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January 30, 2011

News briefs: Work violence, hiring the overqualified, state of unions & more

Workplace violence - In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting, a story in the New York Times reminds us of the lingering effects of violence on its victims: Tucson attack reawakens pain from Virginia Tech. Four years after the Virginia shooting, this article talks about the long and ongoing process of healing for one of the families who lost a loved on in the shooting.

In another follow-on to the Tuscon events, Evil HR Lady Suzanne Lucas makes a timely and excellent post about what a company can do with a dangerous employee? She offers guidance for what managers need to do if they face an employee that scares them.

Related: Preventing workplace violence

The case for hiring the overqualified - in Human Resource Executive, Katie Kuehner-Hebert talks about why conventional wisdom about hiring overqualified candidates may be wrong. Employers generally shy away from overqualified candidates, thinking they will jump ship at the first opportunity, but according to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, this is not necessarily the case. The study was based on analysis of the labor-force behavior of more than 5,000 U.S. adults over a 25-year period. "The authors found that, in positions with low cognitive demands, such as garbage collectors or car washers, employees with higher cognitive ability were less likely than others to voluntarily leave." The authors suggest that in evaluating overqualified candidates, employers should dig deeper. Candidates may want to trade in for a lifestyle or health issue, or because they have a particular interest in the company's mission or values.

State of the Unions - Jeffrey Hirsch gives us the latest report on union density for 2010: "Overall union density went down from 12.3% to 11.9%; in the private sector, union density went down from 7.2% to 6.9%, and in the public sector, it went from 37.4% to 36.2%." See more at his post on Workplace Prof Blog. To delve beneath the numbers and take a look at the current status and views of labor, see State of the Unions, authored by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker.

More on the NLRB Facebook case - the Social Media Employment Law Blog weighs in on the NLRB Facebook complaint: Following The NLRB On Facebook Firings.

Winter Wellness - Studies show that a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy so make sure that you take those extra steps to add physical activity, even in the dead of winter. Why not kill two birds with one stone? Add a little creativity to your winter fitness regime and get rid of the snow in your front yard at the same time with a A do-it-yourself bicycle powered snow plow? If you decide to clear the snow in a more traditional fashion, these snow shoveling and snow removal safety tips might come in handy.

Cool Tech Tool - If you've ever had trouble working on multiple computers or accessing files, DropBox might be the right tool for you. It descibes its service as "..software that syncs your files online and across your computers. Put your files into your Dropbox folder on one computer, and they'll automatically appear on any of your other computers that also have Dropbox installed. You can even download Dropbox apps for your smartphone or mobile device (iPhone, iPad, Android, and Blackberry). Everything in your Dropbox is available from the Dropbox website, too."

Quick Takes

January 28, 2011

Facebook NLRB case postponed

In November, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that Facebook posts are legally protected speech despite a company having a policy that prohibits employees from discussing the company on social media sites. The ruling came in a case involving Dawmarie Souza, who was fired after criticizing her supervisor at American Medical Response of Connecticut on her Facebook page. The NLRB announced its intent to prosecute, and scheduled a hearing January 25. The complaint hearing on the case was postponed to February 8.

According to the New York Times story in November:

"Lafe Solomon, the [NLRB] board’s acting general counsel, said, "This is a fairly straightforward case under the National Labor Relations Act — whether it takes place on Facebook or at the water cooler, it was employees talking jointly about working conditions, in this case about their supervisor, and they have a right to do that."

That act gives workers a federally protected right to form unions, and it prohibits employers from punishing workers — whether union or nonunion — for discussing working conditions or unionization. The labor board said the company’s Facebook rule was 'overly broad' and improperly limited employees’ rights to discuss working conditions among themselves.

This case could have far implications for all employers, regardless of union involvement. Until further clarification is issued, employers should be cautious about their social media policies. In November, Morgan Lewis Employment Law issued an alert about what the NLRB ruling means to employers (PDF), along with this recommendation:

"All private sector employers should take note of this issue, regardless of whether their workforce is represented by a union. Employers should review their Internet and social media policies to determine whether they are susceptible to an allegation that the policy would “reasonably tend to chill employees in the exercise of their Section 7 rights.” In addition, employers should consider whether disciplining an employee for violating such a policy could lead to a charge that the discipline violates the NLRA. An employee who is disciplined for engaging in conduct that is protected by the NLRA may challenge the discipline by filing an unfair labor practice charge, even if the employee is not represented by a union."

January 22, 2011

Which superhero would you be & other oddball job interview questions of 2010

Glassdoor culled through tens of thousands interview questions that job seekers from around the world shared over the past year and pulled out the strangest for a top 25 oddball interview questions for 2010. They list the company that asked the question and provide links to other questions.

