Thursday, July 31, 2008

Paycheck Fairness Act: Part II

As a follow up to my post yesterday here is a statement given to Congress by Camille Olson, an attorney with Seyfarth Shaw, LLC. Camille is a expert on women's pay issues. She gave this testimony on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce AGAINST the Paycheck Fairness Act. The arguments she makes are compelling, interesting and educational. I encourage you to spend some time on this. It will make you a BETTER HR professional.

Click on Camille Olson's testimony statement to read the pdf.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Paycheck Fairness Act: Everyone Gets Paid NYC Wages

The Paycheck Fairness Act is in the House! The House of Representatives that is, and it is a crock! The Paycheck Fairness Act, sponsored by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) (wow, what a surprise), was approved by the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor on July 24, 2008.

SHRM is recommending to its membership that we contact our Congressional representatives, both houses, and tell them to VOTE NO. I will add to that "HELL NO". The misnamed piece of legislation is a nightmare. Here are the provisions of it. Specifically, the bill would:

  • facilitate class action lawsuits by repealing the requirement that employees must give their written consent to become a party in a gender discrimination class action,

  • lift the caps on compensatory or punitive damages for which employers would be liable, in addition to current liability for back pay. Such damages would apply to even unintentional pay disparities,

  • prevent employers from retaliating against employees who disclose or discuss the wages of other employees,

  • prohibit certain employer defenses for pay disparities. For example, the bill would eliminate an employer’s ability to justify paying different salaries to workers based in different locations with different costs of living.

That last bullet point alone is enough to show how nuts this is! It means if you have locations in high paying cities and lower paying cities (because of the cost of living) you will have to pay everyone the HIGHER WAGE.

I am not for wage discrimination in any form, but falling back to the past rejected concept of comparable worth is not the way to go. Comparable worth pay systems require the government, rather than the private market, to determine employees’ wages. Congress explicitly rejected comparable worth during the original Equal Pay Act debate—when wage disparities between women and men were greater—because it would mandate the same pay for completely different jobs. Furthermore, courts have repeatedly declared that the Equal Pay Act does not require a comparable worth system.

Watch this one and shake in your HR boots as we move to a Democrat lead administration and Congress.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Get Out of the Rut and Make the Day More Interesting

There is comfort in routine. You know exactly how the day is going to go. No suprises, no worries. The problem is, suprises occur and because you have been dulled by the routine you are not then prepared to handle them. My favorite guru, Alan Weiss, writes in his August newsletter that a lack of exercise results in you being fat and that a lack of mental exercise results in your brain and thought processes being "fat" as well. As he says "The bad news here is that the same phenomena apply to your mind. There are people who arise, travel the same way to the same job, return home, have dinner, watch TV, and retire, in preparation for the same lemming path the next day. There are also those so immersed in a specialty or passion that their minds turn into tiny black holes of specialized focus, sucking in and destroying all other learning (my favorites are the cyberspace crowd, who will soon forget how to create eye contact and shake hands—they are busy sending email to a colleague 20 yards away). "

Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise. Just as the "burn" of muscles show that you are performing physically Weiss says "Your mind is doing best when you are debating, considering other viewpoints, attempting things you haven't ever done, building both your creative and logical capacity, and "sore" from the work of invigoration and inspiration." He asks the following "Are you reading a wide variety of books, particularly outside of your comfort zone? Are you entering into lively and controversial debates? Do you express yourself in writing? Have you tried to figure out new ways to accomplish old tasks, and create new paths for the future?"

I personally dislike routine. I drive different ways to work, I listen to different radio stations. I try to visit different blogs and sample different points of view. I have tried different forms of exercise, though I still need to get to a yoga class. I make sure I pick up different magazines and read them for a difference (I read the womens magazines waiting to have my hair cut.) I have even been missing my Sunday morning paper and coffee. I think it makes my life a bit more interesting and in turn also makes me a bit more interesting to my friends and collegues. I may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier but I try to shed a bit of light around me.

So if you are stuck in an HR routine try to do something different this week. Shake it up a bit, you might find the week goes by a bit quicker and a little more interestingly.

BTW, I am starting up the newspaper and coffee again. There are somethings you just can't change!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Performance Appraisal: How Often Is Enough?

I am often asked how often a manager should give an employee a performance appraisal. My response? All the time! To my way of thinking the job of a manager is to pay attention to an employee's behavior and performance on a consistent basis and to correct as needed and to praise when appropriate. Unfortunately that seldom happens. Many managers let employees go, waiting for the "annual" performance evaluation. Managers who have been trained, mentored or who have a good manager will handle situations as needed. They realize that if you want the behavior and performance you require for success in the job it has to be reinforced on a consistent basis.

Now when there is behavior that needs to be corrected it definitely needs to be documented and the rules need to be followed. However, even this has to be done at the time and not wait until an official performance review.

