The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Development Opportunities

The original title for this post was "Standards, Boundaries, Guidelines." It didn't work because it just didn't. The subject intended for consideration is how to handle a situation in which you have a problem and then find yourself, as did Paula Deen) needing to turn it into a teachable moment.

Paula caused quite a stir circa June 25 with regard to what she did or did not say, how she manages the workers in her kitchens, and just general protocol. She proclaimed innocence on all counts except for one instance when she used a racially questionable term. She wailed about the distress that her "young people" caused her when she would hear the names they would call one another. But she didn't talk about what she did to counter that behavior.

Good Georgia girl of the '60s, she claims that she only used the racially repugnant term one time in her life. Yet there are lawyers who have come up with quite a number of other instances. For someone of her vintage, she should have an appreciation of what the term connotes as well as other matters of which she is accused (her "pet" name for one of her chefs, the wedding dinner, oh dearie me). She's a grandparent. She's at a stage where she's been teaching etiquette and appropriate behavior to her offspring. The dynamic doesn't change when it pertains to employees, associates, and just people in general. Still, none of these situations caused her to stop and consider that she should put forth some measure that would stop these things from happening and curb the stain to her brand. Even worse, it appears none of her HR personnel approached her with suggestions or recommendations.

Establish a Zero Tolerance Policy

The concept of zero tolerance has been around for a while. It could be argued that Paula's kitchens could have put a zero tolerance section into the Personnel Handbook with regard to a lot of behaviors. The section could cover language, acts, attire, and other matters that cause one to bristle. But before jumping on that concept and saying that is the solution, the first thing that needs to be investigated is how effective zero tolerance is in any environment, whether it be at work, or at school, or anywhere else.

An initial cursory look at the string "effectiveness of zero tolerance policies" produced a lot of results that pertained to children in schools and bullying. One after another, the headnotes talked about how ineffective a zero tolerance policy is with regard to discouraging negative behavior.

But the investigation of the effectiveness of zero tolerance related to the workplace. So the string was modified to "effectiveness of workplace zero tolerance policy" which also proved to have no positive things to say about the policy. In fact, the findings still dodged the bullet by examining matters such as substance abuse, sexual harassment, and workplace bullying. It went the range of zero tolerance as it relates to a military environment to the university and all environs in-between. The reverse was discussed - how ineffective that policy is. Why is this so? According to Wikipedia, "Zero-tolerance policies forbid persons in positions of authority from exercising discretion or changing punishments to fit the circumstances subjectively; they are required to impose a pre-determined punishment regardless of individual culpability, extenuating circumstances, or history." In other words, there's little wiggle room.

Not All Negative

However, one writer, Samuel Greengard, pointed out several elements that contribute toward making an effective policy, one that discourages the types of behaviors that should be kept out while maintaining a healthy environment. Management buy-in is essential. Knowing the array of legal issues and laws is also important. And having appropriate forms of punishment help the zero tolerance policy work. Stepping outside of Greengard's citations of effectiveness policies, some authorities point out that the policy should be exacted on an equilateral basis. That is, it applies equally to all personnel, no matter what the position.

The Bottom Line Is

So this brings us to a takeaway on this matter. You have employees who are bandying insulting epithets at one another. You have managers (and even owners) doing and saying socially repugnant things that cause one to question the health of the environment. This doesn't require neurosurgeon skills. Simply do not tolerate or allow (even in jest) what could be construed as objectionable, harassing, or racist behavior. Even if the language is used among those of the same racial group and some of them (but not all) contend that it's the vernacular of the community or culture, do not tolerate it. (Unless, of course, you want to send the message to your customers that your business cannot rise to serving people with courtesy and allowing them to feel they have dignity.) Even if it's part of your culture and practice in your home, it isn't appropriate for those you serve and shouldn't be imposed on them. It isn't appropriate for those who are in your employ and they should not be subjected to it. This is the time to lead by example.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Nine Tips for Diversity Leaders

This morning, a discussion on LinkedIn finally grabbed my attention. An editor wanted to know (paraphrasing) what tips the group members have for future diversity leaders in terms of necessary skills and expertise. It was the type of question that a nurturing personality has difficulty letting get overlooked. So I responded.

