Tuesday, December 29, 2015

ACA Reporting Deadlines Extended

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the IRS!

On Monday, the IRS released this notice extending the deadline for the 1094/1095 series of forms required for ACA reporting of health coverage information for employers and employees. The main points are:

• For furnishing employees with the 2015 Form 1095-B (Health Coverage) and Form 1095-C (Employer Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage), the deadline is extended from Feb. 1, 2016, to March 31, 2016.

• For filing with the IRS the 2015 Form 1094-B (Transmittal of Health Coverage Information Returns), Form 1095-B, Form 1094-C (Transmittal of Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage Information Returns) and Form 1095-C, the deadline is extended from Feb. 29, 2016, to May 31, 2016 if not filing electronically, and from March 31, 2016, to June 30, 2016 if filing electronically. Any employer filing 250 or more forms must do so electronically.

Employers have been seeking filing extensions due to the complexity of the reporting requirements and compiling the data in a way that facilitates the reporting. I guess the IRS was actually listening. Although, it would have been nice if it had come out a little sooner with this extension.

So, you now have a little extra time to get it all together. But remember, the penalties still apply (at least as of today), so don’t let this extension slow you down. "Early" reporting is still encouraged.

Friday, December 18, 2015

HR's Wish List for 2016

It's holiday time!  I thought it would be a good time to resurrect a post from 2 years ago.  It's still relevant and timely.  See you after the holidays!

6 "gifts" HR would love to see under the tree

 Doesn’t everyone have a holiday wish list? We in HR do, too. Here’s a short list of the things my colleagues and I often wish for when we’re sitting around dreaming……

Understanding: For people to realize we’re there to help maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization’s human capital. For the most part, we’re not there to act as employee advocates (at least not exclusively), so people need to stop being offended when we approach an issue from the employer’s perspective.

Don’t shoot the messenger: we’d like senior management (and everyone else, for that matter) to stop thinking we’re too focused on compliance. The ever-increasing legal and regulatory burden placed on business is astounding, and isn’t our fault, so you need to stop "shooting the messenger." Ignoring legal risks won’t make them go away. Ignoring legal risks can sink your business. And just because we care about managing and preventing legal risks doesn’t mean we can’t be effective strategists too. It’d also be nice if managers, supervisors and employees would stop thinking we just sit around and dream up rules and policies for the fun of it. Trust me, it ain’t all that much fun.

We need accountability. Responsible human beings are accountable for their actions and decisions. Responsible supervisors and managers need to be accountable, and be held accountable for their actions and for supporting the mission of their employer. Don’t play the "HR made me do it" game when relating expectations to your employees. Don’t agree with company policy? Fine, discuss it with your manager; but please don’t ignore policies and procedures or employment laws and regulations, and don’t tell your employees to ignore them. If you can’t, or won’t, act as a responsible supervisor or manager, get out of supervising or managing.

For that outdated "warm and fuzzy" stereotype to go away. HR is now seen by many business leaders as a legitimate business discipline as essential as marketing or finance, so it’s time to stop seeing HR as the party planners and baby sitters and start seeing us as the strategic business partners we can be. Speaking of strategic, how about including us in those strategic business discussions instead of just informing us after you’ve all made decisions? How about treating us like the members of senior management you say we are? You might be surprised at what we’re able to add to those conversations. We can be much more useful to business leaders if we’re in the loop from the beginning and have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Simply bringing us in to implement what you’ve already decided is short-sighted.

Trust us. For more organizations to trust their HR departments to participate in, and even manage such areas such as business ethics, whistleblowing, corporate governance, employer branding, the use of blogging and social media in a business context, etc. Trust is an issue that comes into play in many areas. If you don’t like a law or regulation, that’s fine. But, just because you don’t like it, don’t assume that what we’re telling you is wrong and continually force us to "prove it". Trust that we’re the professionals you’re paying us to be. Trust that our knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge is solid and will add to the bottom line.

For everyone to remember that we’re human, too. Yep, that’s right. We’re just as much one of those "human resources" as any employee is. We want to know we’re appreciated, that we’re valued and are heard. We make mistakes (and fix them); we work hard and we care about the job we do, and most of us, most of the time, care about the organization for which we work so hard.

I hope your wish list is a bit more fun. Happy Holidays!!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Report: Study on the NLRB’s Attack on Business

The Workforce Freedom Initiative (WFI), a division of the US Chamber of Commerce, has issued a report entitled Theater of the Absurd: The NLRB Takes on the Employee Handbook.

In its introduction, lamenting the relatively recent changes (since about 2009) to the climate and rulings of the NLRB, the report states:

"Unfortunately, in recent years the NLRB has changed. Rather than serving as an impartial referee, it has become dominated by a decidedly pro-union majority. These activist Board members have disregarded the overarching objectives of the NLRA and disrupted the careful balance that the Board has traditionally sought. Instead, this majority, along with the Board’s appointed General Counsel, have pursued a one-sided agenda at the expense of employers and workers."

Bravo! I would go further to say (and I have; most recently here and here) that the current Administration, as well as other regulatory bodies (that really have no business doing so), are actively promoting unionization of U.S. businesses.

The report details many decisions of the NLRB that view common employee handbook rules and policies to be a violation of employees’ Section 7 rights (Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects all employees’ rights in regard to unionization and engaging in protected, concerted activity designed to improve wages, hours and other conditions of employment).

"By interpreting the NLRA’s Section 7 protections so broadly, the NLRB has increasingly interfered with employers’ ability to manage their own workplaces, often to the detriment of employees themselves. The result has become a theater of the absurd, in which Board decisions issued by bureaucrats specializing in increasingly abstract theories of labor law run counter to the real-world experiences and necessities of the modern workplace. As a result, the Board’s irrational interpretations of the law have created a serious headache for employers and employees looking for stability and common sense in labor relations."

There have even been decisions of the Board that could put a business right in the cross hairs of other federal agencies:

"Not only does the NLRB’s interpretation of Section 7 rights frustrate employers seeking to manage their workplaces, but in some instances the Board’s views run counter to guidance provided by other enforcement agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That agency addresses issues like workplace harassment and explicitly states that "an anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure should contain, at a minimum … [a]ssurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible," among other things.

Moreover, employers are required to prevent a hostile work environment, which includes conduct "that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive," such as making threats or intimidating co-workers. Yet the NLRB has ruled that policies ensuring confidentiality for employees in workplace investigations and prohibiting harassment somehow interfere with Section 7 rights. To say the least, the Board’s actions have put businesses in what baseball players call a "pickle," where a base runner is stranded between two bases and very likely to be tagged out by the opposing team. In this case, it’s two powerful government agencies doing the tagging."

Many business people may wonder why the NLRB is focusing so much hostile attention on them. I don’t really think it’s much of a secret. The Chamber poses this suggestion:

"…the Board is using its decisions to assist with future union organizing drives. By charging an otherwise law-abiding employer with unfair labor practices related to the employee handbook, the Board can establish a history of supposed "anti-union animus." In the event of an organizing campaign down the road, the NLRB could use that purported animus to impose restrictions on employer conduct or perhaps even overturn the results of a representation election if the union loses. Whatever the explanation, the Board’s handbook decisions defy common sense and leave employers exasperated."

It is clear to me and many others, that the current Board and this Administration, is willing to do whatever is in their power (or whatever they think they can make their power) to promote unions over business. At the risk of being repetitious, it just doesn’t make sense to me to attack and hamstring the very entities that create jobs and sustain our economy.

