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September 28, 2012

HR Fact Friday: Social Media in the Workplace?

Filed under: Communication,Compliance,General HR Buzz6:00 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)

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.”


August 22, 2012

No Butts About It – There Are Still Smokers Out There!

There has been a lot of emphasis in the news lately about the growing epidemic of obesity.  We cannot deny that Americans are getting fatter.  The fact remains however, that cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the US each year; accounting for 1 in 5 deaths, or approximately 443,000 lives.

The statistical information cited by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that in 2010 slightly more men (21.5%) than women (17.3%) smoked.   And (alarmingly so), 20.1 percent of adults aged 18 to 24 are reported as smokers; that is roughly 1 out of every 5 recent high school graduates and college students smoke!  Adults with a college degree are less likely to smoke as are Asians and Hispanics.  States with the greatest number of smokers are found in the Midwest and Southeast; specifically, the lowest prevalence of smoking was found in Utah (9.1%) and the highest in West Virginia (26.8%).

While employers are concerned about smokers and the impact on the organization, the choice to invest in smoking cessation strategies can vary.  The use of penalties (such as increased health insurance premiums) to smokers is rising.  In general, employers are starting to talk openly about smoking and the health risks it presents.   In a report published by entitled, “The Burden of Tobacco Use”, they have put together a list of 50 ideas for helping employees in their efforts to quit smoking:  ideas ranging from how to create a smoking cessation program within your company to implementing a non-smoking policy.  It’s a terrific resource and worth checking out.

What are you doing in your company to help people quit smoking?  Let us know . .  .

Look for the full report CDC Report at:


August 15, 2012

Obesity: How Does Your State Weigh In?

This week the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released revised1 data showing rates of obesity in the US by state.  Here are some of the key findings directly from the CDC brief:

  • By state, obesity prevalence ranged from 20.7% in Colorado to 34.9% in Mississippi in 2011. No state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. 39 states had a prevalence of 25% or more; 12 of these states had a prevalence of 30% or more: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.
  • The South had the highest prevalence of obesity (29.5%), followed by the Midwest (29.0%), the Northeast (25.3%) and the West (24.3%).
  • See the map of the US with percentages by state.


  • Among non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American men, those with higher incomes are more likely to be obese than those with low income.
  • Higher income women are less likely to be obese than low-income women.
  • There is no significant relationship between obesity and education among men. Among women, however, there is a trend—those with college degrees are less likely to be obese compared with less educated women.
  • Between 1988–1994 and 2007–2008 the prevalence of obesity increased in adults at all income and education levels.


  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
  • In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

1    Changes to the CDC’s BRFSS and to exclusion criteria result in a new baseline for estimated state adult obesity prevalence starting with the 2011 data. Because of these changes, estimates of obesity prevalence from 2011 forward cannot be compared to estimates from previous years.    Shifts in estimates from previous years may be the results of the new methods, rather than measurable changes in the percentages. The direction and magnitude of changes in each state varies. These variations may depend on the characteristics of the population


August 8, 2012

Driving Employee Engagement

Last week I took a look at the findings from a MetLife Benefits Survey showing the link between employee benefits and employee engagement.  Seems to be a very important topic of late – what does it take to engage employees? And how does that engagement drive an organization’s success?   As economies move through different phases (industrial to technological, for example) and different generations move in and out of the workforce (Gen X vs. Baby Boomers, for example), what’s important to workers is bound to change.  I often wonder though if employers over-complicate the idea of employee engagement.

Yesterday I attended an interesting lunch meeting where the keynote speaker was Don MacPherson, founder and CEO of a company called modernsurvey.  modernsurvey conducts and publishes a semi-annual survey:  “Employee Engagement across the U.S. Workforce”.  The findings of the study are compelling, be sure to check it out:

One of the critical ideas that Mr. MacPherson presented was ways in which managers, on a day-to-day basis, can drive engagement in an organization.  The list includes:

  • Personal engagement;
  • Recognition and appreciation on a regular and ongoing basis;
  • Career development;
  • Belief in the future of the organization; and
  • Compensation.

His research shows that belief in the future of the organization is the most important item on that list.  Without current information about vision, strategy, goals – both long-term and short-term – employees are likely to fill in the blanks themselves.  Honest, timely information about what’s happening, and engaging employees in that discussion, is powerful.

Really, how complicated is that?

Let us know what you are doing in your organization to drive employee engagement.


