5 Ways Companies Mishandle Employee Records

(I am going to be on a short vacation this week – New York City here I come!  This guest post was provided by Jessica Edmondson who contributes on business and leadership issues, such as human resource management, for the University Alliance, a division of Bisk Education, Inc.)

Employees rely on employers to treat their personnel records with care and to maintain their privacy, particularly with highly confidential or personal matters. Mishandling employee records can erode trust and lead to serious repercussions, including legal action.

By reviewing some of the more common and most harmful ways that employers mishandle records, you may be able to prevent the same mistakes from happening at your workplace.

Mistake 1: Giving Employees Unfettered Access

This mistake can happen in one of two basic ways: by providing certain employees with unrestricted access to review the files of others; or by failing to secure records to prevent unauthorized access. Personnel records must be kept under lock and key. Otherwise, it can prove to be too much temptation for others who have no business looking through such records. Although there are circumstances in which a manager may need to see a subordinate’s file, allowing open access might mean making the manager privy to more information than he or she is entitled to and may also constitute a breach of the employee’s right to privacy.

You should secure all employee records, including hard and soft copies, with appropriate controls, such as passwords and locks. Access should be closely monitored and recorded, and should be limited only to those who demonstrate a specific, job-related need to review the records.

Mistake 2: Consolidating Records into a Single File

Employees have several types of information on file, including IRS and payroll records, job applications, performance appraisals and medical information. By putting everything into one file, you run a higher risk of a breach of privacy. For example, a supervisor might have a legitimate need to see a performance appraisal and in the process ends up getting access to the employee’s medical records.

A better practice would be to file records separately by type, such as general employee information, compensation information, and medical or legal information. Then limit access based on specific needs. Medical and legal information typically requires the highest level of security and the most stringent review procedures. Separating records by type also helps ensure that they are retained for the appropriate amount of time.

Mistake 3: Misplacing or Discarding Files When an Employee Leaves

Various laws govern how long employers must retain employee records and failure to abide by those regulations can have significant legal consequences. Misplacing files can be worse than discarding them, as the employer has no way of knowing who has had access to private information or how to recover it.

It’s critical to have a retention policy in place that is in full compliance with all applicable state and federal laws. In addition, you should also have a well-designed filing system so that authorized personnel can access the correct files when needed.

Mistake 4: Failing to Document Important Events

If an employee or former employee files a grievance, the company’s main line of defense is all in the personnel file. The easiest way to guarantee a legal victory for the disgruntled employee in such matters is through a failure to document.

Do you and your management staff document performance issues and keep copies of written reprimands? Do you have a signed acknowledgement that the employee was notified or trained on certain company policies, such as sexual harassment, attendance requirements and the like?  If not, now is the time to start compiling information so that employees can’t say they didn’t know, and managers can demonstrate employee awareness and the company’s attempts to resolve the situation.

Mistake 5: Backfilling the File to Replace Missing Records

If you do find yourself in a legal dispute with an employee and discover that his or her file has no evidence of a history of performance issues, the worst thing you can do is to add or alter documents after the file has been reviewed. Most attorneys are skilled at evaluating the chain of custody of an employee’s personnel file and “missing” documents that are suddenly found almost always backfire on the employer. You’re better off just taking your lumps for failing to properly document issues. Even better, follow the advice in the previous step and establish a policy for employee documentation.

By learning from the errors of others, you can prevent making these same missteps and inadvertently losing the trust of your employees, as well as putting your company at risk for legal action.

Workplace Fraud Prevention

When I was at the annual SHRM conference in June, one of my jobs as an official blogger was to post on SHRM’s conference blog site called Buzz. While I was there I wrote and submitted a post called 5 Awesome Vendors. One of the vendors I wrote about in that post was i-Sight Software.

If you go back and read that post you will notice that I was choosing to spotlight vendors that had gone the extra mile to engage the bloggers, instead of begging to get the bloggers to write about them (for free). i-Sight was chosen as one of my 5 awesome because they asked to interview me, which is a total 180 from how it is usually done.

Yesterday i-Sight posted the blog I was interviewed for, which was about fraud prevention for the small business. You can find it here.

Please give it a read and help support vendors that work to engage the HR community instead of just trying to sell things to them.

June #SHRMChat Recap


Most people who participated in #SHRMChat in June wanted to skip the first two questions – what will SHRM do for your state/local – and dig right into the third- what should SHRM do?