This is a particularly interesting and enlightening report; especially if you’re not familiar with the workings and recent moves made by the NLRB that affect your business, unionized or not. While we must all abide by laws and regulations (even those we don’t like), we can also work to change those laws and regulations that make no sense and actually inhibit our ability to run our own businesses. If, like many others, you don’t think these actions by the NLRB and the current Administration are beneficial to you, your business or your employees, contact your elected officials. Work to get them changed or repealed. Just as employees have the right to come together for their own betterment, business has that right also – although it’s becoming harder and harder to exercise that right. The only way things will change is if all of us, in our own capacity, let these bodies know our stance on the issues.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Workplace Violence

It can happen anywhere

**edit added 12/7/15**

In addition to the guide referenced below, DHS also has a YouTube video on this subject:  Options for Consideration Active Shooter Training Video

Violence in the workplace has become a horrible reality in our world. Yesterday’s events in San Bernardino, CA again brought this reality to the fore. While there is so much we still don’t know about this tragedy and why it occurred, whether it was an act of terrorism (either domestic or otherwise) or a disgruntled employee – it still occurred in a workplace.

The sad truth is that I don’t think we can hope to completely prevent these things from occurring. Most experts agree with that sentiment. However, there are some things we can do to prepare ourselves in the event it happens in our workplace.

Some years ago, the Department of Homeland Security prepared a guide to help you and your employees to deal with an active shooter situation. This is a heavy topic, one that will potentially frighten many of your employees (and you, as well), but one that should be addressed. You can find the guide here:

Active Shooter - How to Respond

Some highlights from the guide include having an emergency action plan, conducting training exercises for your employees based on that plan and how to respond to an emergency, as well as advice for HR and Facilities Management personnel to prepare for and manage an active shooter situation. 

A word about training – don’t simply hand out the guide or call an all staff meeting and talk to them. Conduct exercises employees have to actually engage in. Doing will have a bigger and longer lasting learning effect than simply hearing you talk about it. Conduct the training periodically as a refresher and for newer employees hired since the last training.

In a mere 13 pages, this guide is fairly comprehensive and will give you a good plan to being to develop your Emergency Action Plan and help your employees know what they should and shouldn’t do in such a situation.

The U.S. Department of Labor has reported that homicide is the second largest cause of death in the workplace. A U.S. Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey found that nearly 2 million employees are threatened or assaulted at work each year. These statistics include events like robberies that occur at workplaces, as well as incidences of domestic violence spillover, and unbalanced and disgruntled employees attacking co-workers and supervisors. It now will also most likely include acts of terrorism.

Other things you can do:
If you don’t have an Employee Assistance Program – get one. They are relatively inexpensive and can offer you and your employees many resources and support in all types of difficult situations. EAPS can offer assistance before, during and after a workplace violence event.

Consult with your local law enforcement agency. These folks may have community outreach programs or activities to help you assess your workplace and your policies against workplace violence (of any type) and give you further advice on how to handle an incidence of violence.

Be realistic. Don’t assume "it can’t happen here". It can. Recognize this and prepare. You can do this without unnecessarily scaring the heck out of your employees. In fact, some discomfort now may save their lives later.

At the risk of being too depressing and negative there’s something else you need to be realistic about when planning your prevention and response to such acts of violence. At a previous job, we had a lieutenant from our local police department come in and speak to us about workplace violence in general and active shooter situations in particular. One thing she said has stuck with me. She said that we should anticipate that there will be casualties – either injury or death. We had to recognize this and know that while we can do the best we can, we probably won’t be able to save everyone. Very sad, but most likely, very true. Prepare to the degree that we can, but also be realistic and don’t blame ourselves for the horrible actions of people who would perpetrate these crimes.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What’s up with the ACA lately?

Ahhh, the ever-exciting world of the Affordable Care Act *insert sarcasm*.

Required Reporting
By now, you’re continuing to collect and track the data necessary to complete the 1094C/1095C (if you’re self-insured, it’s the "B" versions) forms and submit them to the IRS early next year. Here’s a handy-handy resource from the IRS - ACA Information Center for Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) – and yes, it really is handy!

If you haven’t been doing this yet, I really wouldn’t want to be anywhere near you over the next two months. If you don’t file? The penalty is $250 per statement. If the employer fails to file/issue both an information return to the IRS and a statement to each employee, the penalty is doubled to $500 per statement (with a cap of $6 million). There is still a one year "transition rule" which provides that penalties will not be assessed for the first year of reporting if the employer or insurer can establish that it made a good faith effort to comply, but only if incorrect or incomplete information was furnished. Therefore, it seems that an employer who does not file or issue at all could not establish a good faith effort. Doing the math, if you’re a 300 employee company, you could be fined up to $150,000. Ouch.

Auto-Enrollment Repealed
A bit of good news is that the auto-enrollment provision of the ACA (which had not been implemented) has now been repealed.

Congress, with cooperation from the White House, during the recent budget deal, repealed the ACA's auto-enrollment requirement for large employers, a provision which mandated that employers with more than 200 employees automatically enroll new and currently employed full-time employees in health insurance.  This would have been a major administrative burden – in terms of both effort and cost – had it been retained and implemented.
What’s next?

The ‘Cadillac tax’
Due to begin January 1, 2018. Employer sponsored health plans — whether self-insured or not — will be subject to a 40% excise tax on the "value" (this means the premium) of any healthcare coverage that exceeds $10,200 for single coverage or $27,000 for family coverage. Those figures will be adjusted for inflation. But as you might know, the speed at which healthcare costs are increasing in this country far exceeds the rate of inflation. As a result, it’s expected to only be a few short years before even average healthcare plans are slapped with this so-called "Cadillac tax".

The Senate is scheduled to take up a reconciliation bill passed by the House which would repeal this tax, the employer mandate, and the medical device tax.  However, the President is expected to veto the bill. Repealing the Cadillac tax would most likely have a much greater chance of happening if it was presented by itself. President Obama is not going to entertain anything along the lines of repealing a major provision of the law like the employer mandate. What will happen if a Republican wins the White House is a discussion for another day.

Nondiscrimination requirements
This is another provision of the law that has not been implemented or rules even written. It was intended to prohibit offering generous healthcare coverage to either current or former executives of companies that isn’t also offered to the bulk of a company’s employees (under the same terms/costs). Again, as with the auto-enrollment provision, DOL never wrote implementation rules. Federal agencies have informally suggested these nondiscrimination rules aren’t really a top priority, so they still haven’t given any clues as to when the rules may be issued. Therefore, it appears they’re not imminent.

On a completely different subject……
The Department of Labor has been really quiet about what’s happening with the proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). But, last week, at the American Bar Association’s Labor and Employment Law conference in Philadelphia, the Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith offered some info according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

During a panel discussion, Smith said that the finalized changes to the FLSA’s overtime eligibility rules likely won’t be issued until late 2016. Most likely, this will mean they probably won’t take effect until sometime in 2017.

So, while we might have more time to prepare for the changes, we still don’t know exactly what those changes will finally be.

The public comment period for the proposed changes garnered about 270,000 comments! Smith cited the amount of comments it received and the complexity of the law as the two main reasons the agency is looking at a later date for releasing the final rules.

In addition to raising the minimum salary threshold from $23,600 to possibly $50,440, the DOL is looking at making changes to the duties test. While it hasn’t suggested any changes, it did specifically ask for comments on whether the tests should be changed, and what those changes should be. (If they’re asking, you can bet it’s coming at some point.) You can see the current criteria here.

Initially the DOL had set a tentative deadline of November 2014 for issuing the proposed rules. Those proposed rules didn’t come out until more than six months after that deadline had passed.  It was then expected that the finalized rules would be issued sometime in early 2016. Now, that’s not going to happen. These delays will take the rulemaking process right up to the presidential election. The question now being asked is would the Obama administration issue a highly controversial set of finalized rules just before the election? Business groups, employers and even a former DOL administrator (who oversaw the last rule changes) have openly opposed the proposed changes. I think it’s a gamble either way. If issued before the election, it may give the GOP more ammunition to use in their campaigns. On the other hand, if viewed favorably by the voting public, issuing them before the election could bolster the Democrat’s election efforts. Either way, if a Republican wins the White House, there’s a good chance the rules would be repealed.

