An employment lawyer who typically represents employees against employers recently published this list (on HR Daily Advisor) of the top fourteen things employers do that make it easier for a plaintiff’s lawyer to sue them and win. Here is the list:
1) the employer gives no reason for termination or relies on at-will employment;
2) the employee is fired for performance but recently got a good evaluation;
3) the timing of the termination is bad, (e.g. an internal protected complaint is followed closely in time by termination);
4) the employer ignored prior notice of a legal issue;
5) the company had prior complaints about the same issue or person;
6) the employer did an internal investigation that was superficial;
7) the employer believed the employee was just trying to get in the retaliation protection bubble, (e.g. “She’s only bringing up her complaint because she just got written up.”);
8) the employer submits an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge response that is not well written;
9) the employer does not follow its own policies;
10) the company issues a gag order once a charge is filed;
11) the company ignores a pre-lawsuit letter from a lawyer, thus missing a chance to make a lawsuit go away;
12) company witnesses seem ill-prepared, too clever, or even clueless while testifying about what happened;
13) the employer humiliates or dehumanizes the plaintiff; and
14) the employer documents are missing or inadequately prepared.
Employee handbooks serve many purposes in an organization. They can be considered tools for risk management, communication of expectations, and a guidebook of general rules for the workplace. Employees are not the only ones to benefit from handbooks, but managers and employers also gain an advantage from a well-written and professional-looking handbook. Here is how:
- Employees – The handbook should outline how employees are to behave and what the consequences are if they don’t. It will teach them what needs to be done in their job to be successful in the company. The handbook should serve as a protection to employees by outlining a process for complaining about possible harassment, reporting an on-the-job injury, and promoting awareness of workplace violence. Other areas that should be covered are the absence reporting process, how to request time off from work, what dress is appropriate, and how the company feels about complying with all employment laws.
- Managers – Consistency is key for managers. They must have a set of standards for how to handle organizational issues. This should not be step-by-step instructions they must follow, but should consist of principles they can apply consistently in employee relations, performance management, and other areas within their scope of responsibility.
- Employers – The handbook is a mouthpiece for employers to openly communicate their behavioral expectations for employees and managers alike. It gives clearly defined parameters for personal conduct, acceptable behaviors, and company expectations. It is also an effective tool for communicating a summary of the benefits of employment with their organization, (e.g. paid time off, medical and other insurance coverages offered, tuition reimbursement, retirement planning, etc.).
Ensuring employees have easy access to the employee handbook and have acknowledged its receipt can go a long way to protect an employer in a lawsuit. Sometimes copies of the policy violated and the acknowledgement of the handbook receipt are all that is needed to dispute an unemployment claim. Now is the time to minimize your risk by having an up-to-date, legally compliant, and tailored to your company handbook. It conveys to your employees you care about them and their success!
Source: Brannen, D. Albert. “Why Your Company Needs a Handbook.” Fisher & Phillips Attorneys at Law. Available here.
In the last decade traditional leave programs have been replaced with Paid Time Off (PTO) programs. PTO is believed to reduce unexcused absences, since employees may use their time off for vacation, sick, or personal reasons. Employees have welcomed the added flexibility of using PTO as they want to or need to in their quest for work-life balance.
A new trend, though, is taking hold for a few companies. Some may explain it as an experimental leave program that employees would take advantage of, but those who have adopted it report increased productivity. It is called Unlimited Vacation time. Most recent to join the ranks of those not tracking vacation and time off is Virgin. Founder, Richard Branson, announced that his company would be offering unlimited vacation following suit with Netflix and a handful of others.
An unlimited vacation program is designed to give employees the ability to decide when they will be gone as they need to recharge and avoid burnout. However, they are held accountable for completing their work, meeting deadlines, not leaving their team in a bind, and coordinating with other employees to cover for them. The program encourages autonomy, which boosts morale and creativity, fostering satisfied employees. And, we all know that happy employees are productive employees!
Is unlimited vacation time for your company? We’d like to hear your comments.
Read more about this unique time off initiative here.
The national average of time to fill an open position in June reached 24.9 working days, including the time to post, source, and hire. Compared to the recessionary period in the summer of 2009, the time to fill has increased by nearly ten days, when the average was 15.3.
During the recession the talent pool was overflowing with applicants. Hundreds of résumés flooded recruiters in response to a single job posting. The response left recruiters thinking they could be choosy and wait for the top talent to show, which generally during the recession worked. Now, other problems are factoring in to the long time-to-fill open positions, such as:
- Waiting too long to make an offer risks the loss of the top candidate.
