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Sep 29, 2021
This article is part of a series called The Legal Lounge.

What happens when you meet colleagues in-person whom you have only previously ever seen through a screen? 

It’s a question that is increasingly important as more workers return to work. That is, for a long time now, you’ve interviewed candidates over the phone and over Zoom, Teams, FaceTime, RingCentral, and every other video-based software out there. As many employees come to the office for the first time, what if their video image is not like their “in real life” image? What if their manager has concerns? Trust me, this could happen to you. Let’s go through some common scenarios.

What if a new employee is in a wheelchair?

If so, making sure they have what they need to be successful is important, including the ability to get around. Starting the conversation about their wants and needs is appropriate during the interview process, as well as once they start work. This isn’t just a conversation for the employee to have with HR. As a recruiting professional, you’ve already built a relationship with them, you helped bring them to your company, so you can also engage in an interactive process to ensure they receive proper accommodations. 

Additionally, new hires might actually feel more comfortable talking with you than others. So, for instance, help them navigate and even advocate for their cube to be closer to stuff rather than way in the back. Engaging in this conversation with every employee with a disability is essential to their success — including the employee with ADHD who didn’t understand that their workstation was in the middle of a cube farm and now they would like noise-cancelling headphones. 

What if a new employee really doesn’t want to come to the office? 

This is perhaps the hardest situation to deal with. We know that women left the workforce in droves during the pandemic, and we know that many are not thrilled to return to it. We know some Black employees face microaggressions or straight-out racism like that Google security guard who was searching for himself after some employee reported a “suspicious person” in the shared kitchen. 

Coming back to an environment where that could happen again is daunting. You can use your skills to advocate on their behalf — again, you have the relationship with them. Being flexible with work-in-the-office requirements can help you retain some of the talent you just sourced.

What if a new employee has a tattoo? 

Gasp! As a recent recipient of a new tattoo, I pause at the notion that tattoos are not compatible with a “professional” workplace setting. Most tattoos are simply quaint and unlikely to offend coworkers or customers. But what if the tattoo is derogatory, offensive, or contains nudity? Then we may have a real problem. Under no circumstances would a full body scan of a candidate ever be appropriate, but when you see offending ink, you have to do something about it. 

Without a doubt, an employer can ask an employee to wear long sleeves for some fairly innocuous tattoos, but offensive and potentially discriminatory or harassing content could create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment for co-workers. For example, a swastika is undoubtedly a fireable offense. Period. End stop.

As we start really interacting with colleagues in-person again, addressing their needs and any issues they bring with them will be key to retaining and engaging them.

This article is part of a series called The Legal Lounge.
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