And you thought HR was easy……

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Fostering Accountability

Getting it and keeping it

In business, we say accountability is essential, no more or less important than skills, knowledge or productivity. But the definition of accountability may not be the same among everyone in your organization. What does it mean to be held "accountable"?

For too many, it means a reactionary, negative or punitive action, when in fact it should be quite the opposite. It should, and does to many others, mean a positive, proactive function of an organization's culture where everyone takes ownership and exhibits pride in their work.

How do we foster a positive sense of accountability? It’s not really a secret sauce – just good management practices.

Core Values
You need to make accountability a core value of your organization and that means more than just a bullet point on the wall-hanging. Define what it means to your organization. Deciding on and getting agreement on what you will do and what you won't do helps build a common understanding and the expectation that everyone will proceed in that fashion.

Walk It
As leaders, we have to model what we expect of others, walk the talk. If we don’t, it’s a given that others won’t either. Own the whole, own your part in the whole, and step up when your piece isn’t going as planned. Yes, it takes guts to stick your neck out and admit you’re wrong or that you didn’t do as expected, but your people will respect you more if you do, and will be encouraged to do the same.

Roles and Responsibilities
Uncertainty about roles and authority to make decisions can detail any effort to foster accountability. We’re often hesitant to act or make decisions on our own if we’re not sure the responsibility is ours or what level of autonomy or decision-making authority we have. In addition, it’s pretty hard to hold someone accountable if that person didn’t know she had the responsibility or authority to act.

Shared Responsibility
Everyone needs to understand that even if it’s not in our job description or on our list of personal objectives, doing whatever needs to be done to achieve success with the organization's goals and mission is the responsibility of all employees (within their role). Fostering a sense of responsibility that they feel as part of the organization as a whole. In other words, getting past the "it’s not my job" mentality.

Tools and Resources
There are usually about 4 common reasons that people don't perform as expected:

  • They don't know what to do – agree on goals and performance expectations and communicate widely and often.
  • They don't know how to do it – Train and coach, coach and train
  • They don't want to do it – If you’ve ruled out the above two reasons, dig deeper and deal with the attitude.
  • There is some barrier preventing them from doing it – determine if there are insufficient resources, lack of teamwork, poorly constructed policies/procedures, and even physical barriers. Correct as necessary.

Value Authenticity, Integrity and Honesty
These values, if consistently exhibited, will also facilitate those difficult but necessary conversations when things go wrong. We have to be leaders with the willingness and courage to (respectfully) tell the truth as we see it and who allow others to do the same, and to be honest about our actions and our responsibility for those actions. Employees have to feel safe enough to say "I made a mistake" and not shift blame.

What Matters
What, exactly, do we want employees to be accountable for? Seems like a simple answer – a combination of what to get done (goals and objectives) and how to get it done (values and standards of performance). Decide what will indicate to you that things are getting done the way you want them done – and then communicate that to everyone. Just like Tools and Resources, your people need to know what matters to you, how to go about it, and what you’ll measure to show they’re succeeding.

"Many of the things you can count don't count. Many of the things you cannot count really count." ~ Albert Einstein

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The universe said I should take the day off….

Bizarre excuses for calling in "sick"

CareerBuilder has published its annual survey on sick day usage and excuses. As usual, it’s both hilarious and revealing. Take a look at the link.

The survey reveals that 38% of employees call in sick when they aren’t actually sick. No surprise there, but still pretty disappointing. That’s up from 28% in last year’s survey. Of those that weren’t really sick, 27 percent said they had a doctor’s appointment (ok, that’s legit), the same percentage said they just didn’t feel like going, 26% said they needed to relax, 21% said they needed to catch up on sleep and 12% blamed bad weather.

Thirty-three percent of the employers responding said they have checked to see if an employee was telling the truth after calling in sick – up from 31% last year. So, nearly the same numbers of employers are suspicious of call-ins as the number of employees calling in who aren’t really sick.

The most common way to check up on employees was asking for a physician’s note; followed by nearly 50% calling the employee to check. What I find amusing is that 33% of employers checked employees’ social media posts, and caught employees in lies! (Go figure, people still don’t seem to get that the internet isn’t really private.)

This type of abuse isn’t new; it’s a common issue most employers deal with. But the ways we discover the abuse have changed a bit. It used to be that management would hear through the "grapevine" or an employee is seen out and about in the community enjoying himself when he should be at home coughing and sneezing and tending to a fever. Now, we still may find out through the "grapevine", but the grapevine is now electronic and being seen out and about is via a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

How do we curb abuse? I think it’s safe to say we can never hope to eliminate it. However, there may be some ways to make it less easy, and seem like a bit more risky for an employee to fudge on the reason she called in.
This morning I read an excellent post by Jeff Nowak who writes FMLA Insights. While the question Jeff is answering initially relates to curbing FMLA abuse, his advice applies to every leave request made by an employee. Ask every employee who requests leave (or is calling in)

  • What is the reason for the absence?
  • What essential functions of the job can they not perform?
  • Will the employee see a health care provider for the injury/illness?
  • Have they previously taken leave for this condition? If so, when?
  • [If they are calling in late in violation of the call-in policy], when did the employee first learn he/she would need to be absent? Why did they not follow the Company’s call-in policy?
  • When do they expect to return to work?

Read through the whole post. Jeff gives great advice and some tools you can use today to help curb abuse of sick time in general, and FMLA specifically.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Know Your Obstacle

And when to find another path

I guess I’m waxing a little philosophical today about the obstacles we all face at one time or another. Either that or I’m just too lazy to write about yet another NLRB ruling, or potential new employment law. (Those are getting a bit repetitive, aren’t they?)

We all run into them, whether in our personal or professional lives. Something is standing in the way of a goal, and we need to get to the other side in order to succeed.

Let’s say that obstacle is the proverbial brick wall. When faced with this wall, most of us will take some time to assess how we can breach it and reach our desired goal. There are those that will simply blast through without another thought about whether that’s the best way. Most of us, I think, will take a bit more thoughtful approach and consider other options.

Can we get over the wall? Do we have the resources (a ladder tall enough, material to build steps, the willpower or strength), either metaphorically or actually? Is it possible to go around it, or does the wall encircle our goal? Can we tunnel our way under the wall? Do we have the material or resources to do that?

Eventually, in many cases we decide that the best way is to work to create an opening in that wall. Maybe a door, a window, or just enough of an opening to see through and maybe enlist the help of someone on the other side. If we can just make our case convincing enough, maybe that person will open the wall for us, advocate for us. So, we start chipping away hoping to make some progress.

Part of thinking about the how, is considering the why of our need to conquer this obstacle. 

Is the process worth the goal? Will the effort be equal to the value of the goal? Sometimes the hard work, challenges and potential hardships necessary to get to the goal will not be in line with your overall values. You need to decide if the goal is worth whatever sacrifices you may have to make.

How immediate is the need at this time? Does reaching the goal right at this time affect the value of the goal? How much of a priority in your life is the goal? There are times when choosing to wait a while (and maybe time will make the wall less impenetrable) is the smarter approach. Or, the immediacy is paramount to your survival (either personally or professionally) and blasting through, or at least going full speed ahead, is advisable.

Is it really your goal? Is reaching it really valuable to you, or are you concerned about what others will think if you *gasp* fail? Choosing to walk away doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Did you choose the goal, or was it chosen for you? What does it really mean to you and your life?

So, here we are, chipping away at that brick wall. Time goes on. Maybe we succeed in breaking through, or at least break through enough that we can see our goal is within reach and it seems likely we’ll get there in a reasonable length of time. Wonderful!

It’s those other times when we need to make a decision. When chipping away isn’t really resulting in enough progress. Or the process makes us realize that the goal may not really be attainable. Have we moved from chipping away to beating our head against the wall in frustration or desperation? Not good.

