What’s in a name? Bias in the workplace

March 13, 2017 - by: Katie O'Shea 1 COMMENTS
Katie O'Shea

As Shakespeare wrote, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But there is in fact much to a namea name can convey a sense of identity, culture, and family history. Recently, a series of viral tweets illustrated how much something as simple as a name could affect an individual’s employment.  Business woman versus man corporate ladder career concept vector illustration

A man and his female coworker conducted an experiment whereby they switched their e-mail signatures for two weeks. The series of tweets describes the man’s struggle to gain clients’ respect when using his female coworker’s name.

The experiment started when, because of a shared inbox, the man accidentally e-mailed a client with his female coworker’s signature line. He received a lot of pushback and attitude from the client. Upon realizing the mix-up with the e-mail signature , he switched back to his name and continued communicating in the same way with the client. He said he noticed an immediate improvement and positive reception from the client when he reverted to his real name. The man claimed his advice to the client never changed, only the fact that he was signing the e-mails with a man’s name instead of a woman’s name.

So the coworkers decided to switch names for two weeks. The man described his negative experience using his female coworker’s name, tweeting that everything he asked or suggested was questioned and that one client even asked if he was single. Meanwhile, he reported his female coworker had the most productive weeks of her career. The man stated he learned his female coworker had to convince clients to respect her, whereas he had an “invisible advantage” as a man. The woman also wrote her own account of the experiment and described sexism that many women face in the workplace.

While this is only one account, and by no means a scientific study, it is an interesting reminder to be conscious of gender bias and other biases in the workplace. Other Twitter users chimed in agreeing with this experience, and adding their own experiences where they had been concerned about how others would perceive them because of their name. For example, some Twitter users described concerns with how employers would perceive their names on their resumes. Some wondered if they should change their names to have a greater likelihood of success in obtaining employment because of unconscious biases.

Unconscious bias is a huge issue in the workplace and can affect who is hired, promoted, and valued at work. Discussing issues like biases can help bring the issue to light and create a company culture that acknowledges the problem and improves decision-making.

Harvey Specter on human resources

July 18, 2016 - by: Robin Kallor 0 COMMENTS
Robin Kallor

It is challenging to make an attempt at wit and entertainment after the news of the brazen act of violence in Nice, France during a Bastille Day celebration last week. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Nice, France as they deal with this horrific tragedy.    Suits

Season 6 of Suits aired on USA Network on July 13 with Mike Ross in prison, serving his two-year sentence as a consequence of working as an associate for one of Manhattan’s top law firms, despite not being an admitted attorney; having never passed the bar, gone to law school or even college. Strike that…he somehow took and passed the bar, but never went to law school, did not complete college and was obviously not admitted to practice law.

For those of you “non-Suiters,” the show involves one of Manhattan’s most successful lawyers, Harvey Specter, at one of Manhattan’s most prestigious law firms. Due to his confidence and incredible charm, Harvey is commonly referred to by his law firm and its clients as the firm’s best “closer” for his inexplicable ability to close deals. As part of his promotion from junior partner to senior partner, Harvey is permitted to hire a protégé associate from Harvard and is sent off to interview the applicants in a hotel conference room.

The only applicant who impresses Harvey is Mike Ross, who admitted he wasn’t a lawyer or even a college graduate, but touted himself as a genius with legal principles not only memorized but also understood. Ross never applied for the job. Instead, he ended up in the interview room while on foot running from the police during a sting operation resulting from his  attempt to deliver a suitcase full of marijuana and earn enough money to keep his grandmother in a private nursing home.

Ross immediately proves to have the book smarts of Clarence Darrow and the street smarts of Charles Ponzi. Harvey and Mike spend their days winning all of their cases while keeping up their charade at all costs. While the show is focused on this deception and Ross’ story, the star of the show is Harveyan overly confident, outside-the-box-thinking zealot. His witty one-liners make him impossible not to idolize.

While we can all use a little “Harvey Specter” in our lives because this is a human resources blog, I take this opportunity to address my top Harvey Specter HR takeaways and also provide him with some cautionary legal advice.

