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January 28, 2008

Short takes: deadbeats, EEOC, third places, medical marijuana, and more

Problem employees - Susan Heatherfield of Human Resources of About.com talks about how to manage deadbeat employees: "You know the occasional employee I am talking about. He doesn't show up for work, calls in sick, and milks the time off policy, always walking on the edge, but never falling off. He walks the edge of the work policies and processes, too."

EEOC - Attorney Jonathan Segal lists 6 killer EEO mistakes employers most commonly make in investigating discrimination or harassment complaints in HR Daily Advisor. In a related post, HR Lori shares results of a recent survey, which found that most companies have formal anti-discrimination policies in place, but communicate these policies poorly to managers and employees. Of the organizations responding, 43% reported that they have faced EEOC-protected class harassment charges, discrimination charges or litigation at some point. Also related, Diane Pfadenhauer of Strategic HR Lawyer points us to a recently issued EEOC Fact Sheet on On Employment Tests and Selection Procedures to Screen Applicants and Workers.

Third places - Jim Ware of The Future of Work links to a recently published article on the trend to "third places" - alternatives to the first place, the formal corporate office, and the second place, the home locations - and the need for employers to include the concept of the third place in a comprehensive workplace strategy.

Medical marijuana and discrimination - Paul Secunda of Workplace Prof Blog discusses an interesting California case involving an employee who filed a discrimination suit for being terminated after revealing marijuana use, a right the worker claimed under doctor's recommendations and the state's Compassionate Use Act. Secunda notes that "Plaintiff’s position might have merit if the Compassionate Use Act gave marijuana the same status as any legal prescription drug. But the act’s effect is not so broad."

Dubious practices - Chris McKinney of HR Lawyer's Blog awards a Grand Prize in the Questionable HR Management Award to Packaging Corporation of America in Counce, Tenn. for its inadvisable termination of an employee in response to said employee’s election to the Mississippi State Senate. Read his comments about why this was a bad move.

Productivity - MindGym offers 8 Management tips that can stretch your time in The Ninety Minute Hour at Management Issues Workplace Blog.

January 26, 2008

Health & Wellness tool

In the cool tools department, we offer a must-bookmark reference site for your health and wellness program: HealthExecLynx, which bills itself as "agile inks for busy health care executives." With more than 1,100 links , it's a gateway to links for all things health-care related, from health policy blogs and health news sources to governmental concerns and health care associations. Don't miss the other health care links page, offering dozens of useful and entertaining resources, ranging from HospitalLink and Centerwach Clinical Trials Listing Service to Quackwatch and eSkeletons Project
The site is provided by the Department of Health Policy and Administration is one of the oldest and most respected programs in health administration in the U.S. and part of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

January 24, 2008

Heath Ledger's perfect storm

Fueled by nonstop media coverage, rumors and speculation abound about the untimely death of talented actor Heath Ledger. Autopsies and tests are being conducted, but the truth is, when drugs are involved, it may be difficult to arrive at a definitive conclusion as to whether his death was accidental or intentional. Many signs indicate that this may well have been an unintentional ingestion of a fatal pharmaceutical cocktail. Regardless, an otherwise healthy young man was cut down in the prime of his life. And as is often common in cases of self-inflicted, premature, or unexpected deaths, many of the decedent's friends, family, and colleagues will be left with a residue of guilt and uneasy questions as to whether there was anything they might have done to prevent this.

While those who knew him express shock and surprise at the news of his death, stories are peppered with what those of us in our line of work see as danger signs. Ledger had reportedly been battling substance abuse problems, and although most reports state that he had stopped drinking, those who know about substance abuse would see an abuser's use of any pills as potentially problematic. He was suffering from significant personal stress, having recently split from Michelle Williams, the mother of his two-year old child. He expressed distress and concern about the break up to his friends, as well as fears as to what the changes would mean in his relationship with his young daughter. He was also under significant professional stress, recently completing back-to-back roles in films. His role as the Joker in the new Batman film apparently exacted quite a toll. In a recent interview with the New York Times, he talked about battling exhaustion and sleep disorders during the making of the film, noting that he could only sleep two hours a night and had begun taking over-the-counter sleep aids. Self-medication, stress, and sleep disorders can fall into a self-perpetuating, cyclical pattern. Even prescribed drugs can be a problem without appropriate treatment for the root causes.

Personal and professional stress, sleep disorders, substance abuse - each one of these issues is a potentially debilitating problem in and of itself, made infinitely more complex by throwing pharmaceuticals into the mix, whether prescribed or over the counter. A perfect storm. For Ledger, the mix proved deadly.