So, when the environment is your professional work life and there are people who are impeding your progress, or the culture of your organization is such that there are people who are less interested in what your goal would mean to them than other goals, you have a decision to make. Are you bruised and battered from beating against that wall? Or are you just tired of the effort with little progress?

It may be time to choose another path to your goal. There most likely is another path where that brick wall doesn’t exist and you can be more successful. That may be at another organization. The trick is knowing your obstacle, knowing what it will take to surmount it, and knowing when to follow another path.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Happened at the Worker Voice Summit?

Maybe not much…..

On October 7th, the White House hosted a Summit on Worker Voice, a one-day event focused on promoting organized labor. The event featured panel discussions involving workers, union officials and organizers, and so-called "model" employers. Organizations representing business were not invited.

So, what happened? What were the takeaways for the day? Good question, while there was some media attention in the run up to the October 7th event, there has been very little commentary or reporting since then – at least not much by the mainstream media or even in the HR blogosphere. I was curious, did some looking around and didn’t come up with anything substantive. I did however, read President Obama’s opening statement. I found it interesting to say the least.

This will be a long post; just a head’s up. Settle in, kick back – or not – whatever suits your fancy today. 

Let’s stroll through some of the President’s comments, shall we?

"And we convened this summit because we believe that this is a country where if we work hard, everybody should be able to get ahead; that the story of America has been each successive generation, getting an education where they could, working hard, saving, scrimping, making sure their kids get a little something better, hoping that at the end of the day they’re able to have a home of their own and be able to retire with some dignity and some respect, have basic benefits so that if they get sick, their families aren’t bankrupt."

On this, we agree. Hard work, initiative, and common sense family financial management are all keys to personal success. These are all components of personal responsibility for our own welfare and success. 

"And so the biggest challenge America continues to have is making sure that everybody in this new economy is participating, everybody who works hard is getting paid a decent wage with decent benefits, everybody has some basic economic security, and that the incredible productivity and wealth and innovation that has been a hallmark of the American economy is broadly based."

Again, we agree! We differ on whose responsibility it is to provide that economic security and how one goes about getting paid a "decent" wage, and so on.

"Wages need to rise more quickly.  We need jobs to offer the kind of pay and benefits that let people raise a family.  And in order to do that, workers need a voice.  They need the voice and the leverage that guarantees this kind of middle-class security. "

Ahhh, would that we lived in a Utopian world where every job provided what every person believed to be an appropriate wage and benefits to raise a family and put us all squarely in the middle class (whatever that really means). But, we don’t. This is not a socialist country (is it?). And realistically, even socialist countries don’t really provide that, do they?

This brings up the subject of the various movements currently going on to demand minimum wages be raised; most notably, the "Fight for 15". This is a union-backed campaign demanding that (primarily) fast-food businesses pay at least $15.00 per hour.

Terrence Wise introduced the President at the summit. Mr. Wise is a second-generation (??) fast-food worker at both Burger King and McDonald's (his mother also works or worked at Burger King). He is also an organizer for the Fight for 15 group. He related that he is paid $8.00 an hour, and is trying to raise three daughters. I can only imagine how difficult that is.

But here are a few points about this issue that I don’t see made too often. Minimum wage jobs are not, and never were, intended to support a family (or even to provide a living to an individual). A job pays what the job is worth – it is not a commentary on the person holding the job. Flipping burgers is not a complicated job, folks. It takes very little training or skill, therefore the labor pool available for such jobs is normally fairly large. A physicist with ten degrees will still only be paid $8.00 an hour flipping burgers at Burger King. Why should businesses be forced to pay far more for a job than its actual value? Maybe the better answer would be for government and business to work together to provide and encourage opportunities for people like Mr. Wise to better their situation by increasing skills/education and therefore allowing them to secure higher paying jobs.

After Mr. Wise’s introduction, the President commented on Mr. Wise and his mother Joann both being at the event:

"This is actually a remarkable moment:  Neither of them make enough money to be able to afford to travel much, so this is the first time Terrence and Joann have seen each other in 10 years. Ten years apart because they don't earn enough to be able to just hop on a plane and visit each other."

Seriously, Mr. President? Are you saying that employers have an obligation to ensure their employees can buy a ticket and hop on a plane to visit someone? When (or why) is that the responsibility of any business? This might be a good time to remind everyone that very few people have access to Air Force One and are able to go anywhere at any time for any reason at tax-payers’ expense.

"And so part of what we’ve got to do is to tap into people who are frustrated about their job paying so little, people who are frustrated about industries that used to be in their town leaving, rightly frustrated about how hard it is to save for retirement, rightly frustrated about the fact that they can be replaced at any time with very little protections -- and make sure that they understand there’s a positive way to deal with these issues that will actually produce and deliver change, and make things better -- not just for them, but for all workers.  We got to help people feel connected and not isolated, and hopeful, not just fearful."

The better way to accomplish this is to rein in the numerous, complicated, duplicative laws and regulations that make it incredibly difficult to run a business in this country. You know, the businesses that actually create the jobs you want? Yeah, those. Create a business environment that encourages companies to stay in this country and expand. That environment shouldn’t include unions that today really only serve to create an overly antagonistic and complicated relationship between employees and the companies they work for.

By the way, the comment about "very few protections" is ludicrous. As an HR pro, I’m quite well aware of the tens of thousands federal, state and local employment laws and regulations that provide numerous and varied protections to employees in every area the President complains about. In fact, the layering of such laws and regulations (local upon state, state upon federal, etc.) are part of the problem. There are many duplicative laws (those that cover the same topic at two or more levels of government (local, state and federal) that don’t provide any more protection, but only make doing business that much harder. I think it’s pretty clear that most of these laws/regulations that are passed every year are really political statements and designed to curry favor with voters who don’t fully understand the current state of such things. If you aren’t aware of these laws/regulations, email me or hit me in the comments section and I’ll be happy to clue you in.

The President began his wrap-up by relating what he described as "common-sense principles for what it means to work in America."

"First -- if you work hard in America, you should earn enough money to support your family. And if you’re working two jobs, like Terrence, then your family should never have to go to bed hungry.

Second -- if you work hard in America, you should earn decent benefits.  And that means access to the two bedrock sources of lifelong security, and that is affordable health coverage and retirement savings.  

Third -- if you work hard in America, you have the right to a safe workplace.  And if you get hurt on the job, or become disabled or unemployed, you should still be able to keep food on the table.

Fourth -- if you work hard in America, you should be able to take care of those you love, which means having sick leave and parental leave and affordable child care, and predictable schedules that give your family some stability.

Fifth -- if you work hard in America, you should have a pathway to the education and training you need to grow your skills and earn raises and promotions and the chance to get ahead.

And finally, if you work hard in America, you should have the freedom to decide for yourself -- without fear or interference -- if you want to join with others to advocate for yourself in the workplace, whether that’s through a union or any other means.  And these are core principles that helped build this country."

First: Yep, working hard and taking advantage of opportunities to better your lot in life should net you the ability to make a decent living and support your family. So – help provide the opportunities, don’t mandate that business be parental and provide everything to everyone.

Second: Yep, "decent" benefits are great. This country has developed (actually demanded) the model for business to provide health insurance, etc. to employees. Making it affordable is the challenge. Find a way to make health care more affordable. By the way, the ACA did nothing to control the costs of actual health care (only an attempt to spread the premium cost over more people, thereby possibly reducing the cost to individual premium payers). Also, there is very little that’s affordable about the insurance available under the ACA. Trust me, I know! Employer provided coverage offers way more value and covers more than anything available on the individual market. Thanks. Also, while I believe that companies that can afford to offer decent benefits should do so, not every business can, and shouldn’t be forced to do so – especially when that results in fewer jobs or lower wages. The money has to come from somewhere.

