Friday, August 26, 2016

Checking References is Still Important

Do you know who you’re hiring?

"Checking references is a waste of time, you never get any useful information", "An applicant is never going to give you the name of someone who will give them a bad reference", "Employers are reluctant to give references". Any of that sound familiar?

If you don’t feel references are worthwhile, you probably won’t get useful information. If your effort is cursory your results will be as well.

However, if you dig deeper, ask better questions (don’t just confirm the applicant’s information) you stand a much better chance at getting information that will either support your decision to hire, or warn you off a potentially bad hire. We all want to make good decisions and being diligent about checking references can go a long way toward getting you to that goal. And remember, you might be held liable for information that was available, but that you didn’t get or consider (negligent hiring?). Some industries and occupations require proper reference checking, but we can all benefit from the effort.

Getting the real low-down on a candidate is really not all that difficult. Specific word choices and the tone and enthusiasm (or lack thereof) with which the reference describes the candidate yield good information. If the tone doesn’t match the words used, that’s a reason for follow-up questions.

Listening for what is not being said is also telling. Once, when speaking to colleagues about another HR pro, I found that the common response I got was that she was "really nice!" Well, that’s great, but can she do the job? What I wasn’t hearing was any comment on her competence and HR knowledge. When I dug deeper, asking specific questions, I got what I was looking for: her experience was lacking. 
When asking about the duties and responsibilities of the candidate’s previous jobs you may find that the he exaggerated about his experience, employment history or education. Did the candidate do what he said, complete the projects he spoke about and hold the responsibility he implied he did? You can also ask about training programs the candidate indicated he had completed. If you don’t hear about skills, knowledge or other attributes you need, ask!

I find it useful to explain the duties of the job the candidate is seeking, and then ask the reference if she thinks the candidate can succeed in that position, or if there are any concerns about the applicant performing that job. 

Just as interviewees hate the "what is your greatest weakness" question (really, who’s going to answer that question honestly?) references often won’t be comfortable with it, either. Instead, I reframe the question. I ask, "If there were one area in which you feel John could improve, what would it be?" 
Always ask open-ended questions that require the reference to describe events, accomplishments, and difficulties. Ask for examples and explanations. Don’t just skim over questions where you get a vague or uncertain answer, probe further, ask more questions, clarify the response.

Finally, making it more of a conversation than an interrogation will make it far easier and more productive. Asking a simple "tell me about Jane" can sometimes open the flood gates and give you a wealth of information. You might be surprised what people will tell you.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Third Party Harassment?

Are we responsible for the guy (or gal) who delivers our water??

Most likely, yes. Third party harassment is prohibited under federal law. The EEOC’s regulations state "An employer may be held liable for the actions of non-employees, with respect to harassment of employees in the workplace, where the employer knew of or should have known of the conduct and fails to take immediate and appropriate corrective action." We all know, or should know, what illegal harassment means in our workplaces and how we should handle it. But are we as familiar when the culprit isn’t an employee? How about a customer, a vendor, a repair person, or a patient or client? 

We’re probably all familiar with instances where a vendor or sales rep behaves inappropriately toward an employee, usually in a not so thinly veiled sexual manner. The occasional one-off may not be actionable, although certainly offensive. However, persistent and severe harassment must be dealt with appropriately.

In 2014, Dal-Tile Corp. found out the hard way. In Freeman v. Dal-Tile Corp., Freeman was a customer service representative who interacted daily with a sales rep of a customer of Dal-Tile. Over a period of three years, she endured some very ugly racial and sexual harassment from him. While she reported the incidents, her employer did not take appropriate action and allowed the behavior to continue. Freeman sued. While the district court initially granted summary judgement to Dal-Tile, the 4th Circuit overturned that ruling and applied a negligence standard to the employer for a hostile work environment.

Another more recent case, EEOC v. Costco gives more weight to the responsibility of employers. For over a year, a Costco employee was subjected to unwanted physical touching, unwanted requests for dates and overly intrusive personal questions from a customer. The court found that "Costco failed to take reasonable steps to stop the harassment, noting that Costco waited more than a year to ban the customer from the store".