  • Ability to listen carefully, process the information, and respond with an appropriate response. Most would call all of that "good communication skills" but communication involves more than just talking at people or reciting anecdotes about 'this happened to me.'
  • Ability to operate as a professional without projecting an air of pride or smugness. Become a beacon and role model but first, and most importantly, be human.
  • Use your maturity. It's important to have the maturity to deal with human nature and various age demographics in order to learn from them as well as convey useful information to them.
  • Communication is critical. If your message isn't getting through, take some time to review what you're saying and how you're saying it. Then modify your strategy so that the vocabulary and voice are not only understandable but also heard. Also consider aligning yourself with someone who more closely identifies with your target demographic so that they are speaking the language. Then the message more easily reaches its destination and becomes effective.
  • Choose a specialty area and learn as much about it as possible. The learning should not be solely classroom- and textbook-centric. Those are clinical settings based on what others are telling you. In many instances, the best experience is to be out in the field interacting with the people and situations that constitute your specialty area. In order to gain that experience while still learning your specialty, it would be good to do volunteer work at a nonprofit that specializes in your calling or intern for them.
  • There are many ways to gain an appreciation of the needs and wants of your audience. Some people have walked and lived among their specialty constituency (sometimes not on a willing basis). That can be extremely dangerous if it's done with no safety tether (others outside of the situation who can help you get out of harm fast). However, that type of immersion provides real life awareness and the ability to develop meaningful strategies to address issues.
  • Having a real appreciation of the constituency needs leads to engendering trust from the members. That is extremely important to being effective as well as developing respect.
  • A leader needs to have the sophistication to appreciate when transparency is mandatory.
  • Recognize that privacy and confidentiality are imperative.
  • It's important to do proper screening, usually couched in casual conversation that makes the person comfortable enough to share their philosophies that wouldn't ordinarily be verbalized (or demonstrated) in an employment interview setting. That will make proper selection of the most effective personnel possible.
Someone recently asked whether it's possible for a White person to be a leader of a Black organization. The ancillary query related to whether a woman could be an effective leader of that same group. As that conversation evolved, we looked at the NAACP as an example. It was founded by mutually concerned individuals from all ethnicities and walks of life. Among the founders were abolitionists, Jews, Gentiles, Blacks, Whites, men and women. One of the most pivotal of the founders was Mary White Ovington. The first "president" of the organization (who served in that capacity for ten years) was a White man, Joel Spingarn.

A few words about being a leader, no matter what the cause or organization, is having foresight and vision. Those skills will allow the leader to see most of the pitfalls before they arise. That will then enable them to develop strategies to avert the difficulties, use them to the organization's advantage, or overcome them with as much ease as is reasonable. In order to garner the support to execute the plans and goals of the organization, a leader must have excellent communication skills or a trusted adviser and speaker who can communicate the rallying cry on their behalf.

Finally, it's extremely important that the leader be able to understand the psychology of their opposition. Doing so will empower them to gain the ear of those who resist. Sometimes resistance is nothing more than fear dressed as aggression or hate. The ability to allay those fears by showing the benefits of becoming aligned takes significant skill and ability while yielding results useful for more than the constituent group.

Sponsored Link:

HBR's 10 Must Reads on Communication (with featured article "The Necessary Art of Persuasion," by Jay A. Conger)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What October 1 Means

An email from one of the officers of the Los Angeles chapter of California Staffing Professionals reached me today. The subject line read "What does October 1 mean to you?" I had an immediate visceral reaction to the heading. I began reading it; my next reaction was not as acute but still strong. The message related to the deadlines approaching on October 1 in which employers need to provide various notifications to their employees.

