HR Learner in Development

A recent issue of Parents Magazine published an article about maternity leaves and the importance of knowing your rights under the Family Medical Leave Act, or as most would call FMLA. As both a mother recently returned from my maternity leave and the point person for Leave Management for my Division, I could not agree with the need for this type of reminder more. So I hope you don’t mind me piggy-backing to spend a little time discussing leave management.

My role leave management role withing the Division sounds simple.  Track people’s leaves.  Mark leaves accurately in time sheets.  Process any actions related to pay changes in our HR Information System.  Where it gets complicated is when people don’t follow policy, don’t know that they can take leaves, or don’t know that they actually have to let us when when they return.

For just a little bit of information on FMLA, it protects an individual’s job from being taken away if he or she needs to take some time away from the office to tend to a medical condition, for self or for a family member.  Every company with at least 50 employees working within a 75 mile radius (the specifications get more granular than this but I don’t want to bore you) must grant 12 weeks of unpaid protected time to any employee who has worked at least 12 months and1,250 hours within the last 12 months before the leave.  This protects individuals who are out for a continuous amount of time (surgery and recovery, including delivery of a child), as well as intermittent time (regularly occurring symptoms & scheduled doctors visits to treat).  While every company falling under the guidelines must give this time by law, some go above and beyond to allow some, all, or even more than this time to be paid time.

Other laws, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect disability leaves, and require organizations to provide reasonable accommodations to those with disabilities, including extending potential leave time.

In HR, we need an accurate picture of who is out and when so that we can have each individual paid correctly, as well as to potentially provide support to any department in need of additional assistance.  In all honesty, we do not need to know why an individual is out, and sometimes it is better if we don’t know, but we do need to know how it affects the work that the individual does on a daily basis.  Therefore, it is important that we receive doctors notes, not to police, but out of concern for the healing individual.  We want to see proof that the individual is ready to return and able to do the job they were assigned, and if there are any tasks that an individual can still not do as a result of their recovery or continued impairment, we need to not take any retaliatory actions against the employee for not doing what they used to be capable of doing.  No, we don’t want to get sued, but we also really want the employee to be healthy and well, too.

Not all leaves are created equal, but tracking them all is very important


It is also true, however, that people can take advantage of company leave policies.  It then becomes important to know when an individual was out, whether it was protected or unprotected time, and whether they followed the procedure for requesting and notifying the proper people at the right times in order to determine whether coaching conversations or disciplinary actions need to take place.

Ultimately, the organizations that respect individuals leaves will see a better uptick in loyalty from those people who took leaves.  The more generous a leave policy is, though, does not translate to greater and greater loyalty.  There must be a line where employees know they can not take advantage of the organizations generosity.  Organizations benefit from healthy workers.  But unhealthy workers can benefit from being under the wing of a healthy organization.

Take some time to review the leave policies in your department, organization, state, and federal area.  What you find may give you peace of mind, or may show you where you can help illuminate a potential growth area.  Stay healthy! But if you can’t, know your rights.

It’s December again, and the return of the holiday office party is on a comeback.  This is often a time for colleagues to mix and mingle, and potentially unwind with a little assistance of alcohol.  While these festivities help us all to celebrate another year of hopefully successful business, tread lightly.  Office parties are rife with openings for sexual harassment.

The EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) defines sexual harassment as “…unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature”.  Legal precedent has warned us that office parties, even those after work hours and extensions of these parties by subsets of co-workers, can be viewed as an extension of the workplace.  Therefore, it is the responsibility of the employer to deter this potential behavior as much as possible.

While it would be easy just to suggest no alcohol to be served at these functions,  it would be unrealistic.  There are many in my own office environment who would barely bother going to the party unless alcohol was being served.  So let’s just assume that removing the alcohol from the situation is unlikely.  Continuing in that vein, removing the stupidity of over consumption must be mitigated as early as possible.

Step one actually begins before the party.  Make sure your employees are all aware of the company’s harassment policy.  Now may be a good time to provide harassment prevention training; if not to all employees, to your  managers and those who would have to manage the complaint proceedings.  Confirm that your policy is current and accessible to all employees.  Be sure to make clear to all that office parties are not exempt from following the policies provided by your company.