Third: We have laws requiring safe workplaces (OSHA or state equivalents, for example); rather extensive laws. We have unemployment insurance. Is it great? Not really, but what do you expect to get for not working? Again, we’re not a socialist country. While we have programs to provide income to people who are disabled, I agree they need to be reformed. Employer-based disability insurance plans (Short-term disability and Long-term disability plans) are pretty fair and are often offered to employees at no charge). When it comes to the federal programs – Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income – Mr. President, they need work. When it takes years for truly disabled individuals to get benefits because of the bureaucratic bs, the system is broken. When fraud can flourish, the system is broken. When there’s a hard income line that cuts people off from all benefits when their income reaches a ridiculously low threshold, the system is broken. Why would you force people to stay completely unemployed or seriously underemployed? How is that responsible or effective? What about a sliding-scale plan where people with disabilities can still work and earn money but keep their health benefits? They continue to be productive, contribute and help themselves, but still receive the support they need. Apparently, this administration cares more about fast-food workers than it does about people with disabilities. Again, trust me on this, I know!

Fourth: See my 2nd point above. Predictable schedules? Yep, that would be nice. But maybe you should have an honest discussion with the retail, food service and health care industries (among many others). They provide products and services that consumers demand (retail/food service) and need (health care). The consumer wants these things at all hours, on all days at all times of the year. Businesses employ human beings. Human beings get sick, go on vacation, quit and get fired. The work still needs to be done. Not every employee wants to work the night shift all the time. Not every employee wants to even work the day shift all the time. Not every employee wants to work on the weekends or holidays all the time. Somebody has to do the job. It’s not always predictable.

Fifth: Yes! We all want these opportunities! So, work to help provide them. Work to help make education more affordable and available. Work to make job-skill training more available. Don’t mandate that raises, promotions and all the good things that hard work offers simply be given to everyone regardless of education, skill, experience and effort. Work to help promote business in this country and build up our economy – so the higher-paying jobs are available.

And yes, we should have the freedom to decide for ourselves if we want to join with others to advocate for ourselves in the workplace, whether that’s through a union or any other means. But we don’t all have that freedom, do we? There are states that allow unions to force employees to be members. Yeah, they can say they don’t want to pay the full dues for union membership, but are still required to pay "maintenance dues" even if they don’t want or agree with the way the union represents them. That’s not freedom, that’s coercion.  

"And these are core principles that helped build this country." Our country was built on the values of hard work and initiative. Not on the premise of providing everything to everyone at all times. You have to work together; you have to fulfill your part of the bargain. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to come to you.

President Obama’s last comment was actually pretty stunning:

"And I’ll end on this point.  You can’t wait for Congress.  No, no, I’m just saying.  We’ve got incredible champions like Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress who are here, but this is a fight on the ground.  We’ve got to change an attitude and mindset that says there’s nothing we can do, or giving workers more voice means inefficiency and we won’t be competitive, or suggests that there’s a contradiction between economic growth and decent wages, or suggests that we should have a race to the bottom with other countries, or suggests that somehow the current arrangements in which a growing amount of what we produce in this country going to the top .001 percent is in the natural order of things and is somehow fair and just."

Well, he’s pretty much taken the "can’t wait for Congress" thing to the bank, hasn’t he? Bypassing legislation through Executive fiat has been a frequent occurrence with this administration.

The Department of Labor and the White House should not be pimping unions. Period. While union representation might be right for some, it is not right for everyone. A recent Gallup poll shows that unionized employees are less satisfied than nonunion employees in the following categories: workplace physical safety conditions, recognition for a job well done, flexibility of hours and job security. A unionized workplace does not equate to workers being more satisfied or better off. Our laws and regulations should reflect that reality, and it should not be the role of government to either encourage or discourage unionization.

Unfortunately that is what the current administration is doing. It shouldn’t be the role of government to undermine business by allowing an out of control regulatory agency to undermine at every turn that business’s ability to manage its workplace and workforce. But, it does. Should we be supportive of an agency that says the following is "protected speech"?

Bob is such a NASTY MOTHER F***ER don’t know how to talk to people!!!!!!! F**k his mother and his entire fu**king family!!!

What a LOSER!!!! Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!.

Yeah, the NLRB, in its Perez Pier Sixty ruling, said this employee’s obscene and vulgar rant on Facebook was protected and therefore he couldn’t be fired for directing these comments at his supervisor. Why? Because he ended his comments with "Vote Yes for the Union!" Lovely. This is what we should support? I think not. This is just one of many examples of recent rulings by the NLRB that indicate its (and this Administration’s) biased support of unions in direct opposition to the entities that actually create the jobs they seek to control.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Signs of a future leader

How to recognize employees with the right stuff…

I’ve written in the past (most recently here and here) on leadership qualities, how we develop them and how we choose managers. Leadership (and management) succession have always been HR hot topics, and yet we still seem to struggle with the how-to’s and the wherefores’ of developing and choosing leaders in our organizations.

Korn Ferry, a talent management organization, conducted a global succession planning survey that assessed how companies identified and developed future leaders. "The results show us that people are promoted for what they can do, but fail for who they are," states Stu Crandell, senior vice president of global offerings at Korn Ferry and the Korn Ferry Institute. This is indicative of the common practice of promoting people because they’re good at the tasks of their job, not because they exhibit good management or leadership traits. One can be a successful and valuable individual contributor and yet not have what it takes to lead or manage.

The Korn Ferry survey had some tips on what signs to look for in potential future leaders in your organization (see the link above for the full survey results), and I’ve added my own perspective below.

Learning agility. Has your employee taken what he’s learned from previous experiences and applied it in different or new situations?

Self-awareness. Is your employee able to identify her own strengths and weaknesses? Has she taken steps to improve where necessary?

The drive to be a leader. Does your employee seek out more challenging opportunities inside and outside of work?

Being able to adapt. Closely related to taking risks is being able to adapt when the outcome is not as expected or desired. Things are constantly changing in business today. Does your employee work best with clear direction and a roadmap? If so, he will most likely struggle with constantly changing priorities. Leaders need to the ability to adapt to their surroundings as well as to the needs of the company.

Integrity and honesty. Leaders need to tell the truth, without fear and without always hedging their bets. When faced with a moral or legal issue, does your employee choose the ethical and legal course of action?

Grace under fire. When problems arise, teams look to their leaders for direction, but if a leaders isn’t readily available, they will next turn to the person who has shown he can keep his cool and who has a record of handling difficult situations. Nobody wants to work with the person who’s running around pulling his hair out and catastrophizing.

Leaders share their knowledge. They get that sharing gets them even more back. They realize that imparting knowledge leads to more independence and productivity on the part of those they share with. If your employee tends to keep his knowledge and processes to himself, he’s operating in "job security" mode or is covering up inadequacies.

Analyze, synthesize and condense data. Leaders have a way of cutting through the clutter. They can sort through the data and select the most relevant information and sources. They are able to see ahead to the consequences of several paths to goals, based on that data. And they are able to communicate the gist of the situation clearly and directly.

Takes responsibility and ownership. Everyone makes mistakes. Is your employee always willing to admit to making a mistake when something doesn't work out as planned? Is she also attempting to learn from the mistake to avoid it in the future? Also, leaders forge ahead with the tasks given to them and take responsibility for completion of those tasks. They are not seeking instruction and feedback every five minutes on how to go about those tasks.

Willing to take risks. There are times when taking a risk is the right thing to do. Being willing to take calculated and informed risks is necessary for a leader of any organization. Not having an outcome guaranteed but forging ahead is an important characteristic to lead the organization.

Leaders have initiative. Is your employee able to quickly identify what needs to be done, and is able to do those things with only minimal prompting or supervision? These are the folks who often ask for more work should they find themselves with down time.

Leaders think independently. They know they don’t have all the answers, and ask for others’ insight when necessary, but they draw their own conclusions. They do not defer to the pack to avoid confrontation or avoid having to make a decision. Does your employee lead or follow the pack?