In case you aren't aware, my first path was law. After being in support positions for many years, I was able to appreciate that work and realize I needed more challenge and more knowledge. Those introductory years were useful for making the decision to sit for the LSAT and apply to law schools. After more than a year and a half of attending law school, disruptions happened that caused me to have to leave. The evaluation period before making the applications was useful for focusing on a specialty and why. But there were detours that needed to happen in order to enrich the future and make a more insightful practitioner and counselor.

Law is like breathing for me; it gives me life. It propels me where little else (except music) does. Law loves me and seduces me to return to it. Where I initially planned to be a either a transactional law or tax lawyer and engage in public interest law as a social mandate in my private life, it appears the reverse is actually my path. If only I could slice through the jungle of barriers that would make re-entry possible.

But back to October 1 and what it means to me.

What October 1 means to me is the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. No matter where we are, we're in a workplace where the need to be aware and sensitive to the issues of violence and safety are paramount. No matter where we are, we're in a workplace where bullying and harassment can become issues. And when it comes to background checks and something bizarre comes up in our reports, be mindful of the fact that some survivors do not feel compelled to reveal that they have that status. What's paramount to them is that they need to get a job in order to pay bills and rent and buy food in order to continue to survive.

There are at least five types of abuse. It's critical to be aware of the dynamics of each of them. Psychological abuse is aimed at shattering a person's self confidence. It leaves no physical scars nor visible maiming but it nevertheless leaves a profound impact on the survivor that makes them question their validity at nearly every turn. Isolation can come from exacting defamatory impressions about the target that discourage others from associating with them. The defamation will lead to failed attempts at gaining meaningful employment as well as social relationships.

Economic and financial abuse will leave the target's financial history tarnished at best. They will find their credit records in shambles. They will be accused of stealing or other financially objectionable behavior. Their assets - and everything they have slaved to earn and amass for their own future - are now in then hands of their abuser. And the abuser (who has access to all of the target's personal identifying information) has managed to take possession of the target's property of every type.

Fear is another tool used by the abuser. They use it with such expert precision. It's useful for trying to avoid more painful situations or just plain pain. Fear of loss of valued things or associations can be a source of instilling a need to avoid pain and suffering.

Pain and suffering goes along with physical abuse. We've all seen images of the black, puffy eyes or the crumpled and twisted nose. We've heard about the objects shoved into human flesh. Some of us have even heard the thumps and bumps on walls and heard the arguments accompanied by screams of pain.

But what about the temporary restraining orders that were quashed by the non-comprehending judge pro tem? That act then left the survivor exposed to any type of harm the abuser decided to exact upon their target. The well-meaning soul who wanted to reconnect the two individuals because the abuser talked about how they regret their past acts. Little do these well-meaning samaritans realize the grief and regret expressed by the abuser is feigned in order to induce betrayal of their target's whereabouts. Therefore, the harm will resume.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is very important. I wish more people would take it more seriously and not make condescendingly sympathetic sounds that are meaningless. It would be good if people were truly able to relate to how important it is to all of the workers in the work environment, whatever it is.

Sponsored Link:

Reflections of a Domestic Violence Prosecutor: Suggestions for Reform

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Terminology Issues About Consultants

Some months ago, a colleague ("Willie") posted that he was looking for a consultant to work on a project. The work would be performed from the consultant's home office. That sounded fine. But the more he talked about what he wanted to do, the more problematic things became. Many attempted to call his attention to the nagging issues but he would not hear any of the objections. Let's look at some of the troublesome matters that started surfacing so that your search for an independent consultant doesn't travel down the same path.

There was the implied statement (considering this was a consulting position) that the person would not be an employee. We hit critical mass when Willie said, "Am I being over the top by giving them 60 seconds to snap a picture of their office and send it to me?"

That's a great way to test whether the person is tech savvy enough to take a photo and then send that photo to someone within 60 seconds. You'd think it's one way to not get some stock, royalty-free photo of a virtual office that's been scraped from the Web.

Some attempted to point out that what Willie received may not be the actual home office of the consultant. It may be the conference room of a vanity office. Or it may be a booth at Starbucks. And then there's that royalty-free stock photo from the Web that the person is holding out as a representation of their home office. Some hinted that the request was a bit invasive.