1. “My respect isn’t demanded, it’s earned.”

While employers can mandate that their employees listen to them and follow their lawful instructions, supervisors cannot make their subordinates respect them. Respect is something that supervisors earn from treating employees fairly. While human resources professionals can be seen as tough in their roles as negotiators or discipliners, when they believe they have been treated fairly, it lends credibility to these processes.

2. “First impressions last. You start behind the eight ball, you’ll never get in front.”

It is no secret that first impressions are key to applicants during the interview process; however, they are equally as important to an employee’s perception of its employer. Therefore, it is necessary for managers or human resources professionals not to be late to meetings with new hires and to take the time to explain important policies, procedures, and employee benefits. Additionally, offer letters and employee handbooks should be written in a manner that strikes the right balance between setting forth expectations/avoiding contractual guarantees and setting the appropriate positive tone about the Company.

3. “I don’t play the odds, I play the man.”

While, I’m not sure that this is truly what Harvey meant, it is important for managers and human resources professionals to be perceptive in their interactions with employees. Empathy and emotional intelligence are key attributes for managers and human resources professionals so that (1) employees feel they can openly discuss their employment related concerns (which can include sensitive medical issues) in a safe, welcoming environment and (2) human resources and managers have their finger on the pulse of what is going on in their workplaces so that they can nip issues in the bud and avoid possible legal claims and poor morale.

Thank you, Harvey, for imparting your words of wisdom. Notwithstanding, I have been watching you over the last five seasons and I have some advice for you.

1. “Sorry, I can’t hear you over how awesome I am.”

While I commend your confidence, the appropriate amount of self-reflection and humility is important for all effective managers. If we are caught up in ego, we will not be paying attention to those around us in order to assess whether there are any issues blooming in the workplace. Also, often the “my way or the highway” approach tends to decrease employee morale and lead to employment related claims.

2. “Loyalty is a two-way street. If I’m asking for it from you, then you’re getting it from me.”

While employers can expect employees not to breach their fiduciary duty to their employers, they cannot expect “loyalty” at all costs. Nearly all employment related statutes contain anti-retaliation provisions, which prohibit taking adverse action on the basis of engaging in protected activity, which includes filing internal complaints and lawsuits.

3. “I refuse to answer that on the grounds that I don’t want to.”

Sometimes, Harvey, managers are required to answer questionsand sometimes tough ones. This response would not be an appropriate one.

In close, Harvey, I would be remiss if I did not mention that hiring someone who you know does not have the requisite degree and certification that state law mandates for the position is probably not the best choice for your organization and could lead to claims of fraud, negligent hiring and negligent supervision and could lead to your disbarment. In light of the class action lawsuit that was recently filed against your firm, you probably know that by now. I have a sneaking suspicion that you will land on your feet, because after all, as you say it: “Anyone can do [your] job, but no one can be [you].” Also, and most importantly, the show is fiction.

‘I was not told there would be math’

April 20, 2016 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

Saturday Night Live has made invaluable contributions to American humor, but the best may be the show’s political parodies. Chevy Chase was famous for mocking Gerald Ford’s clumsy reputation (undeserved, for sure, considering Ford was a standout athlete). Dana Carvey practically built a career mimicking George H.W. Bush, and Phil Hartman had Bill Clinton down pat.

One of the best lines, however, came from Will Farrell’s George W. Bush. During a mock debate with Al Gore, Farrell brought roars after responding to a question with, “I was not told there would be math.”

Who doesn’t fall for that line? Very few among us haven’t playfully mocked our math skills at some point (I’m a lawyer, after all, so it’s a regular for me). A new study, however, warns us that, yes, in fact, there will be math—and maybe more than we are prepared to handle.Student have a problem with mathematics

The Conference Board released a report this week that should give anyone in HR pause. The report warns that the United States is running out of skilled workers in certain critical areas (or, at least, expected future demand for these skills from employers is expected to exceed supply). And, yes, you guessed it—mathematicians are one of them. Healthcare employers are expected to feel the squeeze in the next few decades as an aging population will require more nurses and physical therapists. Other occupations at risk include skilled trades like plant operators, railroad workers, machinists, and electricians.

