Downton Abbey: Handling an employee resignation with class

February 21, 2014 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 2 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

Although Downton Abbey focuses on the upstairs/downstairs dynamics of the fictional aristocratic Crawley familshutterstock_170276813y and their staff, there are still some lessons that contemporary employers may take from the show. For instance, in a recent episode, the staff dealt with the sudden resignation of second footman Alfred, as he was accepted into the Ritz cooking course and decided to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. Just as butler Carson was faced with the prospect of an unexpected, voluntary staff departure, so are many employers in modern society. There are certain steps employers can take to help make such transitions smoother.

1. Two-week notice. Consider whether to include a section addressing employee notices in the handbook. You should beware of making it mandatory for employees to provide advance notice, given that some courts have found this to alter their at-will status and have even interpreted such notice requirements as reciprocal for the employers.

2. Employee contracts and restrictive covenants.  If the employee in question happens to have a written contract, carefully review it to make sure the employee and the company are meeting their contractual obligations in the event of a voluntary resignation.

3. Constructive discharge. While Alfred departed from Downton with mutual respect and admiration for his former employers, employee resignations aren’t always so happy. If the employee is departing under less than optimal circumstances, consult with legal counsel and consider whether the employee may later claim that he/she was constructively discharged (i.e., the employer forced him/her to resign).  This will help the company and its legal counsel be better prepared to handle such allegations down the road.

4. Final pay and company property. Be sure to review pertinent state laws concerning the timing of final paychecks for departing employees. Also, it’s usually best to collect all company property (keys, equipment, etc.) as soon as possible.

5. Finding a replacement.  Just as Carson had a difficult time finding a willing replacement to fill Alfred’s well-polished shoes, employers generally want to minimize delays and work disruptions in filling open positions. Some considerations may include: whether any job posting requirements apply; whether an internal or external candidate would be preferable; whether the job description for the position needs updating; whether the position is such that a search committee would be a wise investment of resources; and whether it would be appropriate to ask the departing employee to be available to train the replacement.

As Alfred ventures off to realize his dream and Carson offers the footman position (though grudgingly) to Molesley, it appears that this abrupt employee resignation has gone fairly smoothly. Unfortunately, Daisy’s long-time crush on Alfred would probably lead her to disagree with me on that point. It remains to be seen how well Molesley (a former butler who has been going through hard times since Matthew’s shocking death) will handle his transition to a position that he seems to view as a step down. But that is a blog entry for another day.

From Gattaca to GINA: Use of genetic information in workplace is problematic

February 03, 2014 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

If there is one thing that is universal about the entertainment world, it’s that it makes us all feel inadequate. Yes, with the airbrushed photos and the digital editing techniques, the stars and starlets who grace the covers of magazines and show up on the big screen all seem to have something (or multiple things) that we regular folk just don’t. I’d even bet most of the beautiful people look better rolling out of bed in the morning than I do on my best day.   GeneticEngineering

It’s true that in certain ways we are not all created equal. Each of us has our own genetic make-up, which is little more than the pooling of the genes—both good and bad—from our parents, and their parents, and so on. The combination of these genes determines things like our height, athletic ability, and our predisposition to certain medical conditions such as cancer. read more…

Moneyball redux: What can it buy you?

November 23, 2013 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

I’m not shy about going back to the well. Last month I posted some lessons HR professionals could take from Billy Beane’s roster management of the Oakland A’s, as told in the bestseller, Moneyball.

For my money, Beane’s innovations as GM of the cash-poor A’s put him in the upper ranks of baseball executives among the likes of Branch Rickey, who first made use of an organized farm system to grow talent for my beloved St. Louis Cardinals (before he went on to sign Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers). Now that Brad Pitt has played him in the theaters, people from all walks of industry are clamoring for a bit of Beane’s mind, and personnel managers have been at the front of the line.

If you have to ask why, look around you right now. You are probably reading this on a digital display set into a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. That device is tethered to the ether (likely through your employer) where a server down the hall, in Seattle, in Bangalore, or who-knows-where is making a little record that you, my poor reader, lingered over my humble musings.

Five minutes ago, it also noted the nasty joke you forwarded to a buddy in another office, and it saw that your buddy (not as good a friend as you thought) felt that your joke warranted HR’s attention and sent it to his office HR rep. If asked, the server holds a map of the 16 times in the last three months you’ve crossed this line, and is just waiting for someone to call up this information that will twist the knife you’ve stuck in your own back. (If you’re wondering what it knows about all that stuff you’ve been copying to the used one terabyte hard drive you bought online last week, well … let’s just say you don’t want to do that anymore.)

read more…

Biogenesis and the (Bad) Boys of Summer

August 16, 2013 - by: David Kim 0 COMMENTS
David Kim

For some people, summer evokes thoughts of sunshine and long walks on the beach with sand under their bare feet (sounds like the setting of a Nicholas Sparks novel … or so I’m told). For me, I think of baseball. As an annual subscriber to MLB Extra Innings, I think of the plethora of games waiting for me when I get home from work, especially those of my hometown Red Sox. I constantly check my fantasy baseball team to see what moves I can make to catapult me up the standings. When I’m working late, the text from my wife doesn’t just ask when I’m coming home, but also provides me with spirit-lifting updates: “McCutchen just hit a three-run bomb.” Pause. Fist pump. Back to work.

But this summer, my fellow baseball fans and I aren’t the only ones thinking and talking about America’s pastime. Biogenesis has dominated the headlines, culminating in the suspension of 13 major and minor league baseball players this month, in addition to last month’s suspension of Ryan Braun. Interestingly, none of these players actually tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (except for Braun back in 2011, who successfully appealed based on a technicality, and has now been introduced to my friend karma). A failed test would establish per se grounds for a 50-game suspension pursuant to the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA) between Major League Baseball and the Player’s Union.

The JDA, however, also provides that the commissioner of baseball may discipline a player for “just cause,” in essence providing that strong enough circumstantial evidence can be sufficient to justify suspension. While the majority of baseball players were suspended 50 games pursuant to the “just cause” provision under the JDA, Braun (65 games) and Alex Rodriguez (211 games) were given additional suspensions. Under the Basic Agreement between the union and MLB, players may be disciplined for “conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of Baseball including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law.”  (link to the JDA and Basic Agreement here if you’ve got some down time).

MLB is clearly taking all measures in its power to “clean up the game.” But while the organization is the most visible employer interested in ensuring a drug-free environment in its workplace, it is not the only one. Employers of all kinds have either implemented, or are considering implementing, workplace drug-testing policies, protocols, and procedures. However, as drug-testing laws in each state differ dramatically, employers must ensure that they are in compliance with applicable law. Each state has its own laws about who can be tested and under what circumstances. For example, some states permit random, or suspicionless, testing. Other states permit testing only if there is a reasonable suspicion of drug use, and still others permit testing only in specific safety-related situations. State laws also differ with respect to how the testing may be conducted, the procedures required for any testing entity, and what specific type of prior notice, if any, is required to be given to an employee or applicant.

In addition, employers with unionized workforces should be prepared to negotiate all aspects of its drug-testing policy, which the National Labor Relations Board has determined is a mandatory subject of bargaining. Just don’t expect to be dealing with a union highly motivated to clean up its workplace like the MLB Player’s Union or employees who will quietly accept discipline based on circumstantial evidence. Well, except for A-Rod, who we all know is the only player appealing his suspension. Of course, A-Rod has well over 25 million reasons to appeal (base salary of $25M in 2014, not including incentives and bonuses).  And I have no reason to believe A-Rod’s appeal, or the issue of performance enhancing drugs in baseball, will be resolved anytime soon. Play ball.

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