So here’s a little dramatization of what could happen:

Tonya and Chris are acquaintances at work; they share the same floor and say good morning to each other every day. As the floor often does as a group, they celebrate each other’s birthdays with cake and coffee.  Outside of work, Tonya has a steady boyfriend, and Chris is single.  They both go to the holiday party and start to have a drink or two.  Tonya and Chris start dancing together, and both really enjoy it.  During one particular dance, Chris picks Tonya up in his arms and swings her.  At this point, Tonya starts to get a little uncomfortable.  She starts to worry about Chris’ intentions, especially since she is in a committed relationship herself.  She decides to sit the next couple dances out, and mulls around with some of her other co-workers.  As the night approaches a close, Chris offers to take Tonya home.  She politely declines and goes home on her own.

There is nothing in this scene that was particularly harassment.  However, Tonya could have convinced herself that Chris is in love with her and now dreads even walking past him at work, as she usually does.  Any glance or touch that follows this initial event is going to have Tonya on guard.  The discomfort that she feels may lead her to take action, and bring it to the attention of her supervisor.  Whether Chris was intentionally making advances or not is no different.  The fact that advances are perceived-rationally or irrationally- is.  And the discomfort that Tonya feels, if pervasive, may be sufficient grounds for a sexual harassment suit.

Office parties can open this door to litigation.  It may be one solitary event that creates grounds for filing a claim, or it could be little moments that build into an undeniable trend.  I repeat, tread lightly.  These events are most likely going to be benign, but they do have a potential of bringing out the worst in people.

Step two can actually be done at the party, and that is to literally police the event.  If you notice an individual or a group becoming noticeably rowdy, try to step in, and remind them, again that this is a work function, and an extension of their professional selves.  Individuals are expected to act professionally.

While it may be impossible to prevent every incident of harassment, employers will make it through these cases with their integrity in tact if they can prove they did everything they could to prevent them and if they do as their policy suggests.

I reiterate a similar sentiment from earlier posts – if you don’t have a harassment policy, get one.  Get one now.

I work for an organization that has continued to hire during the recession.  Looking at the pools of applicants we receive for each posted job, it is clear that people are still struggling to find full-time and permanent jobs.  In a pre-recession world, I was advised to review resumes quickly.  Was the individual a job hopper?  We don’t need him.  Has the person been out of work?  She doesn’t need to start again with us.  Wait, they only work part time?  Forget them.

Hiring decisions made in your department could start to offset these unemployment numbers by just considering a few additional candidates you may have overlooked.

However, with the unemployment numbers hovering, continually, around 9%, it is clear that Human Resources, and hiring managers, have a responsibility to consider those what would have been considered ‘weaker’ candidates.

You may disagree with this suggestion, but let me add a side note.  I work for an organization that honors a union contract which stipulates if a member of the union applies for a job within the first week the job is posted, that person is guaranteed an interview if he or she meets the minimum qualifications for a job.  Jokingly termed the ‘pity interview,’ there are instances in which these candidates can surprise us, and even surpass our considerations for the outside candidates we selected ourselves.

The same consideration and courtesy should apply for the unemployed and underemployed during the time of a recession.  If you do place certain limitations on this extension of your search (ex 7 days from the first posting) this consideration should not overly burden you.

Now, I’m not suggesting you hire an under-qualified individual.  These interviewees should be put through the same process as everyone else being considered for the role you are trying to fill.  If they do meet the standards and the needs of your company, by all means, please hire away.

Let’s face it.  Most of us would prefer to hire someone who is currently working in a job (full-time for longer than at least a few months to prove staying power) which provides the appropriate skill base for the job we are trying to fill.  However, there are numbers upon numbers of unemployed individuals who have the skills already, and may even have some extra tricks up their sleeves, but they are being pushed aside, being deemed unworthy.  Let’s overturn this unemployed/underemployed bias and at least speak to those who actually could benefit and appreciate the positions we need to fill most.  We may just end up with a more loyal and engaged group of workers because of it.

And let’s not wait for the politicians to decide how to turn this economy around.  It starts in your department.

With the amount of social networking opportunities available with the click of a button, make sure you are in control and they don't control you. Be safe and smart about what you put online.

