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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Office Gossip

My issue is that I've recently had a conversation with my HR manager about what I believe to be an uncomfortable working environment. The talk made me feel better along with a few days off. However, a friend at work has informed me that some employees there were gossiping about who I am engage to. I told my HR manager and she apparently told my fiance's supervisor. I've kept it a secret for over a year for many reasons. I didn't want other employees opinions about me to affect how my fiance is treated and vise versa. I feel that the HR manager had no right to share that information with anyone. What is your opinion and how should I handle this?

I don't feel like I can really give a good, quality answer without knowing what your uncomfortable working environment was. I suspect you aren't very happy in your current job. I assume this for two reasons: 1. The "uncomfortable environment" and 2. Not telling anyone you are engaged.

Now the lack of vocalizations about the upcoming wedding are to be commended, as no one really likes a bridezilla who can't shut up about the impending nuptials. But I'm a bit concerned that you think this will affect how you are treated. It suggests that you are either violating some office romance policy or there is some objective reason why people would object to your engagement--are you too young, not yet divorced, or on your third fiance in 3 years?

But, you cry, none of this matters. The HR manager shouldn't have said anything! Well, maybe, and maybe not. HR managers aren't your lawyer, your therapist nor your priest. They aren't required by law to keep things confidential. They are, in fact, required to make some things known. Some problems cannot be solved by just listening. They require action. If you are experiencing an "uncomfortable" environment, just talking about it won't solve the problem. The environment needs to change (or you need to change). In order for that to happen, people have to be talked to.

I suspect that the "environment" problem is somehow related to your fiance. And speaking of him, what's his opinion on this whole thing? Is he as bothered as you are? If not, why not? Should you follow his lead?

Now, as to what to do--go back to the HR manager and express your concerns. Tell her that discussions of your personal life make you uncomfortable and ask what YOU can do to minimize such discussions. Please note that I put YOU in all caps because YOU are the only one you can control. Don't go up and say, "I really hate how you are out gossiping about me." This may be true, but this statement won't help you in the long run.

I am concerned, though, about continuing to work in a place where you feel so uncomfortable. If there is something illegal (sexual harrassment, for instance) going on that causes you to feel uncomfortable, then the HR manager should be taking care of it. If it's just that you don't fit in, that's not anything the company is doing wrong, it's just mismatched personalities. Keep in mind that discussions about co-workers upcoming weddings aren't harrassing, they are normal office banter. People like to talk about other people.

Other than mentioning to the HR manager that you are uncomfortable and trying to take people's discussions about your fiance in a good light, I don't have much advice for you. Perhaps some of my brilliant colleagues can help you out in the comments.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Making it Harder to Get Hired

People like to get their knickers all twisted up over discriminatory hiring practices. (And for the record, it's not illegal to discriminate in hiring; it's only illegal to discriminate based on certain protected classes. Certainly you can discriminate against idiots, if you would like. You can also discriminate against smart people, which I have known some bosses to do on the misguided theory that they'll look smarter if all their underlings are dumb. But, that's an other topic.)

But, what about the things we do to ourselves to make us less hireable? Liz Wolgemuth over at U.S. News asks if being a smoker makes you a less desirable candidate. Right now her poll is running very strongly towards smoking being a career killer. I have to say I see smoking as a huge negative. Here are three reasons:

1. The smell. I'm sorry if this is offensive, but it's a rare smoker that doesn't smell like smoke.
2. Multiple breaks throughout the day.
3. Higher health care costs.

Is it fair to discriminate against smokers? What about fat people? Putting food in the communal fridge doesn't generally cause smells (unless you are a gourmet cheese aficionado, in which case, why are you eating something that smells like gym socks?). But, there are negative connotations associated with being overweight.

1. Implied laziness and lack of self control.
2. Higher health care costs.
3. Lack of "professional" appearance.

Now, I write this as someone who used to be bona fide fat. Now, I'm just slightly overweight. (I blame that on the baby though. 14.4 pounds to go.) I know full well that there are medical conditions that make it easy to gain weight and difficult to lose weight. I know that some people have no problem quitting smoking and others can never quite break the habit. I also know that I ate too much and exercised too little.