If you can't get enough of these, look back at their list of strange interview questions from 2010

For a range of more traditional questions that might help you to prepare for interviewing your next batch of job applicants, see our prior post Interview Question-Palooza.

And then, there's always this classic from Monty Python.

January 21, 2011

Retaliation topped EEOC filings for 2010

In 2010, EEOC reported that overall claim filings had increased, rising from 93,277 to a high of 99,992. But one charge in particular topped the charts: for the first time ever, retaliation claims surpassed race discrimination in the number of filings. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention - retaliation claims have been on the rise since a Supreme Court ruling in 2006. Allen Smith of SHRM discusses the EEOC report in greater detail in his article Retaliation Surpasses Race Discrimination as Most Common Charge. (Subscriptions required, or see the EEOC press release.)

Many legal observers attribute this increase to a variety of factors. Smith reports:

"The agency attributed the rise to multiple factors, including economic conditions, increased diversity and demographic shifts in the labor force, employees’ greater awareness of the law, improvements in the EEOC’s intake practices and customer service, and greater accessibility to the public."
Legal observers suggest that there is a lower bar for retaliation claims and that juries seem sympathetic. In an excellent article that first appeared in 2005, Robert M. Shea and Mark H. Burak noted the increase and discussed Why Retaliation Claims Are on the Rise and What Employers Can Do About It.

As with many issues, preventive measures are generally less costly in dollars, time, angst, and people power than defensive actions. We've gathered some tips from the experts on steps you can take to minimize the risk of retaliation claims.

Epstein Becker & Green: How to Stop a Retaliation Claim in Its Tracks

NOLO: Preventing Retaliation Claims by Employees

HR World: Preventing Retaliation Claims

HR Morning: How HR can stop retaliation claims in their tracks

January 16, 2011

Attitudes to mental illness are a barrier to help

Tuscon's horrific shooting a little over a week ago has launched national dialogues on several fronts: Does violent imagery and heated or threatening rhetoric in the public make it more likely that violence will occur? Do our public officials require more security and will they become less accessible to us? How can we be more civil to each other?

While the political angle has dominated the airwaves, psychiatrist Larry Wissow of Johns Hopkins makes the case that we should be shifting the conversation to how we ensure treatment for mental illness. He notes the troubling symptoms that Loughner exhibited, and while clearly stating that a diagnosis cannot be made via news stories, he points to patterns that would be familiar to any mental health professionals, particularly those working with the late teen to early twenties demographic, when serious disorders often first emerge: withdrawal, suspicion, mood shifts, statements that don't seem to make any sense, and behavior changes. Wissow says that many people notice these changes, but few act on it the way we might if we saw a friend rapidly losing weight or exhibiting signs of a physical illness. But symptoms of mental health disorders often result in avoidance rather than help. Wissow explains some of the reasons why:

"One big reason is that mental illness is among the most stigmatizing labels one can propose, and it is a huge barrier to getting care. Around the world, in nearly every society, people with odd and frightening behavior get hidden or risk being abandoned by their families — not only because they can't be controlled or trusted but because they are an embarrassment and make life difficult for everyone else. All too often, mental illness is still seen as a defect of character or upbringing."

To remedy this, Wissner calls for giving the issue of mental health a higher profile and priority. He suggests that "... we need much more widespread training for educators, employers and the public about the signs and symptoms of major mental disorders and what to do when it looks like someone might be ill. We need to make it a humane and nonstigmatizing standard to empathetically but effectively get someone to a source of care when the first concerns arise — when they are much more likely to agree to it."

In a subsequent interview with NPR, Wissow talks more about how people who are in a position to do so might asssist a troubled person in getting help. He also notes that Loughner is not and should not be viewed as the "poster child" or face of mental illness because most people who are mentally ill are more of a danger to themsleves to others.

Employers with EAPs are in a good position to note behavior and performance changes and to point an employee to help resources. Employers shouldn't attempt to diagnose - simply train supervisors to watch for changes in behavior and performance, and in how to make referrals to the EAP based on those behavioral or performance issues.

Unfortunately, Wissow's pleas come at a time of severe budget constraints on both the national and the state level. While The Mental Health Parity Act was a welcome step in the right direction, there's still a big battle in breaking down the stigma against mental health problems and in getting people timely help.

January 14, 2011

How managers roll

For an end of the week make-you-smile break, we bring you Marc Johns' amusing post-it note drawings about management. These were created as part of a 20-artist Swiss exhibit on the theme of We Managers - (Managers R Us?). Never mind the translation, some concepts are universal across all languages.




January 9, 2011

Workplace trends for 2011

Here's a roundup of things to watch for in 2011:

January 3, 2011

List-o-licious: The Best of 2010

Here are links to some of the best recaps of 2010

And looking forward...

Thanks to Fimoculous, the source for many of these links, and more: 2010 Year Lists.

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