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Friday, August 28, 2009

He said that...

I am going to use the following names in this scenario: SUPERVISOR: John, EMPLOYEE: Jane

Jane asked John if he had said anything about her to another employee. He said he did not. He asked Jane who told him that. Jane refuses to tell him who. Jane stated that his word is good enough for her. John sends me (HR) a written statement and demands an investigation on why employees are gossiping about him.

My initial thought is "What does he want me to do? Take Jane into an interrogation room and threaten her if she doesn't give me the names?" I think John should stop whining and know that employees will sometimes talk about you especially if you are a supervisor. If I knew which employees it was, maybe I would talk to them and tell them not to talk about people. But, I don't even have names.

What advice do you have on how to handle this supervisor? Also, do you have any advice on what would be proper if I DID have names?

Oh blech. Here we are in 7th grade all over again. A manager wants an investigation about why employees are gossiping about him? Seriously. Tell him that it would be worth investigating if employees weren't gossiping about him.

And I'm concerned about my spelling of gossiping. It looks funny and I think it should have two ps. But it doesn't; it only has one. Weird.

For the record, I'm on Jane's side here. Instead of engaging in the gossip herself, she went to the supposed source and asked for clarification. She is also trying to end the drama right now by not tattling on whoever said whatever. I usually advise people to ask people directly if they want to know what someone thinks. Good for Jane.

Now, as your John. I have a strong suspicion that he lied to Jane. I bet he has been talking about her and now he's all freaked out because one of the people he "trusted" has now blabbed, but he's blabbed to so many people that he has no idea who to yell at. (No idea at whom to yell? It's grammar day here at EHRL!)

But, even if he didn't, his reaction is over the top. He doesn't know his people. He doesn't trust his people. He's blown up what could easily have been a misunderstanding to a full fledged witch hunt. This is not how to manage people.

I would ask him what he hopes to achieve by an investigation. He, of course, wants to find out WHO IS GOSSIPING ABOUT HIM. Ask him why. What does he intend to do with that information? Fire the person? Because most companies would not say this is a fireable offense. (Fireable=not a word according to firefox.) Point out that if gossip was truly a problem in his group, he'd know who the instigator was, without any investigation. Those things usually come to light pretty quickly.

Instead, suggest that he let this go. (I know, not likely to happen.) Suggest it again. Congratulate him for being open enough that Jane felt comfortable coming to him directly. Suggest regular staff and 1:1 meetings if he's not having them. These will help people be aware of what is going on and feel more included. This will also allow him to figure out problems and fix them. Tell him that you will be happy to coach him through this process. Because you need to.

Now, this assumes Jane isn't an attention seeking whacko. Because if she is, this is the wrong answer. Heh.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How to break into HR (or anything else)

Want to know a secret way to get a job? Okay, it's not secret, but it's a suggestion I made over at US News. Go over and add your suggestions as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What's the purpose of having someone answer your phone?

Over at Ask a Manager a reader asks what to do about an HR person who called her first and now won't take/return the reader's calls. Ask a Manager gives an excellent (as usual) answer. It, however, brings me to this question: What is the purpose of having someone answer your phone if all they are going to do is send you to voice mail?

Yes, I know it's so that if the CEO calls, your receptionist can run and get you out of whatever important meeting you are in. Except, how often does that happen? Really? And if it happens a lot, then his admin can call your admin directly.

A couple of days ago I called a woman with whom I had been corresponding via e-mail. I needed an answer to a rather basic question about the German language lessons this school offered. What I got was the receptionist. She said the person I was looking for was not available, and would I like her voice mail? I said, "Oh, perhaps you can help me. I just have a question--"

"Oh, I'm just the receptionist," she said, cutting me off.

The funny thing is, in my experience this isn't unusual. So, why have someone answer your phone if they can't answer the most basic question? I've had bosses who insisted on the rule that "all calls be answered by a live person." This is good if the live person could help, but in practice, it just meant a live person saying, "Can I take a message?"

