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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Joy of Unions

My brother-in-law works for a unionized company and has for 2 years now. He has all the qualifications needed for his job and is going to night school to get even more qualifications that are recommended for his job but not required. Another co-worker in another sector of the company is being laid off and was told by HR that if he gets a certain class of driver's license by the end of the week he can have my brother-in-law's job instead and they will lay my brother in law off instead. Is this even legal?

Yep! It's called bumping and it happens all the time in a unionized workforce. How the process works is spelled out in the union contract. Your brother-in-law may be able to bump someone further down the line. He should check into it.

This is one of the many reasons I don't care for unions. It makes no business sense to choose your terminations not based on the individual, but on some hierarchy hashed out by lawyers who have never met the people who will be effected by this.

But, that is neither here nor there. Hope the guy doesn't get a driver's license in time or ask the union rep if there is someone below him that he can bump. Which, of course, is unfair to that person. But, that person may be able to bump someone else, and so on and so forth. Sometimes, you can work it so that no one ends up getting terminated and the position that gets eliminated is a vacant one. My guess is, though, in this market, there are few vacant positions. Sorry.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Can a company divulge the details of a performance improvement plan to another company verifying a candidate's (assuming the candidate was put into a performance improvement plan by his former employer) employment history?

Can a company? Sure! (Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, and I have no knowledge of your actual location, so this may not apply to you at all.)

People have this strange idea that companies are a. only allowed to verify titles/dates/salaries or b. forbidden from giving bad reviews. This is false.

Now, if you follow the official rule book and your reference seeker calls HR (or an HR service center, which large companies frequently use) and asks for a reference, HR will give (or verify, depending on the company) title and dates of employment--maybe salary info if you are super-de-duper lucky. Most companies aren't going to authorize an official reference to include anything else. I suspect there may be some companies which will say if it was a voluntary or involuntary term as well.

However, someone who is actually doing a reference check and not merely verifying employment is going to ignore that 800 number and call someone you actually worked for.

This person may have company rules which dictate what he can/cannot say, but that's not to say he won't open his mouth and tell the truth about your performance plan.

And yes, your boss could get in trouble from his boss for doing this, but unless it goes into the level of libel, it's not illegal. Truth is still a defense against libel and a performance improvement plan (PIP) is an excellent way to prove truth. Whether or not the PIP itself was an accurate depiction of your performance is probably (hedging my answer here, as I am not a lawyer) irrelevant. Why? Because it is easily provable that you were on a PIP.

So, I suspect this isn't just an academic inquiry. If you are on one, you really, honestly, truly, need to work your tail end off to get off the PIP. You also need to go HERE RIGHT NOW and read Alison Green's (Ask A Manager) excellent column on what to do when you are about to get fired.

If it reaches the point of firing, it's important that you find out exactly what your boss will say about you if he is called for a reference. And don't think that if you don't put him down as a reference on a resume that he won't get called. Good recruiters are likely to call anyway.

For more on performance reviews:
Why a Formal Performance Review is Unnecessary.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Should you let subordinates do some interviewing?

How weird is that? You go to a job interview and find out one of the people behind the desk is a direct report to the position for which you are interviewing. Good idea or bad idea? Find out my thoughts over at US News and leave your comments there. Or here. I'm not picky.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I am in a bind. I don't really know what to do. Previously, the HR lady in my fairly small office was nice to me, always smiling at me and saying hi, for about two years. Then, I got written up because we had this super boring mandatory 8 hour staff meeting and I was doodling on some papers that were passed out during it, which I wasn't doing maliciously so much as I was in an effort to stay awake during the 8 hours of sitting still in a hot room hearing about H1N1 and other mind-numbingly boring subjects.

In addition to this, one of my co-workers, who, during his time at my work, became one of my best friends, was fired for a really flimsy reason (official reason listed was that he fell asleep in a meeting, but i was sitting beside him in said meeting and he absolutely did nothing of the sort) and after his dismissal, I was very upset and distraught, and I shared these feelings with my supervisor, who I am sure shared my concerns with HR. Now, aforementioned HR lady won't even look at me, no longer greets me, and if I have to interact with her at all she is uncomfortably cold to me and as minimally helpful as she can be. I want to bring this concern about her conduct with me to my supervisor, but then who does it go to? Back to her, so that she can deny it and make me feel even more uncomfortable? I feel trapped. If it was anyone else in my office, I know who I would turn to, but who do I talk to when it is the HR lady that is making my work-life hell? What do I do?