June 15, 2012

HR Fact Friday: NLRB Outlines Acceptable Social Media Policy Elements

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued a sample employment social media policy it believes would be lawful and not interfere with employee rights to engage in concerted activities under the National Labor Relations Act.  You can read the NRLB’s report and sample policy here.National SHRM has published an excellent summary of what an employer can say in such a policy.  Below is that summary:



May 2, 2012

Uniforms and Perfume…More on the Subject of Dress Codes

This is the third in a series of blogs regarding dress code policies.  Once the discussion begins, it inevitably moves into the area of personal hygiene.  One employee may unknowingly wear a perfume or cologne that another employee is allergic to.  Or then there are the hygiene issues on the other end of the spectrum, when a little perfume (aka deodorant) may be in order.  How do you address those issues?  Read on for some helpful hints.

8.            Can uniforms be required?

Generally, yes.  However, there are state and federal restrictions as to who must pay for the uniform and the cost to maintain it.  The Department of Labor defines a uniform to be anything that associates the clothing with the employer, (e.g. includes a logo, emblem, or distinctive color).  It also includes such items as tuxedos (as might be required in a restaurant) or a particular kind of blazer or jacket.  Some states define “uniform” even more broadly and consider it to be anything that the employer requires the applicant / employee to purchase.

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require an employer to buy or maintain an employee’s uniform.  The FLSA allows an organization to require an employee to pay for it provided the costs don’t reduce the employee’s wage below the statutory minimum or reduce overtime.

However, numerous state laws require employers to pay for uniforms and for the cost of maintaining them if they require anything other than normal laundering.  Some states permit deposits.  States generally also have very strict prohibitions regarding what can be deducted from an employee’s paycheck.

9.            Can we restrict the wearing of perfumes and colognes?

Some individuals have hypersensitivities to chemicals or allergic reactions to perfumes, colognes, and other scented products.  The problem is a sensitive one and a policy restricting the use of scented products may offend some employees.  However, employers unwilling to deal with the issue may risk ADA discrimination if they refuse to accommodate an employee with an allergy that qualifies as a disability.  Consequently, some companies have instituted fragrance-free workplace policies and enforce them the same as any dress code policy.

10.          What about hygiene issues?

Obviously, addressing employee hygiene and body odor are sensitive issues.  However, they should be handled in the same manner as dress code issues.  Body odor by itself is not a disability under the ADA, but it could be a symptom of a serious underlying problem that may be protected.  Believe it or not, there have been cases where employees have been fired for body odor who later sued, claiming they were disabled under the ADA.

11.          What should be considered in drafting and implementing a dress and grooming policy?

a)            The policy should be based on business justifications.

b)            While an exhaustive list of “do’s and don’ts” is probably not required or advisable – you can’t write standards for every situation – require specific, unambiguous standards and provide some general examples (e.g., even examples of casual attire should be provided…are t-shirts and shorts appropriate?).  Examples should include items of clothing that are required, optional, and never acceptable.  Avoid using standards that are targeted at one sex, race, or ethnic group.  Attempt to define.

c)            Inform your employees.  Employees should understand the business reasons behind the company policies and have a good understanding of the standards.  Such communication should begin at the job interview, continue at orientation, and be well explained in the handbook and through ongoing communications.  Employees should also be aware of the penalties for noncompliance.

d)            Enforce the policy consistently for all employees to minimize the chances of discrimination charges.  However, be aware, that the law may require you to make exceptions to accommodate certain individuals.

e)            Provide accommodations for religious reasons, disabilities, and other appropriate reasons.  Ensure that managers are aware of these legal requirements.

f)             Ensure that managers are consistent in implementing the policies and instituting corrective actions as necessary.  Insist that managers follow the rules themselves.

g)            Enforce the rules, but don’t dictate.  Don’t punish the group and institute stricter rules because a few individuals are dressing inappropriately.  Rather, discipline those requiring it.

h)            Indicate to whom questions regarding the policy should be addressed.  Employees should be able to ask their managers as well as an alternate party, such as HR.


April 9, 2012

Have You Thanked Your Pulse Lately?

Yes, we should always say thank you to that steady beat of our pulse every morning when we wake up.  But the pulse I’m referring to is the pulse of your organization.  You know, that person who (seemingly) effortlessly manages everything in the office and picks up the pieces when things fall apart.  I’m talking about your administrative professional.  And the 2012 Administrative Professionals Day® is just around the corner and this year’s theme is: “Admins, the pulse of the office.”

Administrative Professionals Day will mark its 60th anniversary on April 25, 2012. Over those decades, the job of an administrative professional has changed dramatically thanks to new tools, techniques and seismic shifts in the economy and culture itself. But admins have remained the steady center of efficiency through it all, helping ensure that jobs get done right, on time and under budget. Admins are one of the engines of business, particularly in a complex economy. In a world that demands the accurate and speedy movement of digital information, admins are masters of data. And they do this while maintaining their more traditional role as the gatekeepers for many customers, clients and employees. Quite simply,admins are the pulse of the office.