Leaders are passionate. They feel strongly about their views and don’t shy away from expressing them. They back up their views with data, evidence and other information, but are strong decision makers.

Assume informal leadership roles. Does your employee voluntarily (and naturally) take on leadership roles either inside or outside of the workplace?

If those who have been identified as future leaders in your organization don’t exhibit most of these traits, it’s time to engage in more development activities, or time to select new candidates for leadership roles.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Have an ADA Accommodation Request?

Tips on how to get it right

You’d think it would be fairly easy. Have a conversation with an employee with a disability about what is necessary to allow him to perform the essential functions of his job, then provide it and everyone is happy. Right? Apparently not, since there are so many ADA claims filed each year - 25,369 in 2014 according to the EEOC. Those charges resulted in about $95 million in monetary benefits to claimants in 2014, not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation (which I’m sure were significant).

So, here are some steps to take to when you receive a request for an accommodation. Keep in mind, while an employee does have to request an accommodation –it’s not actually necessary for the employee to say "I need an ADA accommodation in order to perform the essential functions of my job." The EEOC provides some examples of "plain language" statements that will be considered a request for a reasonable accommodation:

Example A: An employee tells her supervisor, "I'm having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I'm undergoing." This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example B: An employee tells his supervisor, "I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem." This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example C: A new employee, who uses a wheelchair, informs the employer that her wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in her office. This is a request for reasonable accommodation.

A few things you must do, can and should do, and what you cannot and don’t have to do - after receiving a request for accommodation:

You must engage in what is called the "interactive process". This is probably one area where employers miss the mark the most. Too many people make an assumption that no accommodation can be made that is reasonable and so they never even have a conversation. Until you speak with the employee, you don’t know what is needed, or even being requested. It doesn’t require an overly structured and formal process (although for documentation purposes, many companies do formalize it). This can really be an informal discussion with the employee about what the problem is, and what can be done to resolve it to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. You need to find out what limitations or impediments the employee is experiencing that are due to a disability as defined under the ADA. The employee may suggest one or more accommodations, you may suggest others. The conversation needs to be "interactive" and the desired results are that you and the employee agree on a reasonable and effective accommodation if one is deemed necessary.

You can require documentation from a physician to determine if the medical condition is indeed a disability as defined under the ADA. You don’t have to, but you can. (It is recommended that you get appropriate documentation.) Example A above does not give you enough information to determine if the situation would qualify as an ADA defined disability and therefore qualify for an accommodation. Requiring a physician’s certification of disability would be prudent in this case. Once received, you will know if it is a disability, what limitations the employee is experiencing and can give you suggestions on what accommodations would be effective. However, in Example C, it’s quite clear the employee has a disability, so you can move onto what accommodation would be reasonable and effective.

You can negotiate with the employee on what accommodation to provide. You don’t have to provide the very accommodation the employee requests if it’s not reasonable or imposes an undue hardship on your business. Determining undue hardship is very fact-specific to your business operations. The EEOC looks at several factors:

  • the cost of the accommodation
  • the size and financial resources of your business
  • the structure of your business, and
  • the effect the accommodation would have on your business.

If the requested accommodation will cost as much as your yearly budget for facilities maintenance, it may not be reasonable. But what is unreasonable for a small or mid-size company may be perfectly reasonable for a large company.

You don’t have to remove essential job functions, create a new job, or provide personal need items such as eye glasses and mobility aids. The ADA does not require any of that of employers.

You don’t have to continue the process if the employee doesn’t participate. The process is meant to be interactive. This means the employee has to participate. If your employee refuses to engage in a conversation, refuses or doesn’t provide requested documentation that a disability exists, or refuses to consider any accommodation aside from what he demands (and assuming that accommodation is not reasonable or causes an undue hardship), there is nothing for you to accommodate and he loses the protection of the ADA. However, I strongly suggest you keep meticulous documentation should this occur and consulting with an attorney would be advised. Being able to adequately defend a claim for failure to accommodate is in your best interest.

You don’t have to accommodate the use of alcohol or drugs. This question comes up a lot. Alcohol and drug use present special problems under the ADA. While employees who are alcoholic or drug addicted may have a disability under the law, you can require them to meet the same work and performance standards - including not drinking or using drugs on the job - as employees who don’t have a disability. Here are some guidelines to follow when dealing with these issues:

  • Alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disability covered by the ADA. This means that an employer cannot fire or discipline a worker simply for being an alcoholic. However, an employer can fire or discipline an alcoholic worker for failing to meet work-related performance and behavior standards imposed on all employees -- even if the worker fails to meet these standards because of alcohol abuse.
  • Illegal drug use. The ADA does not protect employees who currently use or are addicted to illegal drugs. These employees do not have a disability within the meaning of the ADA and don't have the right to be free from discrimination or to receive a reasonable accommodation. However, the ADA does cover workers who are no longer using drugs and have successfully completed (or are currently participating in) a supervised drug rehabilitation program.
  • Legal drug use. If an employee is taking prescription medication or over-the-counter drugs to treat a disability, you may have to accommodate that employee's use of drugs and the side effects the drugs have on the employee. Much of this will depend on the particular job the employee performs (would use of the drug create safety issues?) as well as other issues.

You should document the whole process. This includes the request, your conversations with the employee, and the final accommodation agreed on with the employee.

You should approach the process with an open mind, be creative and make good faith efforts to provide effective and reasonable accommodations to disabled employees. And in some cases, don’t overly complicate the process. There are times when it just makes better sense to go ahead and provide the accommodation without making the employee jump through unnecessary hoops. Example C above provides a classic example. You don’t need to get quotes on a new desk, or think about providing a new chair that will fit under the existing desk. Just put some blocks under the desk legs to raise the height to the appropriate level. It’s inexpensive, fast and solves the issue. No fuss, no muss. Your employee will appreciate your effort and the ease of the solution, which will likely add to her positive attitude and performance, and you won’t waste time, effort and money going down a long and involved, but unnecessary, road. A win-win situation.

And now for some great resources. If you’re not already aware of it, check out askjan.org. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has a wealth of information, tools and resources on its website for disability accommodation. There are examples of effective accommodations for all sorts of disabilities; there are forms you can use and templates for having discussions with employees. If you need to speak to a live person, there are folks there who will walk you through the whole process and offer useful suggestions, at no charge. You won’t find a better resource for disability accommodation.

The EEOC also has great information, with examples that will help you understand how the process should proceed, and what the EEOC will look at in determining if your process is adequate. Check out this document on accommodating disabilities.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Regulatory (and Administrative) Overreach?

DOL and White House touting unions…….

If you’ve ever read any of my blog posts, you probably already know that I think some of our federal regulatory agencies (as well as state counterparts) and legislation in the employment arena is overreaching, business-unfriendly, and unnecessary. The EEOC has inserted itself into corporate wellness programs – and contradicted the ACA in the process; it has been slapped around quite a bit in the courts with its aggressive stance on criminal background checks. And, of course, we have the NLRB wanting to make every company policy and rule an unfair labor practice, and blurring the contractual line between franchisors and franchisees.

Well, here we are again. Both the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Obama administration are delving deeper in this territory. In addition, Democratic legislators are helping.

First up, we have the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act, which would greatly expand the scope of the National Labor Relations Act. This bill would increase the National Labor Relations Board's authority to seek redress for complainants, and authorize the award of civil fines against employers. Specifically, it would strengthen the penalties that the NLRB could assess against an employer charged with violating an employee's Section 8(a) rights. An employer could be liable for back pay in addition to liquidated damages in the amount of double back pay.  Violations deemed to result in "serious economic loss" to the employee could result in additional civil penalties of up to $50,000 per violation, or up to $100,000 per violation if the employer is a repeat offender.  Corporate officers could be held personally liable. It would also eensure employers will be jointly responsible for violations affecting workers supplied by another employer. (See the Littler article for more details.)

