HR: Cinema will be an ongoing feature here at The Employer’s Lawyer. It combines my love of movies with my passion for human resources and employment law. Please feel free to suggest movies in the comments and I will do my best to incorporate your suggestions.
For the uninitiated, yesterday was Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you), so I, like so many other Star Wars fans, spent part of my day watching Star Wars, specifically Episode IV: A New Hope. I even managed to convert my 2 year old daughter into a brand-new Star Wars fan. For those of you who do not know here’s the IMDB synopsis for A New Hope:
Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a wookiee and two droids to save the universe from the Empire’s world-destroying battle-station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the evil Darth Vader.
Now, onto the lessons that Star Wars: A New Hope can teach business-owners and HR professionals:
Respect Others’ Religious Beliefs
During a meeting of Imperial officers, one of the officers, Admiral Motti, mocks Darth Vader’s belief in the force. In fact, he goes as far to call Vader’s beliefs “sorcerer’s ways,” and a “sad devotion to that ancient religion.” Of course, Vader achieves the upper hand (see what I did there?), as he usually does: by using the Force to choke Admiral Motti.
Mocking another’s sincere religious beliefs, regardless of your feelings about the religion, is never a good idea. Similarly, you should not allow other employees to make derogatory statements about another’s religion. An employee only needs to have a sincerely held religious belief for Title VII to control, as Title VII’s definition of “religion” is very broad. Per the EEOC’s website:
Title VII, religion includes not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or that seem illogical or unreasonable to others. An employee’s belief or practice can be “religious” under Title VII even if the employee is affiliated with a religious group that does not espouse or recognize that individual’s belief or practice, or if few – or no – other people adhere to it.
Continuous mocking and derogatory comments about religion (or any other aspect of a protected class) could lead to a hostile work environment claim, which may be successful if the comments are sufficiently severe and pervasive. Even if your employee doesn’t decide to take action during their employment, they may change their mind if you need to take adverse action at some later date. Even if you’re legitimately demoting or terminating the employee, they may claim that the action was motivated by religious considerations, and may be able to put together a fairly good case depending on what was said about the employee’s religion.
Movie takeaway: Never speak negatively about an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs and don’t allow other employees to do so either.
Bullying in the Workplace Won’t Increase Productivity
Many of the most memorable scenes from the Star Wars movies involve Darth Vader using the Force to choke an Imperial officer that has displeased him in some way. Vader obviously runs his operation with an iron fist and a short temper. In short, he’s a workplace bully. No one dares challenge him, because any challenge is met with violence. Yet, despite Vader’s attempts to scare his subordinates into competence, they continue failing and he has to keep choking them.
Now, its unlikely a workplace bully is going to choke fellow employees (with the Force or without), but Vader’s behavior helps to highlight one of the biggest problems with workplace bullying: it not only fails to motivate employees, it is actually detrimental to productivity. If your employees are too afraid of the consequences of making a mistake, they won’t be performing at their best level. As a result, you won’t be seeing their best work. So if you have a workplace bully, maybe its time to tell them to take it down a few notches, because bullying is probably hurting your business.
Movie takeaway: Workplace bullies don’t motivate, they cause fear and decrease productivity.
Protect Your Confidential Information
The “workforce” (i.e. Stormtroopers and other soldiers) on the Death Star is huge, and it has to be to operate such a large battlestation. Despite the heavy security, Luke, Han and Chewbacca were able to sneak around the Death Star, in disguise. Their incognito wandering resulted in rescuing Princess Leia, which ultimately led them to deliver the secret Death Star schematics (showing its one fatal flaw) to the Rebellion.
If your business has an information it considers confidential or proprietary, you need to take the necessary steps to protect it. Many, including myself, counsel businesses to utilize the proper countermeasures for computers: BYOD policies, computer passwords and firewalls. However, physical security is just as important. If your business is large, and has many employees who won’t necessarily recognize an outsider, you may need to use ID badges and require the badges to be swiped to enter certain areas. After all, not every employee needs access to all areas. Additionally, ID badges would prevent most outsiders from accessing your business and could allow employees to recognize an intruder by their lack of a badge. Requiring ID badge swiping also has the added bonus of tracking who entered a certain area and at what time.
Movie takeaway: Both physical and computer security are a must for protecting confidential and proprietary information.
I hope you enjoyed the first of many HR Cinema posts. Movie suggestions in the comments are greatly appreciated!