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October 23, 2014

Employee Handbook – A Tool You Shouldn’t Be Without

Filed under: Communication,Compliance,Engagement,General HR Buzz — Charisse Rockett, PHR, HR Content Manager @ 3:52 pm

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.


October 9, 2014

“I Trust You”

Filed under: Communication,Management Practices — Charisse Rockett, PHR, HR Content Manager @ 4:08 pm

I was part of an HR department of four.  Our HR Manager had just been asked to resign.  So, without a leader in the department, our executive vice president quickly organized the remaining three of us to run the department and perform “management tasks” for the next few weeks ahead.  It was a great learning experience, and we kept everything going very smoothly right up to when we recruited, hired, and onboarded our new boss, Mary.

I learned more about myself in the time I worked with Mary than I ever knew before.  I learned the difference between a leader and a manager.  In the first week of her arrival, she wasn’t barking orders, changing processes, or micromanaging anything.  Rather, she calmly acknowledged the situation that we had thrust upon us and commended us for carrying the load absent a department manager.  She didn’t know us yet as individuals, she didn’t know how we worked, our personal moral codes, or our competencies, but she encouraged us to continue doing what we had been doing.  Then, she said three words that still ring in my ears today, “I trust you.”

That was a leap of faith on her part to trust three people she didn’t yet know.  Those three words were the biggest motivator I have ever experienced in the workplace.  By her saying, “I trust you,” it was like her reaffirming to us that we were professionals, adults, and we were experts in our area of human resources and capable of anything that we wanted to do.  It was powerful!  As time went by, she continued to demonstrate her trust, not just saying it, but in the way she led us as a team and as individuals.  She was a great coach and always asked the right questions, to move us to reach the proper conclusions.  She fostered autonomy by letting us do the jobs we had been hired to do, only she made us better!  Have you told your employees lately, “I trust you”?


July 24, 2014

Setting Expectations for Success

Filed under: Communication,Performance Management,Performance Pro — Charisse Rockett, PHR, HR Content Manager @ 6:47 am

Have you ever tried to put a 500-piece puzzle together using only 386 pieces?  That is what it can feel like to an employee who has not be given straightforward expectations to accomplish their goals.  An important part of performance management is to set clear expectations for employees so there is no question as to how their work should get done.

When employees feel their goals and your expectations are undefined or ambiguous, they become frustrated, productivity declines, and you risk losing them.  To keep them committed to you as their manager and to the organization, you cannot leave anything to chance.  By including employees in the goal-setting process and then developing action plans with timelines, your expectations are clear and you are setting them up to succeed; the rest is up to them.

Learn more about HR Performance Solutions Performance Pro and manage your employees performance with ease.  Start your 30 day FREE trial today!



March 27, 2014

Uninsured? Are You Prepared to Pay the Penalty?

Filed under: Benefits,Communication,General HR Buzz,Insurance — Tags: — Charisse Rockett, PHR, HR Content Manager @ 6:00 am

The deadline is quickly approaching to sign up for health care insurance using the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) federal website – March 31, 2014, to be exact.  The ACA made provision for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to collect fees for those individuals not insured by their employer, the government, or directly through an independent insurer.  The fee/penalty sounds fairly reasonable for the tax year 2014, $95, per adult or 1% of income, whichever is greater.  However, did you know the penalties increase over the next couple of years?


Per Adult OR Percentage of Family Income

(whichever is greater)





2016 and beyond


The penalties are pro-rated if an individual, their spouse, and children* have partial-year coverage.  If they lack coverage for less than three months in the year, they will have no penalty.  The fees for the uninsured were to encourage and motivate individuals to seek health care insurance coverage, but the law does include a provision to exempt some.

Employers need to stay abreast of the new health care law and its provisions, because they are very detailed and being clarified often.  Communicating regularly with employees about the current status of the law will help employees be prepared to meet the requirements on an individual basis as well.


*A child’s penalty is one-half of the adult dollar amount, e.g. $95 per adult is $47.50 per child.

Source:  Luhby, Tami.  “Uninsured next year?  Here’s your Obamacare penalty.” See article here.


January 28, 2014

The Dentist, The Doctor and The Appraiser

Filed under: Communication,Performance Management,Performance Pro — Megan B. Gutierrez, M.Ed., Manager of Training & Instructional Design @ 6:00 am

How many of you look forward to your annual checkup with your doctor or your semi-annual visit with your dentist?   Some of you may, but a majority of us certainly don’t jump up and down when it comes time for these visits.

When I am visiting with my doctor and he says, “Megan, your cholesterol is high. If you continue to make the choices you are, your cholesterol may lead to heart disease or a stroke.”  I can stomp my foot and argue with him, or I can listen to his advice.

