Thursday, April 25, 2013


What’s that, and what should you be doing about it?

Cell phones, laptops, notebooks, tablets, oh my! They’re everywhere and everyone seems to have at least one. All these electronic devices can certainly make both our personal and work lives easier and more organized, but whether you’re an employer, or an employee, they can also bring risk into both our personal and work lives. And when we embark on a path, intentionally or not, to Bring Your Own Device, we have to think about those risks.

More employers are allowing, or even encouraging, employees to use their own smartphones, laptops or tablets for work. But we all know even reading and sending emails involves more time and thought than just hitting "send". Certainly, there can be a cost savings for businesses when employees use their own equipment and pay a portion of the employee’s monthly cell phone bill, for example. For the employee the advantage may be carrying only one cell phone instead of one for work in addition to a personal cell phone; but what about the ability to "get away from it all"? Can we be too connected? Don’t we want our employees to be able to separate their work from their personal lives? It’s something to think about.

What should we as employers be concerned about when employees are using their own devices for work purposes?

In a recent interview reported on with Jason Gavejian of Jackson Lewis, LLP and a member of the Privacy, Social Media and Information Management (PSMIM) Practice Group, and results revealed in a survey by Coalfire, [here] an IT governance, risk and compliance services company, several issues employers need to keep in mind are highlighted. Among them:

Wage and hour issues: What happens when hourly employees work on their iPhones after hours? Does that time become compensable under wage-hour laws? Yep, in most cases, it probably would be. Do you have a policy addressing this? Do you have a way to track that time?

Data security/risky behavior: Just 47% of smartphone users and 42% of tablet users even employed passwords. When given the definition of "strong" passwords; only 50% of smartphone users could claim theirs was strong. In addition:

32% of users join public Wi-Fi networks
37% confessed to having clicked on links from emails claiming to be banks (a common phishing tactic)
36% reuse passwords
60% write their passwords down on paper (who hasn’t done that??!!)

Many of those surveyed indicated they had access to corporate networks and sensitive information for their job.

Training and policies: 61% of the survey respondents denied knowledge of a company social media policy and 62% denied knowledge of any policy relating to mobile device usage. As HR professionals, we are often confronted with the "I didn’t know" excuse, despite our communication efforts. However, this survey points out that we need to keep communicating these policies and do so frequently and in many different forms.

All of this is why it’s important for businesses to have a BYOD policy in place, preferably before you allow employees to use their own devices for work purposes.

Electronic discovery obligations:
A scary possibility for anyone who has even occasionally checked email for his/her own phone or laptop is the possibility of electronic discovery obligations. Huh?? A recent article on [here] talks about that risk.

If your company is involved in any type of litigation — civil or criminal — guilty or innocent --- personal cellphones that were used for work email or other company activity might be confiscated and examined for evidence during the discovery or investigation phases of the process. You could end up "losing" your cell phone or other device for weeks, or even months. 

In this article, Giri Sreenivas, a mobile phone security expert at Boston-area firm Rapid7, warns discovery requirements can extend far beyond email stored on smartphones. "Text messages and cellphone records might be subject to discovery, too, even if you never connected to company email," he said.  "If lawyers believe the device was used for work purposes, it can be (taken)."

There may be a technology solution to this problem in the future. The newest Blackberry phone claims to create a work data-personal data divide, which has the potential to limit the searches that might be conducted by company lawyers. Certainly, at some point, this will be tested.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New HR Job......What now?

A new reader (thank you!) commented with a question that I thought might be useful to others so, here it is:

"I'm entering the HR field for a very large manufacturing company as an HR Representative (pure generalist role), and, naturally, I'm a little unsure of what are some of the big things I should aim to accomplish within my first 30 days and even first 6 months. Any advice for someone starting fresh out of college?"

Congratulations on your new job! The first 30 days and really the first 6 months can be action packed at times, and dull as watching grass grow at others. But it is a very important time to establish yourself as the pro you want to be, and the one your management expects. So, what do you do?   Whether it's your first HR job, or a new position at a different company,  here’s a quick list of the things you should be tackling in the first few weeks and beyond.

