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March 26, 2008

How Many Employees Should a Manager Supervise?

Filed under: Performance Management2:36 pm

There’s certainly no right answer to the question. It definitely depends on the nature of an organization, types of positions involved, role of the manager, and a number of other things. But the subject comes up periodically in HR literature, often driven by consultants and professors who observe business trends but may never manage staff. Managers, naturally, have their own ideas about the number of employees they can successfully oversee. A recent (3/24/08) Wall Street Journal article “Overseeing More Employees with Fewer Managers” revisits the issue. It notes that for some time the optimal number of people to manage was thought to be somewhere from 7-10. But the advent of flatter organizations, electronic communication (e.g., email, voicemail) and increased use of technology may permit oversight of a much larger number. At least some people think so as they suggest that as many as 30 employees can be effectively managed. Those who advocate such an increase note that such a shift also requires a change in business practices and management style. It may require such things as greater use of pay for performance, training, cascading of corporate goals, team goals and accountabilities, and more communication. This issue can clearly be controversial and raises a number of significant questions and concerns.


HR Fact Friday: Pot Prescription, Even in California, No Match for Employer Drug Test

Filed under: Drugs2:34 pm

As a child of the 70’s myself, and having been born and raised in California, I just couldn’t resist sharing the following employment law ruling in a case involving a California employee whose doctor recommended his use of marijuana to treat chronic pain. The employee filed a disability discrimination claim against his employer for firing him after testing positive for drug consumption. I have to admit I have mixed feelings on the case. I feel for the employee, and his painful condition, but I support the employer for enforcing a legitimate zero tolerance drug policy.



Your Parents Were Right – Stay in School

Filed under: Salaries & Pay2:23 pm

Most Moms harp at their kids to do their homework, get good grades, and stay in school. Well Mom was definitely right, at least when it comes to the correlation between education and income levels.  According to numbers recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, 86% of Americans over 25 are high school graduates.  Twenty-nine percent of us hold at least a bachelor’s degree.  Those with that college degree make, on average 55% more than high school graduates, earning $56,788 vs. $31,071.   Those with associates’ degree or some college earned slightly more than high grads ($34,650).   Advanced degree holders fared the best, averaging $82,320 annually.  Individuals who didn’t graduate from high school averaged $20,873.


Continued gaps remain between men and women at various education levels.  Male advanced degree holders averaged $101,441 vs. $59,636 for women.  Male high school grads earned $37,356 vs. $23,236 for women.  More information is available at


March 21, 2008

HR Fact Friday: More Employees Borrowing Against 401(k) Plans

Filed under: Retirement1:18 pm

The percentage of participants in 401(k) programs who have taken a loan from their investments rose from 9 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2007. This trend of increased borrowing took place during relatively good economic times of high employment and low mortgage foreclosures.  The outlook is for the borrowing rate to increase during tougher economic times.

The good news about borrowing from a 401(k) plan is that you are essentially borrowing and paying back yourself at an interest rate that is much less than a credit card cash advance. Repayment is made by automatic deductions from earnings. So what’s the problem? Simple, when you reduce the balance of a retirement account you reduce the earning power of these funds.

Employer-sponsored plans are able to encourage more people to save but less than 50 percent of the workforce, ages 25-64, has any kind of defined benefit or defined contribution plan.

Of those who are eligible to participate in a defined contribution plan, 89 percent do not contribute the maximum, 20 percent to 25 percent do not contribute at all and 45 percent do not roll the investment over when they change jobs.

Only 49 percent of employees participate in 401 (k) plans without automatic enrollment compared to 86 percent of those who are enrolled automatically.

Participants also tend not to increase the amount of their default contributions. A full 61 percent do not increase the amount over time.

Source: Workforce Management (


March 18, 2008

Extreme HR: Calling in Shot and Motivation by Waterboarding

Filed under: General HR Buzz1:06 pm

Apparently faking a cough over the phone wasn’t enough for an employee wanting to get out of work. No, a Washington man apparently wanted a little more time off and had a flair for the dramatic so he had a friend shoot him in the shoulder to avoid work and a looming drug test. He told his boss he was hit in a drive by shooting. No word on whether the time off has morphed into permanent time away from the job.