What Willie started telling the rest of those who joined the conversation was what he was actually seeking. Some of it had tax ramifications. For example, "I just want them to confirm they have the capacity to work remotely. In my world, that would be someone who is organized and with a dedicated space to work." He wanted to know that it is clean, not cluttered, organized, and free of distractions (crying babies, kids running, barking dogs). He wanted some assurance that the consultant had all the tools necessary to complete the project. After all, Willie's brand was at stake. To these issues, he said, "If this was a 2 day project - then I could care less where they do it....but this will be for the entire year and I'll need some degree of reliability."

Someone in the conversation challenged Willie about the job description specifics by feigning an intent to announce the job to their circles and contacts. They raised important issues that were not included in the search criteria.
You're looking for a software developer for some unknown application, website, program. We're not certain of what language will be used to write the program but it needs to be developed, written, tested, legitimized, and delivered within a year. The work will be done remotely. The work CANNOT be done from anywhere except one's home - and a picture of that is required in order to be in the running. The pay is $50 per hour. No extras nor mileage.

Is that the job description? Does the candidate need any certifications or degrees? Do they need to show examples of other projects they've worked on and completed? Will there be any type of in-person interview or will they ever be required to do any travel - even to the home office? If so, how often and will that be covered?
The challenge was rebuffed as going in the wrong direction of interpreting the search. Friends of Willie with strong, confident voices, joined the rebuff. I teased Willie with speculation about other things besides the uploaded photo of their home office space within 60 seconds. And I conjectured that he would begin to add to the requirements of this requisition by demanding proof that it's a computer that belongs to the candidate. And then it will be the style of computer; then the model; then the peripherals it uses. Anything to narrow the player field. Willie's a good-natured guy (although he sometimes tries to sound gruff). He agreed that he would be adding knock-out requirements, such as those tossed out, in order to narrow the field to the

Employee cf. Contractor Conditions

Willie never said whether he would be paying for the tools and equipment that the consultant would be using for the project. Nor did he say whether he controlled when the work was to be done. The more he talked, the more it sounded like Willie was looking for an employee, not an independent consultant or independent contractor. If he actually wanted a consultant, he was heading for a cliff. There are certain conditions that define a consultant as distinguished from an employee.

Let's look at the definition of an employee as defined by Vanderbilt University. "An employee is an individual who performs services that are subject to the will and control of an employer-both what must be done and how it must be done. The employer can allow the employee considerable discretion and freedom of action, so long as the employer has the legal right to control both the method and the result of the services." Now taking that definition into consideration and comparing it to the screening requirements of Willie, it sounds like he's actually looking for an employee who has a rather confusing and vaguely deceptive title of "consultant."

Vanderbilt continues its discussion of employee vs. consultant by then explaining what an independent contractor is. "An independent contractor is an individual over whom the employer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not the means and methods of accomplishing the result." Given the various things Willie said about what he wants from his "consultant," it still sounds like he's seeking an employee.

It may be useful to know that the Internal Revenue Service has provided 20 questions to ask in order to parse out how the person should be viewed. (See IRS Revenue Ruling 87-41) If the situation is still cloudy after going through those criteria, it's recommended that the relationship be viewed as one of employer-employee and not that of retaining the services of an independent consultant.

Chances are, you're scratching your head and wondering about how to treat other types of relationships. Specifically, you're wondering how to manage situations in which you're trying to define the difference among Employee, Volunteer, Intern, or Independent Contractor. It's easy to find all of those answers in one place by visiting the definitions provided by International Catholic University's reference page.

Loose Use of Terminology

I still have the impression my colleague, Willie, was talking about hiring an employee and not an independent consultant. He contemplated exerting a lot of control over how the work was accomplished. Although not addressed, it appears Willie was very focused on the tax classification of the worker. Although he said he was recruiting for a consultant, it appears that was a misnomer. He took the time to clarify that what he wanted the photo to accomplish was prove that the candidate has a dedicated, organized work space at home. Given how he plans to narrow the field of those to be considered, I have the impression Willie's small requirement is going to get him into some big trouble down the road.