  • Read your job description. If you haven’t already done so, review your job description to ensure you know everything for which you’ll be responsible. If you have direct reports, review those job descriptions as well.
  • Meet and Greet. If you have staff you’ll be managing, hold a brief "get to know you" meeting. Let them know your management style, ask about their functions and workloads. Use this as a brief intro for everyone. Later, you might want to have one to one meetings. If you’re part of a team, find a time to introduce yourself and begin to get to know your team members; find out what roles they play.
  • Review and Analyze. Begin reviewing and becoming intimately familiar with all your new company’s HR policies and procedures. Read the employee handbook; read the policies & procedures manual (if there is one). Review the benefits plans you’ll be responsible for administering. Read and analyze everything. Observe, study, analyze and prioritize. This is likely to suck up the most amount of time, but again, it’s essential and will pay off when you can answer questions and offer solutions on the fly. When you can give an answer to "how much vacation do I earn?" or "does our health plan cover this?", or even "what’s our time to hire/cost to hire?" without having to look up the details, you’ll make a good impression.
    • While you’re reading everything, take note of any policy or procedure that may not be in compliance with current law. If it’s within your scope of duties, you may need to revise policies, or recommend that they be revised.
  • Walk around! Get to know the staff at your new company. They need to know who you are, and they need to know you’re approachable and willing to work with and help them. This includes management and supervisory staff in other departments. Begin to develop good relationships early on. It will pay off later.
    • Within your first six months, or sooner, you’ll want to begin having discussions with management regarding their thoughts on issues that need addressing (recruitment, retention, performance management, etc.). This could mean those in other departments, but could also mean your department (HR).
  • Learn the culture. Is it formal and routinized? Is it more casual and collaborative? Adjust your style as much as possible to help ensure a smooth transition into your new position.
  • Learn the business. If you aren’t already familiar with the business, learn as much as you can about your company’s products/services. Who are your customers? What are the competitive challenges or advantages? Knowing these things and being able to intelligently discuss them will help you gain legitimacy in your role and prepare you for more strategic involvement.
  • Hold the reins. We all want to make a difference and prove ourselves and our worth right away! But, resist the urge to come on like gangbusters your first week. Take the opportunity to learn about the culture of your new company before you start making changes or recommending changes. Ask your more experienced colleagues their opinions about problems, opportunities and priorities. This will help ensure that the suggestions you make will be pertinent and focused.
  • Schedule a meeting with your boss, and ask about his/her expectations of you. What are your constraints/limitations (budget, authority, etc.)? Ask what two or three things you could work on in the coming year that would make the biggest difference for the company.
  • Make a list. From your meetings with supervisors, managers and your boss, begin drafting a list of priorities to tackle in the next 6 months to a year.
  • Do the job. Spend most of your time becoming familiar with and handling the nuts and bolts of your job/department.
  • Suggest a solution or project. After you’ve had a chance to acclimate and have a better handle on how things work, consider bringing one major "problem" or project to your boss with a plan to tackle it. If possible, choose something with a major pain or inconvenience factor; maybe something that emerged as a common thread in your discussions with other management and supervisory staff.
  • Join SHRM! If you’re not already a member, seriously consider it. SHRM offers a wealth of information and tools that will help you in your job. Look into a local chapter as well. Networking with other local HR professionals can also be invaluable.

