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SEXUAL HARASSMENT–What will it cost your business this year?

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Sexual harassment prevention in the workplace has been getting a lot of attention – both in the news and in business.

After offering training on sexual harassment prevention for many years, the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights has noticed a large uptick in interest this year, not only from state employees who are required by law to complete such training, but from the private sector, too.

“While we have seen a large number of sexual harassment complaints come in, we’ve also seen more employers reaching out to get ahead of it,” said Spencer Dove, an executive associate with the commission.

What if employers ignore it? Your business potentially faces not only the cost of a lawsuit, but deeper-gouging costs related to retention and recruitment of staff and a tarnished reputation that repels customers.

As much has sexual harassment has captured the headlines this year, it’s hard to pin a price tag on it, though everyone from human resources experts to the U.S Senate to human rights advocates are calling for more research on what those costs might be. Clearly, the costs are mounting.

A 1988 survey, answered by personnel and human resources directors and equal opportunity offices representing 3.3 million employees at 160 corporations, found that a typical Fortune 500 company lost $6.7 million a year because of absenteeism, low productivity and staff turnover as a result of sexual harassment.

In 1994, the Merit Systems Protection Board estimated that, over the course of two years, sexual harassment in the federal workforce cost the government a total of $327.1 million as a result of job turnover, sick leave, and decreased productivity.

In 2017, the human resources consulting firm ERC estimated that, assuming that a sexual harassment claim is settled out of court, the average cost to an organization runs anywhere from $75,000 to $125,000.

How can businesses avoid these costs?

Eileen Levitt, president of the Columbia-based The HR Team, Inc., recommends three steps: have a policy, follow that policy, and train your managers and employees.

If this sounds over-simplified, ask yourself what your company’s policy on sexual harassment is and what it means. Is it something you blindly signed online, perhaps after sitting through a slide presentation and checking a box?

That type of training doesn’t work, agreed Levitt and many others in the field. “The reality is that we have to change behaviors,” said Levitt. “As an organization, we have to hire people that have behaviors we want to emulate.”

Nurturing a healthy workplace

Instead of thinking of sexual harassment as a hopelessly inevitable fact of office life, start thinking about a mindful approach to developing your team’s capacity to prevent harassment in the first place, suggested Sarah Rowell, CEO of Kantola Training Solutions, a company that has trained more than 13,000 organizations in sexual harassment prevention in the last five years.

Look at it more like an investment in your organization’s immune system,” Rowell said. “Take that preventive approach right up front.”

Kantola uses story-based training that, through sophisticated instructional design, truly puts people in each other’s shoes. One of the many important concepts Kantola focuses on is “bystander intervention,” or ways to support your coworkers when you witness harassing behavior.

The key to good training is real-life scenarios, agreed Tara Taylor, director of Education & Outreach for the Maryland Commission On Civil Rights. Taylor also recommends having clear timeframes in policies that outline when a response to a complaint should be expected. “Most state agencies have to investigate and respond within 30 days,” she said. “But private businesses and nonprofits don’t always have a clear timeframe.”

A common mistake by employers is retaliation against the alleged victim for complaining, Taylor added. “Sometimes employers are unconsciously retaliating,” she explained. An example? Moving alleged victims away to another job or another location to “protect” them.

Finally, Taylor said, if you have never received a complaint of any kind related to sexual harassment, ask yourself: do people feel comfortable complaining?

A new era

Sexual harassment has been around a long time, pointed out Amy Polefrone, president and CEO of the HR Strategy Group in Ellicott City. “It’s illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII,” she said. Yet, until comparatively recently, sexual harassment prevention training was a “check-the-box” routine.

At its heart, good training should be about gathering people together to answer a positive question: what kind of workplace do we want to have?

As the millennial generation and younger generations enter the workforce, they are increasingly choosing workplaces in which harassment of any kind is unacceptable. And, perhaps in part due to anti-bullying training they’ve had in their school years, this generation is proficient at identifying and combating harassment on the spot.

