Important Notice:
This site has moved to evilhrlady.org, please update your bookmarks. If you were looking for a specific post, you can use the site search option or archives at the new domain to find it. Thank you!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This is why people think HR is stupid and evil

It's that wonderful time of the year--flu season! And to add to it, this year adds in the lovely schweingrippe to the mix. So, I imagine that hospitals are putting together all sorts of plans for how to handle this. I like to have positive attitudes (ha!) towards those in leadership positions. Then I read this from At Your Cervix (she's a labor and delivery nurse):

On top of all of this, our hospital has put out the following rules: anyone with confirmed H1N1 or suspected flu must NOT work for the duration of the fever. Also, you may NOT work for at least 24 hrs of being without a fever (not using tylenol or ibuprofen to reduce the fever). All time missed at work....get this......will be considered an UNEXCUSED ABSENCE and you will receive an "occurrence" for the time called off.


What dunderhead in HR thought this up? Here are medical people who will be taking care of sick people, or newborns, or pregnant/post-partum women and we want to both require them to take time off and penalize them for doing so? I presume after a certain number of "occurrences" a person gets terminated, or suspended, or something else bad.

Now, some HR defender will say, "Hey, all the employees just have to get flu shots and they won't get sick. The punishment is because they failed to get flu shots." I agree that they should get flu shots (in my non-medical agreement sort of way). The company I used to work for gave free flu shots to everyone (on a voluntary basis, of course) because it was cheaper than having people gone for days at a time. So flu shots, yes.

However, a flu shot is no guarantee that you won't get the flu. Two years ago, three people that I know personally ended up in the hospital with the flu, even though they had previously had flu shots. No flu shot covers all possible mutations of the nasty little virus. So, you can't use that against the person.

Furthermore, this is a hospital, where you are surely more likely to be exposed to germs than the normal human. (Although I ride public transportation, so I'm surprised I'm still alive, quite frankly. I will admit, though, that the Swiss are so clean, their snot is probably sterile.)

And I hear another HR defender saying, "This was probably a decision from Finance! HR had no say in it." Hogwash I say. And even though I love to complain about finance as much as the next person, it's not finance's job to worry about people. That is HR's job. (Not saying that finance should be filled with heartless people, but they have a different focus.) Our job is to lead people. Our job is to see that the business succeeds and the best way to do that is to have the best people and take care of them.

If it was the CFO who insisted on this lame-brained policy, then the head of HR should have the knowledge and skill necessary to demonstrate how this will hurt the hospital. Because he/she obviously didn't, I'll help out a bit. (And I believe this hospital is in PA, my former home, so when we return their in a few years, I'll be happy to take this job, as I am now demonstrating that I can do it better than the current head of HR. Of course, a kindergartener could do this better, as a 5 year old would never think to punish someone for being sick.)

1. This is a huge morale killer. Even if a person doesn't get sick, she now knows that the hospital doesn't care one bit about her. People who are unhappy at work do not perform as well as happy employees.

2. There is no cost savings in this. If you end up terminating an employee due to too many "occurrences" you will need to replace her. It costs much more than one week's salary to recruit, hire, and train a new employee. It would not be unusual for it to take 6 months for a new employee to be as competent as the one you've just fired.

3. It is likely to increase the percentage of people coming to work while sick. If you have bills (and everybody does), you need your job. As long as you can hobble around, you'll be there, infecting everyone around you and lying about how great you feel. This will mean more people will get sick and your patients will suffer as well.

4. Voluntary turnover will increase as well. I know the economy is terrible. That just means that only your best employees will be able to find new jobs. Do you understand that? The BEST will be able to find new jobs. Is that what you want? To drive your best employees out? Who do you think pulls companies through recessions? It's not the slackers. It's the best employees.

5. Punishment should be reserved for someone who skips work to go shopping, or because they have a hangover. Punishments should not be given for involuntary illnesses. And yes, you can wash your hands all day long and use hand sanitizer and still get the flu.

This is just plain bad policy. I hope they come to their senses.

35 comments:

clobbered said...

It gets crazier, if you read the blog Random Reality which is written by a UK paramedic (ambulance guy) - not only do they have the same policy about the flu, but he recounts a meeting with HR where this was (badly) explained to him.

Yes, this really is why HR has a bad rep.

Anonymous said...

Some people can't get a flu shot, such as people who are allergic to egg whites; people who have Guillain Barré disease; and pregnant women or women who plan to get pregnant within the next three months.

Evil HR Lady said...

Anon--some people can't get flu shots, true, but pregnant women can. At least the CDC recommended it when I was pregnant and I got one and my baby is only a little bit strange. :>)

Rodolphe Mortreuil said...

