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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Standing Up For Yourself

I am the HR Assistant at a decent-sized (160+ employees) company. Due to reasons I cannot discuss, the HR Director was suddenly terminated a few months ago. After a little over a month of keeping the department afloat by myself, we found a new director and I was happy.

Today, however, my new boss contacted our benefits administrators to make a change to the effective end date of benefits when people are terminated. Our current policy states that because we have them prepay a month in advance for benefits, their last day of benefits is 30 days after their term date. The new director feels that this makes the bill too difficult to figure out and it needs to change so that benefits run out at the end of the month they are terminated.

My issue is that all of the employees currently on our plan have already prepaid and thus either need to receive those benefits or be reimbursed. I approached my boss with these concerns and was told that our insurance rep told her the 30 day plan wasn't possible anymore. I pushed the issue a little in a respectful manner, and she called our rep with me in the room and complained to her that she keeps "trying to make changes here but keeps being met with all this slack." After discussing it with them we found out that we were always able to keep our old policy, but the new director is still set on changing it. She says that the money our employees have prepaid will "all come out in the wash" and that we wouldn't be able to reimburse anyone. If an employee has a family insurance plan, this shorts them almost $900.00. That won't come out in the wash.

Other than find a new job, which I am currently doing due to a number of other issues, is there anything I can do in this situation? Should I even try anything other than voicing my concerns since I am not a director?

Well, I think it makes sense to have benefits terminate at the end of the calendar month. So, I'm on your director's side there. But, I'm on your side on the whole "No one will care that we're screwing them over for $900," thing. Of course, the solution for that is to always quit on the first of the month, and never in February.

Anyway, this does not answer your question at all. There's something wrong in your director's head--she's somehow not recognizing that it's not the policy you're objecting to, it's the consequences of that policy. (If it is the date change you are objecting to, well then you need to get on board with that. It's not a battle worth fighting.) I've supported policies that I think are stupid and short sighted because once I've said my piece, it's my job to carry them out. I will not, however, carry out policies that are immoral or illegal.

This, I believe is definitely the former and most likely the latter. I only say most likely because, presumably, you could get employees to sign a waiver that indicates that they realize that over payments of benefits will not be refunded. However, I am not a benefits lawyer (nor any kind of lawyer), and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that that type of waiver violates ERISA or some other benefits law. Regardless of the legality, this is just wrong.

And when things are wrong, you need to bring it up.

I understand that it will be easier to figure out the bill if you change to this policy. I understand that the ease of the bill comes along with a more complicated final pay check if you refund the money. Got it. Solving complicated problems is why we get paid. If there were not complicated problems to solve, trained monkeys could do the job. (All right, all right, I'm anticipating the comments about how trained monkeys would be better than your stupid, dumb, imbecilic HR department. Fine. But most of us are smarter than monkeys. Even trained ones.)

So, yes, I think you need to say something, again. And I think it's important that you do so in the proper way, and document, document, document. Your behind may be on the line because of it, and it could get you fired. If it does, you can sue for violating whistle-blower protection laws, or something. Unless it's not illegal, in which case, it stinks to be you.

You need to clearly, in an e-mail, so it is documented, state your objection. Make sure you separate out the date change from the payment question. Give your full fledged support to the date change. You are not trying to undermine her ideas. You want change. You just don't want to do something wrong.

I would say:

Dear HR Director,

I want you to know that I fully support changing the date of benefits termination to the last day of the calender month in which an employee terminates. As you have stated, this will simplify our benefits billing, and be easier to explain to employees.

However, it is my understanding that we would not be refunding overpayments. If this is the case, I cannot support not this. I am concerned that this policy would open us up to legal challenges. We would be cheating employees out of their own money. This not only has legal and moral ramifications, but it will also affect employee morale.

If this policy is implemented, I will have to take this up with [HR director's boss] and make her aware of the potential liabilities this creates for the company.