Social networking has had a massive overhaul over the past decade due to Facebook, LinkedIn and the like. While many buy in to the opportunities that these websites provide for staying informed, current, and active in their current companies and fields, these websites also come with caution.

Firstly, many people have forgotten when the internet first took off the level of information sharing caution. As parents would tell their children, don’t put anything personal anywhere. No addresses, no contact information that can be linked to who you are or where you are from. Some of these social networks take this information sharing for granted. Facebook, for instance, asks for city, address, phone number, etc. Even job searching websites almost mandate addresses because they are expected on your resume. Remember that not all individuals using these sources of information are trustworthy. While these websites strive to protect your information, it is still there. As soon as your information hits the internet, it is searchable. Just be smart what you are listing.

Now one of the major advantages of these social networking sites for professionals is that you can have communications with some of the leading thinkers in your field, should they actually use the internet as a medium, without having to travel far and wide. Collegial conversations can be struck with a few strokes of the keyboard, or even through video communications via Skype or other telecommunication tools. This is something that has provided a great advantage to those who wish to make these connections, and stay current in their field.

Again, the down side can be that these people, who wish to grow in their careers, may just hurt them if they do not use the networking tools correctly. Some things that may hurt their chances of making that connection meaningful include:

  • Inappropriate Picture
  • Inappropriate Language
  • Excessive persistence or page stalking

There are some legal aspects that need to be taken into consideration as well.  Divulging confidential information about a company has never been easier or more detrimental to an organization.  If an employee makes a big enough stink, the blog comment, status, or tweet could go viral and seriously affect the image of the company.  Long story short, think before you type. If your boss saw it, would (s)he be okay with what you just wrote?  Or would you be out the door in less than a week?

The very nature of social networking makes it possible for people to put themselves out there and be more visible.  But again, this is a medium which is still being tried and tested.  Let’s hope that the majority of this medium learns to fine-tune enough to make it a positive force for those who use it.  We’re just not there yet.

To return next week

Thank you for being patient. I will return.

I would like to take a moment to express my joy in returning to my blog.  The past few months have taken a mental and emotional toll on me both at work and home, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope to return to a more regular posting schedule, as was planned at the beginning of the year, and I hope those who have been interested in what I have had to say will pick up the pieces with me.

Over the past few months I have had to focus all of my energies on my work.  I have hit some hurdles and reached a stride.  I have some new ideas on posts I can use in the future, and I look forward to sharing what I have learned.

Until that point, thank you for sticking around.  I intend to have smoother sailing from now on.

Waiting for that phone call from a possible employer can be painful, and so can waiting for a response from a perspective employee. Give each other a break and respect the other's time and effort in the recruitment/interview process.

So you’ve been fired. . . just kidding (you know what I’m talking about if you read my most recent post at http://wp.me/pOkV2-19).  Due to the recession, a lot of people are still out of jobs going in to the new year. Other’s have been in the same roles for longer than anticipated because the applicant pool is much more experienced than has been in the past.  This may or may not continue on to the new year.  So if you are in the market for a new job, I have a few things to say.

Don’t waste the employer’s time and don’t waste your time. Go forward with defined goals and objectives for what type of role you are looking for in a set of companies or industries you would be comfortable.  While the best match tends to be for a role equal to or just above the one you are leaving within a similar company or industry, many jobs have cross-functionality across industries.  Look at your strengths, hopefully attached to behaviors and tasks you have completed in the past, and look at what you would like for yourself in the future.  Going from there, search for jobs you are qualified for.  Actually read the job description and most if not all job qualifications.  In an environment like this one, you are most likely to land an interview if you are partially overqualified for the role.  Don’t get disheartened if this is not you.  Again stick to your strengths and let them shine.

One piece of advice for the average job posting website is to really go through and label your priorities within the jobs you are qualified for.  A – Would really love this job.  B – I could do this job.  C – I can do it, so just give me the money.  Discard all C level jobs.  You don’t need to limit yourself to being tortured day in and day out with a tiring meaningless job if you don’t need to.  Apply to A’s and B’s.  If offered an interview for a B level category, take a little bit of time assessing if you could be happy in this job or with this company.  If the answer turns out to be no, don’t waste the company’s time and don’t waste your time.  While a practice interview could be benficial here or there, practice with a friend, not with a department who may in fact actually want to work with you.  You don’t need to string them along.