I wonder if this decision to penalize sick employees is even legal. Win or loose, I can imagine there will be litigation cost anyway to add to this marvellous savings plan.

Allyson and Dave said...

You are right about pregnant women. I told my doctor the other day that I wanted to try for a baby and the first thing she told me was to get a flu shot.

I also work in a hospital. Our policy is that if you get H1N1 you have to be out for 7 days from the date of your first symptom. You do have to use your PDO time but it does not count against you. It is an excused absense. We do this so that we don't encourage staff to hide their symptoms and come to work. We also pay for he employees to be tested and pay for the Tamiflu. We want everyone to take care of themselves so they can take care of the patients.

I had H1N1 last month. So I had to take a week off. I have not slept that much in years!!

Anonymous said...

Sadly, this is not all that uncommon in the healthcare industry. I used to work in HR at a hospital and they have an incredibly unfriendly sick leave policy. If you used your sick leave three times in one year (with or without a Dr's note), you were written up. So, they give you sick leave, but don't want you to use it which is combined with the craziness that in a hospital you are likely to get sick and if you are sick, you shouldn't be around other really sick people. It is crazy. Nurses can find jobs, but they aren't really taken care of well.

Anonymous said...

I currently work in the healthcare industry and our policy is similar to Allyson's above. In our network of 36 hospitals across the country ... there are NONE that do what this posting has said. So hopefully this isn't the norm.

Central Michican HR said...

7 days required out of the workplace on medical advice from a health care provider would make such an occurance FMLA. As long as the nurses otherwise qualify (length of employment, number of employees, hours worked) then this would be FMLA and could NOT be used as "points" or any other type of discipline.

Shawnna said...

I think it is insane to punish employees that way. The administration doesn't think of the consequences. Thankfully my company is taking the flu threat seriously this year and providing free flu shots for any employee that would like one.

Lisa said...

Our school district is telling us that we have to stay home for at least 5 days if we have a temperature above 100 and any other signs of H1N1 and at least 24 hours. We have to use our PTO and then pull from the sick bank (w/ a dr. note) IF we go through our PTO.

Mind you, I have two small children plus I go through spells where I have low grade fevers every night for weeks on end.

I told my principal I would be gone at least a quarter of hte year if I followed these guidelines given that i'm at home if either of my kids are sick.

George Guajardo said...

I love that you mentioned this insane policy. it is important for other HR practitioners to see how stupid some of their decisions can be. It probably sounded like a good idea on paper, but it is clear that someone did not think this all the way through.

By the way, my sister works in HR for a large hospital. She faces pressure from the top to find the very best nurses from across the globe, while simultaneously trying to limit how much time off they use and how much they get paid. I don't think her bosses understand the idea of supply and demand. I thought Economics 101 was required for every business graduate.

Anonymous said...

More likely? I think this will *ensure* that people come into work sick.

You can not try to put people in a Catch-22 like that. "We want you to stay home if you're sick but we'll write you up for staying home if you're sick." How can you, as the employer, tell an employee that they shouldn't come into work and then claim that their absence is unexcused? Who is supposed to excuse them if not their employer? You could make a robot's head explode if you told it that.

If a workplace policy is a logical paradox YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.

workerbee said...

I had a fever of up to, at times, nearly 102 for a week and was too miserable to get out of bed. I saw my primary care physician who diagnosed me with a virus and told me to get plenty of rest and stay home. My supervisor refused to believe the diagnosis since according to her, if I was THAT sick, my doctor would have given me antibiotics for the virus. She REFUSED to believe that antibiotics are NOT prescribed for viruses. Suffice it to say, I was given the cold shoulder for weeks following my return to work and I was made to feel that I was faking illness to get out of work. It was humiliating. To those in HR and management, PLEASE give your employees the benefit of the doubt when their doctor tells them to stay home because they are sick!

Interviewer said...

To someone who said that 7 days out would make it FMLA - it's not. Unless you are under a doctor's continuous care (in a hospital) for 3 days or more, then the "stay home, rest up, drink plenty of fluids" colds and flus that might take a week to get over do not qualify for FMLA.

EHRL, this policy is insanity. But FYI, taking sick leave is just as hard for teachers as it is for some hospital workers. You think hospitals are little germ factories - schools are right on up there, too.

Anthony said...

You're not kidding--it's a morale killer and a guaranteed way to get more sick people IN the workplace. It's always nice to think your employer has your back, especially when you're sick. I can't imagine how it would feel to see this posted. And how enthusiastic would you be recommending your company to a friend? (Granted, you can't just recommend a hospital to a friend like you can any job, but you get my point...)

DrinkingTea said...

I can see something like this happening where I used to work.