As Littler states, there is little chance of this bill going anywhere given the current makeup of Congress, but it is an indication of the willingness of legislators to promote the advancement of unions over the very entities that create jobs. The NLRA, as well as numerous other laws and regulations, already have quite severe and far reaching penalties for violations of employment and labor laws. Adding additional sledgehammers to the process is ridiculous; and giving even more power to the NLRB (who is doing quite fine in wielding power as it is) is frankly outrageous. Maybe it’s just an attempt to be seen as a friend of the "working class" ahead of the coming elections. Union membership in the private sector stands at 6.6%.  Many people believe the decline in union membership has way more to do with the perceived lack of value in union membership as opposed to any efforts by businesses to interfere with unions. In fact, according to a Gallup survey, the image of organized labor had suffered, sinking to an all-time low of 48% in 2009 and only 37% of Americans want unions to have more power. While these numbers have decreased slightly from the last survey, it still indicates a lack of confidence in what unions can offer employees.

And now for a double whammy. The Department of Labor, by its own definition, is to administer and enforce the more than 180 federal labor laws voted on and enacted by the people (although some would argue the part about "voted on by the people"). Clearly, unionizing and collective bargaining is one of those rights. However, the DOL has put out this video, which also pretty clearly promotes unionizing and more than implies that the only way to improve workplace conditions is to increase union membership.

Now, the White House and the DOL have partnered up to hold a "workplace summit" On October 7th, 2015, The White House has announced its "Summit on Worker Voice." According to the White House: it and the Department of Labor will bring together workers, labor leaders, advocates, forward-leaning employers, members of Congress, state and local officials and others to highlight the relationship between worker voice and a thriving middle class. They want "both seasoned and emerging leaders from across the country, who are taking action in their communities to lift up workers’ voices — to be active participants in this conversation."

The White House wants your employees to nominate workplace "voice leaders," those who:
  • Join with co-workers to discuss common workplace issues in a constructive and productive way.
  • Support workers in seeking workplace policies that better respond to worker needs and concerns.
  • Seek feedback — for example, through surveys — from employees to learn what really matters to them.
  • Open a dialogue among workers, managers, and supervisors about what works best in your workplace.
  • Create dialogue with co-workers and employer leadership about ways to expand voice in the workplace.
  • Reach out to workers who have never had a voice in the workplace to let them know that they are not alone and broaden the conversation on the future of the workplace.
Laudable goals. Sound familiar? Basically, this administration is looking for employees to join together to discuss wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment, a right that the National Labor Relations Act already gives to your employees. But here, the administration and a federal regulatory agency are promoting unionization. Promote the worker – absolutely. Help provide opportunities for people to succeed – you betcha. Pimp unions at the expense of sound business practices? No.

This administration has already done much to make it far easier for unions to form, and much more difficult for businesses to respond to those efforts fairly and completely. Using executive fiat to effect major changes in employment laws/regulations and now actively promoting labor unions does not seem like it should be the proper purview of either the White House or the DOL. 

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a blog post that the meeting will "highlight the value of collective bargaining" and dig into challenges workers face joining unions today. I’m not sure what challenges he’s referring to, since as is known, the NLRA already makes this a right, with significant penalties for businesses who interfere with that right. This statement flat out reveals the true motivation at work here. The administration also said it launched an online tool to allow workers to tell the government how they’ve challenged their employers to treat them better at work.

It seems to me that the pendulum has not only swung too far in one direction, it’s in danger of completely breaking. Hopefully, our economy (and the job engine of private business) won’t break right along with it.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bad HR?

Signs you may have a bad HR practitioner working for you

HR bashing has been rather the rage recently. Most notably, you can find articles on Harvard Business Review and Fast Company. (Interestingly, both of these sites also publish any number of positive articles about HR.) It appears to me that many of these authors have never really practiced HR in the "real" world, so it’s easy to be critical of something you’ve never actually done. The real harm comes when business leaders take these ideas too much to heart and think their organization is behind the times, stuck in the HR rut of years ago. I won’t go into these articles any more deeply than to say they often advocate for the "next best thing" in HR; experiments in human capital management that may work at some companies, but not at many others. Unfortunately, the authors don’t really tell you that.

Paul Hebert (who writes for Fistful of Talent and HRExaminer) wrote a recent blog that highlights the problem of trying to be an "outlier" when you’re not really an outlier. Take a read, it’s very sound thinking.

Clearly, I disagree that HR is no longer relevant, or not a true necessity or is an impediment to effective management. However, as an HR professional, I also know that there are bad HR people out there. Without going the philosophical, big idea route, let’s take this down to the day to day reality most businesses face. Having someone in an HR role that is not knowledgeable enough, or not motivated enough, to do a good job can cost your business plenty. Whether it’s the cost of bad hires, loss of good employees, bad morale, or even unnecessary lawsuits, you want to avoid these costs.

Here are some signs that you have a bad HR practitioner on your team:

Doesn’t have the answers. No one has all the answers. Employment laws and regulations change and are added to frequently, benefits design and administration does as well (ACA, anyone?). It’s difficult, but imperative for your HR practitioner to have the answers, be able to find the answers, and be able to apply the knowledge gained. If the person you are relying on to manage HR in your organization doesn’t have the knowledge, or can’t (or won’t) apply the knowledge, it’s time to make a change. No one really likes being the "HR police", but compliance is vitally important. Non-compliance with employment laws and regulations can cost you dearly. In addition, not being able to assist employees with questions about any number of HR or benefit issues does not serve your organization or your employees.

Presents unqualified (or unscreened) candidates. Or, if your HR practitioner has the authority to hire, hiring those unqualified or not properly screened candidates. Recruiting, interviewing and hiring are never easy. Few people are really great at it. But, there are things that can and should be done to ensure you’re getting the best candidates available for the job, given your resources. Knowing how to source appropriate candidates is necessary. Failing to know the difference between those nice to have qualities and the must-have skills is a red flag. So is not properly screening candidates (references, criminal background history, etc.) or ignoring the information gained during that screening. You need to protect your business, your customers, your employees and your property. Referring to the item above, HR needs to know the federal, state and local regulations concerning processes like criminal background screening, and what you are allowed and not allowed to do.

Spends too much time and effort on low priority tasks. Does your HR practitioner focus more on things like the next company party, or the employee of the month contest or being the dress code police? While cook-outs and contests can be part of an effective employee engagement effort, they are not the meat of a real HR function. Parties are fun and can be a nice break in the routine of work, but are probably best left to employee activity committees. If, while your company has real problems that need attention – underperforming employees, bad supervision, a crappy or confusing benefit plan or maybe the need to respond to rapid growth - your HR practitioner is busy trying to get people to sign up for the holiday party or the wellness contest, you need to examine why.

Knows little to nothing about the business of your company. I firmly believe that in order to be effective, an HR pro needs to know about your business and needs to care about it. She needs to know about your product or service, needs to know who your customers and stakeholders are; needs to understand your revenue stream/funding and your budget. How can your HR practitioner help with your business needs if she doesn’t know what you do, or what your employees do? How can she effectively recruit, retain and manage staff without knowledge and understanding of your business structure, finance and budget?

Never making an exception (to the rules) or making too many exceptions. It’s often drilled into us that we must treat everyone equally. This is not really accurate in most cases. You should be treating people equitably. You probably wouldn’t offer the same considerations to a high-performing, long-term employee as you would to a brand new, unknown new hire. Being consistent, based on the circumstances, and being equitable are far more important than either blindly applying the "rules" without exception, or being inconsistent and unpredictable. If your HR practitioner is rigid or always shoots from the hip, it’s time for a change.

Failing to act in a timely manner. Has HR waited too long to alert you to a pending problem? Didn’t tell you about an employee issue until the employee resigns? Didn’t warn you that the policy you want may not be compliant with the law – until you get sued? A big part of HR is risk-management and preventing problems when possible – being proactive. While it’s not always possible to prevent problems, your HR practitioner should be keeping you informed of potential issues before the crisis occurs.