Now, I am not at all discounting the value of a good administrative assistant. I'm discounting the necessity of having a human, who can't really help you, answering the phones. Someone explain.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How to Quit

I am very happy with my job and I'm on good terms with my boss. My husband recently got a job several states away and will be starting work there in one week. The plan was for me to stay at our house and work until it sold--well, it sold in the first weekend! Now I only have 3 weeks until I'm homeless in this state! My boss is traveling for business for the next two weeks. I'd prefer to resign in person, but there isn't time. Do you have any etiquette recommendations on giving my two weeks by phone or email?

Holy cow! You sold your house in one weekend? I am super-de-duper jealous. I thought we were beyond lucky to sell our house in 2 months.

Now, just so we're clear with everyone reading, this is a special circumstance. This is not the preferred way to resign from a position. Although, I will admit that I once quit via e-mail. I know, I know. Tacky. My boss was in a different office and I kept calling and getting his voice mail and I certainly didn't want to leave a message saying, "I quit!"

Since you are on good terms with your boss, let's do everything to keep it that way--especially since you'll need a reference. (Assuming you'll be looking for a new job.) Here are my recommendations:

  • Phone calls are more personal than e-mails, so call
  • Apologize profusely for doing it over the phone
  • Tell her why you are leaving, how much you enjoyed working for her, and how you learned a lot
  • Explain about the unexpected house sale and apologize again for the short notice
  • Still write a formal resignation letter, sign it, and give it to her after the fact. You can send a copy via e-mail, after the phone conversation.
One thing that I will mention, is that you've been looking towards this for a long time. People are frequently afraid to tell their bosses that they are planning to quit in the near future. You could have made this easier on yourself by telling your boss your plans when your husband accepted the new position. Granted, some bosses will fire you because they know you are leaving, but not usually ones with whom we have good relationships.

When I quit my last job, I told my boss as soon as my husband had a verbal job offer. I told her there was a 90% chance I would be leaving and gave her tentative dates. I then helped figure out what the department's options were for replacing me, gave my opinion on internal candidates and did what I could to help. My boss was extremely understanding, but she's always been a great boss. (And for the record, her boss was understanding as well. I actually left the best job on the planet. What was I thinking? Oh yes, chocolate. I was thinking about chocolate.)

Good luck with your move! And with quitting your job. it's actually a difficult thing to do when you like the people you work for and with.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Time Card Trouble

What do you do when your people won't fill out their time cards? Head to US News's On Careers and check out my response, then leave your own.

A math problem

My problem is more of a math problem, I think. I have an employee on salary that has exceeded the number of vacation days he is allowed. How do I deduct his pay for this unpaid vacation time? I just can't grasp how to figure this out. He is paid bi-weekly, gets 2 weeks (80 hours/10 days, at least that is how it would be for an hourly employee) paid vacation, is required to work 6 days a week (10-12 hours per day).

It's a good thing I took calculus in high school, because it's been extremely helpful in payroll problems. (Thanks Mr. Ward!) I would also like to note (purely for my own self esteem boost) that I was the first female to ever pass the AP calculus exam at my high school.

Okay, this is simple division. Multiple ways to go about it. One, you could be a real stick in the mud and say that you will deduct 8 hours for each day he was gone--which would be rather traditional. Since he required to work 6 days a week, though, I'd take one week's pay, divide by six and have that be one day's pay.

Except I wouldn't do any of this. You have an exempt employee, who regularly puts in 60 to 72 hours a week. Presumably, this is not an easy job, as it wouldn't require so many freaking hours. Exempt employees should get paid for the job, not by the hour. (Some people will argue that you can't deduct at all, I argue that you can in whole day increments, but I'm not a lawyer and even if I were, this isn't the hill I want to die on.)

The hill I want to die on is that you should cut the guy some slack and grant him the two extra days. If he's a good employee this is especially important. If he's a bad employee, start dealing with his issues in another way. He's doing a ton of work. Give him the two days.