During a conference session this morning, I learned the IRS now has a hybrid of the 20-questions test which is referred to as the "economic realities test". From the consultant's desk, it appears the requirement to show proof of a dedicated work space is the first step of exerting control over the consultant. It appears some clarifying questions and answers need to happen. Then again, maybe Willie didn't tell us that he plans to pay for several benefits and perform withholding on behalf of his "consultant."


Monday, March 25, 2013


You may have come to the point of anticipating the posts that Charity Rowell was writing as she interned on The Consultant's Desk. Her mission was to share with us the concepts she was learning through her studies. We grew with her as she talked about concepts she gained from her classes in Human Resource Management, protocols that are being taught, interpretations of terminology, and other wisdom coming from the advanced education system.

She did a good job of sharing what she's getting from the classes she attended. We benefited by her generous sharing of the documents she produced as class projects. They can serve as models when you need a starting point for something similar.

Charity was an intern in search of real world experiences and places to share the development of her education. It seems she reached that plateau. She wanted to stretch into unexplored areas. We decided it was time for her to start making her management decisions on her own blog. You can continue to follow the evolution of her development there.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Succession Planning Papal Style

The danger is real. A certain routine becomes so ingrained that we stop thinking about alternatives. We do no planning nor stretching to reach greater heights of accomplishment. Worse yet, we forget about those who will succeed us when we're gone. The consequence of that is leaving a vacancy, a void that must be filled by another who doesn't have the benefit of our tutelage and mentorship.

Pope Benedict XVI announced last week that he is going to resign on February 28. To say the announcement cause a small stir would be more than understatement. But it brings up a concern that definitely needs to be addressed by all organizations. The papacy is a prime example of the consequences of following an unwise practice to the detriment of the organization.

The Church has gone for more than 600 years without doing any formal succession planning. Of course the stations and protocols and deportment are followed. Etiquette is closely observed. But when it comes to choosing a new pope, little to nothing has been done to groom some logical candidates for the office. The Cardinals must look among their followers (of the cloth) and determine who is the most enlightened to take the reigns after the previous person who held the position died. Then the Cardinals sit in their secret chamber and cast their votes, waiting for the magical moment when they can send up a plume of white smoke that signals they have successfully voted for the right person to lead The Church for the next several decades.

Unfortunately, the successor then needs to rely on more superstition (that he will not die a brief time after being selected by the august body of Cardinals) and embark on what that particular person presumes is the correct direction for The Church and its followers. Has there been time for conversations about policy or change? Maybe but for the most part, those thoughts were sent up in sermons and papers. The reasoning behind the conclusions is vague and not part of a public record.

The resignation of Benedict raises some additional issues that most corporations and businesses include in their officers and directors plans - in the bylaws. Provisions for an annuity, a retirement fund, protocols for how to treat the outgoing Pope compared with the inductee. As a person who has retired, does the former Pope still follow the strictures that normally apply to a priest or does this person become a lay person? Now that he is no longer part of the inner circle, someone must determine whether he can continue to be associated with it and to what degree. What types of things will the outgoing pope be allowed to do is another matter that needs to be considered.

Corporate bylaws provide that should a director or officer reach a point wherein they are no longer able to fulfill the duties of their office, they may take a leave of absence until the condition is brought under control. In the alternative, they may step down from office permanently, providing the body with a date when the resignation will take effect, and request that the Board select a successor. Informally, the Board will consult with the outgoing officer to review potential candidates for the seat. Among the candidates will be those who were put into the succession pool. If none of them prove adequate for the directions in which the organization needs to go, a Selection Committee (like the College of Cardinals) will be created and a search will begin for a successor.

The point is, there are "i"s to be dotted and "t"s to be crossed. There are people who have been in the pipeline who were being groomed for taking the reigns at the right time. But The Church hasn't been functioning in that way. Perhaps because it got into a rut and started doing things according to the old adage of "but that's the way we've always done it" instead of looking at retirement, and not death in office, as another policy matter that's handled in a business manner.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Do Your Employees Really Need Training?