If I have misunderstood how the policy will be implemented, can you please clarify for me.


HR Assistant.

If your boss has half a clue, she'll realize what she's doing is wrong, blame you for being so stupid and not understanding that she clearly meant to refund money and it will all go away. (You will be blamed, by the way. I can almost guarantee it. )

If your boss insists, I think you morally have an obligation to escalate this issue. Honest to goodness, you have 160 employees. How many are quitting in a month? It can't be that many. This should not be so complicated. Besides, refunds would be payroll's problem, not yours. (Heh. Love you payroll! Honest!)

And the accountants--they wouldn't know where to place the extra benefit money anyway. What a mess this would be. So speak up. Loudly and clearly. And get your resume ready.

Monday, February 22, 2010

See What Happens When You Try to Cross US?


Just do what the nice HR lady says, or you may find yourself being cast into the fiery pit.

Just a fair warning.

(This is actually another Swiss culture moment. We attended Chienbaese in a town called Liestal. They burn huge piles of wood and drag them through the streets. First, they spread confetti everywhere. What could possibly go wrong with paper covered streets, fire filled wagons, and drunk people? It was awesome.)
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Friday, February 19, 2010

Exempt Holiday Pay

Our company has 6-paid holidays a year. However, because of our industry we are required to work most of them with the option of being paid for them on top of the hours worked or hold the day and take it at another time (non-exempt employees).

My question is this – if an exempt employee works on the holiday:

1. Do we have to pay them on top of their normal salary and/or

2. Do we have to let them hold it and take it at another time under PTO

There are no Federal Laws requiring paid holidays (that I am aware of), but I'm not even going to begin to answer this from a legal standpoint. I'm going to answer this from a business perspective.

Your questions both start out with "Do we have to..." I added the emphasis because I want to point out what you are implying: We want to give our employees only what is required by law.

This is a recipe for failure. Employees can sense when their employers resent having to pay them. Remember, that without your employees you don't have a job either.

I think either offering them extra pay or adding that time to their PTO bank is fine. You may run into problems with extra pay in that somebody will claim that violates the rules of exemption. I don't think it does. Companies are allowed to give bonuses to exempt employees, and this would be a holiday bonus. That said, my preference would be for the PTO, but I'm a fan of days off. Overworked employees don't perform as well.

So, yes, you should offer your exempt employees compensation for working on a holiday. You want them to feel like you value them. You want them to be happy to be working on the holiday, not feeling jerked around. Treat your good employees well and you'll have plenty of good employees. Treat them poorly and you'll eventually only have poor employees.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Firing Thoughts

Have you ever had to fire someone? I came across this podcast from This American Life, called Human Resources. In the opening sequence there is a sample firing.

I think the guy does a pretty good job, but I prefer a much more direct approach. Of course, there was a fade out, so I don't know everything he said. But, you should listen to it anyway.

The next story is about the "Rubber Room" in New York City, where teachers are sent to sit and still get paid while the district is determining their fate. Contrast that with this town in Rhode Island that fired all the teachers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Co-worker stealing work and credit

I work part time as an office assistant.

I am having a a problem with another full time employee who's current positon does not have enough work for her to do everyday. My boss is unaware that her workload has decreased.

After I left for the day she took one of my completed assignments changed it slightly and presented it to my boss and took credit for it. This is not the first incident.

How would you suggest I handle this situation? I would not want her to take over my position and find myself out of work.

I'm on your side here, but I feel obligated to prepare you for the worst: If your co-worker is full time and doesn't have enough to do, the most logical thing to do is eliminate the part time position. On that cheery thought, here is what I would do.

I would quietly approach your co-worker and say, "Jill, when you took credit for my work, that was not cool. Not cool at all. Please don't do it again."

Say it calmly and attempt to walk away after you say it. Why? This isn't a discussion you want to have. Jill will be defensive and tell you how she made a ton of changes and your work was terrible and she was saving you from embarrassment by taking over the project. It doesn't matter that none of this is true.