So, do you HR types, do you see evidence of people who smoke or are overweight having a hard time getting hired? Has it impeded your job search? And what if you have ummm, less than traditional parents who stick you with a bad name. Does that hurt your job chances?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Age Discrimination

Our friends over at Overlawyered write about the tale of a 63 year old woman who was terminated and then sued for age discrimination.

Yawn. I know you are thinking that this is about the most boring post ever. (Well, there was one that had a heated discussion about armpits...) It's not. And the reason it's not boring is the company this woman is suing, for age discrimination is...drum roll please...the AARP. That's right, the American Association of Retired Persons (or people--too lazy to look it up right now).

Geez Louise. I know nothing concerning this case. Nothing, so I'm not commenting on merit. I'm just commenting that either we should be aware because anyone can violate discrimination laws or we should be aware because no matter how much we do, you are always in danger of being sued.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

PTO Problems.

I'm an exempt, salaried employee. I've been in my position for a year. I recently learned that my employer has been using a full 8 hours of PTO for every full day I'm gone - regardless of whether I still managed to put in a full 40-hour work week.

For example: I work 8 hours each on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, am sick on Thursday, and work 8 hours each on Friday and Saturday. In this situation, I work and am paid for 40 hours, but my employer also uses 8 hours of PTO. Here's another example: I work 8 hours each on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, have a 2-hour appointment on Thursday but work 8 hours, and work 8 hours each on Friday and Saturday. I've effectively worked 48 hours, get paid for 40, and my employer still uses 2 hours of PTO.

Regardless of the fact that I obviously work too much, and this policy is reverse incentive to work more than absolutely necessary, not to mention wholly unscrupulous and downright evil, I have nonetheless "lost" over 25 hours of paid time off in the last six months alone. Oh, and this unwritten policy was not disclosed to me until this week. Do you have insight into the legalities of this and/or ways to recoup my lost PTO?

First, a question. Who is docking your PTO? Because that is the person I would start with.

It makes sense to me that if you miss a Wednesday because you are sick, and sick days count against your Paid Time Off (PTO) that you would be "charged" 8 hours of PTO. Since Saturday isn't a normal work day, it wouldn't be logical to assume that because you were sick during the week you'll work Saturday. What would be logical is for you to say to your boss, "Jan, since I had to take Wednesday off because I was sick, I'd like to work on Saturday to make up the time so I'm not charged against my PTO bank."

Jan can say yes or no (and, by the way, I think in this example, it would be perfectly legal to do so but any of you lawyers out there feel free to correct me). If Jan is a smart boss, she'll say yes.

Being charged for taking two hours off in the middle of the day chaps my hide, by the way. Especially if you still end up working at least 8 hours.

You say this policy is unwritten. It may be just how whoever is tracking this chooses to do so. No one cares about your vacation time like you do. You need to make sure you are on top of this.

It should be your boss (or your boss's boss) who is responsible for tracking PTO. (Actually, I think it should be you, but your company doesn't.) You need to have a conversation with this person to get clear understanding of how it works. You should ask for flexibility. When you need to take time off you need to be extremely clear about how it will be counted and if additional hours you work can make up for it.

Don't assume anything. Additionally, after you've had your conversation with your boss and she's approved you taking Wednesday off in exchange for you working Saturday, send her an e-mail that confirms your understanding of the conversation.

If they aren't willing to be flexible, it may be time to either stop working so much or find a new job. You're right about how the incentives are all wrong here.

Now, if it's some other group that is imposing this, you still need to deal with it through your boss. People are much more likely to listen to someone who is advocating for an employee then someone who is advocating for himself.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I think I'll Throw a Tantrum

Because this blog is 2, and isn't that what 2 year olds do?

Monday, August 18, 2008

What If You are About To Be Fired?