Here are some additional questions to ask yourself as you work your way through your first days or weeks (especially important if you’re new to HR):

*  Are you familiar with all workplace policies?
*  Do you understand the purpose of each policy and the procedures required to enforce the policy?
*  Do you know which employment laws apply to your organization and which employees are

    protected by each law?
*  Are you aware of posting and/or recordkeeping requirements under the various laws and

    regulations affecting your organization?
*  Can you identify all the HR information that must be communicated to employees?
*  Do you know the most effective methods for communicating HR information?
*  Are you familiar with procedures for maintaining good communications with supervisors and

*  Do you understand the terms of all the organization’s benefit programs and specific procedures

    related to these programs?
*  Are you familiar with compensation programs and procedures?
*  Do you understand the organization’s recruitment program?
*  Are you prepared to organize and execute a recruitment plan?
*  Do you know proper procedures for screening and interviewing job candidates?
*  Are you familiar with requirements for checking references and conducting background checks?
*  Do you understand which questions you may ask at interviews and which questions to avoid to

    prevent discrimination charges?
*  Do you know which types of training are mandated by law? In your industry? In your state?
*  Do you know how to conduct effective orientations for new employees?
*  Do you understand requirements for supervisory training?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

We Need to Talk

10 Steps to Having Difficult Conversations with Employees

The time has come; you can’t put it off any longer. It’s the conversation most managers dread the most (well, there might be one that’s worse). These are the times when you’d almost rather go have a root canal. How do you deal with problem employees, or employees with a problem? Here’s a guide to make these types of conversations easier so they actually happen when they should!

Is it worth it? You need to determine if the situation, behavior or performance is truly an issue that needs addressing. Is a law being violated? Is a company policy being violated? Is it disruptive or damaging to other employees and/or the workplace in general? Or, is it simply annoying to you? Or annoying to the supervisor? Believe me; I have struggled with the answer to this question at times. Occasionally, we just need to let it go. However, if you’ve determined that it truly is something that needs to be addressed, then you need to do so without much delay. Waiting too long removes the urgency and diminishes the importance (if it was so important, why didn’t you deal with it right away?).

Investigate. (For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that a rigorous, formal investigation is not needed, as it would be in the event of a discrimination or harassment complaint, for instance.) This may well begin with your discussion with the supervisor, or whoever brought the issue to your attention. It should include a review of the employee’s file to determine if there is any record of prior instances of this nature, or of a similar nature. Interviewing other people may be necessary. Were there witnesses? Or, it may be the behavior or performance deficit is only evidenced through the interaction with the supervisor.

Consult your Policies/Procedures. How has this issue been dealt with in the past? Being consistent is important. However, do not confuse equal treatment with equitable or consistent treatment. Not every situation is exactly the same. You might take into account the tenure of the employee, the reason behind the behavior or performance issue. You may not want to treat a long-term employee with a solid past in a similar way as a newer employee with a less distinguished record.

Define the Problem. What exactly is the problem? Has the employee done something, or not done something? How does that impact your organization? Does it impact other employees, a project, a client? You’ll want to be clear about what the problem is, and how that differs from your expectation for performance or behavior.

What caused the problem? Before speaking to the employee, do you have an idea of what may have caused the unwanted behavior or performance problem? Could it be explained by a lack of training? Did the employee know she shouldn’t have done that or know what she should have done? This is a pretty important question to ask yourself, the supervisor, and possibly even the employee. If the answer indicates that the employee did not know she was violating a policy, or performing in a way that was outside of your expectations, it will affect the way you address the situation. If the employee has not received the appropriate training, should she be disciplined for that? Maybe not.

Know what you’re going to say, before you say it. Make notes; you want to be sure to address the situation completely, without omitting any important facts or observations. I often have a brief discussion with the supervisor before meeting with the employee to decide who will say what during the meeting. You want to present a united front and you want to make sure both you and the supervisor are in possession of the same information before your discussion with the employee. Agree on what corrective or disciplinary action may be imposed. Again, do you have a policy, or precedent that guides this?

Written or verbal? Is this the first time the issue has come up? How serious is it? The answers to those questions may determine whether you include a written disciplinary warning to the employee. If you choose to keep the discussion less formal, always document the discussion afterwards (take notes!). Memory isn’t perfect. You’ll want a record of the employee’s response and what actions will be taken to correct the problem.

So now you should be ready to have a discussion with the employee.