If the Conference Board is correct, HR’s tough job will only get tougher. We all know what happens when demand exceeds supply: Prices go up, which means wage increases or higher employee expectations. It also means a more competitive environment within your industry. If you are in health care, be prepared for fierce competition to hire and retain skilled staff over the next decades. If you’re in manufacturing, you may find that your skilled machinists are coveted by prime competitors and that replacements are in short supply. In summary, it’s time to get in front of these trends!

Fear not, though—this may be the opportunity you’ve been searching for to atone for the time in high school when you stuffed the math club president in his locker.

Haunted by work

November 16, 2015 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

This blog’s mission is to be witty, entertaining, and informative. That mission is difficult when the headlines are as sobering as what we’ve seen since last Friday in Paris. Before I launch into this week’s EntertainHR installment, I want to extend my sympathies to and express my solidarity with the people of Paris and, in particular, the lawyers and staff of Capstan Avocats, our French affiliate through Ius Laboris. My thoughts and prayers are with you.   Ghosts at the Office

I have a mindless indulgence—ghost-hunting shows. Maybe it goes back to my childhood days in the Ozarks listening to my family tell stories that had come down from across the generations but, whatever it is, I just can’t get enough of these things. I love watching a group of people wrap themselves in electronic gear, stumble through a purportedly haunted house in the dark, and scare themselves senseless. I eat it up when they manage to catch something—a voice, an image—that actually defies explanation. I once got myself so wrapped up and spooked watching one of these shows that I screamed bloody murder when my wife simply walked in the room. (No, not one of my better moments.)

Considering there is an abundance of these shows and even entire networks focused on the paranormal, it looks like I’m not the only one. People just enjoy a good, harmless fright. After all, ghosts aren’t real (right?).  What’s the harm?

Ghosts at the office are a different story. They’re real, they’re a pain, and they’re more frightening than their otherworldly counterparts. You encounter them much the same way the family in The Amityville Horror fell in love with their house; on first glance, everything looks great (the house is a dream, the resume is perfect).  When you seal the deal, however, the nightmare begins.

Here are a few categories of workplace ghosts.  Feel free to suggest others below…

  • The wandering lost soul: This spirit begins haunting you about a week after you hire him. You see, you hired this guy right on the spot–he had excellent credentials, spot-on industry knowledge, and a go-getter attitude. The problem is he was hiding a noncompete agreement, and now you’re stuck in a litigation nightmare.
  • The hitchhiker: We’ve all heard the story—a driver picks up a friendly young lady on a deserted road and drives her to her home, only to have her disappear because she actually died a grisly death on that very road X number of years ago. The office hitchhiker isn’t much different. She shows up on her first day, fills out all her paperwork, takes a look around, goes to lunch, and never comes back.
  • The poltergeist: Poltergeists are the most frightening haunts because you can’t see them; you know them only by the destruction they leave in their wake. Similarly, you won’t see the office poltergeist when he approaches. He insinuates himself into the company through an attractive mien and flattering approach. Once inside, however, he goes on a tear: screaming at coworkers until they flee in horror, plaguing HR with harassment complaints, and refusing to go away. The office poltergeist, however, is a mirror image of the “real” (?) deal. You can’t see a “real” (?) poltergeist, but you wish you could; on the other hand, the office poltergeist is quite visible and defeats all your attempts to make him go away.

Dirty Dancing: hot summer hiring considerations

Kristin Starnes Gray

With summer quickly approaching, it’s time to pull out those warm-weather clothes and dust off my copy of Dirty Dancing, one of my favorite summer films. Who can forget the summer of 1963 when Baby performed her triumphant lift, Johnny taught us about standing up for others no matter what it costs us, and we all learned that no one puts Baby in the corner. Like many resorts and other types of employers, the fictional Kellerman’s resort in the Catskills Mountains (actually filmed in North Carolina and Virginia) has a very clear peak season in the warmer months with the hiring of a lot of additional employees, including high school and college students seeking summer employment.  Of course, any time an employer hires minors, there are special considerations and it is important to be familiar with applicable federal and state law. iStock_000057051752_Full

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the federal law governing child labor, but it must be read together with state laws (which may be more stringent and must be observed). These laws were designed to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment in hazardous jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health and well-being. To this end, the FLSA and state laws limit the types of jobs minors may hold as well as the hours they may work.