Somebody will start shrieking about workplace fairness. Well, to be fair, I think all exempt employees who work their tail ends off deserve some extra time off. Hourly employees are different--not because they are less valuable--but because the laws governing them are different. They are compensated with overtime pay for crazy hours.

You want to keep your good employees happy. You want to either change your bad employees to good employees, or work them out of the organization. This may help with the latter, but not at all with the former.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Managers Make More Money

I have been working at my place of employment for about a year and half. As of 7/06/09 I was moved to a different department and promoted to supervisor. At the time I was supervising 4 employees. I had to lay one of them off around 7/15 due to being overstaffed.

The employee (employee A) was supposed to be let go by my predecessor, but he never carried it out. I laid off the employee and needless to say that employee was shocked. I found out later that the former employee was going around saying that I fired him because I didn't like him.

He has a couple of friends still employed with the company so hearing this I was alarmed. Both friends (employee B and employee C) are currently under my supervision. I recently had a day off on 8/5 and returned to work on 8/6. I noticed that employee B was acting rather suspiciously. Doing things that he normally wouldn't do. He was always forgetting to lockout his computer when he would leave his desk. This day he immediately minimized an e-mail when I walked in the room. I looked down and saw that the title was "logging". I thought nothing of it. The employee then got up from his desk and left the room only to return a few seconds later and locked out his computer.

I became suspicious of this. Later that day the employee left his computer open and his e-mail up. I noticed a folder in his e-mail called "logging". I opened the folder and found that this employee had been logging incidents against me beginning on 7/16. The day after his friend was let go. He was e-mailing himself notes on interactions with me. Needless to say some of the notes are true but fabricated and some are complete lies. There was one incident that I did read and recall. I had moved the employee outside the office after he had made several costly errors and had told him that he is costing the company money with his mistakes. He logged this in that file. He made another entry how he dreads whenever I come in the room and feels that I shouldn't be allowed to look over his shoulder as he works. He also made another entry that "I said that he had herpes". Which is a lie. Employee C (the other friend) was saying that employee B had them because of his chapped lips and they where laughing back and forth amongst themselves. I had no part in this conversation. I am fairly new to supervising people and was completely blind sided by this because I didn't know that this employee was out for me.

After reading this I have taken a different approach in dealing with this employee and have started employee notes on all my employees in case I need to refer back to them in the future. This employee is consistently late coming in to work and returning from breaks and I am not sure how to deal with this either. Because I really don't need the extra stress if this employee decides to forward this file.I really am just looking for some advice. I am not sure if I should bring this up to my manager. Also I am not sure if I violated anything by reading this log on his company e-mail. Can you please help me out. I am trying my best to learn from this but its difficult and is causing me to be stressed out about the whole situation.

So, I see we're learning why managers make more money, are we? Ahh, talk about trial by fire.

To be supremely unhelpful, I'm going to talk about the things that were done incorrectly. Please note, I used passive voice on purpose because I'm not pointing fingers. I just want to give big hugs to everyone! Let's just all be friends!

Sorry, I don't know what came over me there. But, you made some mistakes and I want to address them. The bigger mistakes, however, were made by your management and your HR department. You don't give someone their first job supervising others and immediately have him fire someone without expert coaching. It seems like you didn't receive that expert coaching.

Employee A should have been terminated by your predecessor. I don't know the story behind that, but laying someone off should never be a single person's decision. I'm all in favor of managers managing, but there are legal things to be considered in a layoff and for those reasons someone other than the direct supervisor need to be aware of and involved in the termination process. A date needs to be set and a witness to the actual termination (preferably another manager or HR, and definitely not a peer of the unlucky person.)

This, obviously, was not done, if the previous boss procrastinated the awful task. (And make no mistake, laying someone off is AWFUL. I've trained managers who couldn't even say the words when they were practicing what to say. It's a terrible task. Terrible. I give you big credit for having the guts to go ahead and do what needed to be done.)

