We Get The Laws We Deserve

When an employer calls the employment lawyer, it’s usually to say, “I want to [insert questionable hr behavior]. Can I?”

Of course, what they really mean is “may I do it?”, and what they are really asking is, “Is what I want to do legal?”

The employment lawyer usually answers, “it depends,” and then proceeds to ask the client a number of questions about the factual situation, and gives the client a brief discourse on the relevant law.

Given that attorneys and accountants are the most valuable business partners that many businesses (particularly small businesses)  have, I think that “it depends” is the wrong answer in a vast majority of cases. The better answer is asking the client “why do you want to do that?”

Let’s face it – we get the laws  we deserve. We have anti-discrimination employment laws against certain protected classes because of a history of employment discrimination against those classes. More classes will be added, and more laws created, because discrimination continues. We have laws against retaliatory discharge because too many employers fired people who squealed, instead of fixing the problem being squealed about. We have wage and hour laws because too many employers will undervalue and overwork people who are desperate to feed themselves and their families.

So the next time a client calls and asks, “I hate gay people, and I don’t want to ever hire one. Is that legal?”, I am begging employment lawyers to be good business partners and community citizens, and not give  a discourse about the state of anti-gay discrimination legislation in your jurisdiction. Instead, explain to the client why taking a stance against hiring an entire class of population is a poor business practice in general, and how that business practice is not in the best financial interest of the client.

Do this for every questionable employment practice you are asked about. It will save you, and the client, from having to deal with the law that will inevitably follow.

[Author’s note 07/21/11 – Congress introduced a bill on July 18, 2011 that would make the unemployed a protected class by preventing hiring discrimination against them. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. ;-)]

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CARNIVAL OF HR – Time Of the Season

Yesterday was the first day of summer, and what better way to start the season than with a carnival? So apply some bug spray, grab some cotton candy, and ENJOY!


“Strange voices are saying things I can’t understand” – from Cruel Summer, Bananarama

Summer does not mean an escape from employment and compliance for the HR pro. Eric Meyer  tells us what to know about providing employees with time off at The Employer Handbook and Jessica Miller Merrill cautions about Twitter related terminations at Blogging 4 Jobs.

Finally, in a post I wasn’t given permission to insert but am doing so anyway because I loved the title, we have the folks at I9/E-Verify discussing how the ICE has put a chill into summer.


“Seasons change and so did I, you need not wonder why” – from No Time, The Guess Who

Seasons are always about change of some kind: change of clothes, change of weather, change of attitude. Our bloggers that recognized and wrote about this include Robin Schooling of HR Schoolhouse, who discusses her worst HR job and the changes it brought.

Also discussing change are Laura Schroeder of Working Girl asking what attrition is good for, and Steve Roesler at All Things Workplace discussing the changes that come with a new boss.

Rounding out the change theme was Erik Samdahl at i4cp, who tells us about agility and the willingness to change as a best practice among best companies.


“In the summertime when the weather is hot, you can stretch right up and touch the sky”

from In The Summertime, Mungo Jerry

Many of our carnival writers recognize that summertime is a good time for personal reflection and growth, like Sri Subramanian of the Talented Apps team, who tells us that performance reviews come around like the seasons, and to use that self-evaluation wisely.

Jennifer V. Miller at The People Equation suggests using the summer to create a “career bucket list.” Lyn Hoyt, guest blogging at Working Girl, discusses work-life balance and making time for everything.

Rob Lockard discusses a related, but slightly different season – graduation season. A commencement address became the inspiration for his post about The Lovejoy of the Season.

Finally, we have Naomi Bloom writing Harry’s and Naomi’s Rules To Live By. Hoe many of these rules do YOU live by – and how many will you embrace this summer?


That Championship SeasonPulitzer Prize-winning play by Jason Miller

Lois Melbourne loves the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, and she uses her blog at Aquire, Inc. to analyze how their organizational talent management created their championship team. Also discussing talent mangement is Jay Kuhns of NoExcusesHR, who wants you to determine what that phrase means within the four walls of your own organization.


“Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom” – from Summer Breeze, Seals and Crofts

Some contributors took the theme quite literally, and contributed posts specifically about the summer season or issues that are specific to the summer, like Evil Skippy, who hilariously discusses the summer vacation request, and what to do about employees who try to beat the system. Another humorous look at summer HR issues is Stan the HR Stand-up Man (Ian Welsh), who discusses all kinds of summer issues, like dress codes.