Employers.  Same goes for you.  I’ve seen several instances of ‘pity’ interviews.  Some of them actually pan out, but most of them don’t.  If you are going to take the time to bring someone in for an interview, even if you think someone else may be more qualified on paper, you must give them a fair and even shot.  The trick here is that interviewers are instructed to ask the same questions to all candidates.  You should not short change the guy who rubs you the wrong way, unless you truely fear for your well being of course.  If you get a sense from the candidate that they don’t want to be there, or they don’t really want the job, ask them!  You may be surprised by what you hear, and you might end up saving some time.

Let me bring you back to a job interview I had once.  I was looking for a job which would teach me more about Human Resources.  The job listing was for a Recruitment Coordinator.  I applied and was called in.  Getting to the office, I quickly began to see that this recruitment agency was heavily sales oriented.  Now I had previously had a short span of sales experience and enjoyed the work.  The atmosphere seemed to be very similar to that sales job I had held, and I could feel the energy in the room.  However, I wanted to learn something new.  Recruitment as sales wasn’t what I had had in mind for this next step in my career.  In the interview room, the interviewer asked why I wanted the job, almost right away, and I told him point blank, “I see that this is a very sales based job and that’s not what I’m looking for right now.”  He appreciated my honesty, and appreciated me not wasting his time.  He was able to get back to what was surely a busy day on the phone with companies and in person with candidates.  Together, we saved eachother time.

On a side note, employers, if you know that you are not going to go ahead with a particular candidate, let them know as soon as you can.  Don’t let them wait in limbo, assuming the job is still available to them.  Give them a fair chance to get moving onto the next application process.  Give them a call, shoot them an email, write them a letter.  Thank them for their time.  And let them get on with their lives.

Don't let this be you (giving or receiving end). Work towards better communication to improve productivity and value within the next year.

Going ahead into a new year gives rise to annual reflection and resolution.  For my blog, this means trying to stick to a more regimented schedule as many of you will notice, my posts are quite sporadic.  So I am taking up the Post a Week 2011 Campaign.  Call me out on it if you see me slipping!

In business, one of the most important reflections any boss or employee needs to make is that of efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity.  How can you as an individual make changes in the upcoming year to improve your performance and your business? Employers of course will look at their employees and determine how to better lead their people.  But what happens if expectations are not being met?  I implore  boss and employee alike to take a hard look at what can be improved and when it might be time to move on.

The choice to fire is of course a difficult one.  Most employers will say that it is one of the hardest things they have to do in their job and or career.  Many in fact avoid firing due to the stress of putting someone else out, or they make excuses that there are workarounds to the short comings of an unproductive employee.  Yet as a whole, the working environment may be better off without those problem employees.

Some of the signs that an employ may be better off working elsewhere include:

  1. Lethargic Work Behaviors
  2. Negative Attitude and/or Talk Back
  3. Policy Violation(s)
  4. Continued inability to perform

I’ll go into each to discuss the impact on the business, what a boss can do, and what an employee can do to correct the negative situation before things go too far.

1. Lethargic Work Behaviors – This could be systematic of a number of work related or non-work related (sleep deprivation, illness, etc) circumstances, but it clearly has an impact on productivity.  Lethargy or a slow, tired dredge through the work day can most seriously be a sign of a disengagement; the employees lack of interest in what they are doing and why.  Managers must have a serious discussion with individuals who present these behaviors.  Maybe the employee has lost sight or never truly knew where they fit within the organization or why their role is important.  Managers need to remind these people of where they create value.  On the other hand, if the employee knows exactly how he or she fits into the organization and is unmotivated by it, a change is needed.  Whether that change happens within the organization or outside of it depends on the need of both organization and the employee.  If a supervisor comes to you saying that they have notice lethargic behaviors, try to ask them how long they expect certain tasks to take; your boss may have unrealistic expectations of what your job entails.  Work with your boss to set a plan of overcoming the hurdles of your everyday tasks.  What can be done differently on your end?  What can be done differently by the manager to help you accomplish your job responsibilities?