Be Prepared. First, accept the fact that this type of discussion will often be difficult and tense. People rarely feel they deserve to be disciplined or corrected, no one enjoys being punished. Be sure to conduct the discussion in a private area where no one else can overhear what is being said. Remember, this is between only you and the employee, and possibly the supervisor. Your purpose is to explain the issue in a straightforward and unemotional manner.

Anticipate possible reactions: anger, intimidation, tears, complaining, blaming, silence, and unwillingness to acknowledge the problem. Remain calm; redirect the discussion back to what needs to be accomplished, which is the employee’s understanding that a change in behavior or performance must occur.

Be Clear, Specific and Direct. Tell the employee what the issue is, specifically. Ask her to explain what happened and why it happened. Listen. You may actually get pertinent information that will inform how you proceed in this situation. There might have actually been a reasonable explanation, or you might find that your information is inaccurate. Allowing her to explain is reasonable and fair, and may help diffuse any hostility.

If you find that there was a good explanation, or that the situation is not what you believed, simply reminding the employee of your policies and your expectations may be sufficient and hopefully, everyone can go away happy!

If not? Explain why the behavior or performance was unacceptable (policy violation, disruptive or rude behavior, performance deficit, etc.), what the effect of that behavior or performance was and what you expect the employee will do to correct the problem. And most importantly, what the consequences of failure to comply will be. If you have a progressive discipline policy, remind the employee of the next step should that become necessary. However, a good standard line that I use often is failure to comply may result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Making sure your employee understands what may happen if future problems occur is really only fair. And, this can be important if any legal action, including just an unemployment claim, comes up. This is just one reason why documentation is so very important. If you’ve chosen to give the employee a written disciplinary warning, having her signature on it strengthens your position that she had been instructed to comply and informed of the consequences if she chooses not to comply.

The Finish. The end of the discussion should be a wrap-up. You can simply ask the employee if she understands what was unacceptable and what to do to correct the problem. I often find as polite a way as possible to say that I hope we won’t be meeting about this subject again!! It may be appropriate to agree on a follow-up time and further discussion. This can often be handled by the supervisor, with a report back to you for the record.

Points to Remember

Just the Facts: Describe behavior or performance; do not attempt to describe or characterize the behavior. Don’t ask if he’s sick, or stressed or having problems at home. More times than not, this will backfire on you. Other than trying to determine if a performance deficit is due to lack of training, or a simple lack of knowledge of policy, don’t try to figure out why someone behaves the way he does. You really don’t need to know, or want to know. What you need is for him to behave more appropriately or perform to your expectations.

It’s not an invitation or a negotiation. See above under Be Prepared. Ultimately, you are not requesting the change in behavior or performance, you are expecting it.

Deal with problems early. Unfortunately, a behavior problem or unacceptable performance usually will not go away if it is tolerated or ignored; in fact, it will most likely get worse. In the absence of being told otherwise, and without appropriate consequences, the employee may interpret your tolerance as accepting or condoning it, and this simply results in empowering him to continue. If you ignore the problem, you run the risk not only of encouraging more inappropriate behavior but also of potential legal liability, in the case of inappropriate behavior. The cost in lost time, productivity and morale of co-workers and supervisors is not worth whatever short term advantage you may feel in putting off such discussions.  At the end of the day, it's so much easier and more productive to redirect a problem employee then to have to terminate him after the problem has grown intolerable.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Social Media. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Part II

Job Seekers, Employees and Your Social Media/Internet Presence


Last time, I wrote about using social media for recruiting and background screening for applicants and new hires. But what if you’re a job seeker? What if you have a job? Are there risks contained in your social media profiles and activity?

