Global HR round up

Women couldn’t give a @!#! about swearing
An international survey shows that nearly 80% of women are not offended by occasional workplace swearing. The US-based WorldWIT online community for professional women polled about 40,000 respondents and found that most think the use of vulgar language typically happens under stress and diminishes the character of the person using it. What is most important is the context, according to WorldWIT chief executive Liz Ryan. “It’s one thing to say ‘This situation sucks’ – a word which many people don’t view as profane anymore – and another thing to say ‘Joe Smith sucks in his job’.” In recent years, many US firms have specifically asked workers not to say ‘hell’ or ‘damn’, reflecting growing sensitivity about offending religious sensibilities.

Europe gets heavy over closed-shop professions
The European Commission has fired a shot across the bows of professions that have tough entrance restrictions and that limit competition among qualified experts, such as lawyers, pharmacists, engineers and architects. EU Competition Commissioner, Neelie Kroes, has proposed that ‘a proportionality test’ be used to assess whether existing restrictive professional regulations and rules, such as qualification systems, “can be objectively justified”. Brussels is currently working with member states on the proposals, hoping they will take unilateral action to liberalise their professions. But it has reserve powers of its own, and may choose to use them in certain cases. For instance, last year it ordered a liberalisation of Belgium’s fee-charging rules for architects. Kroes was particularly critical of officially set fees charged by professionals and national bans on professionals advertising their services.

Norway compels firms to put women in the boardroom
Publicly-listed companies in Norway face being shut down unless they appoint more women to their boards after a new law came into force on 1 January. State-owned organisations are already obliged to comply and now have 45% female representation on their boards. Equality minister Karita Bekkemellem said: “I do not want to wait another 20 or 30 years for men with enough intelligence to finally appoint women. More than half of the people who have a business education today are women. It is wrong for companies not to use them. They should be represented.” Norway’s leading employers’ group, the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, said it would prefer a more flexible approach. It dismissed threats to close down firms as “science fiction”.

General Motors’ religious ban upheld by court in US
A US court has ruled that General Motors (GM) did not discriminate by allowing Hispanics, blacks and lesbians – but not Christians – to organise employee groups. The ruling upheld a lower court decision after a lawsuit was filed by a born-again Christian employee at a GM transmission plant. He was prevented from starting a Christian employees’ group as part of GM’s diversity programme, because guidelines prohibit groups that promote religious positions. The employee sued, claiming the denial constituted religious discrimination, but the court rejected that, stating: “General Motors would have taken the same action had the employee possessed a different religious position.” The GM diversity programme treats all religions equally, said the judgment, because “it excludes them all equally”.

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