During the economic recession, companies cut back on employee training. Now that the economy is recovering, many companies are renewing their training programs. In some cases this renewed commitment to employee training and development is needed to increase employee engagement. However, some companies view training as a "one size fits all" solution to decreased employee engagement.

Before you jump on the training band wagon, you might want to consider performing a training needs assessment (TNA). A TNA is an activity that helps to determine if training is needed. 

Why should you perform a TNA? First, a TNA will prevent you from implementing training for performance issues when those issues are not related to the employees' lack of knowledge, skills, and/or abilities (KSAs). Second, a TNA will ensure that your training program has the correct objectives, content, and methods. Third, a TNA will help you to determine if your employees have the basic skills to understand the training material(s). Fourth, a TNA that involves upper and middle management as well as experienced employees will help you gain the support you need to implement an effective training program.

A TNA has five parts:
  1. The reason(s) for the training. Examples of the reasons for training include new laws/regulations, poor employee performance, new products or technology, customer satisfaction, and so on.
  2. An organization analysis determines organizational goals, if the organization has the resources (personnel, equipment, or money) to perform the training, and if poor employee performance is caused by a gap in KSAs or a lack of motivation.
  3. A task analysis identifies the tasks that employees perform to do their jobs. The task analysis includes how frequently the task is performed, it's importance in performing the job well, and if the task requires previous experience or training in order to be performed well (difficulty). Also, the task analysis should include the KSAs that employees need in order to perform the task.
  4. A person analysis determines if employees have the basic skills needed to understand the training material and if employees understand the training's relevance to their job duties.
  5. The desired outcomes are basically what you expect employees to learn from the training.
There are many methods you can use to obtain the data necessary to perform these analyses: annual reports, questionnaires and surveys, employee performance appraisals, subject matter expert panels, interviews, market research, existing job and/or task analyses, or manuals and handbooks. 

The bottom line is this: by not performing a TNA, you run the risk of wasting the company's money and time on a training program that is irrelevant, unnecessary, or incomprehensible to employees. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

At Will Employment: A Case Study

In the previous post we defined what at-will employment is and examined some of the exceptions to at-will employment. At this point you might be saying, "Charity, discussing at-will employment is like beating a dead horse." I disagree. The term "at-will employment" is one that has been used so often that everyone assumes that we understand its implications, and we do not.

What happened to pique this interest in the "at-will" verbiage and disclaimers?  My partner, who I will call "Rufus" for the sake of his privacy, was injured at work. His employer sent him to an occupational health doctor who diagnosed the injury as knee strain. The doctor gave Rufus some pain relieving balm, told him to rest the knee, and sent him back to work. Two days later, Rufus’s knee had worsened and his employer sent him back to the same doctor. The doctor diagnosed the injury as "arthritis," advised Rufus to take ibuprofen for the swelling, and sent him back to work. 

Three days later, Rufus's condition was still worsening and his employer refused to send him back to the doctor because of the doctor's previous diagnosis. Rufus advised his supervisor that he was unable to perform his duties safely and effectively due to the knee injury, stated that he would seek medical attention for his knee, and left work early. 

Rufus didn't have insurance and decided to go to an urgent care facility the next day because it was cheaper than going to the emergency room. The next day Rufus called his supervisor and the site's HR manager 3 hours before his shift started to inform them that he was going to urgent care to have a doctor examine his knee and would be absent for the day. The urgent care doctor examined Rufus's knee and advised him that the knee was sprained.  The doctor advised Rufus that he could not stand for long periods of time and placed Rufus on work restriction for three weeks.

Immediately after the doctor's visit Rufus called the site’s HR manager to advise him of the work restriction. The HR manager advised Rufus that his employment was terminated due to "attendance" and refused to consider the circumstances surrounding Rufus's absences. Rufus had not been counseled or disciplined for absenteeism, he passed the post-accident drug screen administered by his employer, and Rufus had been clear that his absences were caused by his work-related injury. We then consulted with a lawyer who advised us that we had no case against the employer.