Do we need to have OFFICIAL review sessions. Yes, there needs to be a paper trail tied to compensation. Should it be annual? Every six months? Well that answer depends on how often your system and budget allow for compensation changes. This however, should not be the first time all year that the manager has ever said anything about the employee's performance, good or bad. If it is then shame on that manager. That session should be a review of all the previous discussion and to make sure that discussed corrections have been made. It should be an opportunity to plan what needs to be done in the coming year and what goals need to be set. How you tie it to compensation depends on budget and how your culture works.

One thing is clear. There should be NO surprises at all! Both parties should walk into that session knowing exactly how things are going to go.

Do I think this type of performance management occurs in the real world? Not too often would be my guess. What about you? Does it work this way for you? Do you have some good examples?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Carnival of HR #39: Making It To The "Table"

Wow... what a collection of blogs on how to be strategic, how to make it to the "table" or "C" Suite or whatever you want to call it. This is a whole college course wrapped up in one location. Read it to get ahead. If you don't it is your loss. Go to The HR Capitalist to get this goldmine!

Monday, July 21, 2008

"Sticky" Supervisory Training: It Has To Last To Make It Work

Attorney Mindy Chapman, who writes for HR Specialist, uses the term "click and stick" to describe what supervisory training in HR must be like. I love that term! Supervisors must understand why it is important to be trained in human resources. They have to sit down at the training table and understand that they are the first line for potential problems. Companies suffer as a result of the actions of supervisors and managers. If they understand this then you have the "click" part of training.

However, most times supervisors only get periodic training. If they are lucky they get it annually. Most get it ONCE in their supervisory career. This violates the principles of reinforcement theory which says that if you want to get behavior you have to consistently reinforce that behavior. This means that if you want training to "stick" HR has consistently reinforce supevisors doing the right HR stuff. Lack of harassment complaints, discrimination complaints, lack of turnover, etc. should be a integral part of a supevisor's performance evaluation. Without this constant reminder the training given on one day will not "stick" very long. Parents with children in potty training age understand this principle. One sit down session does not do it. There has to be consistent and constant reinforcement of the desired behavior of clean pants. So set the goal of "no messy diapers" for all your supervisors.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting A "Seat at the Table": One Man's Perspective

“Your place at the table.” How many articles, conversations, blogs, moaning sessions, crying sessions and musings have occurred around this topic? Countless, yet the question continues to be asked. So I figured I would put in my “two cents worth.”

In my mind there are professional characteristics and personal characteristics that enter into this discussion. The professional characteristics include:

  • You must be knowledgeable in HR. Yeah I know, obvious. But I mean more than just a cursory knowledge. This means you study. Be it in school (Masters degree), be it in continuing educations (SPHR) or be it on your own (reading books, magazines, websites, blogs.)
  • You must be knowledgeable in business, both business in general and your industry in particular. This means more education. Understand how your company makes money and what it does with it. Assets, liabilities, debt, income statements, balance sheets and the other language of finance and accounting. Understand operations issues. Supply, demand, inventories, scheduling. You get this two different ways. Read! There should be several industry journals on your reading list. Relationships! Spend time with the finance and ops people.
  • You must be knowledgeable in the world. This means you pay attention to and understand the impact of globalization, localization, politics, social trends, economic trends, legal trends and more. This means you are an environmental scanner.
  • You must be knowledgeable in people. This means you are a student of psychology. You understand behavior and the principles of motivation and reward. You know group dynamics and team building.
  • You must be knowledgeable in strategy and planning. Knowing “stuff” does not do any good if you cannot apply it to the current and future direction of the company.
  • You MUST be competent and good at what you do. If you can’t keep a file straight or keep track of a new hire why in the hell would I want you at my side advising me, if I were the president of a company.
  • It helps if you have worked in some other area other than human resources. Sales, operations or finance will all work. That gives you great perspective on the problems departments face on a day to day basis.

The personal characteristics you must have are:

  • You have to be smart. Sorry, but it is the truth. There has to be the “horse power” in the cranium. There is a lot of stuff to know and apply and if you don’t have it you won’t make it to the top. You have to be able to see the big picture and read the future and that takes some brains.
  • You have to be a hard charger. You don’t make it to the Vice Presidential level by coming in late and leaving early. You also don’t gripe about how hard it is. You eat the stuff up. You want more. PASSION!
  • You have to have some “backbone.” If you are afraid of making decisions you don’t have the “right stuff.”
  • You have to learn from your errors. Don’t be afraid to admit a mistake, but move on once you have.
  • You have to have DESIRE. You want to have that VP role then you have to ASK for it. In this case the meek shall NOT inherit the earth.
Ok. That is my take. In my experience I have met few HR professionals that meet this standard. Nothing wrong with that. There are limited jobs at the top and the rest of us will be gainfully employed in some aspect of HR. But if you want to be the “lead dog” then you need to work for it and I hope this helps.

