The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Meeting of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
"Employment Discrimination in the Aftermath of September 11"
December 11, 2001

Remarks of Thomas Korber
Senior Director, Human Resources
Astra Zeneca Pharmaceuticals

Chairwoman Dominguez and members of the Commission, good afternoon.

My name is Thomas Korber, from Malvern Pennsylvania. This afternoon I will testify before you as a representative of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), an organization that provides services to more than 165,000 professional and student members throughout the world.

I am also here representing AstraZeneca, an international research based pharmaceutical company in Wilmington, Delaware.

AstraZeneca is the result of a merger that was announced in April 1999. Since the merger we have set out with a vision to create a unique business culture, one that would enable us to truly become an Employer of Choice. On September 11th we were faced with the biggest challenge that would test that vision.

Like so many Americans I was first dumfounded, then horrified, as the events of September 11th began to unfold. As an organization, AstraZeneca has many employees who have been directly impacted by the tragedy, including contractors with offices and housing within 'ground zero'. A number of our New York area Sales Representatives were directly impacted-- employees displaced due to loss of housing, employees across the company who have lost friends and family members, and I have personally experienced loss as well.

The testimony that I am offering here today offers a view of one employer's response to September 11th, and the effect of that response on all our employees, including our Arab, Muslim and South Asian employees.

Our first visible response to employees was provided some time after 10:00 a.m.

An urgent message was sent by our President and CEO to all employees acknowledging/informing of the "serous incidents in New York City and Washington DC". This message clearly outlined the priority of concern for the safety of our employees and contractors and the well being of their families.

While a crisis management team worked diligently to ascertain the scope of the situation, preliminary steps were taken to ensure the safety of all AstraZeneca employees. Some of these early measures included:

Our focus on September 11th was primarily on:

Ensuring a full accounting for the location and safety of all of our employees in all locations; there were approximately 5,000 employees out of town or traveling that day, including a global marketing meeting in midtown Manhattan and international employees and families on holiday in New York City.

Our next priority was to establish a global support network for employees and families who were stranded away from home, many out of their countries of origin. Individuals were stranded across the entire United States as well as from China to Sweden.

We were also mobilizing efforts to provide numerous mechanisms of support to employees who were in our offices at the time they learned of the terrorist attacks.

As more information about the terrorist attacks unfolded, many individuals experienced a prolonged reaction to the catastrophic events. Some reactions were subtle, but others, such as anger, could have played out more overtly.

As an organization, we put this issue right on the table for all employees to understand. We made it clear to our employees that when incidents such as these occur, it is natural to consider retaliation or taking action against the groups that are perceived as being the aggressor. Managers were reminded -- and supported with the tools and information -- to caution their employees against making stereotypic assumptions or comments, and to discourage employees from engaging in negative behavior against colleagues based on their ethnic or religious backgrounds.

All employees were informed that AstraZeneca will stand by its Anti-Harassment Policy, and will not tolerate any violation of its provisions. Employees were instructed to report any observation or experience of inappropriate behavior to their managers and their Human Resources Business Partners immediately. Employees were also referred to additional information on the Anti-Harassment Policy on our HR Policy Website.

As an organization we have been very deliberate in our communication, education and support to all employees. We continue to ensure that all employees adhere to the company's expectations associated with creating and enabling a respectful workplace.

Employees were encouraged to attend and participate in Support Sessions conducted by:

These sessions were provided for all locations, throughout the day, over a period of several weeks.

After careful consideration, we decided to not specifically target "training and awareness" relating to Muslim or Arab or South Asian cultures. Employees were invited to seek reference materials and other information at their choosing. We focused more on continuing to reinforce our messages in support of a more broad definition of diversity. We did not feel it was appropriate to profile one group of individuals in a 'knee-jerk' response to social reactions. However, we were very explicit in our communication with managers and employees that we have "zero tolerance" for harassment or discrimination on any basis relating to ethnic or religious affiliation.

A less traditional form of harassment for which we were vigilant is more specific to our business operating model. Ours is a global, team-based business, and this frequently requires global work-teams getting together to resolve business problems.

With the heightened anxiety around travel, employees based in the US were feeling pressure from other parts of the world to "get over it" and were expected by some colleagues to get on an airplane and move on with "business as usual".

As leaders in the US business we made it clear to our employees that we would support them in their concerns for travel, and the anxiety that international travel in particular might cause them or their families. We instituted new business practices and travel policies that allow for employees to choose alternative means of accomplishing their team based work. We continue to support these policies through investments in technology enabled alternatives.

Another area of potential concern was for our employees with Military obligations. Given the likely nature of prolonged military deployment of some of our employees, we needed to ensure that all managers were developing contingency plans that would enable the employees to be on Military Leave without concern for work commitments, impact on pay, and benefits for themselves and their families.

One example is a manufacturing unit in our Westborough, MA facility. This unit has 7 employees from the same department who are now deployed in the same military unit. To date, I am aware of 60 employees from AstraZeneca listed as 'active' Reserves.

In addition to ensuring policies and procedures were up to date, dedicated resources have also been assigned to support those employees called to Active Duty. A Reserve Component Support Group and Reserve Component Information Meetings were also established to provide maximum support to employees and their families during this time.

The Company continues to offer support to these meetings, however, they will be organized by members of the Reserves and the employees' families.

Looking back, we are able to identify key success factors in our response to the tragedy that have helped prevent inappropriate conduct in the workplace. These include:

  1. Recognizing that the events of the morning of September 11th were significant enough to likely have a profound impact on the individuals within the organization.
  2. Providing an immediate and clear response to all employees
  3. Ensuring a clear mechanism and processes for crisis management support
  4. Leveraging the strong linkage between human resources and the business leaders
  5. Acknowledging that there would be long term effects beyond that day, allowing employees to grieve and begin to deal with potential long-term effects, and supporting managers in allowing for flexibility in "getting back to business".

As we go forward, we do so more confidently, knowing that the events of September 11th have helped further strengthen us as an organization. This experience has provided the leadership of AstraZeneca with an opportunity to demonstrate - beyond its programs and policies - through its compassion and genuine concern for employees, what it takes to be an Employer of Choice. It is difficult in today's forum to articulate all that was done, and continues to be done, to ensure the physical, emotional and professional security of all our employees. However, feedback from our employees across the organization indicates that we are, perhaps, more unique than we realized in terms of our demonstrated valuing of our employees.

As a representative of industry, as well as the human resources profession, I see an opportunity before us to continue to influence the business culture in support of employees and the continuing challenge of balancing "the person" and "the professional" that show up to work each day.

The events of September 11th were catalytic - a terrific wake up call for all of us, including leaders in the business community. I have seen the ugly side of our community, where business leaders have not acted responsibly. I have also personally experienced the joy, appreciation and the relief that employees feel when they know that their employer - their leaders - put the needs of the employees and their families at the top of the list of business priorities.

As an organization, AstraZeneca is proud of the recognition we have received for our response to the events of September 11th.

As a human resources professional, I am proud to be able to contribute to this experience, and I am hopeful that our discussions here today will support the momentum provided through the catalytic events of September 11th, and that tangible improvement might occur for all employees in all industries.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I hope that my testimony has been useful and can serve as an example for other organizations.

This page was last modified on December 17, 2001.

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