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Friday, February 27, 2009

Cheapity, Cheapity, Cheap

I know what the IRS mileage rate is ($.55 per mile for 2009). My question is what is the LEAST amount I can pay an employee for mileage reimbursement? She hardly ever drives but needs to a couple times a month for client meetings. Can I pay ½ the IRS rate? Seems like labor law 2802 is very vague about this so I thought I’d come to your HR department since we don’t have one.

I so do not know the answer to this and furthermore, I'm not even going to attempt to look it up. So, you might ask, why am I bothering to even post about this?

Well, the title I've chosen might give you a clue.

If your employee is a good one, your attempt to save a few dollars will increase the probability that she will leave you for another job.

I know, I know, the economy is in the toilet, so you can treat your employees like--ummm, like toilet contents. (Okay, I've crossed into crude territory. I should stop now.) This is false, false, false. This is the time when you need to treat your good employees as well as you possibly can. Your good employees are going to be able to pull your business through tough economic times.

Everybody says, "there are no jobs out there!" True, there are fewer jobs available. But, fewer doesn't mean zero and your good employees are far more capable of finding a new job than your bad employees.

Let's say your employee has to go 100 miles month to meet clients. At the IRS rate of $0.55 per mile, that's $55 a month, or $660 per year. Do you want to have a disgruntled employee over $660 a year? Do you? Do you? Because while it's only a little bit of money, she'll complain about it--maybe not to you, but to her husband and her friends. And once you've decided there is something that annoys you about your boss, everything else begins to grate on your nerves.

And so, what if it's not 100 miles a month, but 1,000 miles a month. Is $6,600 a year worth having to find and train a new employee? This, by the way, is far more expensive than $6,600.

Stop trying to figure out how to be cheap and start figuring out how to maximize your employees' productivity. And remember, a happy employee is a good employee.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bad, Bad Microsoft

Two people have sent me info about how Microsoft tried to make people repay an overpayment and then changed their minds.

I suppose I'm supposed to be horrified that a big, mean, evil empire like Microsoft would ask for erroneously paid money back.

I'm not.

Let's reverse the situation. Suppose Microsoft underpaid severance (which, in actuality, they did to some people) and that person wrote a letter asking them to please pay up. Would we be horrified that that person had the audacity to ask such a question? After all, Microsoft is a publicly traded company, which means it's owned by humans! Some of them grandmothers on fixed incomes. In fact, I'm sure some of them are great grandmothers with no money for new dentures! The horror of it all!

I think I've used up my exclamation mark quota for a while.

I understand the reason why Microsoft reversed itself. I understand that it wasn't worth the public affairs nightmare. What I don't get is why people get so outraged at this.

Someone in payroll or HR made a mistake. It wasn't vindictive. It wasn't mean spirited. It was a mistake. And they were within legal rights to attempt to rectify the mistake.

I would probably have sent a similar letter. I also would have ended with that letter and not pursued it any further if the person had balked. That isn't worth the time, money and effort.

But no company should be vilified for asking for a mistake to be fixed.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Forms R Us

From an proactive HR audit perspective what should a hire justification form look like and what is the best way to broach this subject with senior management and hiring managers that may interpret the new process as unnecessary work?

Ahh, forms. Once, I was doing some sort of report and I noticed that the company I worked for had a person whose title was "Director of Forms." Awesome. I have no idea what that person did.

And if you're asking me to figure out a justification for your form, do you have any idea what your form is for?

I'm not trying to be snarky. (Well, perhaps a little bit...)

If the form is truly necessary than the reason for its necessity should be sufficient, should it not? If you say it's for "audit" purposes, what kind of audit are you looking at? Internal? Some governmental body? What?

If the purpose of the form is for managers to complete a job description so that the recruiter can start working on finding someone, then that doesn't need an explanation.

If the purpose is so that you can verify that there is available headcount, that's a different ball of wax.

If the purpose is so that your own, internal, director of forms can keep her job--well, not so much.