Then I would let that particular incident go. If it happens again, I would go to your boss with a copy of your draft of the project and say, "I know I'm not here all the time, but Jill keeps presenting my work as her own. Here's a copy of how I left the information. I don't want to cause problems with Jill, but I also don't want you to think I'm not working hard."

Then let your boss take it from there.

Unless Jill is a brazen type of person, I doubt she'll do it again after you've told her in plain language that it is unacceptable. People do things like this because they can get away with it. Being called out on it is usually enough to get all by the most egregious offenders to stop.

Update 4

This person had a manager who wanted an investigation done to determine who was talking about him:

I spoke to John. John did speak to another supervisor about Jane, but just to state that she had a confrontation with another employee (Employee A) and was a upset by it. He stated that he didn't say one way or the other who he thought was right because he wasn't there.

He stated that he was upset with Jane because she actually went to others before she came to him. Jane's side of it is that she went to John first.

He stated that he wanted to put a stop to Jane gossipping as well as other employees and he figured the way to do that was to tell her he would go to HR. He thought this would make her think twice about saying things behind his back instead of checking with him first. When he got in the meeting with me and I let him know that I would not investigate and find out WHO Jane was talking to (and was talking to her), he was ok with it.

I did let John know that especially since he is in a position of authority that others will speak about him. I let him know that I am always open to hear what he has to say and also it is important that he has open communication with his team members. I let him know that he is valued and that I know it is upsetting when someone finds out that others are talking about them.

John was worried that when his team members talk about him, that it would ruin his reputation to management. He stated that he had seen this happen in the past with a previous company. I let him know that if management was ever in a position that they felt they needed to question him about a particular incident, they would. This, however, was not an incident where that was the case and he was actually the one that brought it to our attention.

This person felt her PTO was being docked unfairly:

Apparently their unwritten policy is just like you said: if you're a manager, and you're gone an entire workday, they take a full 8 hours of PTO regardless of how many hours you work in a work week. Likewise, you can work 50 hours the first week of a pay period, and 30 the next, and they do not honor the 80 hours in the pay period; they still take 10 hours of PTO. However, if your manager likes you, and you wheedle enough, he or she can 'write off' the PTO they would normally use, effectively not using any. However, none of my PTO was returned.

This person had a nit-picky telecommuting boss:
For my effort, I still have the burn marks from the flaming I got. The lesson I learned, Evil HR Lady, was never go to the internet for any kind of advice or insight. People will type things to/about you that they would never say to your face. Frankly, who needs it?

However, the update on the situation is that this former boss got fired in June 2009. During the recession my former employer was hit hard. They also use layoffs as an excuse to divest themselves of troublesome employees. I think this woman was deemed troublesome. She was a great peer, but a terrible boss.

This person was contemplating leaving a job and getting pregnant:

Thanks for doing some follow up spots and for your answer. You made some excellent points (as usual) and certainly gave me quite a bit to think about. I applied for and accepted the new position. I've now been in place a year and a half and have lots of good things to report. I've made good progress, I feel the position is a good fit and my new supervisor is the closest thing I've had to that mystical boss/mentor combo we all dream about.

There is also a less happy news. I apparently fall into the category of unexplained infertility.' This is quite enough to deal with without being stuck at the job I left and feeling stagnant. I'm glad I left, I've been able to expand my skill set, broaden my network, and work with a fantastic executive director. I think the moral for me would be you can't make decisions on what you plan to do, when those plans may not be within your control. And definitely don't tell your coworkers (and think long and hard about the family) you are TTC. It's too much information and may lead to much hardbreak when everytime you forgo coffee you set tongues to wagging. In my case, I didn't have to tell anyone, they just all assumed (unfortunately correctly).