I needed to re-read this question several times to grasp the concept--because I'm still in shock that you were written up for doodling? Honest? I'm a chronic doodler. I attribute my doodling to my success in life. Why?

A study that compared how well people remembered details of a dull monologue found that those who doodled throughout retained more information than those who tried to sit and listen.

But, I need to clarify something first. Your manager would have been the one to decide to write you up, not HR. Honest, we don't roam the halls looking for infractions. (Now, I will grant that there is probably an HR person or two out there who does this, and in some companies a lot of administrative staff has a hard-line reporting relationship to HR and only dotted-line relationships to the people they support.)

So, here's my best guess. Your manager is a dork who blames his own stupidity on HR. HR knows this, and the HR woman is now embarrassed to deal with you, because she's had to help out with the process of writing you up for doodling.

As for your friend being fired for sleeping in a meeting, again, unless HR Lady was running the meeting, it's most likely your boss who did this.

Which means, by complaining to your boss, you're complaining to him about problems he caused, but blaming HR. It's a little problematic.

This puts us to where you are. First, why do you care if the HR person smiles at you in the hallway? It reminds me of my freshman year in college where one of my roommates was absolutely convinced that one of my friends hated her. Why? "I saw Laura on campus today and she didn't say hi!" she would complain. I'd ask, "Did you say hi?" The answer was always something along the lines of, "I shouldn't have to. She should say hi to me!"

Now, we were 18 and dumb as rocks, and we've all grown up to be productive women who are hopefully not so petty.

So, if she doesn't smile at you, smile at her. If this really bothers you, make an appointment to talk to her and say, "I feel like there is a problem between us. I'd like to have a good relationship with you and your department. What changes do I need to make?"

Yes, it could be all her fault, but no one likes their faults thrown at them, and you can only change you.

But, I think the real problem is with the 8 hour administrative meetings with a strict you-must-stare-straight-ahead-and-not-blink policy. Take that up with your manager.

"I see we have another all day all hands meeting scheduled. Is there anyway we could split that into two days, 4 hours each day? That way, we don't get as far behind on our work and we stay on top of things." Don't couch it in terms of "I get sooo bored and sleepy in all day meetings." That will not go over well.

Now, assuming your boss isn't a complete idiot, it's likely that your doodling was the concrete thing they could use to describe you not paying attention in a meeting. I've done a lot of training/teaching and I can tell when someone is not paying attention. Your boss may be able to do this as well.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Will my high level connections overcome a DUI?

I have a friend pretty high up at a major company (in sales) who had recently talked to me about submitting my resume for employment. I had to gently remind this very good friend of mine that I have 2 DUI’s, but both are over 5 years old. I have since cleaned up my act and hardly ever drink at all. I certainly don’t drink and drive! She then took that information and asked her co-workers whether or not I’d have a shot at the position. They for obvious reasons told her that with so many viable candidates with clean records, why would they choose me?

But there’s a twist…One of my other good friend’s fathers happens to be a Senior VP with this very company. He was an ex cabinet member and has worked as a Senior VP for this company for around 6-7 years now. Needless to say, he has influence.

In your opinion, would this Senior VP be able to bypass “the rules” written or unwritten, with a letter of recommendation? Or am I still dead in the water? I doubt you can answer this question with certainty, so again, I am just looking for your opinion. I am qualified for this job otherwise and know I would be risk worth taking. My friend obviously feels the same or she would have never mentioned it in the first place. I am worried that my past in this regard has caught up to me and might prevent me from getting a job I really want.

Everyone has undoubtedly heard the phrase, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." There are certainly many cases where this is true, but usually you have to both know the right people and the right things.

So, in short, yes, a Sr. VP could pull strings and get you preferential treatment, and probably guarantee you a job. But, I can't see why he would want to.

You see, while VPs can pull strings, they can't pull them in a cost free way. If he does this, someone will owe him (or he'll use up his credit on someone else owing him). Usually, getting a qualified person a job would be low cost expenditure for your average Sr. VP. But, you have a big black mark next to you that increases the cost to him tremendously.

The problem with sales is that you are expected to drive around all day. Your car becomes your office, which means the company is liable for your actions while you are in the car. Unless it would be illegal to consider a 5 year old DUI, I would fight tooth and nail to keep you from getting a job which puts the company at so much risk.

