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Friday, July 31, 2009

When Your Dream Job is a Nightmare

What do you do when your new dream job turns into 14 hours a day of nightmare? Head on over to US News and see what I recommend and make your own comments.

Should you go exempt?

I am happily employed at a nonprofit as a non-exempt employee. Unfortunately, as is true at many NPO’s I do not get any sick pay, holiday pay or vacation pay. The option of becoming an exempt employee is now on the table, but I’m not sure it’s beneficial. Last year I grossed $20,000 working an erratic but flexible schedule at an hourly rate of $20 and an average of 20 hours weekly. If I become exempt without a pay increase, 20 hours a week at $20 hour gets me $20,800, so what is the benefit. Yes, technically I would get paid holidays and vacation, but I already didn’t work those days, and made the same amount of money. What are the pros and cons of becoming an exempt or salaried (are these even the same thing) employee? Is it standard to get a pay raise when becoming exempt?

Nothing is standard. You can ask if a pay raise comes along with the exempt status. Who knows? But, financially, the benefits are only there if you're going to be working fewer hours than you have (unless a pay raise is in the offering).

Exempt/non-exempt status is determined by the type of job you do--your responsibilities. I'll assume you meet the requirements for exempt status. There's nothing wrong with an employer taking someone who would qualify for an FLSA exempt status and paying you hourly. However, if the employer chooses to do this, he must treat you as an hourly employee, in that if you work more than 40 hours a week, you are eligible for overtime pay.

This doesn't seem like an issue in your case.

Lots of people want to be exempt because of the prestige of the whole thing. For some reason we've determined that having that exempt label makes you cooler, or something. In your case, it does have the added benefit of paid sick and vacation days. However, since you are working a flexible, part time schedule anyway, there isn't a lot to be said for that.

My advice in the end? Find out the details. Be wary that they are "offering" you this because they want you to work more hours, but not have to pay you. (Perfectly legal--an exempt employee is paid by the job, not the hour, so you get the same paycheck whether you put in 5 hours in a week, or 60.) Ask yourself where you want to go. In many organizations, exempt staff are treated differently than hourly staff. You may be taken more seriously. (Honest!) You may have doors opened up to you that would otherwise be closed.

But, that is dependent on your organization's culture. Don't disregard the importance of culture.

If none of that matters, stay paid hourly. That way if you work more, you get paid more. Assuming, of course, that you will get enough hours to meet your needs.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Medical Problems with no FMLA

My mother is working part time for benefits until she retires. She has hated this job for many valid reasons. They have reprimanded employees hatefully in front of customers and refused employees time off for medical reasons.

She had cataract surgery on one eye and was required to work that next day. She did not complain. She made the managers aware at the time of scheduling the first surgery that she would need to have the other eye done in two weeks. They are refusing to give her the time off even though she is asking for 1 day and the next morning only.

She is a few hours shy of being qualified for FMLA. She is scared to go to HR about this because of retaliation. The Bank has a non-retaliation policy, but she doesn't find comfort in this because she is not sure how she could prove something like what she expects if she complains. This branch is known for its high turnover by other branches. She has great attendance, has come in to help on her days off, and has stayed over when they needed her. She fears if she loses this job, she will not be able to find another at her age.

This is where I like to play the game, "What is the worst that can happen." I find this is fun to play with myself when I'm nervous about something. Like, for instance, ordering cheese at the deli. Granted, you all say, that is easy to do. Well, you try doing it in a language your barely speak. Add into the mix that you will be doing it in bad High German, when the person behind the counter speaks Swiss German. And you can't really take Swiss German lessons because it's not really taught anywhere. But, I have to say, "the worst thing that could happen to me is that I'll get the wrong cheese." And since all cheese is good cheese, it's not that bad.

But enough about me. The worst thing that can happen to your mother if she goes to HR: She can be fired, which is against policy. (And just a reminder, I am not a lawyer, but since she's not eligible for FMLA, they don't have to grant her time off for medical reasons, but the courts generally consider company policies as binding, so blah, blah, blah a competent HR person would not allow her to be fired.) But, now we ask the next question: What is the worst that can happen if she doesn't go to HR?

Well, then, she can be fired for skipping work because they didn't approve a day off. Either way, the worst thing that can happen is the same thing. Since it's a lose-lose situation, you have to ask, "what is the best thing that can happen?"

Well, the best thing that can happen if she doesn't go to HR, is that her manager will just yell at her for taking the day off, unapproved. But, the best thing that can happen if she goes to HR is that the time off will be approved and there will be a crack down on nonsense by her management.