The good news for employers and those industrious teenagers out there is that the restrictions on work hours are typically relaxed somewhat during the summer months when school is not in session. For example, under the FLSA, 14- and 15-year-olds generally may work only between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., except from June 1 to Labor Day, when work until 9:00 p.m. is permitted. Also, those same teens may work a maximum of only 18 hours in a school week, but they may work a maximum of 40 hours in a non-school week, and there are daily maximums as well (e.g., three hours on school days versus eight hours on non-school days).

As mentioned above, hours of work aren’t the only restrictions under state and federal law for minors. There are also restrictions on the type of work permitted. For example, a 15-year-old may work as a lifeguard at a swimming pool or water amusement park under certain conditions. No one under age 16, however, may work as a dispatcher on elevated water slides or as a lifeguard at a natural environment swimming facility (e.g., lakes, rivers, oceans, beaches, etc.). In short, Kellerman’s management better make sure that the lifeguard assigned to that now famous lake is age 16 or older.

The bottom line for employers taking on teenage employees is to brush up on federal/state requirements and keep in mind that child labor restrictions may vary with the employee’s age, the type of job, and even the time of year. For those teens eager for summer employment, I suggest you start submitting those applications immediately. As for me, I am off to find some popcorn and savor that moment when Robbie’s true colors are revealed and his medical school tuition check gets ripped to shreds. Hooray for Dr. Houseman!

And the Oscar goes to … tips for evaluating employee performance outside of Tinsel Town

January 20, 2015 - by: Marilyn Moran 1 COMMENTS
Marilyn Moran

Awards season is upon us and soon all of Hollywood will gather to celebrate its most talented actors and actresses, as determined by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Who will win the Oscar? shutterstock_236123857

While this question is being volleyed about and fiercely debated among Internet pundits and armchair critics, the nominees themselves wait anxiously, knowing that receiving the coveted Academy Award would most likely translate into significant and tangible benefits for them in the form of professional prestige, better opportunities, and increased compensation. Adding to the suspense is the fact that the decision about who will receive an Oscar is left entirely to the arbitrary whims and subjective interpretations of the Academy’s members, with only the representations of a couple of accountants donned in Armani tuxedos to authenticate the legitimacy of the process.

As is the case with so many things, Hollywood should not be mistakened for the “real world.” In La-La land, subjectivity reigns supreme, but at your business, you shouldn’t leave the weighty decision of evaluating an employee’s job performance to your personal proclivities, political leanings, or emotions.

Just think, if employee performance evaluations were written like movie reviews, they might look something like this:

Brad Fitt’s performance of the company’s strategic initiatives was lackluster at best. Though boyishly handsome, Brad lacks definitive gravitas, and his on-the-job chemistry with his co-workers fell flat. He is easy to like, but even easier to forget — a middle management cliché who fails to inspire and prefers mediocrity over innovation. I give him 2 out of 5 stars.

Or perhaps …

Angelina Zolie delivered a powerhouse performance during the third quarter. Her gracious yet sure-handed direction and intense commitment to rolling out the new payroll system were gripping, a veritable depiction of leadership in action. Startlingly clever and self-aware, Angelina sizzled at the mid-year meeting and exuded a confidence unlike those of her peers. In a word, Angelina was triumphant. I give her 4.5 out of 5 stars.

While such imperceptible fluff may be standard fare for movie reviews, your employee performance evaluations should rely on more objective, identifiable criteria, lest your business land the starring role in an employment lawsuit–as the defendant!

Here are four tips for ensuring fair and effective employee performance evaluations:

1.  Create a list of the criteria or expectations you are looking for in a position, and specify in the evaluation how the employee met, exceeded, or failed to meet those expectations during the performance period.