This person wanted a company to pay for an aptitude test:
Based on your answer I needed to stop wasting my time and my manager's time "rearranging the same stack of paper," so to speak, and take more direct actions to improve my job satisfaction. I decided not to leave my job yet because it pays very well for the credentials I have with less than five years in the field. I am lining up some industry training that the company will probably pay for and that could lead to another job in the company. But, if there is an issue with reimbursement, I am willing to pay myself, since I recognize the value of the training.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Update 3

This person had to fire someone with a ton of lead time:
Our instutitional rules require us to inform someone by March 31st that they will be let go, but they are not terminated till June 30th. So my question was how to handle this with the rest of the team, how to let them know what was happening without everyone getting freaked out that they might be next.

I was advised to put her on a formal improvement plan. We didn't do this. My boss and I are both so burned out with her that we just want her gone. I spent most of the last year coaching and counseling a problem employee who was finally let go, and I just don't have the stomach to go through that again.

My boss, thankfully, took the task of giving the news to the employee. We told her now, instead of waiting till March, so that she would have as much time as possible to look for a new position. If she leaves before we find a replacement for her academic duties, we'll deal with that. She, of course, is not thrilled with the news but had been expecting it and has already been talking to other departments about a new job. This new job will fit her skill set much better than her current position so I'm hoping that she will get it.

I had a meeting with the two admins who will be most impacted by her leaving, and told them that the boss had said that we could hire a bookkeeper to take over that part of the work so they would not have to do it.

They very sweetly told me I was crazy, that they didn't want another admin in the mix, and that they'd be more than happy to take over her bookkeeping tasks and get the overtime. They're already allowed to work as much overtime as they want because they are so phenomenally productive. So that's taken care of.

I also told the woman who shares an office with this employee, just so that she would know what was going on if there were a lot of tears. She is a very friendly and supportive person so I knew that she would help the employee get over it.

I'm letting the employee tell everyone else in her own time and her own way.

That's about it. I very much appreciate your advice and the advice of your posters

This person had been afflicted with a bad boss and a case of nebulous firing:

I think your assessment was right on the money. I don't think I need to worry too much about receiving "a scathing reference" from the previous employer as I found out that the "bad boss" was terminated himself a few months after I left. I doubt that the new manager would choose to badmouth a previous employee based solely on things written into their record by a terminated manager. I also did not have any "contested action" from either of the 2 most recent employers when filing for unemployment compensation.

Unfortunately I am still looking for work, but I believe this has to do with the state of the economy - rather than due to any job history issues. I think that I would probably feel differently about this if I were alone in not being able to find work, but in my case - "Misery loves company" does make me feel better about myself. Hopefully the job market will start improving for everyone soon.

This person was in a new job and had a very bad feeling about it:

Your answer at the time did not really clear things up, understandably as it was a non-US situation and international rules are different. However, in the end I should have listened to my instincts and taken the loss of repaying my recruiting expenses myself and get out of what in the end turned out to be a very bad situation. The company's values did not match mine at all. They aggressivley pursued me and wanted me to start "yesterday", but once I was there, they failed on a number of things. As it was a very well respected international company I thought maybe I did not get it, and things would improve as I got to know the company. Unfortunately things did not get better, on the contrary. The amount of abuse was enormous but as it slowly got worse,it dulled how bad the work environment really was until you'd step away from it and really look. In hindsight everything is always clear! A not so pleasant parting followed after 1 year of employment, where I was placed in the un-enviable position of being a whistle blower for the company's head office.

After receiving your email today, I could honestly not remember my initial question to you and had to look it up. After all the mess of getting out of this job, I had forgotten that only 2 months in my probation, I had already questioned the situation. Today's trip down memory lane served to tell me that I should always trust that little voice and believe in myself.

In the end things all worked out for the best, I am still an expat and have landed an exciting new job where I feel well appreciated and where I can grow professionally as well as contribute to my company's success.