The latter is unlikely, by the way. If it's gotten this bad, it's not going to change easily. But, my point is, I think she should try. Don't be accusatory. Just ask, "I need to take the day off for surgery. This surgery will help me to do my job better because I'll be able to actually see. What do I need to do to get this done?"

By asking for help this way, rather than "My stupid manager won't let me have a day off, even though it's for surgery!" you get HR on your side, instead of in defensive mode. If she shows willingness to re-schedule her surgery, that might help as well.

I normally advise trying to work out problems without involving HR, but sometimes we can actually be helpful. (Really!)

I also suggest she ask her manager for a solution as well. Perhaps she's unknowingly scheduled her surgery on a day that 14 other people are going to be out of the office and the manager is to harried to explain that. Perhaps the manager is so used to dealing with liars that saying no is just a knee-jerk reaction. Try to not be adversarial and see if it helps. Really. After all, what is the worst that can happen?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Being (un)Helpful

I hope you can give me some direction. My husband works for a commercial electric company that has several locations across the US. The company has been suffering financially and in March 2009 a memo was sent to employees offering possible transfer opportunities. He continued employed out of Florida with travel to other states in order to continue working. He is a field foreman, and his last work site came to completion one week ago with no more work in our region. He was terminated with a rehire status for 60 days.

His HR manager is someone he has worked with closely in the past when he held an in-house position. They have never seen eye to eye. When my husband reached out to him inquiring about transfer opportunities to the west coast, it came as no surprise not to receive an answer. He left several messages for him for one week. We are a single income family, with 3 young children. Having spent the last year apart has drained us financially and more importantly emotionally.

As my husband continued to search for employment, I took out the March memo regarding transfer opportunities and began to call the HR managers listed, starting with his direct hr manager-no answer. The letter explained that any of the managers could be contacted and they would be happy to help all being privy to the same information. I was successful in reaching 2 out of 9, I explained why I was calling and not my husband and they were very helpful and understanding. They both stated the need for foreman in their areas and we should expect a call back after the weekend. At that point I told my husband what I had done and he put another call into his hr manager, leaving a message that I had called and he should expect a call from them possibly asking for recommendations.

Monday morning rolled in and he finally got the call back from his hr manager: "how unprofessional of you having your wife call....west coast has no work....maybe one of the areas has a need but not for a foreman rather a journeyman...." said his hr manager. What can we do--it seems to us that he is not being forthright. We were told that there is a need for him in those areas. I want to call back his hr manager and try to appeal to him on a human factor, we met several times and he seemed like a nice man when he was with his wife. I would like for him to know why I took it upon myself to call. I do not know if I should call back the other hr managers that had said they would call me back. We do not want to lose his tenure, pension, and job. Thank you in advance for your attention.

The first thing you can do is put down the phone. There are only a few times when a spouse should call their beloved’s boss/hr and this isn’t one of them. (Incidentally, the times spouses should call are when your husband/wife is in the hospital and unable to pick up a phone and call, and to inform the company that your spouse has died. There may be one or two other situations where it is appropriate, but really, this is something that should be used with extreme caution.)

You wanted to help. I totally get that. It is frustrating to have an out of work spouse. It’s even more frustrating when you know that there aren’t 12 other jobs just waiting for him. But, this is his battle and you have to let him fight it.

The HR managers were nice and helpful, because that’s what we are. (See, nice and evil!) But, all of them were thinking, “uggh, I hate it when the wife calls.” Incidentally, while I’ve received a ton of calls from wives over the years, I’ve never received a single call from a husband. The question I always have running in the back of my mind is, “Why isn’t your husband calling me? Does he not want the job? Does he not care? Does he know you are doing this? Did he ask you to do this?” All of these make him look worse, not better.

Appealing to the “human” side by emphasizing the single income family doesn’t necessarily work either. Everybody needs the money. That’s why we have jobs. (Okay, I did have one employee ask if his entire salary could be deferred because he was so phenomenally wealthy that getting money was just a pain. But that’s rare.) I’m not going to make decisions based on who “needs” the job more. I’m not saying that such things aren’t ever taken into consideration, but they shouldn’t be.

So what can you do? Well, you be supportive of your husband. Polish up your own resume and start looking for work.

What can he do? It may be time to realize that he is going to have to leave this company. If there has been a massive work slowdown, he’s not the only foreman looking for a new job. Absolutely pursue whatever is out there, but start looking outside the company as well.

If possible, leave HR out of internal search. (I say if possible, because I don’t know the company’s policies or practices and I don’t want him getting in trouble.) Have him send his resume directly to the hiring manager. Express his desire to relocate (perhaps even at his own expense—depends on the situation).