So, you sat down with employee A, told him that due to workload his position was eliminated. Perfect. (I am going to assume you did this part perfectly. Please don't burst my bubble by telling me you yelled across the office, "Hey Bob, you're fired as of today. Don't forget to clock out on the way out. By the way, I hate you.") The problem is you also need to hold a debriefing with the rest of the staff and say, "Employee A was laid off today because we were overstaffed. As of right now, no new terminations are expected. We are very sad to see Employee A go, but unfortunately it was a business decision that was approved at the highest level of the organization."

This heads off the rumors about why Employee A was fired. Of course, even if you did do this, there is no guarantee that the employee won't be angry and bitter and try to gain sympathy with his friends, which is what he is doing.

So, now, where do you go from here?

1. Make a plan. My suggested plan (which may or may not be appropriate for the people involved) is the direct approach. You call employee B into your office, tell him you are aware that he is unhappy with you as a manager. Then you can discuss your expectations, listen to his concerns and schedule a follow up meeting.

2. Before executing this plan, talk to your manager. You're a new supervisor. His job is to help you learn how to do that job. Explain what is going on, and what you want to do and ask for coaching. Do not ask him to talk to Employee B for you. That's wimpy, and you wouldn't do it anyway.

There are several key reasons for doing this. One is that the last thing you want is to handle the situation and have Employee B going to your manager and have him override your decision. If you're going to be overridden, better to find out before you talk to the employee. Another is that you need to make sure you are doing what is right for the business.

3. Keep communication open with all your employees. Especially in a new manager situation, I like to see 1:1 meetings (you with an individual employee) every week or two. Some people think this is serious overkill and micromanaging, but it all depends on what you are doing in these meetings. They can be excellent ways to develop your employees, follow up on their goals (you may have to set some if their previous manager didn't--and feel free to modify if he did), and keep track of workload and projects.

4. Realize that if Employee B's attitude doesn't change, he may have to go as well. You would, of course, do this after regular coaching and with approval from your manager.

Being a manager is tough. But, that's why you make the big bucks.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Blog Birthday!

Today my blog is 3! I would make a cake to celebrate but it's supposed to be in the low 30s (see, I've already adjusted to centigrade!) and we have no air conditioning. Therefore, I have no desire to turn on my oven.

In honor of the big celebration, I did get a present of a brand new computer. Hopefully this will mean that I can do a better job of deleting the Chinese spam posts, unless of course, you all like those because they are helpful in managing your life.

Here are a few of the past year's posts that are either my favorites or generated a lot of comments:

Making it harder to get hired
The power of [passive aggressive] suggestion
How sending my child to school taught me about why people hate HR
Leading people, leading organizations
A friendly warning from the grim reaper
Confidential e-mail
Race Questions
Telecommuting bosses
How to get hired
A Laundry Question
Past Transgressions
Vacation micro-management
Changing diapers

Friday, August 14, 2009

What to Wear

I have a interview attire question I hope you can help with, should I wear a jacket to an interview? I have an in-person interview in a few weeks and have been told that the interview attire should be business casual. I understand the basics, my confusion is whether a jacket and/or tie is appropriate, I've come across conflicting information. I feel more comfortable in a jacket than without in professional situations, but I don't want to overdress. My gut instinct is that it is better to be more formal than less, but I don't have much real experience in the business world. Some details; I'm a PhD scientist, transitioning from academia to industry. The position has some managerial duties but is still mostly hands-on. The job is in biomedical manufacturing, with probably little, if any, interaction with people outside the company. Any insight you can give is appreciated.

My gut instinct is to go with the jacket, maybe a sport coat (note to my readers, from the name on the e-mail, I assume this person is male). Definitely a tie.