Why did the lawyer say that we had no case? After all, what the employer did should be illegal since it violated state laws regarding worker's compensation thus Rufus's case should be covered by the public policy exception. Unfortunately, Rufus needed to prove the employer's intent and was unable to do so. Rufus was fired due to excessive absenteeism and the reason for Rufus's absences was not documented. Simply put, Rufus could not prove that the employer fired him because of his work-related injury.

You might be asking, "What about the disciplinary procedures in the employee handbook? Wouldn't that pertain to Rufus's situation?" No, because Rufus lives in a state that does not recognize implied contracts. Lastly, it may seem that Rufus's situation was not handled in "good faith." While that assessment may be true, it does not apply to Rufus because he lives in a state that does not recognize the covenant of good faith exception.

What I hope you will understand is the fact that as an employee (or HR student), you need to be aware that the ability to leave one's job at any time comes at a price. It is up to you as an employee to understand what that price is and what your rights are before you agree to those terms. It is up to HR associates to explain the benefits and consequences of at-will employment to applicants and employees in plain language.

If you are interested in learning what your rights are, you can Google "[state name] labor department." Also, the U.S. Department of Labor offers a webpage, DOL Services by Location, which provides links to your state's labor department.

Thank you for reading, and best wishes.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Value of Undercover Boss

It's important for the boss to get a hands-on sense of how the business is operating and who's responsible for keeping the ship afloat. Some bosses simply don't have a sense of what the business is about until they (quite literally in some instances) get their hands dirty with the typical grind. That's why "Undercover Boss is so important to business executives.

There are far too many instances of executives who run a business by top-down orders and who don't try to find out what's actually happening on the floor or in the field that makes those orders unrealistic.

More importantly, those in the job market have an opportunity to do business and company research about opportunities either in that company or else in that industry. People have the ability to see more than the typical job out there waiting to be filled.

At-Will Employment Simplified

In the previous post we discussed my struggle with creating an at-will employment disclaimer for the staffing manual. It was mentioned that many applicants may not understand the potential benefits and consequences of at will employment and we will pursue this train of thought in this post.

Before we go any further in this discussion, it is important to understand what at-will employment is. In short, at-will employment means that your employer can fire you or ask you to resign at any time, for any reason or no reason, and with or without notice. Conversely as an employee, you can leave your employer at any time for any reason or no reason and with or without notice. You might be thinking, "There's an exception to every rule." If so, then you are correct. There are a few exceptions to at-will employment.

The first exception is called the "public policy exception" which means that an employer cannot fire you if the reason violates state law, or if you refuse to violate state law.

The second exception, "implied contract," means that any policies and written or oral promises that are made by your employer may constitute an employment contract (some call this a "gentleman's contract" or "handshake agreement"). However, many states support disclaimers that are used to invalidate the policies and promises made that guarantee the terms of employment. Also, some states do not automatically assume that the presence of a disclaimer cancels an implied contract and a few states do not recognize implied contracts (with or without a disclaimer). In short, even if your employer has outlined a disciplinary process in its employee handbook or promised you employment for a specific period of time, your employer may not have to follow that process or wait before firing you.

Finally, the "covenant of good faith exception" states that an employer cannot fire an employee in "bad faith." Simply put, this means that your employer cannot fire you for dishonest reasons such as to avoid paying for retirement or severance benefits. However, most states do not recognize this exception.

Hopefully this has helped to better your understanding of the at-will disclaimers that you see on employment applications or in your employee handbook. The next post will demonstrate the importance of understanding these disclaimers before you sign an application or an employee handbook.

Thank you for reading, and warm regards.

Monday, January 07, 2013

At-Will Employment: An Employee's Perspective

During the winter break I prepared some work samples to share with readers and prospective employers.

While putting the final touches on the staffing manual that is included in the work samples, I recalled struggling with the application form because of the legal verbiage that is seen on the last page of many application forms. This verbiage asks the applicant to confirm that the information the applicant provided is true to the best of her/his knowledge, that the applicant understands that a job offer may be contingent upon factors such as drug test and criminal background check results, and the disclaimers that discuss the terms of employment.