Yep, there are. Recent legal developments in some states do offer applicants and employees some protections where their social media accounts are concerned (for instance, in California, Illinois, Michigan and Maryland, an employer cannot require an applicant or an employee to turn over his/her passwords to social media accounts), but remember, if it’s on the internet…………….it’s out there, regardless of your privacy settings, someone may (and often will) share your posts. Here are a few points to remember:

1.   If you’re looking for a job, it’s really best to keep your public profile clean. Squeaky clean. Don’t
      post the photos from your wild weekend at the beach with the beer in both hands, in your
      underwear. Seriously, it happens. While many businesses don’t search the internet for information
      about applicants, some do and you really want them to find only good, or at least neutral,
      information about you and your personal and professional activities. 
2.   Don’t make insensitive jokes, don’t use foul language. 
3.   Don’t badmouth your current, or a former, employer or company.
4.   Adjust your Facebook settings so a potential employer can’t see those party photos. Better yet,
      don’t put those potentially compromising photos up there at all! (Do you really want your mother
      to see them?)
5.   Take care in choosing your profile photo. (No more pouty face mirror shots!) You don’t have to
      wear a suit and use a professional photographer, but if you’re looking for a job, keep it as
      appropriate as possible.
6.   Check your spelling and use proper grammar. Really. Several studies have shown recruiters view
      poor spelling and grammar almost as negatively as that drunken escapade at the beach. Never use
     "textspeak" on LinkedIn.  In fact, you shouldn't use textspeak anywhere except in a text.
7.   Do use your LinkedIn or Facebook posts as a way to highlight activities, both professional and
      volunteer, that would be attractive to an employer. 
8.   Join groups related to your career interests. Pick a few and add intelligent comments or start
      conversations that might highlight your knowledge in those areas.

So, what if you already have a job? Are there precautions you should take concerning your social media activity? Yes, I believe so. Check out the news, people have been fired as a result of things they posted online. Even if it doesn’t get you fired, it’s not really going to further your career, either. This certainly isn’t a complete list, but you’ll get the idea:

1.   See #1 through #5 above! And pay some attention to #6 through #8.
2.   If your company has a policy related to social media, read it and follow it. Often, these policies
      are going to focus on prohibiting, or limiting, your access to social media during the workday.
      Don’t have your Facebook page open, or minimized, on your computer (or your cellphone!)
      during the workday. Don’t post during your workday if the policy says you can’t.
3.   Don’t post confidential information belonging to your company, or about your company’s clients
      or customers.
4.   Likewise, don’t post nasty, rude, disparaging remarks about your company’s clients or
5.   Probably not a good idea to reveal that you hate your job and wish you could get fired or quit; or
      that you’re bored and having nothing to do. You might just get your wish.
6.   Don’t call in sick and then post pictures of yourself at the baseball game.
7.   Don’t post anything that is discriminatory, harassing or threatens violence. Probably not a good
      idea to even joke about this stuff.
8.   Don’t post offensive comments meant to intentionally harm someone's reputation. And that
      includes co-workers, supervisors, or family members of co-workers or supervisors.
9.   Don’t "friend" supervisors. You’re just inviting trouble with this one.

Have your accounts set to private? Don’t think your supervisor or other management personnel can see it? Think again. Your co-workers will rat you out in a nanosecond if it suits their purpose. Trust me, I can’t tell you how many times someone has walked into my office and slapped down a screenshot of a co-worker’s Facebook page with some very inappropriate content. It never ends well. Keep it clean, keep it as socially and even professionally appropriate as possible. You can share the private stuff with your friends and family, but if there’s a chance your employer, or prospective employer can see it, you might be taking a risk. Are you prepared for that?

Got a story you want to share about social media and the workplace? Share it here!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Social Media. Should I? Shouldn't I?

Pros and Cons of using Social Media in Employment Related Decisions

This comes up a lot, either as a direct question, or just in our unvoiced thoughts in relation to recruiting, conducting a background check on an applicant, or even checking out an existing employee.

There are advantages to each, but there are also dangers. So, let’s look at this more closely, and you decide!

Pros: Reaching a wider audience. Many companies, large and small, reach out to applicants via their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. At the very least, they’re driving applicants to their websites’ employment pages. Visitors to the Facebook page of a particular company may not be actively looking for a job, but after seeing what the company offers, may investigate further and then apply. These are people that might not have been scanning the employment ads and online career sites. Sometimes, the best hires are employees who were not actually looking!

