‘Royal’ additions: handling HR issues that arise due to marriage and childbirth

December 18, 2017 0 COMMENTS

I admit that, like many Americans, I am fascinated with the lives of the British royal family. That is especially true with respect to Charles and Di’s two young princes. I enjoy hearing news about Prince Williams’ adorable family, and I was excited to hear about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s recent engagement. In fact, this coming spring will mark two momentouPregnant businesswoman working on a laptops occasions for the royal family, as William and Catherine are expecting a baby in April, followed by the wedding of Harry and Meghan in May. I cannot wait to tune in!

Although royalty (and even famous actresses like Markle) do not need to worry much about how marriage and childbirth will affect their jobs, regular Joes certainly do. Accordingly, HR must be ready to assist employees when they undergo these major life changes.

Marriage

When an employee gets married, he or she may undergo a legal name change. From an administrative standpoint, the employee should provide updated personnel documents:

  • First, an employee should provide the employer with a copy of his new, updated Social Security card with the new full name. This is important because the IRS mandates that the card information match the company’s payroll information.
  • The same is true for employee tax documents on file with the employer. The employee will need to update the W-4, so that the legal name is reflected on the corresponding W-2 correctly.
  • Note that an employer is not automatically required to update the employee’s I-9 after a legal name change, but the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends doing so in order to have employment records be uniform for the employee.
  • HR will also want to ensure that the employee’s benefits paperwork is updated (including any beneficiary forms).
  • The company may want to require that the employee provide an updated version of his driver’s license, especially if the employee drives a vehicle as part of his job.
  • Some couples set up a joint bank account after marrying. For such employees, HR will want to be sure (for payroll purposes) that any direct deposit information is correct and is adjusted if there is a new account.
  • Finally, the employer should ensure that documents such as “who to contact in an emergency”, business cards, email accounts, desk or wall name plaques, and company phone lists are all updated with the new name.

In addition, HR may want to check in with the employee about any extended time off needed for the wedding and/or honeymoon. If the employee has PTO or vacation time available, it is advisable to determine how the time off will be allocated in advance. Also, having HR work with the employee and his manager on plans for an extended time away may help decrease the disruption on the business.

Childbirth

When an employee has a new child, through birth or adoption, there are a plethora of considerations affecting the employment of the new parent.

  • As with marriage, benefit plans are a consideration. Adding the new child to the employee’s health plan, life insurance, flexible spending accounts, etc. as soon as possible is very important. The employee may also want to update beneficiary designations for life and other types of insurance to include the new child.
  • HR should ensure that the employee understands all of her rights under federal, state, and local law with respect to leave time following the birth or adoption, as well as the employer’s policies and benefits regarding leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) often comes into play, as do maternity/paternity leave policies.
  • Companies need to be sure that their nursing mother policies are up to date and that those policies are aligned with the law.
  • Childcare is another consideration for the employee who is a new parent. Some employers have direct childcare benefits and offer onsite daycare, while other employers have arrangements with nearby daycare centers that offer affordable and quality childcare for the employee. HR should ensure that the employee who welcomes a new child has all the necessary information about any childcare benefits available from the company.

In sum, it is exciting when royals—and even commoners!—get married and have children. For commoners who work, HR can be a great asset and partner in the employment-related aspects that accompany these important life changes.

10-step plan for fair and balanced approach to preventing workplace harassment

May 17, 2017 0 COMMENTS

In less than a year, Fox News has lost its founder and one of its most well-known anchors due to widespread sexual harassment allegations. Fox News recently reported that 20th Century Fox paid $10 million in sexual harassment settlements in the first quarter of 2017 alone. How can Fox News be proactive in avoiding harassment claims in the future? Prevention is the best tool to avoiding claims. Here are some essential steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment.  Stop Sexual Harassment red stop sign held by a female

1. Disseminate a workplace harassment policy that complies with state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The policy should encompass all forms of unlawful harassment based upon all protected classes, not just sexual harassment; although sexual harassment should be separately discussed within the policy.