Fair enough.

But in discussing the things that SHRM chatters felt that the national organization should do to for and with the local and state organizations, one theme or idea drove all of the specific suggestions:

The SHRM national organization is out of touch with what is happening at the state and local level.

So what did our chatters suggest SHRM could do to improve this situation? Some ideas:

  •  Send more SHRM staff to state and local functions. Right now, this responsibility seems to be born entirely by the field staff.
  •  Do more to collect data and information on local practices. Make these databases available online so other chapters and councils can view them.  Extend online accessibility to those databases that SHRM already maintains on the locals.
  • Help more to provide quality speakers and programs.  One tweeter even suggested a public feedback mechanism – Yelp for SHRM.
  • Allow locals and states to tap into conference enhancements that SHRM is already utilizing. The smart phone app being used by SHRM for its annual conference was used as an example of the kind of service that could be shared in some way with states and locals, even if there was a need to pay a fee, if the service was competitively priced.
  • Make social media a Core Leadership Area. Identify social media as a CLA and then give locals and states the resources to develop that area the way other CLAs are.  At least one chatter also suggested the inclusion of Conference Director as a CLA. 

Finally, there was also a robust discussion about certification credits through the Human Resources Certification Institute. I am not going to summarize that discussion here, though, because I think that HRCI credits is deserving of its own special chat, so I will save the HRCI recap for a future chat. I also promise to try very hard at SHRM 12 to get someone from HRCI to commit to attending that chat.

Unfortunately, logistics prevented us from doing the second part of the June chat live from Atlanta and the annual SHRM conference. However, we may be able to get some staffers to answer questions formulated around the June chat and recap and post them in blog format. So if you have questions to ask, leave them in the comments for submission to SHRM.

The next #SHRMChat will be on JULY 10th at 8pm EST/7pm CST. We will be discussing all things conference – annual, state, and local. JOIN US!



Blog Copying is Thievery, Not Flattery

I guess it was bound to happen sometime, but I really didn’t expect it to happen to me. After all, I have this small, focused blog about HR and the workplace, which is not exactly exciting to the general population. My monthly readership barely gets into four figures. I didn’t think anyone would care enough to bother.

But last week, it did happen to me. This blog was copied in its entirety and placed on another site. Yes, I was credited and a link back to my original post was placed at the very end. But these were my words, not theirs, although you can hardly tell by looking at their site. It’s called a copyright violation.

At first I tried to shrug it off, claiming that it wasn’t worth worrying about, and it’s flattering when someone else likes your work enough to use it.

But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I was especially angry because the site that took my blog is full of ads from Ad Choices. When my work is copied and pasted on this site – they get the monetary benefit through their advertisers, not me.

I think that ads on most blogs are inherently a conflict of interest. Pet stores want to advertise on pet blogging sites. But what if you really don’t like the pet store? Do you take their money and keep quiet? Do you subconsciously choose your words differently so you don’t offend your advertisers?

I turned down two offers from advertisers before I allowed The Starr Conspiracy’s  HR Blogger Network, partnering with ReTargeter, to advertise on my blog. Yes – there is an advertisement on this blog, in the right column underneath the social media icons. See it?  I agreed to allow HR Blogger Network to advertise because, (1) their ads are inconspicuous and unobtrusive, (2) they target HR practitioners only, which is my basic audience, (3) there is no potential conflict of interest, and (4) I know and trust their marketing guru totally. I earn the cost of about 7 cups of Starbucks Shaken Iced Tea – black, no syrup – monthly. They are awesome and I am happy.

But when other sites take my work without permission and repost it, they are basically feeding their own advertisers instead of mine. They are stealing my earning potential, as well as the earning potential of my advertiser.  If they had asked me, I would probably have offered to write an intro and then linked back to my original site. For free.

But they didn’t ask and now I’m pissed off. Finally.

What should I do? Write them a nasty letter? (I know how to write a cease and desist!) Tell off their advertisers? Have another cup of Starbuck’s Iced Tea?

What would you do?


Mad Men and the Trivialization of Workplace Violence

Suppose for a moment that someone in your small business workplace – a manager, perhaps – entered the empty building on the weekend, locked their office door and committed suicide by hanging. S/he was discovered by another manager on Monday morning. Can you imagine what would happen to your business and its employees?