Cons: This might be the other side of the "wide audience" argument. Studies have shown that Facebook and LinkedIn subscribers may not reflect the US-job applicant pool; indicating that minorities may be underrepresented on such sites. So, using other, more traditional methods of recruiting (newspaper ads, job boards, magazines, professional publications and job fairs) is still important.

Business owners, managers and supervisors might misinterpret an applicant's ability to separate home and business conduct. You could miss out on hiring a valuable employee due to misunderstanding current culture in younger people or established traditions and behaviors among older individuals, or people of other cultures. You have to be very careful how you interpret information you find. 

Background Screening
Pros: This is a tricky one. Advantages are possible. Certainly, if there is information in an applicant’s public profile that indicates violent, illegal or dishonest behavior, finding this out before the hire could prevent a negligent hire claim. Basically, if the information was out there, easily available, and you ignored it, and then the employee commits a crime while on the job, you (the employer) could be held liable. Instances are rare, but they do occur. This can also apply to negligent retention claims as well. I’ll cover more about existing employees later.

But, researching an applicant online could show you that he/she garnered awards and other recognition that show a quality useful to your organization. You might see examples of that person’s writing ability, or creative skills; things that might not be as obvious in a resume or even an interview. 

A survey conducted by Careerbuilder in 2012 is rather enlightening. It found that 37% of employers surveyed (over 2300 responded) were using social media sites to research job candidates. What were they looking for?

            *  65% - did the candidate present himself/herself professionally?
            *  51% - is the candidate is a good fit for the company culture?
            *  45% - learn more about the candidate’s qualifications
            *  35% - is the candidate is well-rounded?
            *  12% - to look for reasons not to hire the candidate

Additionally, the survey indicated that many employers actually found reasons to hire a candidate by looking at social media profiles:

            *  54% found background information that supported professional qualifications
            *  51% found information that indicated the candidate was well-rounded, showed a wide

                range of interests
            *  49% found great communication skills
            *  44% found evidence the candidate was creative
            *  34% found other people posted great references about the candidate

So, there are advantages to be had!

Cons: One of the most serious risks to using social media, or any internet search, for the purposes of background screening and selecting applicants for interviewing and hire is the risk of gaining information you really don’t want, and shouldn’t use in your decision. Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, as well as any online presence, may contain information that would indicate membership in a protected class (for example, race, religion, national origin, age, pregnancy status, marital status, disability, sexual orientation (some state and local jurisdictions), gender expression or identity (some state and local jurisdictions), and genetic information. If you reject an applicant, you could be open to a charge of discrimination since you actually had the information. Keeping up to date on laws regarding "off duty" conduct is also vital. Many states restrict businesses from discriminating against applicants or employees for engaging in legal, off-duty activities. 

If your company is going to formally use social media for background screening, it’s advisable to have someone not involved in the decision-making process conduct the screening, and then filter out any information related to membership in a protected class, only passing on information that can lawfully be used in the hiring process. A carefully formulated, written policy is also highly recommended. You should have a good policy and guidelines about the kind of information you intend to look for in these searches. Ask yourself why are you looking at social media? Why is anything there relevant to the position or to your company?

My personal and professional opinion is that using social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn for pre-employment background screening is of limited value, and is too fraught with risk, not to mention possibly unreliable information. Using a reputable background screening company removes most of that risk (there’s always risk!) and is worth the cost. However, if you really feel those sources will reveal information valuable to you, many of the background screening companies also offer social media screening as an option in addition to the standard criminal history search. You can then at least remove yourself from that part of the chain and reduce your risk.

Next time, I’ll explore how social media, and information you might get from it, plays out in the workplace, with your existing employees. Also, I’ll pass on a few tips for job seekers to help them avoid being rejected because of information they put out there for everyone to see!