Could anything have been done to prevent this death? Perhaps not. But for those of us in the helping profession, we will continue asking the question because Ledger's untimely death is another public reminder of the terrible toll that untreated personal problems can take. In cases such as this, there are often warning signs that are quite clear in retrospect - the mission we all have - for our loved ones and colleagues - is identifying and dealing with potentially harmful personal problems prospectively

January 18, 2008

The lighter side: retirement, balloon hats, bureaucracy, and more

Every HR manager deals with it: the retirement of a long-valued employee. But what happens when it's the company CEO? To get a window on what that's like, here's a short video case study: Bill Gates' last full day at work. Hat tip to HR Lori for the link. Lori often has very useful advice. We particularly liked her method for determining when a meeting has run it's course.

This story may start your weekend with a smile. Addi Somekh and Charlie Eckert have traveled more than 10,000 miles visiting more than 34 countries, all with one purpose: to take pictures of people wearing silly hats made out of balloons. And the purpose? Simply to make people laugh and have fun. We ascribe to that philosophy!

Who can't relate to this? Just another day at the office...

Ever feel that bureaucracy has you running around in circles? If so, here's a brilliant piece of artwork for your desk.

And in the indispensable online tools department, we give you the Bureau of Workplace Interruptions.

January 16, 2008

NLRB: employers can prohibit union-related email

In a pre-Christmas ruling, the National Labor Relations Board issued an opinion that strengthens the employer's right to restrict the use of company e-mail for non-work related activities, including union solicitation. It applies to all private employers, regardless of union or nonunion status. According to the New York Times:

The ruling involved The Register-Guard, a newspaper in Eugene, Ore., and e-mail messages sent in 2000 by Susi Prozanski, a newspaper employee who was president of the Newspaper Guild’s unit there. She sent an e-mail message about a union rally and two others urging employees to wear green to show support for the union’s position in contract negotiations.
During the years that this case was pending, many companies were uncertain whether they could bar union-related e-mail. But the labor board’s decision gives companies nationwide the green light to flatly prohibit union-related e-mails as part of an overall non-solicitation policy.
“An employer has a ‘basic property right’ to regulate and restrict employee use of company property,” the board’s majority wrote. “The respondent’s communications system, including its e-mail system, is the respondent’s property.”

Prior to this ruling, conventional wisdom held that e-mail would be treated in much the same manner as other communications under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, which forbids employers to discriminate in terms of union organizing. To avoid discrimination, employers that wanted to maintain nonunion status were strict about disallowing any other types of non-work solicitations and communications in the workplace, encompassing communications from Girl Scout cookies and bowling clubs to Avon.

But while this opinion strengthens employer control over e-mail, it apparently does not hold to the same non-discrimination standards, making allowances for some types personal e-mail messages. This would seem to indicate that employers may want to revise organizational policies to clarify what communications are and aren't allowed. It also raises the question as to whether this newer standard will apply to other forms of communication as well. This ruling was politically controversial, split between party lines, and some think that the decision may be revisited by a new Board in the next administration.

We are not lawyers, so for a greater understanding of some of the legal nuances in the decision, we turn your attention to the following experts:

Ross Runkel at LawMemo discusses the "two bombs" that the NLRB dropped in its last day in office. Jeffrey M. Hirsch of Workplace Prof Blog and Mitchell H. Rubinstein of Adjunct law Prof Blog both discuss problems with the ruling.

Rod Satterwhite of Suits in the Workplace also offers a history and summary of the decision and this explanation of what the ruling means to employers:

With respect to e-mail policies, employers may now "distinguish between charitable solicitations and non-charitable solicitations, between solicitations of a personal nature (e.g., a car for sale) and solicitations to support any group or organization such as unions, political parties or religious groups. Allowing the employer to distinguish between personal and organization interests is extremely important, because the Board had previously held that if an employer allows employees to discuss personal matters, such as athletic scores, news or family affairs, it could not prohibit discussions of union matters.
Equally important, the Board clearly intends this new understanding of discrimination to apply in other contexts, including right of access to employers' property and internal non-solicitation/no distribution policies, although it excluded situations in which employees had no opportunity for face-to-face communication.

We'll keep you updated if we see any other good legal guidance on the matter.

January 14, 2008

Top 25 HR Blogs

We're pleased to learn that HR Web Cafe has made HR World's list of the Top 25 HR Blogs - it's an honor we appreciate, particularly given the fine company we find ourselves in. Go check out our 24 neighbors ...