2. Negative Attitude and/or Talk Back – While many don’t realize,  a negative attitude is cancerous to an organization.  This issue really needs to be addressed least the negative attitude of the problem employee spills into the mindset of other workers.  This could be anything from back talk with a manager or supervisor which calls question to that supervisor’s legitimacy, to bashing a product, to being generally uncooperative. For a manager to not address these issues makes it acceptable both for that individual to continue those behaviors, but also makes it acceptable for others to do the same.  This creates a negative work environment, and engagement suffers  significantly.  Managers, take the time to speak to the problem employee and let them know that these attitudes should be corrected.  If you know you are one of these problem employees, ask yourself why.   Do you not respect the people or the work you are doing?  If not, consider other options.  Don’t risk being called out.  If there are no other options for you, seriously consider the alternative of being out of a job because of your behavior.  Can you afford it?  Don’t take it for granted that you will always get away with your poor attitude.  If at all possible, try to turn it around.  If you can’t speak to your supervisor about it directly, try turning to HR to get some suggestions on turning yourself into an employee you and your organization can be proud of.

3.  Policy Violation – The seriousness of a policy violation varies, but on every account, these violations should be handled equally across the board for all employees.  Some policy violations certainly create an imperative to fire instantly, after the violation has been confirmed.  Some examples include discovering ineligibility, violation of a harassment policy and breach of contractual agreements.  Other policy violations may be less severe.  If an employee breaks a certain one of these lesser policies, it is the responsibility of the supervisor or manager to let that employee know what was done and to punish accordingly.  There are some cases where an employee legitimately is unaware of the policy, so the manager must make sure that everyone is on the same page going forward.   On the employee end of the matter, be sure to read the policy manual (if it exists).  There may be an organization policy, area policy, and/or department policy.  Be sure to follow each and every one.  If they conflict be sure to bring it up with your manager.  If you recognize that you have violated a policy, be aware and don’t do it again!  This is one of the easiest ways to lose out on promotion, credibility, or your job.  Work with your manager on rebuilding trust.

4. Continued Inability to Perform – Legally, an employer would be wise to fire in this instance only if they have gone through clear and detectable steps towards working with the employee to correct problem behaviors. That being said, progressive discipline is generally the best route in most situations (baring the instant fire situations previously mentioned within policy guidelines).  In order for progressive discipline to work, it must be done for all situations for all employees, favored or problematic.  Progressive discipline is often set forth by the organization itself, but if not, the general gist is simple.  An employee does something wrong, the manager discusses it with the employee and takes note of date, instance, and what was said on both sides.  Some form of punishment may be put in place.  If an employee continues to do something wrong, the manager again discusses the issue with the employee and escalates the punishment, also bringing it to the attention of an additional set of ears and eyes, usually in Human Resources.  Again, the manager writes down what happened, when the discussion took place and what was said.  Finally, if the behavior continues, the manager would most likely have the grounds to fire as soon as the instance was properly confirmed.  The manager should always consult with Human Resources before making these termination decisions.   The number of instances most depends on a policy set in place by the organization, but if not, should be consistent with the needs of the organization.  If you are on the employee end of this, take every effort to turn things around early.  If you feel like you are being singled out, bring it to Human Resources, or if all else fails, a lawyer.  No one should feel like they are being treated differently for anything relating to race, gender, national origin, disability, religion, or retaliation.  For more information, consult the EEOC (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) website.

One final situation of note is the instance of the loyal, previously star performer who has been promoted to a role he or she is unable to perform.  Please keep in mind that these individuals are an asset to your organization, but if they are not meeting the basic requirements of their new role, should be scaled back.  Manager, this must be done tactfully.  Employees who have been promoted have probably gotten used to the fact that they are going to hold on to that role for a long period of time.  Remind your employee of the job responsibilities, and refer to the job description.  Employee, try to not take offense, you should have seen this coming.  Either find a way to work with your manager to improve the skills you lack for your new role, or graciously accept that this current role is not for you.  I know there are many companies who will then manage the individual out of the organization, but again, you may be surprised to find this employee shine in another role entirely.

Firing should be a last resort, but if done properly could prove to be in the best interest of the organization, the supervisor, the team, and even the individual being let go.  Here’s to 2011, a year of clearer communication, a greater sense of purpose, higher levels of respect, and overall improvement.