Interns are usually a specific-to-summer HR issue, and Susan Heathfield at About.com gives you pointers on how to make your summer intern program sing.

In her aptly named post, “Summertime”, Alive HR author Krista Francis compares the organizational lifestyle to the changing seasons, and Kevin Eikenberry wants you to learn six ways to work and lead differently this summer.

Camping is a huge summertime activity in my home state of Michigan, so I was pleased to read that the Brits enjoy this summer ritual, too, according to Doug Shaw at What Goes Around Limited in his post Windy, Wet and Wonderful.

To wrap everything up, why not watch and listen to Dwayne Lay of LeanHR give a weather report from his current professional travels in Europe. He’ll talk about change management, too. 😉







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Facebook and the NLRB – Don’t Believe Everything (Or Maybe Anything) In the Blogs

You know about this case, right?

I’m talking about the case of the Connecticut ambulance company that fired an employee after she posted negative comments about her boss. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed an action against the company maintaining that the firing was illegal; the ambulance company and the NLRB reached a settlement last week. There is so much misinformation and inaccuracy floating around the Web right now about this case that it’s ridiculous to even list or link to them all. If you insist, here, and here are a couple of offenders. Here’s why they are wrong:

1. FREE SPEECH – This case isn’t about free speech at all. Not one single, solitary sliver. The firing didn’t impact the employee’s free speech rights, and the settlement doesn’t validate any free speech rights. The case is about “protected concerted activity“, which all employees are allowed to engage in pursuant to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  The law states that employees have the right to discuss wages, hours, working conditions, etc. without fear of retaliation or punishment. That is NOT constitutional free speech, but a worker right granted by statute. If these writers don’t understand the difference between the Constitution and a statute, they need to go back to high school civics.

2. UNION OR NON-UNION – The NLRA applies to all employers and employees, with some specific exceptions that are not relevant here. When articles say that non-union employers are not impacted, they are dead wrong, because ALL employees have the right to engage in protected concerted activity. It is the conversation about wages, hours, and working conditions that allow employees to make reasoned choices about unionization, which is why it is allowed by statute. At least that is the theory.

3. AT-WILL EMPLOYMENT – Employers in an “at-will” jurisdiction do not have to have a reason to terminate an employee.  BUT – they cannot terminate an employee for an illegal reason, like sexual or religious discrimination, or whistle-blowing. Commentators who say there is no impact in an at-will jurisdiction don’t understand the concept at all, and are dead wrong. Even at-will employers cannot legally fire someone for talking about their working conditions.

The issue in this case is simple: Was the employee Facebook post, and her comments in response to others, a conversation about working conditions at her place of employment? If so, it is protected concerted activity that the employer may not legally prevent or punish.

Since Facebook posts are pretty clearly an attempt to start a conversation or to encourage someone to listen to you, I don’t see why this is even questionable, unless the employee was writing about her dog or cat and not about working conditions.  The case is really no different than if the woman was standing around the coffee shop talking with her co-workers about her boss.  Facebook is just digital conversation around a virtual water cooler. This is what the NLRB wants employers to recognize.

Some bloggers want to turn it into more than this, or into something else altogether.  Don’t believe them.

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Boehringer’s Black Sheep (You Can’t Balance Work And Life)

You can’t separate work and life.

I cringe every time I read or hear the phrase “work/life balance“.  You can’t cut work and life in half and then plop each on a scale until you’ve achieved some kind of false equilibrium.  Each is a part of the other, and you have what property lawyers call “an undivided interest in the whole”.

I first learned this to be true when I was a police officer. (Look here for another time I have written about being a police officer, and to see me younger and in uniform ;-)).  At the time, officers in my city were divided into roughly 3 equal groups, each group staying together and rotating work times from days to midnights to afternoons every calendar month. My group of 8 or 10 officers was truly a team, and we socialized almost exclusively with each other.  Our work lives and personal lives were entwined; we were truly a family.