Observed since 1952, Administrative Professionals Week is originated and solely sponsored by the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAPA).  Over the years, Administrative Professionals Week has become one of the largest workplace observances. The event is celebrated worldwide, bringing together millions of people for community events, educational seminars and individual corporate activities recognizing support staff.

A few interesting statistics about administrative professionals:

  • There are more than 4.1 million secretaries and administrative assistants in the U.S., according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, and 8.9 million people working in various administrative support roles

According to IAAP’s 2011 Administrative Professional Skills Benchmarking Survey report, the typical administrative professional…

…is a 45-year-old woman.
…has at least an associate’s degree from a college or university.
…holds the title of “administrative assistant” or “executive assistant.”
…has at least 15 years of work experience.
…supports at least 3 managers and/or executives.
…works for a company with at least 500 employees.
…earns an hourly wage equal to about $45,000 a year.
…is responsible for troubleshooting office software and training others how to use it.
…makes purchasing decisions worth about $15,000 a year for their office.

So let’s all stop and mark our calendars to “Thank Our Pulse(s)” every day and especially during Administrative Professionals Week  - April 22-28 – and Administrative Professionals Day on Wednesday, April 25.  For some ideas on how to celebrate, check out the IAPA’s website by clicking here.


April 3, 2012

The Face of the Company: How well do workers know their CEO?

Filed under: Communication,Management Practices9:14 am

If you’re at the top of your company, are you in touch with the frontline employees?  Do you know how their role fits in with the successful operation of your organization?  Perhaps a better question is: do they know?  Could most employees pick members of their company’s C-Suite out of a line-up?

The loss of a well-known and influential CEO can alter a company’s bottom line and brand recognition seemingly overnight.  (Think: Jim Henson and, more recently, Steve Jobs)  But, how well do most frontline employees know their CEO?  According to a recent survey from Careerbuilder, although 60 percent of respondents said they have met their company’s CEO at least once, over 20 percent said they had no idea what their CEO even looked like.

If you’ve ever watched Undercover Boss, (the reality show that takes one of a company’s executives and places him or her in different jobs to see how the company runs – which is often a bit disconnected from the perception) it won’t surprise you that respondents in the retail, IT, and financial services industries were least likely to have met their CEO.

Respondents’ knowledge of the C-Suite dropped steadily below the CEO – only 35 percent could name all of the company’s executive officers.

The CEO and other executive officers know they are the face of the company, both internally and externally.  Especially at a large company, rank-and-file employees don’t expect their C-Suite to know them by name. The solution: find a balance between the need to connect with employees and the necessity of building strong relationships with other stakeholders.

Careerbuilder Survey: How well do American workers know their CEO?


March 20, 2012

Get a TO (Time Out), Baby!

Filed under: Communication,EEO,Management Practices9:36 am

Last week, I wrote a blog about March Madness at work.   Because my team is headed off to St. Louis Friday for the Sweet Sixteen, I thought it appropriate to continue the March Madness theme.  Today, we’re going to talk about time-outs.

Plato and Aristotle both believed that reasoning could be the arbiter in making a decision.  When a team is faced with a choice between one play or another, they take a few minutes to plan their next move.  When my two-year-old pulls her big sister’s hair, she sits down next to the wall for 2 minutes.  When I’m trying to tackle a particularly difficult question, I lean my head back and close my eyes for a minute.  Every once in a while, everyone needs to take a time-out and gather our thoughts.

Sometimes it seems we’re all being asked to make split-second decisions.  Some of these decisions are what we could classify as “right-wrong,” meaning that one answer is ethically right, and one is ethically wrong.  In the February issue of Academy of Management Journal, the result of a study was published titled “Contemplation and Conversation: Subtle Influences on Moral Decision Making.”  Among the study participants, researchers found that individuals who were asked to contemplate a decision were five times more likely to make an ethical choice than those who were asked to make an immediate decision.

We’ve also been talking a lot lately about the EEOC’s increase in enforcement: in 2011, retaliation claims reached an all-time high at 37,334.  When an employee makes a seemingly false claim about discrimination, an immediate supervisor’s initial reaction may be to strike back.  As we well know, this can open the organization up for a retaliation claim.

  • Make sure you have a strong anti-retaliation policy, and train supervisors to effectively handle tense situations.
  • In your policy, mandate a “cooling-off” period.
  • Consider including a multiple-level structure of approval for making significant decisions.

Love him or not, Dick Vitale often gives this good piece of advice: “Get a TO, baby!”  Every once in a while, everyone needs to take a time-out and gather our thoughts.

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!

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