The only answer to a problem is a new policy! Actually this applies to your management/supervisory staff as well. You don’t need a policy for every, single issue that pops up. It’s gutless and ineffective to create a policy for all employees when you’re faced with one or a few who are causing difficulty. Deal with the trouble makers. Don’t allow numerous rules and policies as a way to avoid confronting the problem employees.

Never or rarely recommends/approves terminating an employee. Yes, it’s important to be sure that a termination is the best solution and to make sure due diligence has been done. However, if your HR practitioner prefers to prolong the agony unnecessarily, it’s time for a change. The old adage of hire slow, fire fast does have merit. Keeping non-performing, or otherwise undesirable employees only serves to reduce morale, reduce productivity and respect for management, and increase distrust in management’s ability to manage.

The "next great thing" in HR or management in general is great and you can explore and experiment. However, if you don’t have a solid foundation on which to base the next great thing, failure is likely. Having a knowledgeable and effective HR practitioner is important to building that solid foundation.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Micromanaging Bosses

Do you have one in your organization? What’s it costing you?

Most of us want to do a good job. Most managers understand their role in the success of their team and their organization. They have skin in the game, they have a stake in how well their department or function runs. Unfortunately, for some that means a level of control that often will destroy the very thing we all want – success.

Providing guidance, coaching and a "game plan" are all part of being a good manager. At times, employees may need a bit of hand-holding, but if we’ve hired the best person (or at least the best person at the time given our resources), then that hand-holding and control should end fairly quickly after hire, or after a new project or task is assigned. What if it doesn’t end? What happens then?

Are any of your managers "micromanagers"? There are some signs you should look out for and be ready to take action if you see them.

The manager is always "swamped", always busy – too busy to get to the manager part of their job. On closer inspection you might find that the tasks they’re swamped with are things their team should be doing. In this case, the manager won’t delegate, won’t give up the control of these tasks because she doesn’t trust that her staff can perform them well. That "no one can do it better than I can" attitude is present. If this is actually the case, then intervention in the hiring process seems necessary. However, for the micromanager, this is her perception at all times.

When the manager does delegate a task or allow employees to do the job they were hired to do, does he also give them step by step instructions on how to do it? And is he constantly checking to see they are doing it that exact way? This level of control is not only stifling; it’s very counterproductive. Again, no one has the corner on the right way to do things. The ultimate outcome is the goal, how to get there can vary and those varied ways are not incorrect just because they’re different than the way the manager would do them.

Does the department have higher than normal turnover? Are employees seeking to transfer out or leave the company altogether? While some turnover is of course normal, higher numbers can indicate a problem. If you perform exit interviews, review them for clues as to why the employees moved on. When people are stifled in their efforts to grow, learn and move up in the organization due to a manager who won’t allow them to grow, learn and move up – moving on seems to be their only choice. Talk to people and find out the reasons. If you discover that the manager is the problem, take action to correct the problem.

Is the manager often frustrated or resentful that employees don’t seem to appreciate all the "help" he gives them? Taking a closer look at the manager’s view of his employees may be useful to determine if all this "help" is really helpful.

Is the manager the only one who’s visible? In other words, does it seem that you rarely hear about the successes and good work of the other people in the department, but only those of the manager? You should probably be asking why that is. No one can "do it all". This can go beyond simply not recognizing employees for their accomplishments, but could also indicate that the manager is actually stealing credit for work his employees are performing. The manager wants all eyes (and attention) on him, not on his team. Micromanagers will often take a project or task away after an employee has done much of the work, then pass it off as her own.

Do the employees in the department not seem to know what is going on in the wider organization? Is their only line of communication/information through the manager? While we all appreciate the benefits of chain of command, if the manager is controlling the flow of information both into and from the department on a consistent basis, regardless of the content of those communications, there is most likely a problem. Micromanagers often insist on being copied on all email leaving the department, and demand that people outside the department go through them to contact employees within their department. Do the employees have the ability to speak to and interact with management staff above their manager, or does the manager control this as well? This may be standard procedure in some companies, but certainly not all. Again, if there is no trust that staff will handle issues appropriately, that needs to be addressed. If the manager is simply inserting herself into every interaction – necessary or not – there is a control issue and productivity will be seriously affected. Information control is a way to manipulate others.

Micromanagers feel that others are thwarting their success. Do you have a manager who is frequently blaming others (often their own staff) for any and all failures? The attitude being expressed is that "I’m the best, most knowledgeable person here; if I fail, it’s not because of me, it has to be something else." If the fault always lies elsewhere, it’s time to closely examine the manager.

Finally, micromanagers often feel the need to know everything. They may try to dig into their employees personal lives beyond what is appropriate and way beyond the value of showing friendly interest in their employees. This may be a way for them to exert control - maybe in the guise of giving their expert "advice", and is almost certainly a way for them to gain information that will further the reach of their control and manipulation.

We’ve all heard the line that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad bosses. Micromanagers can be insidious in that they may not be the screaming, rude or neglectful boss we’re more familiar with, but they are bad and will cost your organization in lower productivity and eventually the loss of good employees.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Some People’s Kids!

Childish behavior at work

We expect immature behavior from kids, but not usually from our employees. Yet it still occurs. Again, CareerBuilder is out front with a survey that included a representative sample of more than 3,000 full-time, U.S. workers and more than 2,000 full-time, U.S. hiring and human resources managers across industries and company sizes. Take note, the respondents included employees – the co-workers – of those exhibiting immature or childish behaviors.

A whopping 77% of those surveyed have witnessed such behavior in the workplace! Like we don’t have enough to do without refereeing schoolyard antics. 

What behavior are employees seeing among their colleagues? According to the survey, among the top reported were:

  • Whine: 55 percent
  • Pout over something that didn’t go his/her way: 46 percent
  • Tattle on another co-worker: 44 percent
  • Play a prank on another co-worker: 36 percent
  • Make a face behind someone’s back: 35 percent
  • Form a clique: 32 percent
  • Start a rumor about a co-worker: 30 percent
  • Storm out of the room: 29 percent
  • Throw a tantrum: 27 percent
  • Refuse to share resources with others: 23 percent

And it appears that immature behavior is not limited to rank and file employees, as evidenced by a few of these real life incidents reported by HR and hiring managers:

  • Company owner threw tantrums, yelled and slammed doors when he didn't get his way.
  • Employee hid to get away from duties and work responsibility.
  • Employee intentionally set up a co-worker to get him/her in trouble.
  • Employee ate other employees’ food from the company refrigerator.
  • Employee blocked parking spots to prevent other employees from parking closer to the front door.
  • Employee gossiped about all of his direct reports, and then pretended to be their advocate.
  • Employee constantly pulled up inappropriate content on her cell phone and showed it to her "clique."
  • Employee went to lunch and never came back.
We all know that goofing around at work is common, and is sometimes just a way to let off some steam, or is all in good fun among work friends. But when it’s allowed to get out of hand, it will affect morale, productivity and certainly the reputation and career opportunities of those engaging in such inappropriate behavior. It can even lead to claims of harassment and discrimination if allowed to continue. Want more evidence? Check out this article from the Chicago Tribune where an employee who had been given a conditional job offer texted pictures of his nude self to the HR Manager - twice! Needless to say, he didn’t get the job and in fact, earned himself a visit from the police. While this guy wasn’t an employee yet, the very act of sending nude pictures to people is acting like an immature (and probably hormonal) teenager. Not the behavior of someone you may want to have in your workplace, potentially leading others and being a role model for your organization.

So, I guess all this is really a cautionary tale. If you’re an employee, think twice before you whine, tattle or throw a temper tantrum at work. If you’re an employer, nip this stuff in the bud before it becomes a real problem.