cross personal boundaries and feels like a desperate invasion of space.

Hip Hipster
First bumps and fancy handshakes have their place – with friends and family. They have no business in the workplace. They reflect a lack of awareness and a need to be revered as ‘cool’ not credible. Images of frat boys and football parties come to mind instead of experienced professional.  

Brush Off
A handshake is intended to kick-start a meaningful connection. When shaking someone’s hand, be deliberate with your eye contact and don’t rush the exchange. Nothing makes someone feel like they’re unimportant or being blown off quite like shaking hands with a person in a rush or looking around at others.

Wet Weasel
We all get nervous and have anxiety before big meetings or introductions. It's natural. What isn't natural; however, is the feeling of contacting someone's sweaty palms. If probably already know if you are likely to have unusually wet palms before the introduction. If so, carry a handkerchief in your pocket to use just before the introduction. You can wash your hands with cold water to help keep them cool under pressure.

Hand Hugger
We've all shaken hands with someone who uses both of theirs to embraces our both top and bottom. While this is perfectly normal in a personal situation with friends and family, it’s out of place in a professional setting. You can convey a message of warmth with your eyes, smile and choice of words. There is no need to embrace someone’s hand in such a personal manner.

Shugger
The shug is best known as a handshake that pulls the receiver closer to you physically, almost as if you were going to hug them. It forces them to come closer as your hand stays closely tucked into your body. While this type of handshake is common among friendly colleagues and peers, it sends a message of favoritism to those on the outside looking in. Remember, your handshake conveys a message to everyone, not just the person with whose hand you’re shaking.

Perfecting the Perfect Handshake
Practice the perfect handshake first by seeking feedback on yours. Ask someone you trust to help identify areas of opportunity. Then, practice it on others to solicit feedback and more guidance until you've mastered the art. Some keys to the perfect handshake include:

  • Anticipate the handshake. Ensure your hand is free, out of your pocket and not holding onto any items. Switching hands to shake is distracting and awkward.
  • Use your right hand. Even if you're a leftie, our culture dictates right-handed handshakes as key.
  • Maintain a strong, confident posture. Remain upright and refrain from leaning. If necessary, take a step toward the person with whom you're greeting. If you’re seated upon meeting someone, stand up before shaking their hand. This signifies respect to the person you’re meeting.
  • Make intentional eye contact as you greet the other person. Once you hand makes a connection, ensure your eyes connect too. Use a kind greeting such as “nice to meet you” or “great to see you again.” Incorporate their name with your greeting to help better solidify your introduction. This interaction trifecta will warm up anyone with whom you connect.
  • Remain firm throughout the handshake. Grasp the other person’s hand with a firm grip without squeezing. Maintain the grip for two seconds before releasing. Don’t allow your hand to fall limp upon the initial grip.
  • Shake from your elbow, not your wrist. Two or three pumps will do. Any more and your partner will begin to feel uncomfortable.

You want to be so confident in your handshake style that it is second nature. Seeking feedback and frequent practice will help solidify your good habits, so you can concentrate more on meeting the person and less on the impression you're making. The more comfortable you become, the confidence you'll convey.

Stacey Hanke is the founder and communication expert of Stacey Hanke Inc. She is the author of "Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be." Stacey and her team have delivered thousands of presentations and workshops for leaders of Fortune 500 companies, including Coca-Cola, Nationwide, FedEx, Kohl’s and AbbVie. Learn more at www.staceyhankeinc.com.

Getting Around H-town: Car free and Carefree

From traffic jams to costly parking spots, driving in Houston can often spoil fun outings and weekend plans. In a city that ranks as the sixth most stressful place in the country to drive, traveling to catch the latest exhibit at your favorite museum or dining downtown is often a hassle. 

 

Navigating the city, however, doesn’t always have to be paired with taking your car. Some of the most simple and underrated commute solutions include hopping on the METRORail, renting out a bike from Houston’s Bcycle program, and walking. 