I know you say you don't drink and drive any more, but there is no way for the company to know that. For all they know you just haven't gotten caught. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.

If you were the VPs daughter, then maybe he'd try. But, for a daughter's friend, I doubt he would want to use up his capital and put his career on the line for you. Let's say you get hired and you get into a car accident. Even if it is 100% not your fault, it's going to come back and look bad on him.

Now, I don't know what the laws are in your state regarding how convictions can be considered. If they would require the conviction to be ignored, then go out and get the job on your own. Without the big black mark on your record Mr. VP could probably (and more willingly) put a good word for you.

But, if they can consider it, I would think a company (and any VP who suggested it) foolish to put someone with two DUIs in a company car. So, yeah, I think this is where your past catches up with you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Failure to Hire

Recently, my company did not hire someone primarily because she was the sister of a former employee that did not leave on good terms. Of course they tried to frame this in a different way, but the reason was obvious. Is this legal? I've tried to look up federal laws on the subject, and I'm wondering if this type of action falls under illegal discrimination, since the person's non-hiring was based solely on her family relation to the former employee.

First of all, illegal discrimination is quite limited. It's not illegal to discriminate against family members. In fact many, many companies have policies against hiring family members of current employees. I've never seen one against hiring a family member of a former employee, however, that doesn't mean it's illegal. I'm not a lawyer, but family-member-of-former-employee-who-left-on-bad-terms is hardly a protected class.

That said, unless you were in on the hiring discussions you can't know for sure that this happened. Why did they bring her in for an interview if they weren't going to hire her, based on her relative? That makes absolutely no sense. If they refused to interview her, the relationship could have been behind that, but have you checked the unemployment rates lately? Honestly, if I had 300 candidate resumes (not unusual lately) and one was the sister of the psychopath we had to fire two years ago, I wouldn't put her as my top choice unless her qualifications were so phenomenally above the other 299 people.

And that's my point right there: Yeah, it's possible that her relationship hurt her, but there are so many people for each available job that it's not likely the only reason.

It's so much easier psychologically to blame your failure to get a particular job on something that is out of your immediate control--age, gender, marital status, children, sexual orientation, weight, etc. I'm not saying that people are never discriminated against in these things, but I am saying that more often then not there is another reason for the lack of a job offer.

If you spend time dwelling on the things that are out of your control, then you don't have to face the things that are in your control. Right now, with huge numbers of candidates, it's even more important to have your resume, cover letter, and interview skills perfected.

Yes, it's a bummer this woman didn't get this particular job. Her sister's bad behavior may have contributed to it, but it's time to move on.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Policies that you should fight

My exempt coworker had vacation days pre-approved by our Manager via our computer-based "time-off" system. At the last minute, some work tasks compelled him to work on those vacation days (the company benefited from his closing a large, end-of-year sale). The computer based system we use to request vacation days in advance doesn't allow us or a manager to cancel the requests, so his vacation hours balance shows the hours are used and "gone". Our HR says that because he's exempt, he's required to work when needed even on vacation days, and he can't recoup the vacation hours in his account. Aside from the moral/ethical lapse, can they do this?

First, I'm going to put on my warm and fuzzy "HR cannot possibly be this stupid" hat. Perhaps your friend exaggerated his work and he really took one phone call while lounging on the beach. If this is the case then he needs to suck it up because this is life. Or perhaps what the HR person he spoke with meant was the system wouldn't let him change it, but of course he could take it, just leave it off the record. Or perhaps it is one of those "you can't carry over vacation without VP approval" situations (since it is is year end). He should call and get clarification.

But, if he worked full days (not just responding to a few e-mails or taking a phone call or two), then there are so many things wrong with this, that I don't even know where to begin. First of all, that HR department needs to be ripped apart and thrown to the wolves. Do we remember what HR's purpose is? To help the business. That's right. How on earth does a policy such as this help the business?

Does it encourage people to work harder? No. Next time a situation like this comes up, your friend will go ahead and take his vacation and the sale will be lost.

Does it help retain good people? No. Your friend was able to close the sale. He's also now updated his resume and has started looking for a better company. (And if he hasn't, he should.)

Does it help recruit good people? No. Current and soon to be former employees talk about this stuff and it discourages their friends from wanting to work at this company.

Does it give people confidence in the company management? No. Managers aren't even trusted enough to be able to reschedule someone's vacation. (What kind of idiot implemented an electronic system where changes are not possible? I know, someone who never bothered to talk to an actual end user.)