“Readiness training” in sexual harassment prevention seems key to creating a team that protects each other. It’s time, said Polefrone: “Dust off your policy, and ask yourself: how do we respond?”

Is Maryland ready for the sports betting game?

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West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware have voted sports gaming into law.

Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia have not.

Those last three facts will be under discussion when the next legislative session starts at noon on Jan 9, in Annapolis.

Session 2019 will come after the House passed a bill to allow sports gaming in Maryland, but the Senate did not; and on the heels of a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll that revealed that, while voters likely will have to wait at two years to decide whether to legalize sports gambling, 53 percent of registered voters favor doing so (with 37 percent opposed and 10 percent having no opinion).

D.C. and Virginia are also making noise about legalizing gambling, period; but even if sports gaming is approved in both states and the District, it won’t result in a huge windfall, as was the case with the approval of slots.

Where we are today,” said Frank Turner, recently retired delegate from District 13, who sponsored the sports gaming bill last session, “is in limbo. I haven’t seen a bill put in for the upcoming session, but it’s likely one will be. Then the question becomes, ‘Will there be an agreement between the House and the Senate as to what the bill will look like?’ ”

Last year, the House wanted sports gaming at the only wanted it at casinos. “That’s the hang up,” Turner said, “and I don’t think either side is rushing to take a position, since it can’t come into play until 2020, when it has to go to referendum”

As for what legalization would mean for Maryland, Turner said in Las Vegas sports gaming only accounts for “5 percent to 6 percent” of gambling revenues, “so I don’t think it would be the kind of windfall people might assume it would be.”

The state gets about $1.4 billion from casinos and $1 billion from the lottery, he said. “Sports betting won’t stop that.”

The deal today, he said, is that “people who really want this are very vocal, and they don’t want to drive [out of state] or go to Vegas to get it.”

While Maryland has come to the gaming party later than other states, Turner isn’t sure that’s a bad thing.

“People complained about how late we got into gaming here, but Maryland is far ahead of other states in [gambling] revenues,” he said. “Much of that is to do with D.C. and Virginia not having it. We even get people from North Carolina who come here and sightsee, too.”

Three Points

Jeffrey Hooke is managing director of Hooke Associates, of McLean, Va., and a senior lecturer with The Johns Hopkins University, and he thinks enabling legislation will occur by mid-2019. “Maryland almost got there last time,” he said, offering three issues to contemplate until then.

First the legislature “must address whether they will give away licenses for free, as most states do and as happens with casino licenses, or sell them to large corporations. They have a market and are worth millions. The state must address that point from a taxpayer point of view.”

Next, the state “will need a regulatory system” to police illegal conduct, such as inside information, bribes, and so on. “How are bettors being screened?,” he said. “Other states haven’t put much effort into monitoring the integrity function.”

Lastly, the 75-year-old Wire Act, a federal law that prohibits information sharing on national level for horse racing, “needs to be updated, since it restricts the sharing of betting patterns across states. The immediate goal here,” said Hooke, “is to legalize sports gaming in every state, give away the licenses for free and try to have a low betting tax rate – then establish the integrity system on the state level.”

Nationally, 10 states have authorized sports betting and approximately 20 others are pursuing authorizing legislation, which is not lost on Joe Weinberg, CEO of Cordish Global Gaming, which runs Live! Casino, in Hanover.

“Maryland, with one of the smallest populations in the U.S., has the fourth highest gaming tax collections in the country, with more than $3.5 billion to date,” he said. “It is important that Maryland casinos continue to have the ability to offer a full suite of products to remain competitive with surrounding states which already offer, or will shortly, allow sports betting.”

‘Volatile Market’

That “could well happen in 2020,” said Jennifer Roberts, associate director at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

“What’s going on in the mid-Atlantic is like the Mississippi-Louisiana relationship, where residents of Louisiana gamble on sports in Mississippi,” she said. “The politicians of Louisiana would rather have their people gamble on sports in state.”