The same thing is true for the dentist. If my dentist tells me that I need to floss more or I will increase my chances for gum disease, I can listen to her advice or not.

Not many of us may like these visits or enjoy hearing this kind of feedback.  Why do we do it?  We go because that’s what responsible adults do to maintain our health.

The same thing is true for the appraisal process.  It may not be something we all get excited about but as responsible employees, we need to participate in this process in order to maintain the health of our organization.

And just like a doctor, it is the role of the appraiser to enter into the conversation with our employee with tact and a good bedside manner.  Doctors have to deliver bad news all the time. While there may be emotional outbursts from the patient, the doctor remains unemotional and unbiased.  They don’t judge and they use empathy to convey the factual information their patient needs to hear.  As appraisers, our role is to remain unemotional but relay information in a tactful manner to our employees about the behaviors that may be hazardous to their health or employment within the organization.

So, I have a dentist appointment and she tells me I need to floss more.  If I walk away from that appointment and don’t floss until 3 days leading up my next appointment – will it likely make any difference? Probably not.   The same thing is true for other things in our life. Not many of us enjoy budgeting, but we pay attention to our budget all year round to make sure we don’t get ourselves into trouble.  Even with things we enjoy, like learning a new musical instrument, we wouldn’t be very successful if we only practiced once a year.

Performance management works the same way. If we just pay attention to it once a year, during the appraisal process, we won’t be very successful.  Just like our health, it’s a daily discipline.  Forming relationships with our employees, meeting with them on a regular basis, paying attention, asking questions, and communicating – these are all things that should be happening often, not just when it comes time to do the appraisal.

As appraisers, we are the doctors. Our job is to keep our employees, our team, and our company healthy.  We do this by practicing performance management throughout the year. In addition, when we work with our employees, it is essential to rely on the facts, remove emotions, and have a good bedside manner.  Through these steps, we can improve the overall health of our employees and our organization.





August 7, 2013

BTW Texting May Not Be Your Best Option!

Filed under: Communication,FMLA,General HR Buzz — Charisse Rockett, PHR, HR Content Manager @ 9:06 am

Remember when picking up the phone and having a two-way conversation with your boss was the norm?  In our quest to keep up with the constantly evolving technology, texting has become a more frequent and accepted method of communication, that is unless you are requesting leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Recently an appellate court ruled that a text message is not sufficient notice to an employer of an employee’s need for FMLA.  Chrisanne Lanier brought suit against the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW) alleging various theories of recovery, including FMLA.

On an evening Lanier was scheduled to be on-call, she sent a text message to her supervisor, Leary, to inform him that her father was in the emergency room and that she would be unable to perform her duties that night.  Leary made other arrangements for coverage for the evening.

When she failed to respond to an operator’s call on her make-up week, Leary was notified.  The following morning Leary confronted Lanier about her having abandoned her duties by not responding.  Lanier expressed (explicitly, but not in a text message!) how upset she was with Leary in regard to her father’s heart attack.  She turned in all her equipment and stormed out.  She went directly to the UTSW Employee Assistance Program office on campus, unbeknownst to Leary and other management.  Because of her actions, Lanier was told the university accepted her resignation.

Regarding her claims of interference and retaliation, the court focused on whether Lanier had given proper notice of her intention to take FMLA leave.  Although an employee need not use the phrase “FMLA leave,” she must give notice that was sufficient to reasonably apprise her employer that her request to take time off could fall under the FMLA.  An employer may have a duty to inquire further if statements made by the employee warrant it, but “the employer is not required to be clairvoyant.”  Based on the facts and circumstances in this case, the court found that it would be unreasonable to expect Leary to know that Lanier meant to request FMLA based on her single text message request to be relieved of on-call duty for one night.  Summary judgment was awarded to UTSW.

Employers do well to have proper reporting procedures, including the desired method of communication, in place for FMLA.  Each individual employee’s circumstances will differ, but with knowledgeable Human Resources and well-trained supervisors that consider the facts of each case on its own merit, your chances for avoiding this type of litigation will be much improved!