- Unable to find skilled workers in the talent pool.
- Expecting no learning curve, thus fostering an unwillingness to accept candidates that may need only minimal training.
- There is simply more job openings, 4.7 million at the end of June, compared to 4 million in June, 2013.
Employers should examine recruitment and hiring processes to ensure they are streamlined and efficient and make changes wherever they find obstacles. Performing this self-audit will clearly define the company’s acceptable standards for recruitment and hiring and will help find and hire a solid, talented workforce quickly.
Source: Zappe, John. “Employers Find That Time-to-Fill Job Rates Are Growing, Hit 13 Year High.” Available here.
Home furnishings retailer, Ikea, recently announced an overhaul to their wage structure that will increase their average minimum wage to $10.76 per hour by January 1, 2015, which is a 17 percent increase, and is well above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The increase will not be adjusted across the board, but will be a market-based adjustment from $8.69 per hour to $13.22 per hour depending on the cost of living in the city in which the store is located. Ikea estimates that about half of its United States workforce will benefit by the increase which will be based on the MIT Living Wage Calculator.
Rob Olson, Ikea’s acting president for the United States and its chief financial officer was quoted as saying, “We are of course investing in our co-workers. We believe they will invest in our customers, and they will invest in Ikea’s stores. We believe that it will be a win-win-win for our co-workers, our customers and our stores.” Ikea’s goal is to promote a “better everyday life” for their people.
Gap is another retailer that will be increasing its minimum wage to $10 per hour January 1. This specialty retailer had set its minimum wage at $9 per hour in February. Their new wage policy will benefit more than two-thirds of its 90,000 U.S. employees. Gap reported more than a 10 percent increase in their applications for employment after they announced the increases.
Both retailers have a great desire to help their workers, and even though the minimum wage increases are a large investment, it is one they feel will help them reach their organizational goals and have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Source: Greenhouse, Steven. The New York Times. “Ikea to increase Minimum Hourly Pay.” Available here.
As HR professionals, we are always trying to make sure everyone is treated the same – that no one feels slighted or left out; that everyone is treated equally. In certain instances that is a really good idea, especially if it keeps you out of legal trouble, (e.g. male/female, old/young, black/white). But, are our HR practices becoming a one-size-fits-all?
Let’s take a step back. Examining our motive for treating all employees the same should give us some insight as to whether this is a constructive practice. Ask yourself these questions and answer honestly:
- Am I afraid of a claim of discrimination or retaliation?
- Am I trying to avoid conflict by applying policies the same way to all employees?
- Am I ignoring an underlying employee performance issue that needs to be addressed?
- Is treating all employees the same taking the easy way out?
If you answered, “Yes” to any of these questions, you may be practicing HR neutrality. Obviously, some policies must be applied the same way to all employees, like no smoking in the office. But, must our top performers be treated the same as our mediocre or low performers? No, but we must treat them fairly. In fact, our treating employees fairly sometimes mean we treat them differently. How? A high performing employee doesn’t want to be treated the same as one they view as a slacker. They want to be treated differently, because they deserve it. There is nothing illegal about treating a high performer better than you treat your employee that is not meeting your expectations. So next time you encounter a situation that previously the one-size-fits-all HR neutrality has been applied to, examine your motive for doing so, use empathy by putting yourself in your employee’s shoes, and always keep the human in Human Resources. Oh yes, and you must deal head-on with the perceived slacker; they may just need clearer expectations, but you won’t know if you don’t ask!
Source: Sackett, Tim. “HR Neutrality: Everybody Seems to Hate It – Except, of Course, HR.” Available here.
Raise your hand if you think there are entirely too many meetings in your office! You can put your hands down now. Why do we feel this way? Because many times, meetings become so routine that the focus is completely lost on why the meeting is being held and what it is supposed to accomplish. Let’s face it, sometimes meetings are just simply time wasters!
To avoid having mechanical meetings, we have to plan better. Following these tips will help re-engage and to re-focus your attendees so that meetings add value and achieve a specific goal.
- Create an agenda – Agendas set the rules for the meeting and answer critical questions. Who (should attend)? What (is the topic)? Why (are we meeting)? Where (will we meet)? When (will we meet? How (are we to prepare)?
- Stay on track – Keep the goal of the meeting at the forefront and steer the discussion back to the agenda as needed. If the meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes, then end it promptly.
- Limit attendees – Invite only those individuals that need to be there. Don’t waste others’ time, unless they are critical to the mission.
- Summarize the meeting – Follow up the meeting with an email detailing the project, timelines, and assignments. Make yourself available and hold employees accountable for reaching the goal. Inform the attendees if additional meetings will be necessary.