First, they'd want to have a policy that showed they were taking swine flu seriously and that they were taking precautions to keep the spread of it down.

Second, someone would be compelled to keep people from taking advantage of the requirement to have a week off.

The brilliant compromise would be to give such harsh consequences to the time off that only one at death's door would consider it.

I don't work there any more.

Anonymous said...

This policy really does seem medically irresponsible. You'd think in a hospital there would be influential people with an understanding of contagious disease, and risks to patients who are already ill, and in some cases, known to be immune suppressed (transplant and cancer patients, the very old, very young, HIV positive, etc.) Apparently they aren't influential enough in this case.

There is a somewhat parallel issue in food service, where many low-end jobs don't offer sick leave (at least in the US). A fair percentage of outbreaks of food-borne illness can be attributed to food preparers working while they are contagious. I was going to give an example to illustrate the point (ultra-short version: Norovirus), but I realized it's kind of sickening, so maybe I shouldn't. On the plus side of the economic ledger, food is cheap.

Anonymous said...

The last comment is, in fact, one of the justifications for San Francisco's law requiring employers to provide sick leave.

There is, also, the problem of being afraid to take the leave you have, because of feeling responsible for getting the product out the door, or being perceived as unreliable/not always available. Folks in an industry that relies on episodic employment (film industry crew members) have a real problem with this. Tell the best boy or key grip you're not available a few too many times, and you're not going to get any phone calls for work.

Anonymous said...

What I find even more disturbing is the fact that pregnant women, women who just gave birth and women in early post-partum are at a significantly higher risk of greater suffering with H1N1, and by suffering I mean possible death.

Why would any establishment associated with pregnancy and obstetrics set such standards?

Nice lawsuits will be the result.

I work in insurance and our H1N1 policy is quite fair - if an employee suspecs that he/she has the swine flu, the employee will not lose a PTO day as long as he/she provides proof of testing by a doctor. If there is a confirmed case of the swine flu, an employee may take up to 5 days with no loss of PTO time. Beyond 5 days, PTO time will be used.

cateringgoddess said...

Food service (I did it for 18 years) is one of the worst industries for people coming to work sick. There is no sick leave, and often no paid leave at all. The jobs tend to be lower end of the pay scale, although I was drawing a decent salary at the end.

My advice? Don't go out to eat during cold and flu season. You can control who prepares your food at home, and you cannot presume that the people that are preparing it at a restaurant are taking the proper precautions. In fact you should assume that they are NOT.

williamthecoroner said...

When I did hospital work, our lab staff were cut to the bone, so that there were "just enough" staff. This was the late ninteies, when efficiency was big. So, when the place was fully staffed, there were just enough people to run it. Vacations had to be scheduled six months in advance, and there was NO slack in the system. People who had appendicitis or a gangrenous gall bladder were written up for calling off for emergency surgery, because it threw off the schedule.

They finally learned that having an extra bod around or two helped with surges, and emergencies, and all that. But we had to kill a couple of people (patients, not staff) before the bean counters got the message.

On a related note, this is the same institution that made nursing do death certificates/body release and got rid of three, 60K/year mortiticans. Which worked really well, until they cremated the Orthodox Jew. The punitive damages were much, much more than what was saved by getting rid of the clueful people

Library-Gryffon said...

I had to take FMLA when I was going to be out for 5 calendar days (only 3 work days) with arthroscopic knee surgery, which was outpatient surgery. FMLA law, on both state and, as far as I could tell, federal level, defines continuing medical care as including merely taking any prescribed medications for the illness, so if the doctor sends you home with prescription tamiflu, you're considered to under the continuing care of the doctor and FMLA applies.

Tom said...

This is almost certainly a violation of the FMLA. Increasing one's liability is not the path to financial success.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is good information. At least now I know that if I feel sick, the last place I want to go is the hospital, where I will defitely GET sick, because ill employees are not allowed sick leave. Great!

Is it legit for me to call my doctor's office and inquire on what their sick policy is? Maybe I should use that as criteria when shopping around for a doctor/clinic.

Anonymous said...

That is harsh! I was quarantined with suspected Swine Flu for 4 days, and took sick leave. Which has since been reversed back to me by my company, because as this is a "global pandemic" they don't feel it is fair to penalise people for something that is out of their hands.
I guess I should be lucky I work for a good company!

Anonymous said...

I work in the child care field where we have the exact same policy, including getting penalized for "excessive absences". Seeing as how we only accrue 6 days of sick leave per year, that is easily exhausted by one bout of the flu.

My employer is on the Forbes "Best Companies" list and has been repeatedly, so they love to tout the 'fact' that this demonstrates that it is a great place to work.