December 5, 2012

Email’s Indelible Print

Filed under: Communication — Charisse Rockett, PHR, HR Content Manager @ 6:00 am

In the last few weeks the news reports have been abuzz with the story of the CIA director, a retired general, who through an investigation had email discovered that exposed an affair with his biographer.  He is now the former CIA director after his prompt resignation.  Next, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan has also had an email dress-down with a socialite from Florida.  Though the socialite and the military commander were not engaged in an affair, per se, they did exchange words that might be described by some as suggestive.  All this came about because the biographer sent what was perceived to be threatening and harassing emails to the socialite regarding the top U.S. military commander.  Since things like that are not taken lightly, the socialite felt the obligation to report this to her FBI friend, a lengthy investigation ensued, and the rest is history! carried an article from the Kansas Employment Law Letter by attorney, Boyd Byers, which gives us food for thought.  He began by quipping, “Don’t put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to see published on the front page of the newspaper.”  He later stated, “If the CIA director and a four-star general – who should be keenly aware that email lasts forever and can be harvested by forensic experts – aren’t smart or disciplined enough to refrain from saying things in email that they don’t like seeing in the newspaper, how can you expect your organization’s employees to exercise such restraint?”

There are numerous things an employer can do to protect their company’s good name and keep their employees from abusing email privileges.  Frequent communication to employees, both verbal and written, is necessary to impress upon them the importance of proper email use, which translates into mentioning the subject regularly and often.  It would be wise to include the following in your communications policy:

  • Be specific when addressing proper and improper company email usage.
  • Remind employees that the email system is the property of the company and can be accessed or searched at any time.
  • Employees should have no expectation of privacy.
  • Employees are responsible for all communications they send over the company’s email system.
  • Prohibit harassment and other offensive behaviors.
  • Explain using examples, the proper use of the company email, including when to use it and when a conversation is better to be had in-person, especially when it is sensitive or confidential.
  • Clarify why email should be fact-based; it cannot convey emotion or tone and therefore, is easily misinterpreted.
  • Inform employees that improper use of the company’s email system may subject them to corrective action, up to and including termination.

This reminder and the policy tips will hopefully protect you and your employees from expensive court battles and embarrassing newspaper headlines.  And, always remember the adage, “Nothing lasts forever except email!”


November 26, 2012

The Tricky Task of "Titling"

Filed under: Communication,Compensation — Tags: — Joyce Marsh, HR Consultant, SPHR @ 9:27 am

One of the challenges in writing and reviewing job descriptions appears in something that, on the surface, seems so simple – assigning a job title.  For many people, however, it seems to weigh higher in importance than the content of the job responsibilities!  When writing job descriptions I often thought functions such as “clean toilets daily” could be incorporated into the job description as long as the title was to the liking of the incumbents in the position.

So why are titles so important?  There are probably a number of reasons, such as:

      • Identification of an individual – what’s the first question someone asks when they meet you?  Generally “what do you do?” which you respond with your job title.
      • Identification within the organization – a title often identifies your level of hierarchy in the organization.  Unfortunately, people tend to place importance on an individual’s ranking based on title.

From a compensation perspective, titles are important when looking at external market.  It’s important that job titles assigned to your positions match or are very similar in nature to those of your peers.  For market competitiveness, a title may indicate a certain level of responsibility which in turn results in a range of pay for someone typically performing the job functions of someone in that “job title”.

Although an external market survey cannot be simply matching job title to job title, if titles are assigned correctly and not over- or under-inflated, it makes the compensation process a lot easier to implement and communicate to employees.

So don’t let the assignment of job titles over complicate the process of writing job descriptions.  Simply stick to one of my favorite mottos:  “if it talks like a duck, walks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”


September 28, 2012

HR Fact Friday: Social Media in the Workplace?

Filed under: Communication,Compliance,General HR Buzz — Paul Hendrycks, VP Sales and Marketing @ 6:00 am

The following article was researched and written by HRN’s own Charisse Rockett and distributed as our September HR white paper. Welcome Charisse to the HRN team. To receive content as helpful and informative as this each month sign up to receive our free HR Legal Update and White Paper by visiting

Are you a social butterfly?  If so, then you are probably an avid reader, poster or blogger of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media websites.  You probably “like,” and “accept” multiple times a day!

Social media has become the norm for many individuals, businesses and organizations.  It has become an acceptable and effective way to communicate with others who share similar interests and goals.  According to a Nielsen* report, “State of the Media:  The Social Media Report Q3 2011,” Americans spend a considerable amount of their time on social networks.  The report cites 22.5 percent of online time is spent on social networks and blog sites, while 9.8 percent is spent playing online games and 7.6 percent using email.

No doubt, social networks make a person feel connected.  They feel in-touch with the world around them, whether it is with friends and family, or a colleague with a professional connection.  The more time spent and the more comfortable people become with their social networks, the more information they share.  Sometimes too much information!