Bah. I'm all cranky about this company. Tell me its name and I'll badmouth it all over the internet! (Just kidding people! Evil HR Lady doesn't need any lawsuits, and now my Evil Lawyer Brother is a prosecuting attorney, so doesn't even do civil law any more. But, if I ever get arrested in his town, I'll have an in!)

All right, let's talk laws. As you could infer from the above, I am not a lawyer. I don't give legal advice. I don't watch Law & Order any more, but I have been watching 24 so my understanding of laws has been severely screwed with. (As a note, on Law & Order when the plainclothes detectives need to bash down a door to go after seriously scary bad guys, they stand behind the people in full riot gear. In 24, when Jack and his current-partner-who-is-about-to-die (seriously, who would go out with Jack?) go first with the riot gear people behind them. No wonder terrorists keep coming back.)

There are not any federal laws regarding vacation, but there are state laws. I don't think you'd be able to pull this off in California, and probably not NY, but I can't say for sure. However, regardless of vacation laws, companies are bound by their own policies and handbooks.

Unless the handbook clearly explains this scenario I think you've got a good legal case. (Not a lawyer! Not a lawyer! Ignore this entire paragraph! Thank you.)

But, this is what I think your friend should do. Go to his boss and get his boss to agree to let him take the vacation without entering it into HR's stupid system. He's exempt for heaven's sake. He just closed a big sale. He deserves a vacation.

I think the boss should cut HR out of his life as much as possible. They have proved they cannot think clearly and are not interested in helping the business, so take away their seat at the table. (I doubt they have a seat at the table in this company anyway.)

Now, if the manager says he won't violate policy, then this needs to be escalated. And it needs to be escalated through your friend's management chain, not HR. The reason I think this is such a big deal is not the two days of vacation lost, but because of the message it sends. The message is "we hate our employees." This is not good for business. Honest, it's not.

Managers need the flexibility to manage. Employees that are willing to cancel their own vacations to close a sale should be rewarded, not punished. Such blindingly stupid control over vacation days just indicates an inability to understand employee needs. This means HR is truly out of touch. And HR departments like that give the rest of us a bad name.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Letters of Recommendation

I was recently laid off from my position at a large company during a first round of lay offs. I was the only official executive person there and did a good job. I was told that they have a "tool" that the manager uses to decide who stays and who goes, but my manager also assured me that the decision was not based on my performance. So, what is on these tools anyway? Also, I asked my manager for a letter of recommendation and was told that because he was a Director, he was not allowed to write one. This sounds strange to me. I have never had a situation where my direct manager could not write letters of recommendation. Is this common place? Am I getting the old song and dance on these issues?

There isn't a standard tool used for layoffs, but there are definitely tools used and it is very true that the decision is not a reflection of your performance at all. Frequently companies use things such as performance rating, location, years of service, and position to determine who stays and who goes.

Also (and I swear that this is true), high level people are especially vulnerable. Why? Money and power. Let's talk money first. You're expensive, as are your peers. One of the expectation of executive level is that you can do amazing things. There is a reason why you get the bigger pay check. However, this also means that your bosses always expect you to be able to do more.

So, when a budget crunch came up and layoffs needed to be done, it makes perfect sense that someone from the executive team would have to go. Furthermore, it makes sense that the big boss looked and said, "Who can we get rid of and who can take on this person's responsibilities?"

If you were the only executive person at your site, and they truly did this by a "tool," they probably plugged in sales/productivity/location/experience/performance rating/seniority and things unique to your company and determined that "The Duluth office can fall under the responsibility of the Minneapolis office." And so, Janet in Duluth gets laid off and Karen in Minneapolis gets extra responsibilities. An entire, expensive, salary is saved.

It's not personal. Honest. Except when it is, and when it is relates to the second reason: Power.

Now, I was not around when the decision to eliminate your position was made, so I have to assume that it was not personal and it was through a tool (this is VERY common) and everything is on the up and up. But, for the benefit of other people, let's talk power.

If you an analyst making $45,000 a year and you get a new boss and the new boss finds you annoying--not a bad employee, mind you, just annoying--most companies will not allow him to fire you. Terminating someone is a huge pain and ALWAYS opens up a company to a legal headache. (Lawsuits are headaches regardless of who wins. They take time and money to fight even if the whole premise is completely unfounded.) The new boss will go to his boss and HR and be told, "Suck it up!"