This person was looking at a future situation where an unliked co-worker could become his manager:

Manager is obviously closer to retirement. I still do not have the law degree necessary to move into management and am still not interested in getting one. And with the economy in the tank, I'm not looking to change companies unless it gets really bad here. Also, 2 of the 8 members of my team were laid off and one has retired, with her replacement coming on board 2 weeks ago. Team Leader feels threatened by him because he has extensive subject knowledge and experience in our area of specialization and is afraid he was hired specifically to fast-track into "her" coveted management slot. I don't know him well enough yet to get a
sense of how he would be as a manager, but I'm quietly hopeful of a good outcome.

Additionally, Team Leader is now my neighbor, having moved into a house down the street from mine over the summer. Our kids get along OK and I'm trying to build a less adversarial relationship. This is proving difficult because she takes her kids' ups and downs at school and in sports personally. For this reason, and because I think it's none of her business how my kids do in school, I have told her directly
that I don't want to make our kids' academic and sports abilities into a competition, so please don't ask for test scores.

This person disliked being interviewed by people who would be subordinates:

I just had my second interview - this time with VP's, CEO and CFO (who I would be direct report). The response did enlighten me as to the changing paradigm of interviewing. I appreciated your posting the question and also all the responses.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Update 2

This guy didn't know how to dress for an interview. We all jumped in and gave our opinion. Here's what happened:

I went with your advice and wore dress slacks, a tie and sport coat. It seemed to be fine. All of the interviews (which were panel type, me and 3-4 people at a time) were at the actual biomedical device production facility. Most people I interviewed with were wearing their normal job wear, khakis (or even jeans) and polo type short sleeve shirts. I was somewhat more formally dressed than those I spoke with but it wasn't so much that I felt out of place. I felt comfortable and the interviews went very well. Ultimately, I wasn't offered the job, one of the other candidates had significantly more industry experience and they went with them. Thanks for the advice all the same!

This person wasn't sure if he had technically quit or was fired. Was unemployment a possibility? Here's what happened:

Okay, my update, I did not apply for UE. Sure the extra money would be nice but there was a lot I did not tell you, that really had nothing to do with the specific question. I’m north of fifty and have worked since about eighteen and saved the entire time. When I took on my job before this last one I was asking about, I was at the previous position a quarter of a century. I say it in those terms because as a major US corporation I took advantage of the savings and investment plan, they offered and at the time they actually had a pension plan. My wife too was doing the same thing.

Imagine that!

We do not live outside our means and feel that we are very lucky to be where we are. Many may say that luck had nothing to do with it and okay, that may be true. I decided that since we are where we are in life and did not have to do any “reprogramming of my brain, so to speak, we can sleep in, work on the side, stick my hands in the dirt, yell at the cats, make a big lunch (diet), take a walk, use my camera, call friends, visit friends, volunteer doing something, write nice HR Ladies, take pictures, do more wine tasting, just about anything.

I did not want to deal with bosses, lunch breaks, time off, vacations, schedule changes, break rooms, fighting for the computer, fighting for the bathroom, status reports, meetings, clean out the back room, take out the trash, just stuff, you know?

This person received an unfair performance review.

At this time, I am still at the company but I am on maternity leave and I am interviewing. I do not want to go back. They did not change my ratings and HR backed my boss and told me its his boss's problem that he is not qualified, not mine.

They are/were afraid that I was going to sue because I was pregnant when all of this went down and it was a 180 on the part of my boss from my last review (or since I had kids). Our relationship has only gotten worse. In my last few weeks there before my leave I had to tell my CEO to tell him to leave me alone as he was stressing me and my baby! They told him to leave me alone.

In sum, going to HR was a waste of time except that it put me on their radar as a potential lawsuit. Would not advise. The only solution I see is to move on if your job sucks and that is what I hope to do.

This person had an out of town boss and the need to resign.

Last year I had to resign my position while my boss was out of town. I followed your advice and resigned by phone, apologizing profusely that I could not do it in person. He was surprised, maybe perturbed, but by the next time I saw him he was over it. We remain on good terms and he's been an excellent reference for me.