January 10, 2008

Short takes: 2008 crystal ball; tuition reimbursement; maternal profiling; minimum wage; ethics

2008 Prognostications - Last week, we talked about HR events of 2007, posting several year-end reviews from around the Web and a few prognostications for 2009. This week, George Lenard of George's Employment Blawg produces and interesting roundup of even more Workworld Forecasts and Big Picture Trends for the coming year.

Tuition reimbursement - Evil HR Lady offers her thoughts on establishing tuition reimbursement programs. Among other things, she notes the importance of treating newly degreed or certified employees as external candidates when it comes to promotions. Some employers have ceilings on pay raises, which can sabotage retention since the newly person with enhanced credentials or new degrees will command a higher salary on the open market.

Minimum wage - The Department of Labor posts a helpful clickable map of minimum wage laws in the States - January 1, 2008. It's color coded to show states that are higher, lower, or the same as federal rates, as well as states with no minimum wage laws.

Maternal profiling - Have you heard any buzz about Maternal profiling yet? If not, you will - Michael Fitzgibbon of Thoughts from a Management Lawyer brings us up to date on the topic.

Teen ethics - Inside Human Resources has a depressing post telling us that 38% of teens recently surveyed believe that cheating is OK. In a recent Junior Achievement / Deloitte Teen Ethics Survey conducted among American teens ages 13-18, indicated that 38% of the respondents think it is sometimes necessary to cheat, plagiarize, lie or even behave violently in order to succeed.

January 8, 2008

Common supervisory mistakes

Ten Critical Mistakes Made by Supervisors Dealing with Federal Employees in Trouble at Work - This is an excellent article by Bob Gilson, a consultant and employee relations advisor who authors articles at FedSmith.com, an information portal for sources of information impacting the federal community. This concise and sensible list is one that should be mandatory reading for all with supervisory responsibility, regardless of whether they are in the public or private sector.

Bob attributes many of the supervisory mistakes that he's witnessed to poor training, something we would concur with. He labels each item on his list as a "critical mistake" and elaborates considerably on each - but here is a summary of the ten mistakes that he identifies:

  • Failing to Set Clear Expectations or to Regularly Reinforce Them
  • Letting Problems You're Aware of Fester before Addressing Them
  • Failure to Communicate With People with Problems
  • Failure to Recognize the Importance of Due Process
  • Taking the Matter Personally
  • Moving Too Quickly to Formal Action
  • Playing "GOTCHA" With Troublesome or Difficult People
  • Waiting Too Long to Get Professional Help
  • Unwillingness to See a Problem Through to a Resolution
  • Worrying Too Much About Over-Touted Disincentives to Taking Action

This list is a follow-on to a prior article about Ten Critical Mistakes Made by Federal Employees in Trouble, a candid look at mistakes employees often make to aggravate their troubles when they have problems on the job - another article well worth a read. More articles authored by Bob can be found in the Federal Manager's Toolbox.

January 3, 2008

A look back, a look ahead

The rear view mirror - a look at 2007
Anne Freedman of Human Resource Executive offers an annotated HR's Year in Review, with most items linked to the original news stories. It's a comprehensive snapshot of some of the year's most important stories - a good recap!

Michael Fox of Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer suggests that the wage and hour law was the biggest story for 2007 and predicts that story will likely be important again in 2008, and beyond.

Business Insurance offers their list of the Top 10 employee benefits stories of 2007.

Lifehacker recaps 20 of their popular Top 10 Lists of 2007 and also offers a roundup of their readers' suggestions for best tech tools, gadgets and life hacks in 2007.

Planning for the future - 2008
We start off the new year with employee confidence in the economy and their own employment situation at a low level. Hopefully, things will go up from here. A few HR experts and business observers offer their thoughts on the year ahead.

Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership Blog tells us that 2008 is the International Year of the Potato so adjust your business plans accordingly. He has compiled a roundup of business press articles with thoughts and predictions about 2008.

Workplace Prof Blog points us to some predictions for Workplace Trends for 2008.

Susan Heatherfield of About.com's Human Resources offers The Top 10 Resolutions for Your Possible New Year.

Diane Danielson of HR Blog suggests a tool for customizing your year end goals.

SHRM features a 2008 HR Trendbook, a special supplement to HR Magazine. You can view a list of the topics covered and a brief introduction, but full access requires membership.

Inc. Technology compiles their suggestions for the 10 Must Have Tech Tools for 2008.

And if your best laid plans for 2008 are already are slipping out of control. Lifehacker suggests Free Tools to Manage New Year's Resolutions

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