I can tell you what would not happen: the partners or people in charge would not send everyone home, and then sit around for several hours with the body waiting for “the coroner” to come and “cut the body down”, while the office and corpse remained undisturbed. Then two more partners or managers would show up and decide to force their way into the office to cut the body down themselves.

But this is precisely what happened on the last episode of Mad Men, that popular television series about the personal and professional lives of a small group of people at a fictional New York advertising agency in the 1960’s. Junior partner Lane Pryce hung himself in his office after having embezzled company money and gotten fired for it. His body was discovered by others looking over the top of the wall partition into his office; it was blocking the door so no one could enter.

There was no chaos, no police presence, no investigation. When other partners broke into his office, they cut down the body and also found the resignation letter he was asked to write. It was all very controlled and neat and quiet.

And it was all bullshit.

Anyone who has ever experienced a violent death in the workplace knows that it’s messy. It means calling the police. It means further disruption of your business while the police conducts an investigation, often making other workers sit around waiting for the police to interview and release them. Then the police call the coroner (or medical examiner, depending on jurisdiction) and there is more waiting. After the body is finally removed, the police decide whether to preserve the scene as a crime scene or release it.

Workplace violence actually started to rise to prominence in the 1960’s, although the focus back then was on outsiders or non-employees who were assaulting workers. Today, workplace violence is so prevalent that around 2 million people every year are victims. It is one of the leading causes of work related death in the country. And sometime it is just not preventable, despite OSHA education and suggestions to the contrary.

I recall an incident in my former Detroit suburban neighborhood where a man walked into the dental office where his estranged wife worked and shot and killed her. Ugly and messy? Of course it was. Preventable? Not really. Ultimately, that business was forced to close because it could never recover.

There have been other incidents of workplace violence on this show, notably a fistfight that took place between the now deceased Lane Pryce and Peter Campbell. But that incident, and others, were intended to be comical so the trivial attitude was softened.  And I know that Mad Men is a fictional world, and the creative genius behind the show, Matthew Weiner, has no duty to tell his stories realistically.

But for a TV series that prides itself on realism, this trivialization of the devastation of  a workplace suicide, and the total refusal to deal with what really occurs after it happens, missed the mark. Big time.



Helping Non-HR Do HR – May #SHRMChat Recap


There was one theme that the tweeters returned to frequently in the busy hour that was the May SHRMChat:

Marketing to and educating businesses without an HR function is a huge opportunity that is generally overlooked by most state and local SHRM affiliates.

Most of the chatters admitted that they have a healthy number of members or function attendees that are small business representatives and not specifically HR pros. Some chatters felt that their program offerings were targeted to generic business issues that would benefit everyone, even if their audience was not HR specific.

But more felt that their SHRM affiliate didn’t do enough to market to small business, and needed to reach out to them more specifically instead of waiting for the business to come to the chapter. Some of the suggestions for increasing non-hr attendance at events and programs were

  • Direct marketing and announcements to Chambers of Commerce and local business schools
  • Marketing and reach out efforts through local business press sources
  • Meeting attendance incentives such as free guest attendance and free student admission
  • E-books or other publications on basic HR topics for small business
  • Make sure the Board and volunteer positions includes business pros who are not necessarily HR pros

There was also a robust discussion about the type of programs that would be of interest to small business without an HR function. One of the chatters, Alicia Arenas, a small business strategist, offered some specific suggestions regarding the types of topics or issues that small business wants to address

  • How to have a performance discussion with employees
  • How to motivate employees
  • How to tell when an employee is lying

In short, chapters and councils need to think basic when considering how to attract and educate the business without a dedicated HR pro or consultant.

Finally, the chatters – ever vigilant about how to get their chapters to buy into increased involvement in the non-HR community, discussed how chapters tend to do things that get measured. SHAPE plans that require some type of initiative to reach small business was discussed.  One of my favorite comments was that an initiative that focused on educating and engaging the small business community would be “ripe for a Pinnacle Award.”

Although it wasn’t the last discussion of the chat, this probably best sums up the feelings of the May SHRMchat participants:

Small business access to chapter and council initiatives doesn’t have to mean an increase in membership or revenue. Connecting to your community, and improving human resources business function should be the ultimate goal.