I just read some of the best advice ever, for someone in this situation. Hop on over to US News and read Ask A Manager's Alison Green's advice. For example:
2. Next, drop your ego some more, and go to your manager with your guard down. Tell her that you know she hasn't been happy with your performance and that you'd like her advice on how to improve. This conversation is not about defending yourself, even if you ultimately become convinced she's wrong. This step is simply about hearing what she's saying, correct or not, because even if she's objectively wrong, you need to fully grasp her answer in order to figure out the best step for yourself.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Counter Offer

I found your blog through Punk Rock HR and love it. I check it everyday and feel not so alone in my HR-ness. I am hoping you can help me with an existential question about relocation. I'm not expecting you to make a decision for me as much as offer an opinion as someone who is not me or my spouse, who are no longer objective about this situation.

About a month ago I decided it was time to start looking for some career opportunities that do not include my current employer. I live in one of the last affordable areas of CA, which meant that my search included employers outside of CA, in places we have family (i.e. some stability and some people we know). My spouse works in a company with plenty of transfer opportunities, so his finding a job is not so much an issue. I was very lucky and have been offered a position in a different state, which is less expensive than CA, at a starting rate 13% above my current rate of pay. I was made this offer based solely on a phone interview and as part of agreeing to take the offer, my potential new employer is flying me out to meet face to face and sign on the dotted line. My current employer, who I have been with for nine years, knows that I have been made an offer and that I will be flying out to see for myself whether I am ready to make the leap.

Today, my boss pulled me aside and asked me if there was a dollar amount that would make me stay. Needless to say, there are many reasons I started looking for a new position but the big two are that I do not believe I am part of the succession plan at my current employer and at a dead end, and as the lowest paid person in my dept. I am currently training a new person who came in as the highest paid, non-exempt employee in my dept. Have I mentioned that this is all happening in an HR department?

I am leaning heavily on the "no dollar amount could make me stay" side of things. If I am worth more when I say I'm leaving, why wasn't I worth more when I said I wanted to retire from the company?

Follow your gut feelings. (I write this, but then I think, oh, I hope she likes the new job! Because she'll blame me if she doesn't!) No, seriously, follow your gut. Your assessment is all correct--if you were that valuable to them before, why isn't your salary higher to begin with? And, it's not all about the money. It's never is. (Money is nice, but it's not everything.)

Most people who take counter offers end up leaving the company within a year anyway. Do you really want to go on a job search again? I didn't think so.

The one thing that has me a bit worried is that you haven't met with these people face to face. You may go out there and think, "no way, no how can I work for/with/around these people! And what's with the green slime on the trash can?" So, go and check it out, but follow your gut.

And let this be a lesson to all you other people out there who have valuable employees. Yes, I know--a long term employee is likely to stay working for you. This does not mean you can continuously underpay and treat her like dirt and expect her to stay with you forever. Think to yourself, "what would I have to pay to replace this person?" and pay them that. Or at least a high percentage of that. This lame counter offer stuff is for the birds. It just screams "we've been taking advantage of you for years! Sorry we got busted!"

Plus a 13% raise in a cheaper area will seem like a heck of a lot more. I live in a very expensive area, but my sister lives in Silicon Valley, and let's just say that what they paid for their 1970s, avacado green, popcorn ceiling house would buy a mansion here. And we're not cheap either! So, in reality, it's much more than a 13% raise.

Good luck in the new job!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Pay Discrepancy

This is a salary rounding question.

A non exempt is hired at a salary rate. The HR system contains an hourly rate since they are non exempt. The employee is given their merit raise of 5%.

The merit raise paperwork they sign has only a percentage raise, say 5% and does not note any hourly or annual rate on it. This paperwork is signed by the employee and their management.

Due to rounding applied to the hourly rate, the employee ends up with a raise of 4.995% (making 36.19 an hour instead of 36.1935) causing a difference of $7 a year due to the effect of rounding on their hourly rate.

Can the employee raise be less than 5% if that is due to mathematical rounding of the hourly dollar rate even though the signed review states they will get a 5% raise?