I've read that you should scout out the parking lot and see what people wear and wear that. I think you should scout out the parking lot, see what people wear and wear one step higher. (Unless it's a suit and tie sort of place, then you should not show up in a tux.) So, if they all come out in jeans, you go in a blue button down shirt and dockers. If they wear dockers and golf shirts, you wear dress pants and a button down shirt with a tie (conservative colors). If they wear the latter, you wear a suit.

I'll say, when I was hiring people to report to me (not recruiting, mind you), it really bothered me when people would show up under dressed--I felt like they didn't feel like the interview was important.

My opinion may be old school though, so perhaps my readers can comment and make suggestions.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No Money to Pay

We are having financial issues like many companies. We are having difficulty funding our payroll and we were late last week by 2 days but made it. It doesn’t look like we will have the funding for next week’s payroll. Should I recommend to the President that we lay off all employees? At least they could apply for unemployment or look for other possible jobs.

Well, based on that one paragraph I'm not sure I can give the best answer. Instead I'll ask another question: Why the all or nothing approach? Will you have zero money coming in, or would you be able to retain some people? How big is your business? If you lay everyone off (except, I presume, the president) is that different than shutting down the business? Is there chance of recovery in the near future?

The answers to these questions all make a difference. But as a general rule, I dislike letting people hang. And that's what you are currently doing to your employees. If their paychecks were two days late last week, they know why. They are all stressed out about the situation.

It's my understanding that in most, if not all states, the company not paying you is reason to be granted unemployment. So, people could already do that if they wanted to.

I think it's unethical to let people continue working when you have no intention of ever paying them. If, on the other hand, you have the intention and evidence that strongly suggests you will be able to pay them in the very near future, that's a different thing.

What I would do is figure out how much money you have, who your key players are, what the consequences would be of terminating everyone you can't afford to pay and creating a plan to save some of the people and the business. That's HR's job: to help the business.

This will mean letting some people go (no matter what), but I think it's better to be upfront with people: We are terminating you because we won't be able to pay you, rather than telling them that their paychecks will be coming "soon." Last week's pay was 2 days late, this week's is 4 days late, next week...

And keep in mind that you need to pay them for work already performed, so that needs to be on the list of priorities.

Basically, the situation stinks and there isn't a lot you can do to make it better. But making people come to work when they won't get paid makes it worse. You may find that some people prefer working with the possibility of no pay to being terminated with the guarantee of no pay.

You may also find that a more creative approach is possible. Can you offer people shares in the company in lieu of paychecks? (Check the laws in your state. Don't know if this is legal or not, just a thought!) If your employees become owners they may be able to solve problems they can't solve now because, why put effort into a job that may or may not pay you?

One thing is for certain--this isn't an easy situation to be in. People are not going to walk away happy. But at least put some thought into the plan and figure out the consequences of each action.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Changing Diapers

Since my "official" title here in Switzerland is "Hausfrau" (really, it's on my paperwork!), I thought I'd comment on that ever so fun task of changing stinky diapers.

First of all, I'd like to express my love and appreciation to the designers, scientists, engineers (diaper engineer, if there is such a thing), and marketers who created the modern disposable diaper.


Now, in one of those child rearing books (I won't say which one, but I expect that any of you who have gone through childbirth and rearing of small children will have read at least part of these series) it gives very serious diaper changing advice: Do not criticize or indicate in any way that your child's output is stinky. Why? It will damage the poor little darling's self esteem! And we wouldn't want that, would we?

I found that to be one of the most laughable pieces of advice in the whole series. (And keep in mind, this same series informed me that for a treat, while pregnant, I can have some yogurt! Um, how about an entire carton of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey instead? Note, I am not now pregnant, but when I was pregnant, no way was I following that advice.) I think about it when I'm changing my toddler's diaper. "Come here Mr. Stink pants," I say. Or, perhaps, "Where's my little stink butt?" And we all giggle and laugh at Mr. Stinky's exceptionally foul pants, because he has special skills and abilities in that area.