Join us for a special two-part June SHRMChat. Our June topic is “SHRM national – what can they, will they, and should they do for the state/local affiliate?” We will be chatting on Tuesday, June 12, at 8 pm EST/7 pm CST to flesh out these issues in preparation for a special live chat from the SHRM conference in Atlanta. The Atlanta date and time will be announced as soon as it is finalized.

Klout Perks and License Plates

My first Klout perk

When I lease a new vehicle, I make a point of telling the dealership before I take delivery of my car that I do not – do not – want a license plate guard or decal or any other form of advertisement of the dealership on my car. I have never understood why I should advertise this dealership for free for the next 2 or 3 years. I may not even be pleased with them or their service, but they’ll put their rolling advertisement on your car unless you take the initiative to remove it.

Yes, I can be a grumpy bitch.

I always felt that if a dealer offered to compensate me in exchange for my endorsement, like give me a certain amount off the price of the vehicle, or free service of some kind, I might feel a little differently. Then, at least, I wouldn’t feel like I was being taken advantage of and the dealer would be forced to recognize my contribution to its advertising effort.

And this is the reason that I like Klout.

Klout recognizes what all of the car dealerships in the country fail to – your endorsement has value.

Okay, the Klout algorithm is flawed and people can game the system and Klout pays too much attention to Twitter, and . . . I get it.  There are issues and maybe it shouldn’t be taken super seriously yet.

But at least someone is trying to show that most people have some amount of influence. They influence friends and family in the decision making process. And Klout (and their sponsors) is willing to reward people in a tangible way for that influence. Mark Schaefer, adjunct professor of marketing at Rutgers and author of the book Return On Influence is quoted by Wired as saying, “This is the democratization of influence.”

I’m not a celebrity. I don’t have millions of Twitter followers and thousands of Facebook friends. I’m a pretty average Jane. But Klout recognizes that I talk to more people online than an average Joe or Jane does, and their sponsors are willing to pay me with two Stephen King books and a t-shirt for that potential conversation.

I’ll find a way to pay that perk forward, and advertise both Klout and Stephen King’s publisher in the meantime. I won’t be mentioning any car dealers, though.



April #SHRMChat Recap


Our topic for the April #SHRMChat on Twitter was SHRM’s  recently unveiled Social Media Starter Kit. Look here if you need the theme and questions for the chat.  Our guest was the gracious Curtis Midkiff, who has been an enthusiastic supporter of #SHRMChat since the beginning.

We started with a discussion of Twitter, since that is the first tool listed and discussed in the Kit. Curtis explained that Twitter was addressed in the Kit first, because, according to his experience that is the platform that chapters and councils consistently want more information about.  The majority of the chatters decided that is likely because Twitter is hard to learn and hard to do. Some chatters felt that chapters shouldn’t plunge into Twitter without the guidance of someone who was already experienced in its use, which may prevent groups from embracing it totally or properly. But the chatters were, naturally, passionate about Twitter use that is done properly. One of the best things a chapter or council could use Twitter for is to drive engagement at events and meetings.

We moved onto LinkedIn, which also created a lot of difference of opinion from the chatters. Most of the chapters represented at SHRMChat were already using a LinkedIn group with varying degrees of success.  One of my favorite comments of the night came from Lyn Hoyt, Social Media Director for Middle Tennessee SHRM, who said that her chapter’s group was like a “bloated Rolodex.” Another chatter mentioned that their LI group broke down from “spam and drift.”  Chatters agreed that LinkedIn was the least engaging of the tools and that chapters and councils need to work hard to manage their group properly. Curtis mentioned that using a “velvet rope” could keep the spammers and outsiders out, while becoming an excellent tool to recruit new chapter members.

Facebook and blogging didn’t get as much attention, because chatters were still busy with Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook, in particular, suffered from a lack of discussion. Curtis did take time to mention that administrators of Facebook pages should check the insights frequently to see who is engaging on the page and how/why. One of the chatters also offered a great tip on using the new Timeline format to create a history of the chapter/council.

Blogging is a subject that definitely needs to be addressed, although chatters struggled a little with specifics. It was agreed that blogging is a great platform for engaging individual members. Some of the chat discussed requiring chapters to submit blogs to councils and how to get chapters to comply with such rules. It was suggested that councils tie financials to blog submission, and both chapters and councils could create incentives to blog contributions.

Finally, it pleased me to no end to see four new chatters. We have discussed the need to break out of our bubble and spread. Please continue to encourage others to attend #SHRMChat.