Times are tough for a lot of people right now. Granted, that isn’t comforting, but it is reality.

Friday, July 24, 2009

No Experience

First I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog. I like your straight forward answers and sense of humor! My question to you is what should a new graduate like me do to get into the HR world?

A little bit about me: I’ve graduated with my BA in psych in 07 and will receive my MBA in Sept 09. I’ve also gotten a HR Certificate. I’ve worked as a recruiter for about a year at a staffing agency and found that sale was not something I enjoy. I am now working as a HR administrator for a local company. The problem is at this position, I am working under a payroll person who doesn’t know much about anything else but payroll. I want to look for a place where I can really learn from someone who’s experienced and foster my career.

I’ve been applying to numerous positions but have not gotten any luck. Every job I look requires experience! How can I gain experience if no one is giving me the chance? I know that networking is important so that’s why I’ve joined SHRM and my local HR Chapter, but even so, that hasn’t really help. Please help!

First of all, you are doing something right. Not just in writing to me (I used to say that showed superior intellect, but after some of the questions I've received, I've had to realize that that ain't true in all situations), but in how you've written to me. You started out by complimenting me and describing what I do here. This shows you are a better letter writer than our friend, the Public Relations guy, and he got a job.

Second, you do have experience. Recruiting and fulfilling administrative duties does give you experience. Stop thinking it doesn't. It, at a minimum, teaches you the language of HR. Use that langauge

Third, every job description every entry level job description says, "5 years of experience or similar." Bah. They know this job doesn't take 5 years of experience, so why write it? But they do and I don't know why. (Yes I do. Because they don't want to write, "this job requires you to have half a clue.")

So, what are you doing wrong? Well, for starters you're applying for jobs in a tight job market. And, unfortunately, this means you are competing against people who DO have five years of experience. Nothing you can do about that, just keep trying.

The other thing, which we can't fix now, is you have too much eduction in relation to your experience. Some people disagree with me, but I'm generally of the opinion that you should work for several years (5 or so) before getting an MBA. How can you be a master at business when you haven't even been a beginner at business?

Personalize your resume and cover letter. Don't discount your own experience. And keep on, keeping on.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another DUI questions

I have a question about dui and job prospects. I know people really do look at your criminal records. Well, my friend is still an undergrad in college right now. He was hoping to get into engineering for the city (so a government job). But just recently he was charged with a DUI. He was wondering if this recent DUI will affect him very badly? I.e: would employers just throw the resume and application away?

what impact can a DUI make on job prospects? how do you guys view that?

Yes, it will affect him. Your friend is an idiot. I have no sympathy for people who drink and drive. You know before you pick up that glass of alcohol that you have car keys in your pocket.

However, that being said, he's just been charged, not convicted. But we'll assume a conviction will happen shortly.

Technically, an employer can't hold a conviction against someone unless it relates to the job at hand. As I said, DUI proves you're an idiot, so that pretty much applies to every job, although I realize that I couldn't actually argue that in court. (At least I think I couldn't win with that argument. I'm not a lawyer.) But, there are million and one reasons not to hire anyone, and this black mark will not help.

Employers will not just throw his resume away though. In the professional world, resumes are usually reviewed and phone interviews conducted prior to filling out an official appliaction. You wouldn't list your DUI on your resume; You would have to list it on an application if they ask about convictions. (Although, more and more, companies are having you apply through their websites, which means filling out applications from the get go.)

A smart recruiter knows that it is illegal to consider information such as that (in most cases), and won't inform a potential hiring manager. Applying for a government job may actually be a better idea than the private sector because they tend to have stricter rules in place regarding such things.

Still, the most important thing is to tell your friend not to do it again, and work his tail end off in school to get super good grades. Take whatever internships you can get (unpaid if necessary) because in a poor job market, with a DUI in tow, it's going to be difficult to get a good job.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Importance of Individualizing a Cover Letter

I don't hire people; haven't hired people in years. But, I can still tell you that it's important to make sure what you send to someone who does hire people is tailored to that particular job. I was reminded of this when I received an e-mail from a public relations person who wanted me to promote a book.

I know that this person did not tailor his e-mail to me at all for the following reasons:

1. He just starts out with the text. No salutation including my name. (Dear Evil HR Lady, or Evil HR Lady-- or even, Hi Evil! which always cracks me up. You get extra points if you address me as Suzanne, which I have only occasionally mentioned, unless you follow me at US News, so I know you at least have done some reading.)