And, so as I was laughing about the ludicrousness of trying to convince my brilliant baby that his poo smells like flowers, in order not to damage his self esteem, I was reminded of a statement by Alison at Ask a Manager regarding firing bad employees. (It's in the comments, by the way, so scroll down.)

I fire them! I consider it part of the benefits package for other employees not to have to work with asses. Am I the only one?

Because you see, bad employees are similar to Mr. Stinky Pants. Everybody around him knows just how bad he stinks, but for some reason rather than saying, "Come here, Mr. Stinky!" (Okay, that would get you fired, but you see where I'm going with this), we try to pretend that it smells like flowers.

The problem is that saying it smells like flowers doesn't make it smell like flowers, but it can convince the stinker that his "output" is just fine, stink and all. But, what have you gained by convincing your baby that his poo is special and wonderful and should be shared with the world? Nothing. Your good employees aren't so dumb as to believe it and who wants to hang around a diaper pail? Not me, and not your other good employees.

If it stinks, it needs to be changed, not called something different. If it can't be changed, the whole thing needs to go.

Good thing we have disposable diapers, or Mr. Stinky's stay in our family would have been short lived.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Informational Interviews

I work at an organization where our managers do informational interviewers without talking with HR. Our policy per our AAP states that we only accept applications and interview candidates for open positions. Is there any harm in doing an informational interview if we have no interest in hiring them in the end?

For those of you who have never had the pleasure, an AAP is an Affirmative Action Plan and is required by the good old Federal Government for some companies. It is a huge pain in the rear end. It basically shows the government how you are going to rectify where you have "under hired" minorities. (Of course, you don't have to rectify where you have "over hired" minorities, but that's another blog post.)

All right, you're stuck with an AAP. Granted.

I'm going to now state something: Informational interviews are, by definition, not job interviews. Therefore, in theory, whether or not someone is granted an informational interview should be entirely irrelevant to your AAP. So, no harm done!

Except, I know what you are worried about. You're worried because nobody, outside some 20 year old who is writing a paper for his business class, really wants an informational interview to find out about the company; they want informational interviews to get a foot in the door. Sure, company X isn't hiring now, but if I talk to the big boss, when they are hiring, he'll remember me! Yeah! And that's where your AAP worries come about.

If you leave managers to their own devices and don't carefully monitor who comes in their doors, oh no! they might hire someone who looks like them! The horror! Yes, yes, yes, I know, as a general rule people tend to want to hire, be with, date, bowl with, people who look like them and who come from similar backgrounds. Your AAP is trying to get that to stop happening.

Now, I'm not an employment lawyer. (You all knew that line was coming, didn't you?) In fact, I might make a guess that an overly anxious employment lawyer would tell you to put an end to the informational interviews because they might give a leg up to a person who has not filled out an application yet.

I'm going to give the opposite advice. In fact, I'm also going to make a guess that your managers feel HR is a little heavy handed. They probably dislike having candidates have to be approved by HR, so they do the handy dandy "informational interview" in order to get around that. This way they can meet people without HR breathing down their necks and perhaps even gather a slate of potential candidates for when a position does open up. Because, you see, managers want the best person for the job.

I have never met any manager that just wanted the best white male for the job. Oh sure, you all roll your eyes and say, "like they are going to call up HR and say, 'Hey EHRL, I'm looking for a white male for this job, preferably with a SAHM wife and two kids.'" True, lacking the skill of legilimancy, they could be hiding their true preferences from me, but all I ever see is managers wanting the best possible person to fill the job.

Senior management wants their AAP numbers to line up. HR wants to never have to do another presentation on how we are "below target" in our accounting department, so would you please just hire a black guy so we don't have to tell you this any more, but it's just a guideline! Not a quota! No quotas here! Hire the best candidate. It would be great if it's a "diverse candidate!" But, no quotas! Gah.