Roberts also said the revenues would not amount to as much as people think, however. “For instance, before the last Super Bowl (LII), customers at the 198 sports books in Nevada wagered $158 million – combined, they made $1.17 million. That was it,” she said, though noting that other Super Bowls “made much more money. It’s a volatile market.”

So, don’t expect the earnings in Maryland or anywhere else to pay for new schools, roads or bridges. “But it will add to employment and keep some money in the state,” she said.
Revenue Plus

While Turner would “like to see agreement between the Senate and House,” there won’t be any pressure this year to get it done.

In addition, he said, the state has a $1 billion surplus in revenue, “so there’s no pressure to raise more money. There will be in a couple of years, because educational bills need financing and prescription drugs for retired state employees need funding,” he said, “plus the economy could [weaken].”

With Turner retired, the point man for a bill will be Del. Eric Ebersole (District12, Howard and Baltimore counties), subcommittee chair for finance resources in the Ways and Means Committee, the umbrella group for all gaming interests. He agrees that it’s hard to ignore any extra money that sports gaming would generate, as well as a new synergy it would provide for the overall gaming market.

“Many people will be looking forward to the additional financial resources,” said Ebersole, noting it could be directed to making community colleges debt free, 3-4 year old pre-kindergarten, school construction, etc.

“There would be,” he said, “plenty of places to spend it.”

 

Call for nominations for education award

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Nominations are being accepted for the 2019 Friends of Education Award. The award was established by the Howard County Board of Education to increase awareness of the importance of community involvement to the achievement of the school system’s Strategic Call to Action (SCTA) plan.

The nomination deadline is Feb. 1. Nominees and recipients will be notified by March 15 and awards will be presented at the April 11 Board of Education meeting. Nominations can be submitted online or by calling 410-313-1584. Find more information, visit www.hcpss.org/board/friends-of-education.

Preschool/Child Care fair set for Jan. 27

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The 2019 Preschool/Child Care Information Fair, Children On Board, will provide parents, guardians, grandparents and child care personnel with one-stop shopping for information on child care, pre-school and summer programs, as well as the opportunity for personal contact with teachers and program directors. The event will be presented at Ten Oaks Ballroom, Clarksville, on Sunday, Jan. 27, from 1– 4 p.m.

Admission is free. Attendees are asked to bring a nonperishable food item or unopened diapers to donate to the Howard County Food Bank. The 2019 Parent’s Guide to Howard County will be distributed at the event free of charge. For more information, call 410-313-1940, e-mail children@howardcountymd.gov or visit https://www.howardcountymd.gov/Departments/Community-Resources-and-Services/Office-of-Children-and-Families/Events/Children-On-Board-Child-Care-and-Preschool-Fair.

MBX to host Chili & Coat Drive Jan. 10

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The Maryland Business Connection (MBX) will kick off 2019 with its Mega Networking Kick-Off Party Chili Showcase & Coat Drive on Thursday, Jan. 10, from 4 to 8 p.m., at Michael’s Eighth Avenue, in Glen Burnie.

In addition to networking with approximately 400 business people, the event will feature chili samples from local restaurants and caterers, including Michael’s Eighth Avenue, Food by Fire Catering, Brews & Cues on the Boulevard, and Dorina’s Kitchen; local brew and wine samples; etc. Guests are encouraged to bring new or gently-used coats, sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves, etc. for local families being assisted by the Anne Arundel County Food Bank and Resource Center. At last year’s event, MBX collected more 350 coats.

Visit www.ChiliShowcase.com to register. For more information, call 410-562-5354 or email doug@mdbizconnect.com.

Annapolis Day set for Jan. 30

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The Maryland Tech Council’s (MTC) Annapolis Day and Leadership Dinner will take place on Jan. 30. The day-long event will start at 8 a.m. at Lowe House Office Building at 6 Bladen Street, with a light Breakfast with members, before they disperse from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. for legislator appointments.