FYI: there are no written HR policies in regards to how salary rates are to be rounded. They are using standard rounding practices.

Oh for heaven's sake. It's $7 per year. Not $7 per week or month, but $7 per year. By my calculations, with a 40 hour work week and 52 weeks a year, there are 2080 hours in a standard work year. $7/2080 results in a difference of $0.003365 per hour.

Is this the hill you want to die on? Because I'll tell you right now, if you come into HR or your boss with this complaint, whether it's fixed or not you'll have a huge black mark on your official office gossip record.

Oh hush up those of you who are saying HR needs to keep everything confidential. No law against discussing stupidity.

Now on a policy question there are two problems. One, they should never make an offer that states an annual salary for a non-exempt position. The offer should have been stated as an hourly rate. Two, they should always round up. But you should absolutely let this go. It will not help you out in the long run. And as for the $7, give up one Burger and Fries per year and you'll be okay. Unless it's at Five Guys, which in that case I understand your pain.

No More College Requirement?

Having a Bachelor's degree is generally a requirement for a professional job. Sure, there are people who have such jobs without one, but I don't recommend it as the way to go. But, what does having one really mean? Charles Murray argues, in the Wall Street
Journal, that it's not necessary, and in fact absurd:
Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

Well, when you put it that way, it sounds so silly. He proposes certification tests for all sorts of subjects as substitutes. He uses the CPA exam as an example. This sounds all well and good, but being a CPA is very different then, oh, behing an HR person.

I have a PHR certificate, so theoretically I'm now qualified to do all sorts of HR stuff. Great! Hire me! (Well, I'm not looking for a new job, but if you want to give me lots more money, we'll chat.) But I worked in HR for 8 years without one. Was I not qualified to do what I did before? (Debatable...)

I have hired people who knew squat about the actual tasks they had to perform in the job, but who could think and write and learn. They turned out just fine. Theoretically, a BA (or BS) degree shows that you can do those things. But, there is, in actuality, no guarentee that the student learned anything. (For a story of a student I "taught" go here.)

So, if you were to set up certification exams, how would you do it? What requirements would you meet? Wouldn't everyone freak out? I mean, look at how peole deplore "teaching to the test" in elementary, middle and high school.

I'm an old school hardliner on math facts, history time lines, hard sciences, and grammar. Really. But, I also realize that some of the soft skills, such as those needed to handle a delicate employee relations issue, can be difficult to test for.

So, what kinds of careers would you set up tests for? What would they test? My brother the lawyer tells me that even the Bar Exam doesn't cover Labor and Employment law, which makes me wonder why it matters that my boss passed the bar, except that it's required for her to work as a lawyer. It certainly doesn't certify that she understands FMLA. (Does anyone really understand FMLA?)

(Via Joanne Jacobs.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Call A Lawyer

We have a situation in which an individual in the family was let go and given 6 months’ severance. This person presented a letter saying he had one year of severance in his contract. Since the company had been bought out, they responded that their severance offer superseded any previous offer. This employee was never notified of the change when the company was bought out, nor would he have agreed to go on with the new employer had the terms of his contract been changed to a six-month deal. Do you think this is legal?

This is one of the few times in which I will say you should call a lawyer. I may be brilliant (ha!) but even I can't evaluate a contract without reading it.

Is it possible that the severance clause is null and void if the company gets sold? Absolutely. Is it possible that it is still enforceable? Absolutely. It all depends on how it is written. If the person who wrote it was a lawyer and not some staffing rep, it should state what the effect of a sale would be.

Send your relative to a lawyer with a copy of the original contract. It will cost money, although an initial consultation should be relatively inexpensive.

I'm guessing that this relative was a fairly high level employee--severance clauses aren't generally handed out to everyone. This already should give him some clout. Don't sign anything related to the offered severance until this is resolved. There should be a general release associated with severance. It will contain a clause that states that this overrides all previous contracts. So DO NOT SIGN UNTIL A COMPETENT LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT LAWYER HAS BEEN CONTACTED. This is not a job for the guy who helped with your real estate closing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How Important is Your Front Line?