I would just reiterate that informational interviews are informational and that job interviews are job interviews. I would also figure out why managers are doing so many informational interviews. You may find out that they have negative feelings towards the hiring process in general. Or, maybe they are just a bunch of friendly, networking people. (Note: When it's not a 20 year old college student asking for the interview, but a 45 year old person with a solid resume, the information flows both ways. They interviewers are networking just as much as the interviewees are. You never know when you'll run into someone again.)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Unable to Work

We have a fairly long term warehouse employee who claimed an injury about 8-9 months ago, which is being handled by our WC insurance. Our insurance says he is okay to work with no limitations. He has a lawyer who sent him to another doctor, who has him on restrictions. My question is : What is our responsibility as far as his Job Duties and Pay go? According to his doctor, he cannot work full time at any possible warehouse position, and he does not have any office skills at all, so I can’t move him there. What is my obligation if I simply have no position for him based on the restrictions he presents? By the way, we are not subject to FMLA. We haven’t had a claim of this type ever, so I am a bit at a loss on what to tell the employee regarding his job.

I'm not a lawyer. And even if I was, I wouldn't be a lawyer that specialized in workman's comp issues. It is a terribly complicated area of employment law and I don't want to touch it with a ten foot pole. You need to contact a lawyer that specializes in this area before proceeding.

But, I will anyway, because I like living on the edge. (Someone needs to, and it might as well be me.) You are under no obligation to continue to employe someone who cannot do any work for you. Since his doctor has declared him unable to perform any warehouse work, you don't have to continue to employ him.

If you have a disability policy, follow that. If you don't, implement one so you don't have this problem later on.

If you are subject to ADA restrictions, you have to make reasonable accommodations. Employing someone who can't do any work isn't reasonable, so let him go.

But, first, call a lawyer. It will be worth the money. Especially since your employee has a lawyer. Since he has one now, you can bet he's planning on suing you for any misstep. Call me paranoid, but first call your own lawyer.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Maternity Leave Problems

I’m the managing attorney at a small law firm. We have an employee (paralegal) who is currently out of the office on maternity leave. She’ll be out until September. Her work product prior to leaving was average. However, now that she is not here, I’ve learned of various tasks that were mishandled to the point that I feel that she needs to be “written up” for her poor performance. How can I (should I) do this while she is out on maternity leave?

I just want to point out that I am not a lawyer, but you are. Ha! Actually, I write this to demonstrate that should somebody else need legal advice in an employment situation, it's important to find someone who practices employment law, as clearly not all lawyers can address all situations. (This, of course, is true for everything. You don't want a criminal lawyer handling your merger either.)

First the lecture: How could you not know until she went out that there were problems? Not saying that things can't be hidden from managers, but when you wait until the person is out on maternity leave, it looks awfully suspicious. In fact, as a lawyer, you know that this looks suspicious, which is why you are asking.

Now, the instructions. Document as you would if she were still working. Keep to the strict policies that (I hope!) you already have in place. Make sure you don't hold her time off against her. I presume she's not eligible for FMLA because you are a small firm, but if she is, remember that any time off for FMLA can't be considered in performance appraisals and similar.

You need to treat this exactly the same way you would treat it if she were still in the office--with the exception of actually calling her up and saying anything. That will not go over well and even if she knows it is all true (which she may not, denial runs deep in the bad employee world), she will take this as a sign that you want to fire her for having the audacity to have a baby.

When she returns from maternity leave, you welcome her back and look at all the pictures of her darling little baby. (And hope to heck the baby is darling--there are some ugly ones out there and gosh it's hard to be polite when a picture of a little troll is shoved under your nose.)

Then, invite her into your office and explain what you've learned and how it is a problem and work with her to develop a plan to avoid this in the future. The key point here is that you must treat her exactly the same as you would treat anybody who didn't just have a baby. Best way to cover your behind is to treat everyone the same.