2. The policy must be communicated to all employees at the time of their hire and should also be posted in the workplace. Employees should be given an acknowledgement to sign so that they acknowledge that they have read and that they understand the policy.

3. The policy must contain an effective complaint procedure that affords the employee bringing the complaint the opportunity to bypass the alleged harasser; however, the complaint procedure should not be too broad so as to encompass everyone at the organization.

4. The policy must contain an anti-retaliation provision, ensuring that the employees are aware that they will not be retaliated against for complaining internally, filing lawsuits/charges, or participating in an investigation.

5. The policy must not guarantee confidentiality; rather, it should state that, to the extent possible, complaints will be kept confidential. Obviously, an employer can’t keep a complaint confidential to the extent it must share the allegations during the course of an investigation. An employer, however, can guarantee that it won’t share the allegations with those who don’t have a reason to know them.

6. Employees (both managers and employers) should be trained on preventing sexual harassment and other forms of harassment at the time of hire and every two years.

7. Don’t require employees to put their harassment complaints in writing.

8. Respond to complaints immediately by conducting thorough and unbiased investigations.

9. Take appropriate remedial action following substantiated complaints of unlawful harassment by issuing disciplinary action commensurate with the substantiated conduct and continuing to monitor the relationship and the alleged harasser’s conduct toward others.

10. Keep your eyes and ears open and mandate that your supervisors do the same–if they see something, they must say something. Moreover, rumored allegations also should be explored.

Developing a PIP that will make employees comeback heroes—Tom Brady style

February 07, 2017 0 COMMENTS

I’m sure you all watched or heard about the Super Bowl on Sunday night: Despite the fact that his team was trailing by 25 points, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady led New England on the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Brady’s season began with a four-game suspension for his involvement in the “deflategate” scandal and ended as Super Bowl MVP. It’s a comeback within a comeback. Despite not knowing much about sports, as a New Englander, I would be remiss if I let this opportunity pass without drawing some sort of analogy to HR. Because my law firm is based in Atlanta, I admit, I’m cowering just a little.  Patriots' parade in Boston for winning Super Bowl XLIX

As HR professionals, we are often called upon to assist managers in addressing concerns with employees who appear to be falling behind company expectations. How can we encourage employee “comebacks” and assist supervisors by providing effective tools to help employees to do so?

When verbal counseling and written disciplinary action have not been successful at correcting performance-related deficiencies, a performance improvement plan (PIP) is often used as a means to correct performance and avoid termination. Developed and used properly, a PIP can be an effective tool. Here are recommendations for developing an effective PIP:

  1. Outline, with specificity, performance-related concerns, i.e., the reasons for the PIP. This section should be very detailed (in terms of facts and dates), include applicable requirements from the job description, and summarize/reference previous performance-related discussions/discipline.
  2. Establish specific quantifiable and realistic goals for the PIP so that the employee can clearly understand what is expected. The PIP should include consequences for failing to meet the goals.
  3. Provide a list of available tools. For example, the employee can be provided with training that targets any deficiencies, whether inside the organization or through a third party. Alternatively (or additionally), a mentor can be assigned to answer questions on an ongoing basis. The employee should be given an opportunity to discuss what tools he/she believes are necessary to meet the goals outlined in the PIP. The tools may change as the employee progresses through the PIP.  The employee should be given an opportunity during feedback meetings to discuss whether any additional tools are needed.
  4. The PIP should include a schedule for the feedback meetings, which should be frequent and meaningful. The employee should be aware of how he/she is progressing through the plan at all times. The meeting frequency may need to be adjusted depending upon how the employee is progressing. The discussions should be calm and free-flowing.
  5. The PIP should include a duration. The time period may need to be adjusted depending upon the particular circumstances. For example, if some progress is made and there is promise but the employee hasn’t yet reached a satisfactory level of performance, the time period may need to be extended.
  6. The PIP should be signed by the employee.