Later that week there was a big layoff at the company. I'm glad I was able to give the management warning and I hope I saved someone's job by leaving.

This person had a fabulous admin and didn't know what developmental goals to give:

I needed to find two "development goals" for my receptionist. You suggested that I ask her, and suggested that she might like to take some courses. Bingo! I explained what was going on, and asked her what she thought she would like to work on. She wants to take courses, and she wants to go through old files in her desk area in order to discard or transport to offsite storage. She's been wanting to do that for a while and just needed to know that it was okay to spend time on it. I said, of course, by all means. So crisis averted, we have goals to work on this year and a strategy to find goals going forward. As a PS, one of the commenters chastised me for "ageism" for focusing on her age, and I, duly spanked, took that to heart. Thanks to all


This writer couldn't get a letter of recommendation after her layoff. She posted a response in the comments, but also sent me this:
My recent post was about letters of recommendation. I actually did post a kind of a follow-up, but it is listed as "anonymous." The only thing that has changed is that one of my previous directors did indeed supply me with a letter. He was never that "by the book" and was always a champion of me (unlike the person that chose me to be laid off). I also found someone of even higher status who now works with another company who is willing to write a letter, but I have not seen the letter yet.

This person's brother-in-law was going to be laid off, but
The other guy decided against trying for his license, so my brother in law's job is safe, for now.

Good for him, not so good for the other man.

This person took a dream job that turned into a nightmare. It has a happy ending, though:
Shortly after I wrote, things went from bad to worse, and I was let go at the end of September. However, my story has a happy ending. Via LinkedIn, a former co-worker saw my situation and put me in touch with his current employer. I was brought on board as a contractor in October, and went direct last week. I love my new job and the company and I am working for. They are very professional and the culture is fantastic - they truly value their employees. For example, my first week, I made a pretty serious mistake. I realized it immediately, and fixed it, but in other companies it could have gotten me fired. Instead, management looked at the whole situation (they liked that I had documented everything in real time, which made it possible for me to roll back my mistake easily) and realized the fault was really their own....I was too new to have been working on the problem. So instead of yelling at me, they reviewed THEIR procedures, and I came out looking good.

This person had an employee who was unable to work. These can be complex cases, and it got more complex, but it seems to be better:

Well, what happened… the employee hooked up with a lawyer who hasn’t really done him any favors. He actually filed a separate claim stating he hadn’t been given breaks. (Not true and we had an abundance of proof)). We went before the labor board with him, and our company prevailed. In the meantime he is still on disability, and the claim has not been settled. We are letting the insurance carrier handle it, and they say it will be unlikely that he would ever be able to work without some sort of restrictions. We have found out since that this is the second such claim he had filed (the other claim with a previous employer). After the Labor Board meeting, he was very upset at not having won his case, and verbally threatened us. Not too pleasant. We have no idea when he will be released for work, but the fact remains that he is not qualified for any type of office work since he cannot fluently read or write English or use a computer. His restrictions in the past included standing and sitting over certain lengths of time, no lifting, etc, which makes him unsuitable for warehouse work. If he comes back, I still have no position for him based on those restrictions. But based on what we know now, I don’t think that we will see him again – I think he is just looking for a large settlement at this point

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Bad Grades

i found ur id on;line and found that u ans evil hr question. i am struck with a question in interview of "why my grades are so low". and also cant find an ans where a positive mindset is going to be created in mind of the interviewer. i am a law graduate.

You know why you can't come up with a positive answer? Because your grades are low because you don't care one whit about them. Or at least you didn't until now when you are in need of actual employment.

How do I know this? Because you did a Google search, found my blog and thought I could solve all your problems (and I could, if I wanted to!), and you didn't even bother to capitalize the first letter of every sentence. Oy.

Your lack of caring is coming through loud and clear in your resume, your GPA, and your interviews. I guarantee it.