We just got home from vacation. We had to rent a car. Which meant we had about a zillion places to choose from. We flew into Las Vegas (we don't gamble, but we sure can eat, and the food there is quite good). (Side note, we stayed at the Palazzo which we got for a cheap price on Priceline and it was fabulous.)

Anyway, the Las Vegas airport has a central car rental garage. Everyone takes the same shuttle over and then each car rental company has a space in a multi-story garage. There are security features set up to prevent you from stealing a car from this place. These include a large metal bar and tire shredders. In order to leave, you must take your rental car contract and scan the bar code on it. Then the metal bar raises up and the tire shredders go down and you can drive off.

Unless, of course, the front line person forgets to put a bar code on your contract. And by the time you have your car seats installed and your luggage shoved into the trunk, he has gone home, turning off the lights and locking the door. So, there we were: 12:30 a.m. Pacific time. We're East Coasters, so our body clocks were saying 3:30 a.m. I have one screaming infant and one helpful almost 5 year old saying, "what can I do to make you happier?" and my husband and I are dead tired and we are trapped in the garage. We call the car rental place's 800 number and the following conversation ensues:

Husband: We’re trapped in the garage in Las Vegas. We don’t have a bar code so we can’t leave.

Car Rental Customer Service Person: Why would you need a bar code?

Husband: You have to scan a bar code or you can’t get out. Everyone has gone home. So, we’re trapped.

Car Rental Customer Service Person: Just go ahead and exit, then. Don’t worry about the bar code.

Husband: We can’t exit. There’s a huge metal bar and tire shredders.

Car Rental Customer Service Person: Well, I guess you’ll just have to wait until morning when the workers come back. Sorry! Click!

My husband walked over to another company's booth and explained our plight. They gave us a bar code so we could exit.

Now, when we returned the car, 12 days later, the manager said, "How was your rental?" My husband explained. The manager took $150 off our bill. Even so, I would be very hesitant to rent from them again.

I didn't mention the name of the company on purpose. Why? Because while I was explaining this drama to my sister, who also flew from the east coast to the west for this reunion, she mentioned she'd rented from the same company, although she had flown into Salt Lake. She gushed with how wonderful everything had been. "They gave us a free upgrade! Provided cold bottled water for us! Carried our luggage! We're customers for life!"

Now, the original rental guy didn't leave us with any warm fuzzies--he made the mistake of not giving us a bar code, and he left before we did. That's bad customer service. The phone person was worse. Even if there was nothing he could have done, he made no effort to escalate the issue.

He probably figured, "hey, I'm only making $X per hour. What do I care?" He didn't care. But that is precisely why you need to be careful in hiring your front line people.

And now back to regular Evil HR Lady stuff.

I'm back

I'm back home. I know you missed me. (Or at least my trolls missed me! I know they wanted to pounce on me for something and I wasn't writing anything! Sob.)

We had a marvelous time. Although, I will warn you that red-eye flights sound good in theory (the kids will sleep!), but in reality, they are unpleasant. The kids did sleep, but the end result of that is you get home and you and your husband are dead tired and the kids want to play! I sent offspring 1 over to the neighbors, so we could take a nap.

Anyway, here is a picture of where we went!
Really. Don't you wish you could have accompanied us? We also went here:
But, least you feel too sorry for us, we also went here. Or at least my husband did. He and my brother-in-law climbed Mount Timpanogos and took that picture near the top. They said there were mountain goats within 100 feet of the summit. Which just goes to show you, I'm smarter than a mountain goat, as I would never climb that high.
And speaking of climbing, the offspring climbed as well.
Posted by Picasa

I do know you are jealous. We spent most of the time at a family reunion--where all 6 of my siblings, their spouses and offspring and my parents--had a marvelous time. We ate way too much food and stayed up too late.

Now, it's back to reality. And to blogging. I have a customer service post coming up shortly.