Hopefully, the PIP will result in the improvement in overall performance, even without the assistance of Lady Gaga falling from the sky.

 

The power of habit and HR policies

January 23, 2017 1 COMMENTS

At the start of a new year, many individuals set goals and resolutions, hoping to change bad habits or form new ones. Exercising, eating healthy, reading more books, learning something new, and spending more time with family or friends are all common resolutions. 

But many of these well-intentioned goals and resolutions fall off days, weeks, or even months after people resolve to stick with them. After about three weeks into the New Year, how are your goals and resolutions coming along?

If you’ve found you haven’t been hitting the gym quite as hard as you’d planned, or that you’ve been unable to resist those sugary treats you vowed to give up, you may personally benefit from picking up the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The book delves deep into the science behind our habits and how to transform them.

In addition to focusing on how individuals can change habits, however, the book also explores how institutional habits can change in huge companies. Perhaps your organization has also started out the year by setting goals for tasks to accomplish this year. However, just as changing habits can be difficult on an individual level, changing habits and company culture on an institutional level can be even more challenging.

The book discusses how focusing on certain so-called “keystone habits” can help transform other areas of an organization. For example, in one case study, the book delves into how a new CEO of a huge international company transformed the entire organization, its habits, and ultimately its bottom line, all by focusing on safety. Safety was a keystone habit that management, employees, and the union could get behind. By focusing on changing safety habits to make the workplace safer, employees and management rallied around a common goal. In doing so, the company changed its safety policies and encouraged a culture of open communication. By demonstrating that the company was serious about hearing feedback from employees on how to improve safety, employees began to feel comfortable sharing other ideas as well, such as ways to increase efficiency. Soon, the company had both dramatically reduced injuries and increased efficiency, and in turn profits soared.

Now is a good time to seriously evaluate and audit company HR policies to determine not only if they comply with the law, but also if they contribute to good habits and company culture. If not, it may be time to attempt to find ways to transform those habits. I recommend adding The Power of Habit to your “to read” list both to benefit you personally, and to benefit your organization.

What did Ryan Lochte do? 8 tips for waterproof investigations

September 06, 2016 1 COMMENTS

Despite the conclusion of the 2016 Summer Olympics, Ryan Lochte is still “under water” with questions still looming after Rio police reports that the American gold-medal Olympian fabricated a story about being robbed at gunpoint in Brazil. Lochte initially reported that he and three other U.S. swimmersJames Feigen, Jack Conger, and Gunnar Bentzwere robbed at gunpoint as they were returning from a party.  Hand with magnifying glass.

Brazilian authorities reported a markedly different account: The American swimmers vandalized a gas station and then got into an altercation with security guards. Since the news broke, Lochte changed his tune a bit to the press and admitted that he exaggerated his initial story, but the International Olympic Committee set up a disciplinary commission to investigate Lochte and the three other U.S. swimmers. This commission will determine what consequences, if any, the swimmers will face.

Like any workplace investigation, the IOC will need to determine who should conduct the investigation, who will be questioned as part of the investigation, the commission will review whatever video and photographs of the incident exist and then it will make conclusions and determine the appropriate action to take, if any, following these conclusions.

What if Lochte was an employee who was alleged to have engaged in this conduct while on a business trip?  In the workplace, as a general rule, an employer has a legal duty to conduct a prompt, thorough, and unbiased investigation when it becomes aware of improper conduct. For example, if the employee was terminated without any investigation, the employer is exposed to a claim by that employee. If the conduct is ignored, and then occurs again, the employer is exposed to claims of negligent supervision. If an employee complains about harassment by another employee, federal and state anti-discrimination laws mandate a prompt, remedial, and unbiased investigation.