It's not about coming up with some magic answer. It's about who you are. Some people have low grades but will make fabulous employees. They have drive and determination and had some hardship that they needed to overcome, or had to work two jobs to get through school or something. You can't even be bothered to use proper punctuation when you are asking someone you don't know to do a favor for you for free.

You need to start caring. You need to vow to never (and I mean NEVER) write another e-mail like this to anyone. I don't care if your friends all do it. You are now a grown up and grown ups don't communicate like this. (I know, I'll get comments about how someone is a super VP making $300,000 a year and writes like this, well bully to them, but it's not the norm and don't think for a minute that you can get away with this.)

If you write like this in your personal communications it will spill over into your job hunt. The attitude shows.

You need to be able to answer this question by stating the truth about why you got bad grades and what you are doing now to overcome that particular flaw. There's a standard question about your weaknesses--well this is yours. Overcome it.

Honest. It's a tough market out there and jobs are not readily available. If you want any chance at all, you have to prove yourself. Your transcript won't do it for you. Now, go out and change your attitude, and learn to use the shift key.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

How Did It Work Out?

Evil HR Lady has been up and running for long time and I've answered a ton of questions. (Although, not nearly as many as I have not answered, unfortunately.)

Anyway, Ask A Manager had people write in with updates, and I hope she doesn't kill me for copying her, but if you had your question posted here, send me an e-mail at and let me know what happened. Good or bad. If you could include a link to the original post, that would be helpful.

Please? I promise it will be fun. And I'll post the updates so everyone can see what happened.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Break Room Cell Phones

I have a question regarding the use of cell phones in the employee lunch room. I was recently asked this question by a manager, who I might add is problem manager, but that is another topic. So this is the question she asked

"I keep asking my staff not to use their cell phones in the building and around the lunch tables while other people are there, eating and socializing with others. I often ask them to punch out and take a walk 'downstairs'. I personally don't like being in the break room and listening to people on cell phones. What's your opinion on this please?"

So, Evil Hr Lady, what do you think? I would love to hear your answer.

This is an interesting question. If you had just sent me the question itself, with no other information, this would probably be my response:

Lots of people dislike cell phone talkers. Many restaurants ban them. There are quiet cars on trains. For some reason cell phone conversations grate on peoples nerves more than overhearing both sides of a conversation.

However, are these people being paid while they are in the break room? If not, why do they have to "punch out" to go downstairs? Some breaks are mandatory and I really dislike telling people what they can and cannot do on breaks. (Within reason, of course. No, you can't go get drunk on break because you will have to come back to work in 30 minutes and you will still be drunk.) Making a phone call seems to be a perfectly reasonable use of break time.

I have no problem with having a ban on cell phone usage in a company break room, as long as people aren't punished for going outside to make their calls. Sometimes calls need to be made during business hours, and wouldn't you rather they do it on break then when they are supposed to be working?

However, the question was within context of the asker being a problem manager. I suspect that no one else has any problem with cell phones being used in the break room. There may be problems with particular individuals--Sally, for instance, who has loud conversations with her sister about her fungus problem--but probably not with people making the occasional phone call.

This isn't a cell phone problem. This is a manager problem. She feels like she needs to have control of her people, even when they are on break. Part of me wants to say, "let's have a separate non-management break room" so that people can take breaks without being hovered over. But, I think that contributes to more problems. (Gives you much more of an Us vs. Them thing going on.)

What I would recommend in this situation is that you tell her that you haven't noticed an excessive cell phone problem, but you are willing to put it to a vote. Let the employees all vote on whether cell phones should be allowed in the break room. I have no idea what the outcome would be, by the way. I would vote for cell phones.

But, if cell phones are banned, I think it needs to be clear that people who go somewhere else to make their calls aren't treated differently from the people who stay in the break room and chat with the boss. Which may be another evidence of her need to control.

And just for fun, here's a little Evil HR Lady Poll: