Gun safety. Marijuana use. Sexual harassment.

All of these hot topics have come home to roost in workplaces across Maine. The complexity of how to deal with these issues, and others, to ensure a supportive and safe work environment is a persistent challenge for responsible employers.

Wednesday morning, three experts in human resources shared their expertise and advice with attendees at the Press Herald Business Breakfast Forum. Doug Currier, chair of the Labor and Employment Practice Group at Verrill Dana; Deb Gallant, vice president at Career Management Associates, a staffing and HR consultancy; and Leora Kirk, specialist with KMA Human Resources Consulting, also an HR consultancy, unpacked and explained the impact these issues are having in Maine, and what employers can do.

Among the top takeaways:

Schedule “stay” interviews, rather than exit interviews, with your employees. Have top management check in with workers on a quarterly basis to assess how comfortable they are working there. Are they fulfilled? Do they feel safe and heard? By soliciting this kind of regular feedback, the company establishes a de facto retention policy.

Similarly, perform climate surveys. Have a third party ask employees what is it like to work there. Do they have concerns about sexual harassment? marijuana use? safety? Convey anonymous answers to management for action.

Have the CEO and top management model appropriate behavior. You can’t expect a woman to report workplace sexual harassment, for instance, if the top executive is guilty of that behavior himself.

All companies must have explicit policies regarding these issues and others, for legal and ethical reasons. If your company is too small to have its own HR staff, there are resources available through the Society of Human Resources Management, which has a Maine chapter (maineshrm.org). There also is a lot of information available online, but all the experts warned not to simply download HR policy templates and adopt them. There are differences between federal and state employment laws, and differences for public employers versus private. Both HR consultants said their companies offer services ranging from one-time consultations to on-going partnerships for small and micro businesses.

If you’re looking for a job and want to make sure you work for a company that prioritizes a supportive environment, talk with current and former employees. Ask the interviewer questions like “Tell me what it’s like to work here” or “What is the average tenure for an employee here?”

– Carol Coultas, business editor

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