2. His second sentence is: "I think you do a great job discussing the significant issues and trends in HR today." If significant trends include answering people's questions and posting pictures warning against the evils of nose picking then he's right. Otherwise, he's never actually read my blog. I will admit, that once in a while I do comment on an HR trend, but it's certainly not my focus. Any regular reader would know that.

3. He asks me to participate in a blog tour. I haven't done any sort of book review or author interview in a long time. Asking is fine. If I really think your book is interesting, I might do just that. But, make some reference that you realize this is out of the oridinary for me

As an end result of this, I'm not going to even consider this "candidate." I know I was just a person on a list and he hit "send" on a mass e-mail.

When your cover letter has these flaws, you also find your resume in that big delete file in the sky. Sending a resume is asking for something from somebody. If you are going to ask, at least take the time to get to know who you are asking.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Payroll Problems

I am the manager of a department of nine, four of whom (including myself) are exempt employees. The exempt staff has, for years, altered their schedules to cover the vacations, absences, and terminations of other staff, both exempt and non-exempt. This has never been a problem before. Two of the exempt staff work five day, eight hour work-weeks, while the other two work four day, ten hour work-weeks.

A few weeks ago, one of the 5/8 employees covered the shift of the 4/10 staffer who went on vacation. The Friday of the second week of the switched schedule coincided with a federal holiday. The employee had already worked the altered shift for that week, but for some reason payroll said that they were not allowed to do that, and switched it to PTO time. I explained to them that, for years, this was the way we worked, and they replied that it didn't matter. I now have a meeting set with HR next week to discuss this matter and get some long-term guidance, but, somehow, this doesn't seem right to me.

The individual was assigned to (even though s/he volunteered to take the assignment) a different shift. They worked their expected workload (40 hours) and at least another four hours on top of that. I understand that exempt status is intended to ensure that certain professional roles are carried out properly, irregardless of the time needed to complete them, at a basically fixed rate of pay; but to force someone to take PTO time when they have already altered their shift (at personal inconvenience to them and their family) and have met the required forty hours seems to be an abuse of the exempt status.

Am I off base here?

You are not off base. I'm going to tell you the Evil HR Lady's First Rule of managing exempt employee time off: Don't tell anyone what you are doing. Just do it.

I know I've just set some micromanagers into serious twitch mode. Your want to give an exempt employee a comp day? Just do it. Don't tell HR. Don't tell payroll. Just do it.

But, this doesn't help you now. Here is what payroll is thinking: Bob is scheduled to work Mon-Friday. He did not work Friday. We did not receive any official paperwork changing Bob's schedule. Therefore, he must use a PTO day.

Now, why you have to use a PTO day for a Federal holiday is beyond me. It seems like either the company is open (in which case you don't mention to payroll that Bob didn't work), or the company is closed (in which case everyone gets it off). But, apparently your company doesn't work like that.

I'm also going to go out on a limb here and bet that your company requires time cards for exempt employees. I both like and dislike this policy. On the like side, it makes tracking vacation easier and you can also see how many hours your exempt staff is putting in, which can help you evaluate necessary changes to the job. On the other hand, they are exempt for a reason. Let them do their jobs and leave them alone. When it comes down to it, I dislike time tracking for exempt employees more than I like it.

Now, hopefully your HR person will have a clue and she'll work it out with payroll and Bob will get his PTO day restored. If he doesn't, this is where you follow the rule I listed above: Just don't tell anyone.

The next time Bob takes a week off (or a day off, or whatever) just report to payroll that he took one less day then he really did.

Oh dear, I'm encouraging lying, which I say never to do. I think I'm having an ethical problem here. What I'm really saying is that sometimes policy is so stupid that there is only one logical way around it.

To give payroll credit, though. How were they supposed to know that Bob had an arrangement with you? And they have to follow zillions of government imposed rules and no one ever thanks them--they only get yelled at when something goes wrong. And a lot of times, the thing that went "wrong" is actually legally correct, but they get blamed for it. (Like it's payroll's fault that the government requires them to garnish your wages for alimony for your soon to be ex-husband who quit his job and ran off with the biker girl that lived next door.)

But, I think HR will be able to straighten it out. I hope. For the record, I would have been able to straighten it out. But, I've always worked with rational pay roll people.

New Policy

When I'm put in charge of employee policy, I'm definitely adding this poster to the handbook. And posting it next to the cafeteria.

Edited to add that my brilliant German speaking readers have translated the poster for me (I'm still learning "Das Auto ist Blau.") and it is an anti women's suffrage poster, not an anti nose picking poster. I still want to use the poster, I'll just remove the political language. Although incidentally women's suffrage is very recent on Switzerland.

Definitely no nose picking at work.