Except for Ray Boehringer.  Ray didn’t socialize or goof off with us.  Ray was our Lieutenant and shift commander; he was our boss and he was in charge.  Police work is serious business, and Ray believed that its supervision demanded a certain amount of militaristic aloofness.  He wasn’t our buddy, but he cared about us and tried to guide us to be good workers, even though we were vocally critical of and often argued with the city that employed us.  We called ourselves Boehringer’s Black Sheep.

Late one evening, when my team was working midnights (11 pm until 7am), I frantically called Ray about 10pm.  I told him that I had just discovered that my husband (soon to be my ex-husband) had been cheating on me, and that I was so upset and stressed that I couldn’t possibly come to work.  Ray immediately understood that the separation of my life from my job was impossible.  He told me not to worry about it and to just keep checking in with him until I was sufficiently calmed and could do my job.  I think it took me three days before I was able to come back to work, and to this day I don’t know what Ray did to keep me – and himself – out of trouble (police officers have pretty strict rules of attendance and I probably broke them all).

Ray understood, without a college education and without hearing about “work/life balance”, that I couldn’t just dismiss my personal pain and anguish to drive out into the night in my police car without potentially jeopardizing the safety of my fellow officers or a member of the community.   He went out on a limb to protect that mesh of work and life, because it gave him a better work group and made him a better manager.  He may not have gone out to the bar with us after work, but  he knew that the intense personal life closeness between all of us was an advantage to our work relationship, and he exploited it without becoming part of it.

Ray Boehringer died a short time ago, and I thank him for this work-life lesson.  RIP.

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WANTED: State Governor;No Exp Necessary

I have been attending an online conference called The Career Summit 2010, which is about finding, seeking, or keeping a job. In the session titled “Job Search 2.0”, Anita Bruzzeze was discussing what employers were demanding in this new market; they expect huge amounts of flexibility from the job candidate,  wanting them to perform multiple functions and across disciplines.  She commented that “you would have to be Batman to fill some of these jobs.”

As someone who has been reading job postings for over two years, that comment really hit home.  Consider this recent CareerBuilder.com job post for an HR Director at a community college in metro Detroit:

So to be an HR Director at a community college you need – or someone thinks you need – to be a lawyer (“preferred”) with significant experience in collective bargaining and considerable experience in HR planning and development, and at least 5 years of HR supervisory experience with all these things – at a community college.  Don’t forget the benefits administration and ability to manage integrated software systems.

It’s particularly frustrating for job seekers to be confronted with these pie-in-the-sky requirements when CEOs of companies, such as Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Rick Snyder,  feel that they can become state governors or senators without any specific qualifications and no elective position experience at all.  They use the term “career politicians” to mock those that have dedicated their careers to elective positions, and claim that their business savvy somehow automatically qualifies them to step into a position that requires coalition building and consensus establishment.  I would like them to submit a comprehensive statement – like the requirement in the job post above – of their experience with and approach to passing effective legislation that will solve the problems of our states and country.

What do you think? Are we asking too much of our potential employees and not enough of our elected officials?

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It’s my one year blogiversary!  I posted my first blog, which was basically just an “intro to me” on October 24, 2009.  It was just a few short months prior that I had been introduced to the online HR community, many of them bloggers.  I knew NOTHING about blogging – except that I wanted to try it.  Now it is one of my favorite pasttimes.  Thanks to everyone (anyone?) reading – I appreciate it tremendously!

I am reposting my first substantive blog in recognition of my anniversary, and in memory of Freckles, the dog I miss so much.

At my direction, my veterinarian killed euthanized this dog today.  He was very old and very sick, and it was my first experience with this most humane and selfless of acts.  Since I have four more dogs at home, it will certainly not be my last act of this kind.  I know that good and responsible pet owners welcome the ability to euthanize their animals to end their pain and suffering; it is the ultimate and final act of kindness to the animal, even though it causes the owner great sadness.

In reflecting on my life with this dog, I found some analogies that could be drawn between pets and employees.  Not, of course, that employees are pets or should be treated like them.  But how WE behave, or should behave, toward our pets can be helpful in defining our HR behavior.


It’s easy for everyone to spend time with a new puppy or a kitten –  they’re so cute and delightful!  Even the youngest owners can’t wait to play with them or stroke them.  But as the puppy or kitten grow into larger animals, many people lose interest in playing with or exercising or engaging their pet.  Their basic needs of food and shelter may be provided, but little else.  Unless the pet needs discipline or restraining, the pet is simply left to amuse itself.  A good pet owner is different – a good pet owner knows that the pet is a vital part of the household and makes sure that the pet is walked, played with, trained, touched, or talked to as much as the pet needs.  Forever.