I became so frustrated that I asked my mentor, Yvonne, if the ability to create this legal verbiage from scratch was relevant. She pointed out to me that HR students needed to understand what the legal verbiage meant because we would need to explain it to applicants and because we needed to understand the laws that the legal verbiage referred to. That was when it hit me. While many applicants and employees can recite the "at-will disclaimer" verbatim, they may not truly understand what it means or understand its implications. I know I didn't until I encountered a situation in my personal life that made me realize the benefits and consequences of at-will employment.

In the next post we will continue this discussion by defining what at-will employment means in plain English. Until then, thank you for reading.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Work Samples Now Available

The holiday season and the start of a new year usually marks a point in time in our lives when we reflect upon our accomplishments during the previous year and set goals to achieve during the new year.  Since I have been on winter break and preparing myself for another year of college courses, I have used this time to read, edit, and finalize past coursework to present to our followers and prospective employers as work samples.  I included the staffing manual that I have discussed in previous posts, ideas to improve public and employer acceptance of U.S. labor unions, a paper that discusses some sexual harassment terminology and why a sexual harassment policy is needed in organizations, a case study discussing off-duty behaviors and gender identity, 
ethical dilemmas in HR, a paper that discusses different forms of discrimination and offers solutions to prevent discrimination, and a marketing plan for a fictitious company that I created.

I will be adding more to this folder as I complete more course projects; this includes the training program I will need to develop for a real or fictitious company for the training and development course that begins on January 7th.  I will post updates to this blog when I add new content to the folder, and I will also alert followers via my LinkedIn and Twitter accounts.

You can follow this link to access my work samples on Google Drive without signing in.  Please feel free to share any ideas, comments, or feedback with me via this blog, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Earning Letters to Be a Leader

A recent community discussion was raised about the need for a degree and/or certification in order to be eligible for hire as a Human Resource professional. Many perspectives are offered in that discussion. Most lean toward experience and skill plus certification. I remember a lecture from my undergrad Management instructor about being a leader and the qualifications for that role. He set forth the concept that you don't need to have a degree nor a background in the business nor industry that you're leading. What you do need is a knowledge of how to run a business and how to lead. The other details can be delegated to trusted advisers and consultants who are experts in that particular area and who do not have some hidden agenda for power grabbing of their own.

A university degree says the individual has been taught how to think and reason through issues. They have been exposed to the latest principles and concepts. They have managed to pass the academic tests structured to evaluate how well they grasped those concepts. Unfortunately, it became vogue during the '80s and '90s to negotiate an A in whatever course was taken so that the true value of the grade was watered down. Even having a 4.0 academic standing now leaves room for speculation.

Certifications are good milestone checks for how well a person has gained a good understanding of the principles. To the extent they are required at periodic intervals and evaluate new practices and concepts in addition to the basics, they are very useful. But certifications are expensive propositions. In this economy, they are for those who have the funds to take them or work for an employer who is willing to sponsor taking the test.

Which brings me back to the qualifications of a leader. The person has proven experience from many situations and venues. They understand the importance of continued education and endeavor to stay abreast of technology and practices. They look to case studies for guidance where they have no direct experience of their own.

To the extent they demonstrate the essential characteristics of a professional in deportment, demeanor, appearance, and respect for others, in addition to using good judgment, the person without all the letters but with a great amount of experience is just as qualified in many respects.

As a closing thought, some years ago a woman who was a practicing lawyer talked with me at a networking function for recruiters and HR pros. She wanted to transition from law to HR but was getting a lot of resistance and being told she didn't have the necessary qualifications. What I interpreted was that HR folk are extremely territorial. Even though she had the advantages of being a professional from another industry as well as the necessary knowledge of the law as it would apply in essentially all of the situations that would present to her, the established population didn't want an outsider to infiltrate the ranks. Incidentally, I've checked her LinkedIn profile and it appears she finally broke through.

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