And, this is where employers should exercise caution.  In an effort for a diverse workforce, some companies have turned to social media websites to screen applicants.  Is this a wise decision?  Yes and no.  Yes, because what people post on their social network is usually a good indicator of their behavior, and behavior is a component which may be deemed a good indicator of future performance.  And, no, because viewing an applicant’s profile can cause the employer to learn more information about the applicant than can legally be considered when making a hiring decision, thus creating a potential bias factor knowingly or unknowingly.  Following are a few things to avoid if viewing an applicant’s blog for hiring purposes:

Personal Information – marital status, age, ethnicity, picture of self

Adverse Action – the result of a decision not to hire because of information gleaned that could identify the applicant as belonging to a protected class

Subconscious Bias – habits/hobbies/lifestyle queues that may not be in agreement with the hiring manager’s personal beliefs, therefore clouding his/her judgment

Genetic Information – knowledge of a family illness that could be hereditary, i.e. cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

If an employer does decide to utilize this ever evolving tool, it would be best for Human Resources to have the responsibility for researching candidates rather than a hiring manager.  HR would be in a much better position to look only for information that would be potentially damaging from an employment standpoint rather than a discriminatory bias.  Employers will need to weigh the risk and decide for themselves whether social media will be used in their hiring decisions.

What about social media policies?  Again, employers have to decide how much, if any, social networking they will allow on work time.  Policies may have to be more relaxed when social networking is an integral part of an employee’s job.  Even the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has stated that employers may not take adverse action against employees who openly discuss the terms and conditions of their employment, because this constitutes a concerted activity.    It is important to remember that employees are protected by numerous laws when blogging about their workplace, so drawing a definite line as to right or wrong may not be advisable.  It would be wise to train managers to keep Human Resources apprised of any blog for which they have concerns and let HR consult with counsel if necessary.

While we cannot completely avoid the risk, we can certainly learn to manage it and make determinations that are best for our workforce and internal operations.  Whether you “like” it or not, social media is here to stay!

*Nielsen is a well-known source for television ratings and media research.


September 7, 2012

HR Fact Friday: Drafting a Social Networking Policy (part 2 of 2)

Filed under: Communication,Compliance,Employment Law,General HR Buzz — Tags: , , , , , — Paul Hendrycks, VP Sales and Marketing @ 6:00 am

Below is the second of a 2-part installment on this popular and trending topic. I can”t claim credit for writing this informative post however. It is written by HRN”s own Content Manager, Joyce Campbell. To receive more current and easy-to-read HR topical content directly from HRN at no cost, simply register to receive our monthly HR whitepaper and/or HR Legal Update e-newsletter by going to:

Part 2 of 2

9. How could social computing help your organization?
a) Professional contacts may use these methods to communicate with your employees.
b) May provide an opportunity to improve community presence or reputation.
c) Creates opportunity to get “the word out” about the company.
d) Can serve as a means to launch marketing campaigns.
e) Can put your company at a hiring advantage by using business sites as recruiting tools.
f) Provides the chance for employees to interact with those in their same fields, increasing employee knowledge, resources, and professional contacts.
g) Keeps morale high.
h) Keeps you in touch with your customers and obtains their feedback.
i) Provides information regarding products and services.
j) Is a means to respond to news stories.
k) Provides a service to customers and the public by answering questions and offering information.

A Few Items to Include / Consider for Your Policy

1. Require that all communications meet your existing policies’ standards regarding confidentiality and proprietary and sensitive information.

2. Ban the use of company logos, trademarks, etc., unless on company approved sites.

3. Remind employees that their online activities reflect on the company and that they should be respectful of coworkers, customers, vendors, and the organization’s reputation at all times.

4. Don’t infringe on copyrights, trademarks, etc.

5. Make it understood that employee violations of applicable policies and procedures may result in corrective action, up to and including termination.

6. Distinguish “at work” standards from “off hours” standards. In other words, what’s allowed at work?

Other Things to Consider

1. Ensure that your policy and or guidelines are appropriately communicated and distributed. Consider having employees acknowledge receipt (sign off) of the materials.

2. Update your policy and guidelines at least annually, with input from legal, HR, IT, and management. Keep in mind employee’s rights with reference to the National Labor Relations Board and recent case law in your specific state regarding social networking.

3. Make sure managers “buy into” and actively support your positions. Ensure that they fully understand their special roles in the company to serve as examples and to enforce company standards.

4. Train employees regarding your expectations.

Bottom Line

It’s difficult to change or control employee behavior under any circumstances. Given the widespread use of social media sites, a total prohibition against employee use (on and offsite) is unenforceable and possibly illegal. Yet employees need guidelines to follow. The goal then is to use common sense to use social networking in a manner that can help the organization and which does no harm to you, the employer. While that’s easier said than done, it’s important to be proactive and address the issue. It’s tricky to find the balance between ignoring the issue and acting as “Big Brother.”

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