But, if you're a senior level person and your boss finds you annoying, well then, don't let the door hit you on the way out. Granted, the exit will be announced as "Janet has left to pursue other options" and Janet will get a severance package tied to a general release.

You might say, "Well, that's more expensive then whatever possible lawsuit the annoying $45k analyst could bring." Yes, well, but because the senior person has so much more responsibility it is that much more important for the senior team to work cohesively.

(Of course, none of this is universal. Businesses are like people--endless variation.)

This has to do with power, of course. This is not necessarily a bad thing. When you are in charge, you need the power to get things done and if you don't get along with your subordinates it can hinder progress. (Yes, I realize this applies at all levels, but the more responsibility you have the more important business feels it is.)

And here's a helpful Evil HR Lady tip for figuring out if you are on the executive chopping block: Special projects. Being assigned to a special project when you are low level can be a great growth experience and be good for your career. If you are high level and relieved of your other duties so you can head up this "special project," rest assured that unless you knock it out of the park, you've been slated for termination. Oh, termination isn't tomorrow, but they are thinking about it. You can save yourself, but be aware that once you hand over your regular responsibilities you should probably start taking home your personal items.

This is different then being asked to head up something new. New is permanent. Special projects have an end and when they end, the executive who headed it will have no place to go. (Because she gave up her other responsibilities, remember?)

So, those of you who are still reading are wondering "when in the heck is she going to get to the letters of recommendation part?" Yeah, yeah, I'm getting to it.

First of all, my opinion (and this is just how I feel, I don't know how others feel), is that letters of recommendation are practically worthless. I also feel that the recommendations on LinkedIn are worthless. Anything that is going to be read by the actual person being discussed is suspect. I don't feel that people are as honest in those situations.

Therefore, I always wonder what people have to hide when they present letters of recommendation. Why can't I just call your reference?

And that's the question you should ask: Can I use you as a reference? If the answer to that is no, then it's worth it to inquire as to why. "Because I'm a director" is a story unless the company has an official policy of not providing references and because of his position he knows he'd get busted and disciplined. You should know the policy and it's okay to challenge him back, because what is he going to do? Fire you? (I'm not talking about pitching a fit and burning bridges, I'm talking about pushing back and asking for an explanation.)

If the company will only provide employment verification, then that's what they'll do. It stinks, but it is what it is. (For a discussion on this topic, check out this post and comments from Ask A Manager.)

Good luck on the job hunt.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Educational Pauses

I started out in law school five years ago, and I attended full-time for three semesters. The school I was at got put on probation by the ABA, and the administration panicked and kicked out a bunch of students in order to increase their chances of maintaining accreditation. I got caught up in the purge and I was "academically disqualified". I wasn't a straight A student or anything, but I wasn't awful, either. I was your typical B- student.

The ABA requires a two year wait before any disqualified student can reapply to any accredited law school. During my suspension, I went to a community college and got an associates degree in paralegal studies. I graduated with honors. Now I'm back in law school, at a better school for me, and I'm doing well grade-wise. (I'm also a part-time evil HR lady in training to pay the bills.)

This was a long-winded way for me to get to the heart of the question. Do I have to put my first time in law school on my resume? I'm thinking that I don't, since I didn't graduate. I have been employed the entire time that I've been in school, so there are no resume gaps to account for. I transferred those units into my paralegal degree program, but that degree came from a community college. (I do put my associate's degree on my resume, along with my bachelor's degree.) I have on my resume that I'm in law school at my current school, with an expected graduation of 2011.

I've asked a few trusted people, and I get mixed responses, but none of them are in hiring. Also, if it comes up in an interview, how should I deal with it? I'm sure I'm not the first person to do poorly in school and then do better later.

Nope! You absolutely do not have to put your first time in law school on your resume.

You should never, ever, not in a million years, lie on your resume. But, you aren't required to put everything you've ever done on your resume. Remember, your resume is your way to advertise yourself. You never see a Hostess Cupcake ad saying, "Caution: If you eat 12 of thses in one sitting, you'll be sick as a dog!" (Not that I would know anything about this.)

If you weren't employed continuously, then you might want to consider including something because having a gap on your resume with no good explanation is problematic. But, leaving off schooling that is irrelevant is okay. Good luck with your current stint in law school and have fun in HR.