2.  Focus on tangible results, not subjective perceptions about an employee’s performance. Sales figures, timeliness, or other objective measures are easier to explain and defend than personal opinions. Undoubtedly, the list of Oscar-winning movies would change dramatically if they were judged on box-office performance rather than critical acclaim. Transformers IV, anyone?

3.  In most cases, an employee’s performance should be evaluated on a cumulative basis, over a sufficient length of time. So don’t judge an employee’s performance based on a single project or over a short time period, unless the employee’s job description demands it. After all, would it be fair to gauge George Clooney’s acting talent based solely on his performance in The Facts of Life or Batman and Robin?

4.  Set aside a time to talk to employees about their evaluations and give them concrete suggestions for improving their performance. Snarky insults and petty comparisons to an employee’s more-celebrated peers may work in Tinsel Town, but you should opt for delivering constructive criticism that will give your employees a road map for success and allow them to retain their dignity.

Of course, it’s inevitable that a manager’s personal feelings and opinions will creep into an employee’s performance evaluation, but if your business relegates the use of subjective criteria to a supporting role and focuses on objective measures of performance, you will go a long way toward ensuring fairness, maintaining employee morale, and avoiding liability.

See you at the movies!

 

 

Ready for kickoff

September 03, 2014 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

I live in the South. This time of year, that means college football; that also means otherwise healthy friendships will erupt with enough recrimination, envy, taunts, and ill will to put the Corleones and Tattaglias to shame. Everyone crows that this is their year , we’re going to come out on top, and what-do-you-mean-that-overtime-loss-last-month-means-we-can’t-play-for-the-championship? shutterstock_165900731(Except folks like me, a Wake Forest alum, who find comfort in high-minded humility, of course.)

College football has never really found a satisfying way to crown its champion. It used to be that sportswriters picked it; then the coaches started their own poll and jumped in the mix. They tried a championship game, and then the number crunchers came out with the BCS, a computerized system that seemed to factor in everything (unless it was important, and then it was left out).  Then Colorado walloped Nebraska–and Nebraska advanced to the championship game. .

Now the college football dons have shifted course again. We finally get a “playoff” among four teams chosen by a “selection committee” meant to take the edge off the BCS’s cold math and reintroduce a bit of the eye test back into crowning a champ. Semifinal games will rotate among the “Classic Bowls”–the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, and Peach (for any of you who shivered through 1980s-era Peach Bowls in old County Stadium in Atlanta, the “Classic” designation is probably worth a chuckle). The semifinal winners will advance to the championship.

Problem solved. Right?

Probably not. That fifth team surely won’t be happy. You can count on demands to expand the playoff in coming years. Why? One reason I expect controversy is the selection committee is going to be using the eye test to pick its contestants. For sure, they will look at objective factors like strength of schedule, overall record, and such, but when you get down to the difference between the fourth and fifth teams, subjective factors are going to have to enter into the equation.

The same is true for human resources professionals. As much as employers try to rely on the most objective hiring metrics they can, the subjective factors cannot be discounted. Will this person be “a fit”? If we have to reduce staff, who has the more flexible skills to take on added responsibilities in different areas?

You will eventually find yourself in a situation like the college football selection committee, having to explain the objective and subjective factors behind who was in and who was out. Subjective factors are by no means out of bounds. They often, however, are the factors that find their way into the center of employment claims. Documenting performance expectations, giving long and serious consideration, and developing a clear job-related rationale for choosing certain employees or prospects over others are critical to showing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for your actions.