Anonymous said...

I just quit working at a well known insurance company (One fighting healthcare reform). The turnover in the company was unbelievable. Here are the problem policies: Mandatory overtime-if not done then employee risks firing, each unworked hour of overtime not worked by employee counts towards termination-I worked 80 hr weeks for 6 months straight. HR told us to quit if we could not work 80hrs total per week. Our two week totals were on average 120-130 hours a week. We had meetings with upper management and the HR staff to try and get the overtime under control. Nothing worked.
Sick policy: If you called in sick more than 7 days per year then you were fired. Each call in was counted as an unexcused absence. I have never known anyone to be able to request PTO in advance of being sick. It was not uncommon for people to come to work with the flu ( I caught it twice), and people also came to work with contagious pink eye. I have worked in hospitals, and drs offices and have never been penalized for being sick. When did HR determine that a person should be penalized for getting sick?

Greg said...

So one has to quesition what kind of company would adopt such a toxic policy such as this? Not any company I would WANT to work for, that's for sure. Nobody likes when people are out, but it happens, and you can either adjust, adapt, and come together as a team...or completely alienate the workforce and destroy morale....

Anonymous said...

If I were a truly evil and disgruntled employee, when (not if, as I think it's inevitable)this policy results in the death of a patient, I would ensure that a copy of this policy on the hospital's letterhead arrived at the lawyer's office of the patient's family.

Employers need to realize that if they push their employees too far, th employees may figure they have nothing to lose by striking back at the employer. It is ultimately in the employer's best interest to be reasonable. All an employer does by coming up with unreasonable and punitive policies is set the stage for retaliation at a disgruntled employee's choosing.

PE Mommy said...

Ok, swine flu shots JUST became available and I got the freaking swine flu last week!!! Well it's suspected. I am waiting for confirmation on my lab tests which take a week to come back. I had to stay home ALL week because of my fever and I work in a hospital (contracting, not as a provider). Trust me, I would have rather have been working. Fortunately, the federal govt doesn't hold it against you. My boss told me to keep me and my germs home. I have a note from my dr telling them that NYS says to stay home till you are fever free without meds for 24 hours.

What a terrible place to be employed that treats employees that way!

Brad said...

This is a great example of how our policies and procedures can have a major impact on employee engagement. Not only does a policy like this reduce morale it creates fear and a lack of trust.

Brad Federman

www.performancepointllc.com
www.engagementleader.com http://theengagementfactor.wordpress.com
http://twitter.com/bfederman

Anonymous said...

On the issue of restaurants. I currently and have been working in the industry for over ten years. For us if we don't come in we don't get paid. So basically most people, unless they are at death's door will come in sick and usually pass it to all the other employees (which is horrible since I can't afford to miss work either so I'm always trying to fend off illness). A fellow server worked for 2 days with diagnosed walking pneumonia and even though she was making sure to always wash her hands, it probably was NOT a good idea. Add that to the fact that many employees don't have health insurance because they don't fit the requirements or it's too expensive etc. and there's a lot of illnesses being spread.

The one plus side of the industry is that as long as we're not in a busy period it's usually pretty easy to find someone to take your shift because who wouldn't like/need/want a chance to make more money?

leanneclc said...

Great post. This season's flu has so many implications on work/life and employee morale.

On a side note - I cannot get the flu shot, I am allergic to eggs and it is egg-based. I'm sure that would not be popular at an organization like this...although nothing to be done about it except have some "occurrences"

KLundin said...

By the way, I have a colleague of mine who diligently went and got the seasonal flu shot. Then, she promptly got sick FROM the flu. Some people actually can develop the flu as a result of the shot. Yes. This type of thing is why HR people get a bad name. Nothing at all strategic about creating incentives for employees to make decisions that are counterproductive to the business (such as coming in sick at a Hospital).

Anonymous said...

As a worker at a blood bank, I truly understand what you're all talking about, as I am in a very similar situation. A few months ago, our attendance policy changed and now states that if any employee has more than 2 "unexcused" absences in a 6 month period, they will be penalized by either getting a verbal, written, final, termination, etc. And guess what...DOCTORS NOTES ARE NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE!!!!! I know people who were admitted to the hospital and returned to work with a write up waiting for them. I was sick this week with suspected swine flu and am now possibly facing disciplinary action AFTER I was told to go home when I reported to work sick (I called in sick the following day to keep from contaminating my co-workers and blood donors). Surely, I could understand upper mgmt questioning me if I had an attendance problem, but I don't. I went on the CDC website to see what their recommendations were regarding swine flu and the workplace and even called them. They even agreed that this is a ridiculous policy that definitely needs to be revisited immediately.