While there still seems to be some disagreement among those in the military over whether waterboarding is torture, it appears that at least one supervisor thought it could be a motivational tool. A Utah company and its supervisor are being accused of using this technique of making someone feel as though he is drowning, to motivate sales staff. It is alleged that a supervisor took his team outside, held an employee down, and poured water into his mouth and nose. The employee, who claims he didn’t know what type of motivational exercise he was volunteering for, has sued claiming he is now sick and depressed. The company president suspended the supervisor for 2 weeks, indicated that the actions were against company policy, and that the employee knew what he was getting into. I couldn’t make this stuff up. Reality is indeed stranger than fiction.


March 13, 2008

Employers Brace Themselves for March Madness

Filed under: General HR Buzz1:08 pm

In the “old days” when the snow began to melt, the birds reappeared, and many Americans became excited about the NCAA basketball tournament, employers might worry that employees would spend too much time discussing the games and the office pool. Well, those days are gone. This year, for the first time, all but one of the 63 games are available online. Many early games are played during business hours. You’re probably thinking… that will mean that a lot of employees will spend too much time watching games and checking score updates. You’d be right. But IT people see an even larger problem. All that watching and use of bandwidth can bring networks down. Many are fighting back and installing filters that block the online coverage. So much for the technology revolution and the added productivity that has come with it.


March 12, 2008

1 of Every 100 American Adults in Prison

Filed under: General HR Buzz1:09 pm

A report from the Pew Center on the States has found that for the first time, one in every 100 American adults is behind bars. In the last 30 years the prison population has tripled, now standing at 1.6 million, with another 725,000 in municipal jails.  One in 36 Hispanic men is incarcerated and one in fifteen black men (one in nine black men from 20-24). The U.S. keeps more people in prison than any other country, even China. As a percentage of population the numbers are particularly attention getting.

That’s tragic, shocking, or interesting you may say, but what does it have to do with HR?   Well, most of those people eventually get out and apply for work.  Issues surrounding criminal backgrounds checks, how to handle results from such checks, avoiding discrimination against people with criminal records, and negligent hiring have all become more common issues.  If you haven’t had to face them yet, you most likely will.  It may be time to review your policies and procedures.


March 7, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Job Bias Charges up 9% in 2007

Filed under: Title VII1:20 pm

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has just released its numbers involving private sector discrimination filings for 2007.  They’re up by 9%, the highest increase since 1993, as the EEOC received 82,792 filings.  Bias charges based on race continued to be the most frequent. Race has been the most common claim since the EEOC went into business in 1965.   Interestingly, for the first time, retaliation was the second most common charge and was at record levels.  Claims based on sex/gender moved to third.  The next most common, in order, were filings based on age, disability, national origin, and religion.



March 5, 2008

Supreme Court decisions address employment issues

Filed under: Employment Law1:34 pm

The United States Supreme Court has issued several decisions that will impact employers.

First, regarding an age discrimination claim, the court has ruled that a charge questionnaire filed by an employee with a civil rights agency may be enough to actually be a filed charge. This decision poses the possibility that a wider range of documents filed with such agencies, short of formal charge documents, will have to be considered by the agencies, most of which now face charge backlogs.

Second, in another age discrimination case, the Court has ruled that courts can allow, but must carefully consider whether to allow, so-called “me too” evidence,i.e. evidence of another employee who also has claimed that the employer is biased in a context unrelated to the pending lawsuit (e.g. involving other employees, other supervisors and another department of the employer).

Finally, the court has expanded the type of lawsuit that can be filed regarding retirement benefits. The Court ruled that a 401(k) plan participant may sue to recover losses allegedly caused by a plan’s failure to properly implement investment directions. The plaintiff in that case claimed that the plan’s investors had not followed his directions on how to invest his 401(k) funds and thus should be liable for the related losses.


Anti-discrimination agency accused of discrimination

Filed under: Title VII1:20 pm

One state government entity is getting an up-close and personal look at the challenges posed by the laws it must enforce. Ironically, the Utah Anti-discrimination and Labor Division (UALD), the state agency charged with enforcing the state’s employment discrimination laws, now has been accused of committing employment discrimination and retaliation itself.

In a lawsuit filed recently in Utah federal court, a former UALD claims investigator says she was subjected to discrimination and sexual harassment along with other female employees. She also alleges the UALD retaliated against her by terminating her employment after she registered her complaints.

According to the filed court complaint, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considered the matter and decided there was reasonable cause to believe that the UALD violated the law in its conduct towards the plaintiff. The case will now play out in federal court.

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