Lies and statistics

July 24, 2014 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

I keep coming back to books about baseball, but they’re just too valuable in terms of personnel management. A baseball manager (and his colleagues in the team office) function so much like an HR department. They have to pick the best roster and field the best lineup for the opponent each night. They have to fit payroll in a budget and make tough roster decisions. And, while their forebears in the past managed off instinct,shutterstock_34461571 modern baseball executives employ stats and other metrics to see which players are worth their salaries and their position in the lineup. That brings us to this installment’s book, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball by George Will. Will, of course, is best known for his syndicated political columns but at heart he is a baseball fanatic. Men at Work devoted special attention to Tony LaRussa (a law school graduate in his own right), at that time the manager for the Oakland A’s. Twenty-five years ago, the A’s were an American League juggernaut that featured a marquee roster with the likes of Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Dave Parker, and Dave Stewart. Will was, of course, impressed with the talent walking around LaRussa’s clubhouse, but he seemed most fascinated with the manager’s command of and use of statistics to arrange his fielders, select pitches, and basically guide most of his decisions. In that era, LaRussa kept enormous binders with pitch charts, statistics of players in particular situations, and any number of other possibilities. He consulted the information constantly throughout each game, and his staff updated the information regularly. The point here is that while most managers were making decisions based on feel or instinct, LaRussa was making them based on data and history. Did Carney Lansford tend to hit this pitcher mainly to left field? If so, then Tony Phillips probably needs to have a bigger lead at second to give him a better chance to score on a single. Does this pitcher stay wild on a 2-1 count? If so, maybe this isn’t the time to put on the hit-and-run. Personnel management can take a page from this book. While courts still do approve of subjective evaluations if employed in the right way, the best practice to defend claims is to be sure that cold, hard facts guide your decisions as much as possible. Has one of your salespeople complained that some unlawful reason led to their exclusion from a key sales pitch? If so, you’re in a much better position if you can show them that they’ve not been successful with this prospective client’s industry in the past. Numbers and data, used well, are your friends. So, ask yourself this question: are you hiring and fielding a team because you think they’re the best ones to compete in the market, or do you know? It’s never 100%; after all, LaRussa didn’t come out on top every year. But he did enter the Hall of Fame with three World Series rings.

4 slam-dunk tips for HR pros from Spurs’ NBA success

June 16, 2014 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

I’m a Wake Forest basketball fan from way back, so I’ve followed Tim Duncan’s professional career closely since 1998. All the sports fans out there are well aware by now that Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs won their fifth NBA title last night in convincing fashion over the Miami Heat. All the Spurs’ titles have come during Duncan’s career, and Duncan has only known one coach–Greg Popovich–since San Antonio selected him first in the 1997 NBA draft. shutterstock_173318291

The Spurs’ success since 1998 offers several tips and pointers for HR professionals. I list several below, in no particular order:

Continuity. The Spurs have maintained a remarkably consistent core during their 17-year run of success. They have had one coach, and Duncan has anchored the team in the middle the entire time. Early in their run, the Spurs built around Duncan and Hall of Famer David Robinson, a lifer in his own right. After Robinson retired, the Spurs’ core has included Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, also Spurs lifers with no plans to head anywhere.

Acceptance of change. The fluid motion offense that gutted the Miami Heat bears little resemblance to the more plodding offenses the Spurs ran earlier in their run. At that point, Duncan and Robinson controlled the paint, defense was king, and their ball movement was focused on passing through Duncan or Robinson in the post. Today, the Spurs employ a more up-tempo style that features Tony Parker’s lightning quickness.

Assimilation of new talent. While the core remains the same, the NBA salary cap forces all teams to make some hard roster decisions. The Spurs have thrived by grafting serviceable, hardworking under-the-radar players onto their roster’s core. However, they do so by being choosy about who they bring in–it’s generally recognized around the league that you are going to change to become a Spur; they won’t change just to land you.

Casting broad new for talent. I suppose you could file this one under “diversity.” The Spurs have players on their roster from the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands, France, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, and Australia. This is not happenstance, nor is it done for its own sake. First, the Spurs’ style lends itself well to players who grew up in the international game. Second–and let’s face it–San Antonio is a fine place but not on par with endorsement-rich NBA cities like New York, Chicago, LA, or Miami. The Spurs have to look for folks who fit their style and are hungry for a chance to play in the league. They’ve done quite well, thank you very much.

Overall, then, you may look to the Spurs for your own purposes. Do you have core talent committed to the organization and your mission? Are these folks accepting of change? Similarly, when you bring in new talent can you get them to buy in to your way of doing things? Finally, are you looking in all–and I mean all–the right places to find the talent you need? It’s not easy, but here’s an example to all for how you can make it work.

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.