There is often a similar honeymoon period with a new employee.  HR makes sure the employee is successfully onboard, and hovers a little bit while the employee gains their footing and grows confident in their surroundings. But all too often, once that honeymoon period is over and the employee is trusted to perform on their own, the employee is essentially forgotten.  Sure, the basic needs (pay and benefits) are met.  But no one attempts to engage the employee, to seek him or her out and make sure they remain interested, motivated, trained, or involved.  Unless the employee needs discipline or counseling, the employee is often completely forgotten about by HR.

Good HR is like good pet ownership: there should be resolve to stay interested and engaged with the employee forever – not just the first weeks or months.  Seek out your employee and find out what you both need to do to stay involved with each other.


It is sometimes very difficult for a good pet owner to determine if their pet has a problem that needs attention. Since pets can’t talk, good pet owners are vigilant in watching for signs that the pet is in trouble: Is he eating properly?  Does she seem lethargic?  Is he pooping too much? Too little?  What does the poop look like?  FIVE dogs – and I could tell each one of their feces apart.  I had to, because it is an early – sometimes the only – sign of distress.

Employees can usually speak, so the HR pro doesn’t have to go to such extreme measures to determine if there are problems needing attention and discussion.  Unfortunately, many are not taking the time or making the effort.  When did you last ask an employee if everything was alright, or if there were any issues or concerns that you could help them address?  Too often, we expect the employee to come to us if they need or want something.  But often a problem is not discovered until an exit interview, when it is too late to fix (at least for that employee).  It’s natural for an employee to prefer to be asked to give information, rather than have to demand it be given.

Good HR:  be vigilant and care enough to look for warning signs indicating a problem.  Communicate with the employee and make sure that trouble is addressed as early as possible.  Ask the employee before s/he asks you.


Every good pet owner buys, rescues, adopts or otherwise obtains a pet with the knowledge and agreement that their obligation to that pet is forever.  Good pet owners expect that their home will be the animal’s home forever.  Yes, sometimes unforeseeable and insurmountable problems arise that cause pet and owner to be separated.  Even then a good pet owner will work to re-home their pet so that the pet’s well-being is maintained.  When the time comes for the pet to be released from its physical pain or suffering, the good owner does what is necessary, no matter how hard, to help the pet die in peace and with dignity.

I harbor no illusions that employers have a lifetime obligation to their employees.  But HR should hire an employee with at least an idea that they are going to commit to the employees professional well-being for as long as they possibly can.  If HR has shown that commitment to the employee, consistently engaged and communicated with the employee, and has acted similarly to the good pet owner throughout the employment relationship, the end, even if involuntary, will be more dignified.

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Attitude of Entitlement = Poor Customer Service

Daughter Amy as sketched by a Norwegian Cruise Line employee on the back of a bar ticket (circa 1996)

Customer service is an important issue in the Human Resources world.  As succinctly stated by China Gorman, former COO of SHRM, “As business leaders and HR professionals, we all know about the close relationship between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.”  In the past week or so, China , Trish McFarlane, Mike VanDervort, and Deidre Honner – exceptional HR bloggers all –  have posted about customer service.

I recently returned from a vacation with a desire to write about the same issue, but from a slightly different perspective.  I want to tell you about genuinely helpful and friendly employees who bent over backwards to service my needs, and I am going to theorize why this type of service is so rare that one is surprised and delighted when it occurs.  Especially because it does not involve Zappos. 😉

I went on a cruise.

For 10 days and nights I was aboard a floating hotel city, where my need for food, drink, sleep, recreation, and entertainment was in the hands of one company and their employees.  For those 10 days, I was surrounded by cruise employees with friendly faces and cheerful greetings.  It did not take the wait staff long to learn that I like iced tea a lot, so when I sat down at a table 3 or 4 glasses of iced tea would instantly appear.  My room steward had the sweetest smile and happiest voice ever.  Her “good morning!” always cheered me, even on the day I had a bad eye infection and was running a fever.  It amazes me that she could display such a consistently positive, upbeat demeanor after cleaning my toilet and shower.  I could bore you to death with other examples.