Feel free to leave me your comments, opinions, additions or suggest a deletion.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Divorces and Terminations: Lessons to Be Learned

I was reading an article on divorce (just reading, I am not getting divorced- whew!) and I was amazed how similiar much of this was to terminating an employee. The article was about things you should not do to disrail your divorce. These included:
  1. Not paying attention to taxes.
  2. Being too generous to win back your spouse.
  3. Making agreements outside the settlement papers.
  4. Having sex with your ex.
  5. Using your child as your messenger.
  6. Not keeping a journal.
  7. Not being prepared.

(Note: There were some others but they did not fit as well. Hey I said it reminded me, not that there was a 1-to-1 relationship.)

So how do these reflect the termination process you ask?

  1. Not paying attention to taxes. Believe it or not there may be actual tax consquences to terminating an employee depending on the level of the employee. Severence agreements that are paid out over time may be considered deferred income and be regulated in public companies by Sarbannes -Oxley. So be aware of these consequences for both you and the employee.

  2. Being too generous to win back your spouse. Sometimes when we have a valued employee submit a resignation (divorce) we go overboard and try to throw money at the employee, or offer promotions, or title changes or benefits. Whatever will keep the employee from leaving. The problem with this is it may not be the solution to the problem that caused the employee to leave in the first place. But you have gotten so generous the employee would be a fool not take the money. You may then still have a delayed problem. So investigate why the employee is truly leaving before you throw money at the problem.

  3. Making agreements outside the settlement papers. Once you have written a termination don't agree to anything else unless it is in writing.

  4. Having sex with your ex. Once an employee is gone, it is best to let them stay gone. Don't contract with them to do work. Don't hire them as consultants or contractors. The IRS doesn't really like that and you will end up with potential tax ramifications and penalites.

  5. Using your child as a messenger. Sometimes you don't want ex-employees contacting your employees. In some cases they may be barred by a non-compete from doing that. You certainly don't want to use your employees to pass messages back and forth to the ex. Don't put your current employees in the position of go-between.

  6. Not keeping a journal. The mantra of HR is documentation, documentation, documentation. That applies double for terminations. What leads to them, what occurs during and what follows after.

  7. Not being prepared. Before you ever sit down with an employee to terminate them have all your "ducks in a row." Know when, why, how, what was said, what needs to be said. Investigate. Nothing is more embarassing than sitting down in a termination supposedly prepared only to find out that it is not the way things went. Be aware of potential biases of supervisors and managers. Be aware of previous history. This is especially important when HR is remote from the worksite and there is no day-t0-day knowledge.

Most divorces go pretty well. But some are very, very messy. (Ask Christie Brinkley's husband.) Terminations are the same way. Most go pretty well, but some are very messy. And most messy ones occur because of mistakes that are made.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Productivity Through Technology: A FLSA Trainwreck

As the gas crunch continues to escalate in the U.S. many companies are trying come up with solutions that help employees deal with the costs. One of these solutions is telecommuting, allowing workers to spend time at home and less time on the road. It is nothing new. This interest in telecommuting has been around for awhile as a way to reduce traffic, part of a corporate social responsibility initiative or as part of a progressive employee relations policy. The gas crunch has just sparked more interest. Plus study after study has shown that most workers are more productive as telecommuters.

So companies issue laptops, Blackberrys or Treos or IPhones, and other mobile devices to make their telecommuting (and traveling) employees productive. And with this come a host of issues that make this move more problematic than most companies would like it to be. These issues include:
  • Security, for both the devices and the information contained on them.
  • Personal use of the devices and privacy expectations
  • Use of these devices by non-exempt employees and payment of overtime.

As we have seen in several news stories about stolen government laptops this is certainly an issue. So you need to have some policy and procedure statement that covers leaving these devices laying about for someone else to pick up. This should probably contain some statement about use in WIFI hotspots and use of a firewall. Get your techies to help on that.

If you issue business devices for business use do you allow personal use of those devices as well? Ideally not, that would make it cleaner to deal with. But that is not practical in the real world. You cannot expect your traveling employees to carry two computers so that they will be able to do personal things at night. If you have employees who are gone all week long they need to communicate with family and the bank and their doctors, etc. But you need to have a policy that does let them know that it is a company owned machine and as a result they should have no expectation of privacy and that all information on the machine is subject to review by the company if it is deemed necessary. This expectation of privacy also needs to apply to company owned phones and texting devices. All of that information is recoverable and employees need to be aware of that fact.