For hiring authorizations, I'd like to see a job description, title, grade, salary range, name of previous incumbent (if applicable), notations for if it is within budget or not, notations for if it is within authorized headcount or if you are asking for an addition, and an explanation as to why anything has changed to the position. (For instance, if you had a Grade 10 analyst who quit and you'd like to hire someone a bit more experienced and want to upgrade to a Grade 12 analyst, I'd like an explanation of why additional experience/skill is necessary.) I'd like to see a signature (or, preferably an electronic approval) from the requesting manager, her manager and the HR person responsible for that group. The HR person is to verify that the headcount is available and the job description is properly graded. HR's job is not to nitpick and find fault.

What you don't want is a requirement that everybody and their brother signs off. For filling a vacant position, you really shouldn't need the VP, CFO, and head of HR to sign off. Sure, if you're adding to headcount or upgrading in a super fashion (we'd like to replace this admin at $30k to a Sr. Director at $145k) you might want different signers.

The point is, make the form to serve whatever purpose you have. If you can't clearly and succinctly explain the purpose to the hiring manager, then evaluate why on earth you are doing it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Short (skirt) Requests

I wish I had one of you were I work so you could take care of this problem for me! I am the administrative assitant at a very small law firm (3 people). My boss is an older man (in his 60's), his partner is in her late 30's and the junior associate is another woman in her mid 20's. I am in my early 20's.

My boss, the only man in this small firm, is constantly telling me his preference for skirts. And not just skirts - short skirts. With neutral nylons, if I must wear them, not dark or black. If I do wear pants to work (dress pants, with heels and a nice blouse), he takes it as a personal insult. If I wear a skirt or dress he thanks me for "dressing up" for him. It's infuriating. Granted, I haven't really said anything because I was new, but I am coming to a breaking point. It's come to the point where one Friday he let me and my youngest co-worker go home early. He then asked me if I would dress up "nice" for him on Monday since he let us go early that day, all the while saying nothing to the other girl he let go early as well. He never say anything about this to my young co-worker, and his partner complies with and enables this behavior. I find it completely inappropriate. What should I do? Is this even legal? He seriously comments on my clothes at least 3 times a week.

This is what you need to do: Tell him to stop.

I realize this is uncomfortable and you'd rather the problem just went away. Or, as you mentioned, you'd like to turn it over to an HR person. Granted, most HR people would happily throttle someone like that for you, but you don't have one and so your options are to quit or deal with it yourself.

The next time he makes a comment say, firmly, "Bob, do not comment on my clothing choices. It is not appropriate and could be considered sexual harassment."

Then document the conversation. Every single time he says something remind him that it is inappropriate.

A few outcomes are possible. One is that he will be embarrassed because he truly did not realize what he was doing was inappropriate. (After all he may have read this horrible post that Ask a Manager linked to.)

Another outcome is that he will become defensive and state that he was "just kidding" and you are "too sensitive." If he says that, don't apologize for being offended, just state that you do not appreciate it. "Now that you know I am offended, I'm sure you won't do it."

A third outcome is that you'll be fired. I'd like to say that's not a possible outcome, but it is. Sexual harassers can also be jerks. If that happens, definitely apply for unemployment. I'm not a huge fan of lawsuits because they rarely solve anything and drag on forever and since you'd be suing a lawyer he'll be able to defend himself cheaply. You can contact your local EEOC office for help.

If you repeatedly tell him to stop commenting and he does not, make sure you document every instance and go ahead and contact the EEOC. Also, start looking for another job. Some battles are not worth sticking through to the bitter end.

Note, you must tell him to stop before you escalate the issue. If you don't, you fall into the category of wimps that drive me nuts. We're grown ups here and should attempt to solve our own problems. Hopefully, your case will fall into scenario one and bringing it to his attention will solve the problem. Most don't go into category three.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cancer and Layoffs

I am an HR Manager in a professional services firm and am currently planning for headcount reductions like so many of my colleagues today. As my functional leader and I have assessed our employee population, my leader identified a man who has a history of poor performance, but was recently diagnosed with cancer (did I mention that his wife also left him this year and took the kids with her? Bad year). The good news is that his doctor caught the cancer early and his chances of survival are good. In fact, he has a couple of months before he will even start treatment. I have persistently raised my concerns to my leader about taking this action now, but he is adamant about doing it asap.