At 10 a.m., members will meet at the Maryland State House to view House and Senate floor proceedings from its balconies. Lunch will run from 11 to 1 p.m., when members can observe Committee Hearings/Briefings in the Senate and House office buildings. At 5:30 p.m., the Leadership Dinner will take place at Hotel Annapolis (formerly Loews). Separate registration is required for Annapolis Day and the Leadership Dinner. For more information, email Michelle@mdtechcouncil.com.

BWI Marshall welcomes Frontier Airlines

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In late 2018, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport announced that Frontier Airlines plans to start nonstop service to Denver on March 14. Frontier will initially offer four weekly roundtrip flights between BWI Marshall Airport and Denver International Airport. The airline will operate the flights using its Airbus A320 aircraft.

Frontier is the second new airline in 2018 to announce entry into the BWI Marshall Airport market. Icelandair announced in January 2018 that it would begin nonstop service between BWI Marshall and Reykjavik, Iceland. The Icelandair service began in May 2018.

Merkle unveils solution for Amazon

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Columbia-based Merkle announced the launch of an automated bidding solution for Amazon Sponsored Brand Ads. Leveraging its API integration with Amazon, the proprietary technology enables effective bid management at scale, in order to calculate and apply bids.

The bid technology allows for precise, data-driven decisions, as well as the ability to update bids up to 48 times per day, enabling marketers to fully capitalize on all available revenue opportunities. Using clients’ KPIs as the primary input in its bidding algorithm, Merkle uses machine learning to calculate a base bid and then employs insights from its analytic experts to enhance strategy and adjust bids according to signals from multiple platforms.

Clients have seen a sales-per-click increase of 18 percent, with additional results showing a 47 percent increase in click-through rate and a 62 percent decrease in advertising cost of sales since transitioning Sponsored Brand bidding to Merkle’s technology.

“Before this integration, efficiently bidding on these ad units required building numerous custom processes, because Amazon itself hasn’t provided bulk editing capabilities until recently,” said Todd Bowman, senior director of Amazon and eRetail at Merkle. “With this new bid technology, as Amazon media becomes more competitive, our teams can focus more on analyzing performance to identify new opportunities and take advantage of them more proactively on behalf of our clients, while also scaling the program effectively.”

Gigaclear Networks selects Ciena

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Gigaclear Networks, the U.K’s leading provider of full fiber broadband connectivity to rural communities, recently deployed a 100G transport network across multiple countryside locations in the U.K. powered by optical and intelligent software solutions from Hanover-based Ciena.

The enhanced network will enable Internet service providers to offer advanced services, such as HD video streaming to business and residential customers. With this new network upgrade, rural regions in the U.K., including Devon, Somerset, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, will benefit from greater access to high-speed service with rapid backhaul connections from London to Bristol and Northants.

Colfax completes $3B deal

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Annapolis Junction-based Colfax Corp. has entered into a new $3 billion credit agreement with a group of 23 banks led by JPMorgan Chase Bank and Credit Suisse Funding that completed the bank financing for the company’s recently announced acquisition of DJO Global. Consummation of the acquisition is expected in the first quarter of 2019.

Colfax completed “this important element of the DJO acquisition financing with attractive terms,” said Christopher Hix, Colfax senior vice president and chief financial officer. “The company is well-supported by a global bank group aligned with our portfolio transformation strategy. The terms and structure of this financing are consistent with our near-term plans to delever, and our longer-term objective to achieve investment grade credit ratings.”

The new credit agreement consists of a $1.3 billion revolving credit facility, a $1.225 billion Term A-1 loan which matures in five years, and a $0.5 billion Term A-2 loan, which matures in two years. The funds available from the new credit agreement will be used to refinance the company’s existing credit agreement, and to fund a portion of the consideration and fees payable by the company in connection with the acquisition of DJO.

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