We aren’t dangerous. 😉

(Next SHRMChat is May 8th at 8 pm EDST/7 pm CDST. Check back for the discussion theme and questions.)


April SHRMChat — The Social Media Starter Kit

( #SHRMChat will be on April 10, 2012 at 8pm EDT/7pm CDT)

As Curtis Midkiff, Director of Social Engagement at SHRM, promised in a previous SHRMChat, SHRM now has a Social Media Startup Kit available in its Volunteer Leader Resource Center (VLRC). Before you read the rest of this post, or immediately after, I encourage you to download and read the Kit before participating in SHRMChat, because the Kit is the exclusive topic for this month’s chat. Curtis has graciously agreed to be our guest, so you can hear about the Kit from the proverbial horses mouth.

The Kit starts out by giving a brief overview of social media and how its use can benefit the state and local chapter. Yes, this is truly a kit for the chapter who doesn’t have any handle on social media. The kit then discusses the importance of strategy, and cautions readers to make sure that strategy is clear before implementing a social media program. I like that part a lot.

The rest of the Kit is divided by platform or service: Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook. Unfortunately, only the Twitter and LinkedIn sections are currently available. LinkedIn and Facebook are still being developed.

Here are a few questions, but feel free to develop your own after reviewing the kit:

1. Twitter is the first specific platform mentioned in the Kit. But SHRM chatters agreed several months ago that Twitter is a hard platform for a beginner to understand and use. Should SHRM consider re-ordering the discussion of platforms to reflect this?

2. LinkedIn is still being developed, but most chapters agreed previously that is was the one social media application that the members were embracing in large numbers. What advice would you offer Curtis about LinkedIn as he develops this portion of the kit? Open or closed group? Company pages?

3. Facebook comes up last, but is likely the app that most members across the country feel comfortable with. How should the Kit address the whole personal/professional divide that may keep Facebook off their members radar. What other tips could you give? Do you have a page with a Timeline? How is that working for you?

4. Blogging isn’t mentioned at all, yet many of the chatters are chapter bloggers as well as personal. Should there be a section devoted to blogging?

Remember everyone – Tusday, April 10 at 8p Eastern/7p Central! Hashtag= #SHRMChat


SHRMChat – January Recap and February Theme 2012

Seeing the response to SHRMChat and the increasing involvement of interested people and chapters gives me great hope for the use of social media at the state and local chapter level, and for the increased communication between SHRM and it’s affiliates in general. Let’s keep the momentum building!


Our January chatters discussed platforms and their respective goals. Here’s a general summary:

1. Linkedin is the preferred platform.  My own experience tells me that Linkedin is trusted by a larger amount of HR pros, and reaching them where they live seems to be a wise strategy for all of the chapter and council leaders. It was generally agreed that Twitter, which we all know and love as individuals, is too hard to learn for most chapters to adopt as a major communications platform. We are sure that time will change that.  There was little discussion of Facebook as a platform.

2. Not everyone is using specific strategies and/or goals in their social media efforts. Some leaders prefer to use social media in whatever way they see fit, without being tied down to a strategy/goal model. Others have very specific goals in mind when they determine effective strategies. Increase in membership numbers seems to be a common goal.

3. Fear of social media by members is an obstacle to overcome. This issue was also discussed in our first chat.  It is common experience among all of the tweeps that members are fearful of social media, and that fear creates limitations in the success of social media efforts for chapters.  “Baby Steps” is a mantra that is continually repeated during these discussions. Unfortunately, most don’t know how big my feet are – baby steps are just plain hard for me. 😉


As I mentioned in last month’s blog, the people who have participated in SHRMChat so far seem to be very interested in taking this chat beyond social media. Most want to talk about all things SHRM, and it’s interaction with the locals and states we work so hard to support with our volunteer efforts. With that in mind, I have only one theme and related questions for February:

Which programs or issues do you think are important and appropriate for a future SHRMChat?

For example, the SHAPE initiative has already be discussed to a degree as a way to increase social media use among chapters. What other programs should SHRMChat consider discussing in-depth? If we have a particular program or topic assigned in advance, it would be helpful to get someone from SHRM to be a guest and discuss.

PLEASE JOIN US FOR SHRMChat on Tuesday, February 14th at 8:00 pm EST/7:00 pm CST at #SHRMChat on Twitter.