 

Spanning nearly 23 miles, Houston’s light rail system will drop you off within a 10-minute walk or bike ride away from the city’s best cultural attractions and eateries, with the added bonus of skipping out on parking fees. 

 

There are several hot spots in Houston that are perfect for catching the rail, biking and walking. 

 

Hot Spot: Museum District 

Perfect for adventurers and explorers, the Museum District offers a variety of walkable and bikeable activities.

 

The Museum District rail station will put you less than a 10-minute walk away from Houston’s museum attractions, including The Health Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts, The Museum of Science, The Children’s Museum, The Contemporary Arts Museum, The Asia Society Texas Center, The Czech Center Museum and the Museum of African American Culture. 

 

Exiting at the Hermann Park/Rice U station is a 12-minute walk away from the Houston Zoo, or an even closer distance away from Hermann Park, which is full of shaded walking paths and hideaways for a jog, peaceful stroll or group picnic.  

 

The Museum District has multiple access points to pick up a BCycle bike, and a diverse collection of shops and restaurants in Rice Village or Montrose are only a 10-minute bike ride away. 

 

Hot Spot: Downtown

From the Theater District to Discovery Green, Downtown Houston has a wide range of eateries and fun-filled weekend activities. 

 

Getting off at downtown rail stops on the red line, such as Preston and Main Street Square, will put you in walking distance of Latin American tapas, Italian cuisine, Greek food, Tex-Mex, seafood and some of Houston’s most beloved steakhouses.

 

There are also several green spaces downtown, which can easily be accessed with a short walk, bike ride, or rail trip. Discovery Green is a two-minute walk away from the Convention District stop, while Market Square Park is a four-minute walk away from the Preston stop. Both urban parks offer free events, from yoga classes to musical performances. 

 

Whether you’re trying to catch the Houston Rockets in action, go to a concert or head to a conference, the rail takes you near the Toyota Center and the George R. Brown Convention Center. Plus, you won’t have to hassle with navigating crowded parking lots or searching for a parking spot. 

 

Houston is one of the few cities in the country to offer permanent professional resident companies in opera, ballet, music,and theater, all of which can be easily accessed from the light rail. From the Theater District stop, the Alley Theater, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Jones Hall for the Performing Arts and Theater Under the Stars are a five-minute walk away or less. 

 

Hot Spot: EaDo

East Downtown is a vibrant neighborhood teeming with diverse restaurant options and artwork. Exiting off the green and purple lines on the rail is a great way to discover some of the best up-and-coming and well-established restaurants in the city. EaDo is also the birthplace of Houston’s original Chinatown (before it moved to the southwest side of the city), so there are plenty of authentic Asian cuisine options. There is also no shortage of murals in the area, which can easily be accessed by biking or walking.  

 

If you’re looking to cheer on the Astros at Minute Maid or the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium, catching the game is exponentially more convenient if you take the rail, exit at the Convention District stop, and walk a few blocks to watch your favorite Houston sports teams. 

 

To catch a ride on the rail, simply pay $1.25 fare for each ride, purchase a $3 unlimited day pass or invest in a reloadable and reusable METRO Q Card. Paying a one-time fare can be done at each rail station, while METRO cards and passes can be purchased and reloaded online. You can find your closest light rail stop, and plan your trip at www.ridemetro.org/.

 

To hop on a bike, Houston’s Bcycle network has 60 stations across the city and more than 400 rental bicycles available for a low fare. Head to www.houuston.bcycle.com for a full listing of all the stations. The iOS and Android-friendly BCycle app allows users to plan and route their trips as well as easily pay their fare. 

 

To learn more about transforming your commute, whether planning weekend outings or mid-week festivities, visit www.findasmarterwaytowork.org/. 

 

As with any excursion, make sure you stay hydrated, sun-screened and prepared to spend more time enjoying yourself instead of stuck in traffic.

 

Happy traveling! 

 

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