I understand that the economic climate makes these kinds of tough decisions necessary and given his recent performance, as compared with the rest of the employee population, I do believe he should be on "the list" ultimately, but I question the timing of doing it now. With his recent diagnosis I thought we would be legally bound to see him through his current health crisis before delivering the news. However, I wrote to our general counsel to see if we had any legal obligaions and, if not, what the firm's policy is in situations like this. I was told that if he were currently on medical leave, we would wait for his return before letting him go. But since he is not medical leave, they said we should "treat him like anyone else" and that I was not to offer him anything more than the standard severance package (3 months).

His only hope is to begin treatment now so he can take medical leave before the ax falls, but for a number of reason the employee is in no rush to start treatment now (chief among those reasons being that he doesn't know he's about to get canned. This feels totally wrong. I am very concerned about the individual, but also concerned that he's going to turn around and slap us with a big fat law suit. And what jury isn't going to hear this story and side with the cancer survivor? I know you are not an employment law specialist, but what advice can you offer an HR Manager who wants to help this employee get safely through treatment without having the added stress of paying for COBRA and finding a new job, thereby keeping my firm's name from potentially ending up in the news with some very bad PR?

This is a rotten situation. Not that layoffs are ever pleasant, but this one is particularly rotten. I agree that it seems unnecessarily heartless to terminate someone in this situation. However, if you must cut heads (and I assume you must), then it is also a problem to keep a low performer and fire a high (higher?) performing person just because the low performer is having personal problems.

That, to me, seems like, "we must keep all the single mothers and terminate the married men!" The company has to do what is right for the company. This also should mean we do what is right for our employees, because good employees make the company operate smoothly and successfully.

You are right to be concerned about PR, but it is far more likely that a case like this won't hit the papers (so many layoff stories to choose from!), but will be the hot topic around your remaining employees. That kills morale as well. (As if layoffs don't cause their own morale problems.)

Here is my suggestion, based on the assumption that this employee is aware of his failings as an employee. (If his manager has been too wimpy to address his performance issues, then you've got extra troubles.)

Have his manager sit down with him, explain that because of the recent economic downturn, it's highly likely that there will be layoffs. If there are layoffs his name is likely to be on the list. Therefore, he might want to prepare for such a possibility. Let the manager tell him, "I'm aware of your health situation and wanted to let you know that if, by some chance, you are on medical disability, we would not terminate you until your doctor clears you for work or the period of disability ends. At that time, you would be eligible for the severance package."

This way, the guy knows it is coming and can opt for disability right now. (If that's a possibility with his doctor.) The powers that be, at your company, may or may not approve. But, trust me, firing him now is not going to be much of a cost savings anyway. He needs the cancer treatment. COBRA is going to be cheaper than paying cash, so he'll undoubtedly take COBRA. His salary, while on disability, should be covered by your short term disability. Granted, if you are self insured this can be expensive. But, you also don't show bad will to the rest of your workforce.

In normal situations, I'm not a fan of advance notice of a layoff. Why? Because the affected person can't get on with his life and he comes to work crabby and his co-workers who weren't "selected" don't know how to relate and everybody is uncomfortable. Blech. But, this seems to be a situation where some advance notice may solve a whole host of problems.

It's not, by the way, illegal to fire a sick person. You just can't fire them because they are sick. Which goes back to the previous documentation. Good luck!

The Most Depressing Blog Ever

Layoff Tracker. It reports on all anounced layoffs.

The scary thing is to look at the number of posts so far this year: 181.


On the other hand, my husband got a call from a headhunter this morning. So, there are jobs out there.

Monday, February 02, 2009

An FMLA Question

You have an exempt employee who is officially at 20 hours a week. Because she is exempt she is paid the same amount every week, regardless of how many hours she puts in. She frequently works more than 20 hours, but no time cards exist.

She has a baby and requests FMLA. On her official schedule of 20 hours a week, she has not worked the requisite number of hours to qualify under the statute. She claims with the additional hours she has put in, she more than qualifies. Her manager agrees. (FYI, I believe you need 1250 hours in a year for FMLA to qualify. Assume her company meets the other qualifications for FMLA and she has been there more than a year.)