What you should do:
  • Review your anti-harassment policy. Ensure it covers third-party harassment; what it is, that you prohibit it, and make clear what an employee needs to do to report such behavior.
  • Train your managers and supervisors. Ensure they understand this is prohibited conduct that they cannot take lightly. Include third-party harassment in your training for employees as well.
  • Investigate any complaint just as seriously as you would if it involved an employee.
  • Act promptly. If your investigation shows harassment occurred take appropriate action that is designed to resolve the problem. You may need to bar a customer or client from your premises or require a replacement for a contractor or service provider. This will be a difficult conversation to have with a customer or vendor, but half-hearted attempts will not solve the problem, just as they don’t when the harasser is an employee.
  • As always, inform the complainant what steps you took, and encourage him or her to report any further incidents.

And remember, the customer (or vendor, client, patient, etc.) is not always right.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pokémon Go(ing) in your Workplace?

Love it or hate it, it’s here

For the record, I’m not into this game or even understand the appeal (and I’m ok with that), but apparently millions of others are really into it. According to a recent Forbes poll, 69% of adults say they play the game at work. I’m not entirely sure you can claim that 69% of people actually work at work on any particular day (ok, that might be an exaggeration). But having that many folks playing during the workday could be a bit of a problem. While playing during a lunch break might be fine, running around catching imaginary creatures when you’re supposed to be working is certainly an issue.

If you don’t know, Pokémon Go is like a virtual scavenger hunt which lets players hunt for 151 different characters on their phones using augmented reality. In other words, rather than sitting on the couch and collecting the characters, (or sitting at their desk working) players have to explore the real world with smart phones and find them at coffee shops, grocery stores – and yes, even their jobs.

While it’s too early to have any data on this game, Challenger, Gray & Christmas reveal data that March Madness, for comparison, results in productivity slowdowns that result in $1.3 billion lost per hour, while Cyber Monday losses are a much smaller $450 million.

Causing disruption at work is one issue with the game, but there have been numerous incidents of some rather serious mishaps that occurred because the player(s) was too absorbed in the game to recognize danger.
  • 40 people were playing the game in a cemetery near Scranton, PA, and didn’t realize the gates had closed and they were locked inside. Probably not what they had in mind for the evening.
  • In Bangor, Maine, a man who was playing on the street got into an argument with a woman driving a car, and the woman then hit him with her car.
  • Illegal immigration probably isn’t part of the game, but several Canadian teens found themselves detained  for illegal border crossing.
  • Shayla Wiggins found a dead body, close to the Wyoming Highway 789 Bridge. Wiggins told CNN she was trying to get water Pokémon.
  • There have been several reports of people being robbed while playing, like these stories of "Pokémon GO" players in Maryland and on Long Island.

Hopefully, you won’t be experiencing this type of issue in your workplace. But you might face some challenges keeping productivity in line and even working to ensure your company security isn’t compromised.
In many senses, controlling this type of workplace distraction is no different than others. 
  • Make sure your social media policy (you have one, right?) rules apply to games like Pokémon Go. Define social media in your policy broadly. For those employees who are issued company phones, you may even want to have your IT folks limit the ability to download certain types of apps.
  • Write and/or review policies dealing with use of personal devices and personal use of the company internet during work time and the need to limit the drain on productive work time.
  • Review policies and remind employees of the dangers of distracted driving (or even distracted walking!). Players may be prone to bumping into others, walking into walls, and slipping and falling, which can lead to preventable injuries. 
  • Apply your policies, and apply them consistently.
  • Should you find that your facility or a nearby area has become a pokéstop, you can put up signage to warn off trespassers. You can even request the removal of pokéstops and gyms if it becomes an issue.
Some businesses are embracing this fad as an easy marketing tool. A great example is Arkansas’ Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The museum is finding that Pokémon Go can go a long way to showcase its collection to the general public.
"As general admission to Crystal Bridges is free, it will cost you nothing to visit the Museum and rack up your Pokémon captures, and you can enjoy some terrific American art as you go," the museum says. "We only ask that you be careful and be aware of your surroundings as you do battle so you don’t inadvertently back into an artwork or trip up a fellow museum-goer."
Another, possibly somewhat unexpected, positive of the game, is the benefits it’s having with kids on the Autism Spectrum. Now, that’s a win!
We can certainly accentuate the positives of encouraging people to actually get outside walk around and explore their own communities. Just remember to get that project done on time, and don’t walk off a cliff or ram a police car.