Now, this all assumes that what she's done wrong is not a fireable offense. (Note to picky people--I realize you don't need a reason to fire someone in the US, but most companies don't generally fire people just because. Besides, that's not nice.) If this is a fireable offense you need to fire her, but only if you would have fired someone else for the same thing.

Now, I know it's sticky because of the whole baby thing. This is why I like frequent performance reviews and one-one communication because you don't want things like this getting out of hand and having no one know anything until suddenly the person is in a protected class. Like, you don't want to be quiet and hope that a situation gets better and five minutes before you planned to finally discuss it--after 6 months of worsening behavior--have your employee announce she's pregnant, gay, born-again-Christian, Pagan, or something else. You know the reason you're having the discussion is the bad work behavior; the employee sees it as discrimination against whatever she is/was/will become.

Being a manager is tough. That's why managers get paid more.

Monday, August 03, 2009

No Rehire

I started a job in a warehouse in 2006. I was a model employee, helping other co-workers and not missing work. I got pregnant, and it was a very physical job. I resigned, because there were no openings in an easier department. I had to lift up to 50 lbs. I DID do it up until I was four months pregnant. My supervisors were impressed, and said when I resigned to have my baby, if there was a position open, they would gladly accept me back after I had my baby. So I had my baby, and I was lucky enough to go back to work there. THIS time, though, I was getting harassed more by men than the first time. I was the only woman in the department at the time.

The first time my son's dad worked there, as well, and we were still together. That might be why it wasn't as bad the first time. The second time I wasn't with him, so it was BAD at times. There were nights I would go home crying. So, basically, I let them get to me and I started to not want to go to work. Stupid choice on my part to let it get to me to miss that much work. So, I switched departments when I had a chance, and it was GREAT. No harassment. I wasn't making myself sick about having to go to work. I still got fired because my new supervisor saw that I was over my allotted days off. Everyone else knew, and was willing to let it go, I think, maybe because of the harassment. They knew it was happening. But she saw it and fired me, and not only that, I was listed as a "no-rehire". My question is, there is a different supervisor that would like me to come back and work in his department. It's a different shift than that of the supervisor that fired me, and a totally different department.

I was wondering if this supervisor could overwrite the "no-rehire" if he makes it clear that he wants me to work for him, and that my previous actions resulted from my work environment, and it wouldn't happen again. It was just so bad in that particular department. Like I said, I was VERY happy when I changed departments. It was like a different world from where I came from. I just wanted to know if you could tell me it possible?

Anything is possible. This, though, is on the low end of possible. But, let's back up.

When you were being harassed, did you officially complain to your manager? Did you officially complain to HR? Now, those who read me frequently know I recommend handling these things on your own if possible. That means when your co-worker says something rude, nasty, sexist (insert your own unpleasant description) that you say directly to him, (or her) "Do not say that in my presence again. I find that offensive." Surprisingly, that solves a whole host of problems.

But, if you've done that and it doesn't stop, you must go to your manager and officially complain. You need to document who said what and when they said it. Things like, "I just feel uncomfortable" don't cut it. "Joe said X on X date. I asked him to not say things like that to me. Later that day he said X again." This is helpful.

All of this documenting can help you, should it come down to a termination.

You acknowledge that you made a big mistake in skipping work. In a situation where harassment is going on, we sometimes want to withdraw, which ends up hurting us more. (As you found out.)

So, now what to do? Well, I assume the manager who wants to hire you knows you have a no rehire status. Ask him if it's possible to be overridden. He'll know better than I will. You can even explain about the harassment you received. Many companies will freak out because firing you looks suspiciously like retaliation, even though you were terminated for missing work. Of course, if you never complained, your case is much weaker.

However, I think you should recognize that it's time to move on. You need to pursue work elsewhere. Yes, it was a great company, great job, great whatever. It's not the only job on the planet. Ask the supervisor who wants you back to serve as a reference for you.

Companies rarely re-hire people who were previously terminated for cause. You may be an exception, but I wouldn't count on it.