I have been on well over 20 cruises, so I am not a gushing newbie.  I have found that most cruise line employees try very hard to ensure the customer’s satisfaction, although Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) (my recent host), did a truly exceptional job in this area.

So why does the cruise industry, and RSSC in particular, excel in the customer service area when so many other companies fail?  The sad answer, in my opinion, is entitlement.  Many US workers feel that they are entitled to jobs, and many US companies feel they are entitled to customers.  That attitude of entitlement causes both employees and companies to forget that they exist to serve their customers, and leads to the online gripes and complaints that they earned.  Remember Dave Carroll and his broken guitar?

Most cruise ship workers come from economically depressed countries where earnings don’t come close to matching the US and other Western countries.  The workers on my recent cruise -and who I interviewed specifically for this blog – came from Romania, Indonesia, Phillipines, Serbia, and India.  They work for cruise ships because they can earn a lot more money than they can in their countries of origin.  They don’t feel the slightest bit entitled to any job.

Cruise companies aren’t entitled to passengers, either.  Only  20% of Americans have ever been on a cruise, and competition for passengers is fierce.  These companies can’t afford to let lousy customer service make them lose a competitive advantage.

I’m not going to talk about other issues with cruise workers – and yes, I know there are many – in this blog.    Whatever the other issues, I am grateful for the RSSC workers who tried so hard to give me a pleasant vacation experience, and wish more companies and their employees would follow that lead.

Weigh in!  Does an attitude of entitlement foster poor customer service?

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Cultural Generations – A Response to “I’m A Me”

Author’s Note: As the title suggests, this entire blog is written as a response to Paul Smith‘s  “Welcome To the Occupation” blog post entitled “I’m A Me”.  Paul argues that discussion about cultural generations in the workforce is “just a bunch of clatter . . .because it’s simply a battle over words and identity, and the strange need for us to place labels on ourselves in order to have a sense of belonging.”

The author, around 1978
Me, around 1978

I mentioned this before, but I will do so again: I started out my professional life as a police officer in suburban Detroit in the 1970’s.  When I began my police career, professional training and development for police officers was a fairly new concept, less than 20 years old.  Police officers of the time were treated to all manner of training programs, particularly programs which advocated a more thoughtful, knowledgeable approach to dealing with community citizens.

One program that I still remember was presented by a psychologist, and officers were shown a movie made about – you guessed it – cultural generations.  I’m pretty certain that the term “generations” was never used, but the message was clear: many of the citizens we (“we” being mostly baby boomers) were dealing with were members of what is now called the “Silent Generation” – those people born from approximately 1925-1945, whose formative years were hugely impacted by the Great Depression. The training psychologist argued that police officers could respond to our public – their family fights, abandoned cars, unlicensed pets, and all manner of things that police officers must deal with – in a more compassionate way if we actually understood them, as a group, a little better.

So when Paul argues in his blog that generations are “just a label” that we place on ourselves to foster a sense of belonging, and that individual identity is all that is relevant, I am going to respectfully disagree.

Sometimes circumstances don’t allow the employee or employer to know each individual and make a judgment.  Police officers, and anyone who performs public service, uses the tool of generational identity to help them be more understanding and responsive.  If I am an HR practitioner, I want my employees to be aware of and use those tools to be better performers. Isn’t helping identify and guide employee performance an important strategic HR function?

Sometimes, individual identity has to be ignored by the HR practitioner when they are making group decisions.  If I am charged with reducing benefit costs by eliminating some benefits, and my workforce is largely 60 and older, I might decide to reduce family medical coverage in order to maintain a 401(k) match.  I may have some individuals who will prefer a different approach, but I will choose what is best for the larger group of  boomers who likely are concerned far more with retirement funds than with dependent coverage. Sometimes the “me” has to be ignored or overlooked for the perceived good of a group. This isn’t “clatter’ – it’s concern and compromise, based on cultural generational differences.  Again, the knowledge and understanding of the culture of a generation is just one more tool that an HR practitioner might be able to use.

I’d love to hear what you think.

(PS – I know I used that picture of me the last time I wrote about police work and generations.  I only have 3 pictures of me when I was a cop, and I’m not showing you the other 2. :-))

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