Giving meetings focus will help you and your team to accomplish much more in less time.
For numerous years we have been told that multitasking is an asset. As employers, we weren’t looking for singularly focused individuals, but those who could change gears quickly. Multitasking was the answer to efficiency needs and time management skills.
Workers today have computers, tablets, smartphones, and many other distractions that were supposed to help them be more accessible and productive. But, what does multitasking really accomplish? It is reported that multitasking can be synonymous with timewasting. Those who multitask spend “25 percent to 40 percent more time than people who focus on tasks individually.” Looking busy has always been an admirable trait, but high producers outpace “Busy” dramatically, and are far more valuable to keep on your team.
Here are a few tips to achieve multitasking freedom. Come on, you can do it!
- Start small – by setting aside 20 minutes to devote solely on one project. Repeat for the next project, and the next.
- Be scheduled – and set a specific time for each project or task to take control of your day.
- No bells or buzzers allowed – during the scheduled work time, so turn off the email!
- Shhhhhh – people are working, so try to be respectful of their work time and seek a quiet place to work, so you can accomplish your scheduled task.
- De-clutter – your workspace. A cluttered workspace makes concentrating on your work very difficult. Cluttered workspace = cluttered mind?
- Work – during your work hours and save the personal stuff for breaks and lunch periods.
If any of the above tips will throw you into shock, just dip your toe in the water before you dive in!
Source: Zacharias, Anne. The Business Journals. “6 Tips to Become More Productive by AVOIDING Multitasking.” Available here.
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone said and did the right thing all the time and no one’s feelings ever got hurt? That would be a perfect world, of which we know we do not live in, but one can wish! Ensuring that employees practice civility in the workplace is a progressive activity. Civility means to be courteous; polite. It doesn’t sound that difficult to be nice, but because of various negative factors, we sometimes digress. Following are some tips for resisting bad manners and encouraging civility in the workplace:
- Personality conflicts – I always tell a group of new hires that we have (e.g. 100) employees, which means that we have 100 different personalities with 100 different ideas. Some personalities are drawn to each other, while others repel. Keeping the peace through personality conflicts is a challenge, but can be done. Empathetically putting oneself in the other person’s “shoes” will help them to see the conflict in a completely different light.
- Holding your tongue – Being aware of comments or phrases that may be common, but hurtful to some, is especially important to show respect for others. Comments like, “Her elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top,” or “He must ride the short bus,” are completely unnecessary and are very insensitive. Look for the good in others and focus on their strengths.
- Lead by example – Instill in employees to do their part to lead by example. Random acts of kindness and sincere compliments of a “job well done,” are encouraging speech and not speech that tears down.
To summarize, incivility is degrading to all who are affected by it, regardless of whether it is directed at them or whether they are a witness to its harm. When incivility reigns, it can quickly turn into a claim of harassment or a hostile work environment. Train your employees to be respectful of others, and to look for positive qualities in them too. Someday, they themselves, could be the victim, and what a lonely place that would be! Teaching employees to be aware of and think about the effects of what they say or do, will certainly help them to be more thoughtful and considerate workmates.
A few months ago, Zappos, an online shoe retailer, announced it was restructuring its workforce into “circles” eliminating hierarchy by having no job titles and no managers. This type of structure is known as a “holacracy.” Within a holacracy, leadership still exists. What it does is distribute leadership into each role, holding employees personally accountable, and rotating leadership among those in the circle. This is definitely not a traditional organizational structure!
Now, Zappos is making another unique change – eliminating job postings. The retailer plans to hire about 450 workers this year. Though Zappos will be using social media, it is not what you may think! They have created Zappos Insiders, a social network that candidates can join and become acquainted with current employees of the company. The theory behind this method is to allow recruiters to be more efficient and effective by creating a constant pool of candidates that could be ready-made hires. Recruiters can gauge cultural fit and skills of the candidates by asking specific questions and holding contests then using a separate software to organize the responses. So, not only are job postings gone, but so are the plethora of resumes’ to wade through!
It will be interesting to see how this cutting-edge practice evolves and if other organizations will follow suit. But, we in HR always have questions:
- Will a social network glean more personal information about candidates than a company needs?
- Will it help Zappos avoid costly bad hires?
- Will candidates grow tired of waiting to be selected?
Before you try to walk a mile in Zappos shoes (eliminate job postings in your company) you may want to just curiously watch the success of Zappos in pioneering this new trend!
Source: Auriemma, Adam. The Wall Street Journal. “Zappos Zaps Its Job Postings.” Available here.