The train wreck I alluded to in the title is with the Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA requires that all non-exempt employees (both hourly and salaried non-exempt employees) be paid for time worked more than 40 hours in a week (in some state and local jurisdictions for more than 8 hours in a day). This means if you have a non-exempt employee with a company issued laptop/Blackberry/phone and they are checking email, working on projects, etc. you have to track all their time and then compensate them for the overtime. This can get very complicated, particularly if those devises are used for personal things.

We have learned that it is human nature that when an email pops up it gets read, especially on a Blackberry (that is why they are referred to as a "Crackberry.") Few of us ignore that late night email or that after-hours call. The law does allow some "de minimus" use that take up insignificant time. However, if that time starts adding up it then becomes compensible. So you need to set up a policy on the use of those devices and recording that time. If it is going to put someone into an overtime situation then you need to have some approval process in place to make sure OT does not run rampent. It is expensive.

This stuff can get so complicated sometimes that it discourages employers from issuing those devices to non-exempt employees. This can create a "digital divide" in our employee groups. So be careful of your reaction to this. The law can be a roadblock to a technologically productive workforce if you let it be. Perhaps it is time for an other overall of the FLSA. But don't hold your breath. With the influence of unions on the government it is not going to happen.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Carnival of HR: Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility is a subject being discussed in many circles by many people. Perhaps you have had this discussion in your company, whether it is being "green", helping families in difficulty, Habitat House, or many other areas. Well the Carnival of HR this time is built around CSR. Click HERE to read about CSR and perhaps you will get some good ideas or have some creativity sparked.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Birthdays and Work: Not As Easy As I Thought

Today (July 7th) is my birthday. (No need to send notes, that is not the purpose of this post. Though cash would be good.... Just joking!) Here in our office we wish each other happy birthday, and once a month we have a birthday cake and card for everyone who has a birthday that month. We are a small office, so it doesn't really involve a lot of time or expense. But we consider it important to recognize a day that many people consider important. I have found that with friends and employees that most people like to get a little recognition on that "special day."

However, as I was doing research on birthday celebrations at work I found that there is a wide variety of methods of recognition and some problem areas in recognizing birthdays. Here are some of the ways companies recognize a birthday:

  • The employee gets the day off (found in many union contracts)

  • The president of the company calls the employee and wishes them happy birthday

  • HR sends a card to the employee

  • Monthly celebrations for everyone with a birthday that month

  • A celebration on the person's actual birthday that is paid for by the company

  • The boss or fellow employees take the person to lunch

  • The person's name is posted on the intranet, company newsletter, bulletin board, etc.

  • The person having the birthday brings their own cake

Here are the problem areas associated with recognizing birthdays at work:

  • Some religions don't celebrate birthdays, such as Jehovah's Witnesses

  • Some cultures don't recognize birthdays, but do recognize things such as "naming day."

  • Some people don't like the attention of a birthday

As I first started to write this I was going to weigh-in on saying that I think it is important to recognize someone on their birthday (and I will continue to do so with people I know) but after reading about it I am not so sure the birthday is the best day to have some "official" recognition. Official recognition should be work related. Recognize someone for their performance.

As a boss it is important to understand the diversity of your employee group. What works as recognition, what doesn't? As an HR department it is also very important to understand that diversity. Are we treading on thin ice with sanctioning official birthday celebrations?

What do you think? Too "politically correct" or a valid concern? What do you do?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Toxic Employees: Some Are Like Atomic Waste and Never Go Away

Toxic employees. We have all had them or have them now. They serve as a constant reminder of our mistakes. Mistakes? What mistakes you ask? Here are the mistakes you have made to get that toxic employee and the reason you still have them. Here is how you got them in the first place:
  1. You did not clearly understand what you needed in a new employee.

  2. You did not clearly understand your corporate culture.

  3. You allowed time pressure to outweigh your common sense.

  4. You did a rotten job of interviewing because you did not know what you were looking for.

  5. You "sold" in the interview instead of "asking."

  6. You got "wowed" by a school, a degree, a title, a company.

  7. You did not do your due diligence and do a thorough background check.

Here is why you still have them:

  1. When you realized they were "bad news" you did nothing about it, hoping they would get better.

  2. You did not measure their performance.

  3. You did not document their poor performance.

  4. You did not act to stop their "bad mouthing" the boss/other employees/the company/etc.

  5. You ran scared because they were (in no particular order): over 40, female, black, asian, hispanic, pregnant, Islamic, Jewish, Baptist, Catholic, diabled, etc.

So to avoid toxic employees avoid hiring them in the first place. If you have one act on doing something right away. Otherwise if they stay they poison everyone. And sometimes even when you do get rid of them they keep coming back and back and back. They threaten lawsuits, they file lawsuits, they harass you and other employees, they "bad mouth" your company, they steal your employees and generally make life miserable for you in anyway they can. They end up costing money, time and energy.

So get some backbone, make good decisions and don't procrastinate. Just a thought. What can you add to this discussion? Other tips or reasons I missed?