When done properly, workplace investigations and prompt remedial action can serve to defend against employment-related claims and preclude recovery. However, when done improperly (e.g., when disciplinary action is taken on the basis of a poorly conducted investigation, the evidence doesn’t justify the conclusions reached, or  there is a failure to take appropriate action following the investigation), there are significant risks of exposure. Because these investigations are tricky, here is a list of guidelines that employers should keep in mind:

  1. Determine interim steps.  Depending upon the nature/gravity of the conduct, it may be suitable to place the accused on a paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.  It is important to reassure the employee being investigated that no conclusion of wrongdoing has been made, that the investigation will be unbiased and will conclude as promptly as possible.  The complaining party and the accused should be reminded of the organization’s policy against retaliation.
  2. Choose an investigator.  The investigator must be impartial and must be well trained.  Who is best suited to conduct the investigation?   Is there someone at your organization who has the experience and the time to promptly and thoroughly investigate the issue?  Is that person too close to the accused or the complaining party or the incident itself that could create a perception of bias?  If so, perhaps referring the investigation to an outside investigator would be prudent.  Neither the accused nor the complaining party should have any role in the investigation and should not have any supervisory control over the investigator.
  3. Review documents.  Review all relevant written policies as well as all documents that may be relevant to the incident/incidents that you are investigating.  Consider reviewing personnel files of the accused and the complaining party.
  4. Plan the investigation. Prepare a checklist of all witnesses you plan to interview make sure to outline your questions beforehand.  While you want to plan, you will also need to be flexible enough to speak to others/ask questions not on the list, as the investigation unfolds.
  5. Conduct witness interviews.  Interview the complaining party, the accused and every witness whose name was provided by the complaining party, the accused or if any other witness lists them as persons who witnessed the incident/incidents or could corroborate either party and who was present during all of the complained about conduct.  There may be a need to conduct additional interviews with witnesses already interviewed based upon information later discovered.  Questions should be open-ended (who, what, when, why, how, who was present, etc.) and the investigator should take note of body language of the witnesses.  The investigator should also request all relevant documents from witnesses during the course of the investigation.  The tone of the interviewer should be professional at all times.
  6. Draw conclusions.  Conclusions will often require credibility determinations.  Credibility determinations will require consideration of the following:  Is the witness’ version of facts believable?  Does the witness seem to be telling the truth?  Does the person have any reason to lie?  Are there documents or other witnesses that support this witness’ version of the events?  Has the accused had a history of similar behavior in the past?  Investigation reports should include answers to each of these questions and indicate how the credibility determinations are derived.
  7. Prepare the investigation report.  The report should include a list of documents reviewed, list of witnesses interviewed, the nature and scope of the investigation, a summary of the investigation, as well as conclusions and recommendations.  The report should specify how the conclusions were reached and why the recommendations are made.
  8. Communicate findings to complaining party and accused.  In the event the investigator concludes that there was wrongdoing, then appropriate action should be taken and documented and the relationship should be further monitored.

Undoubtedly, we will not be spared any details of the findings of the Lochte investigation, and whether the investigation will result in ramifications for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. “Thankfully,” his narcissism guarantees that, if we are not hearing about the incident in Rio, we will be hearing about his performance in this season’s Dancing With the Stars airing soon.

Dirty Dancing: hot summer hiring considerations

May 22, 2015 0 COMMENTS

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!

Business lessons from WrestleMania 31

March 30, 2015 3 COMMENTS

The biggest sports entertainment event of the year is in the books. Did you miss it? Nope, I’m not talking about the NCAA Tournament or even the Cricket World Cup—by the way, you can rest easy since Australia beat New Zealand by 7 wickets to capture its 5th Championship—I’m talking about WrestleMania 31. Yes, the penultimate event for the more-than-semi-scripted man drama took place on Sunday before a live audience of 76,976 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, and countless millions watching at home on pay-per-view. wrestlemania

WrestleMania didn’t just deliver at the box office. The event featured show-stopping action from big name headliners, both past and present. For those of you who missed all that glorious “wrastlin,’” I’ll give you the 30-second recap: The Big Show defeat 20-plus wrestlers to take home the trophy in the 2nd Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal; Triple H (who entered the ring dressed as the Terminator) defeated Sting after both “D-Generation X” and “nWo”—including The Real American himself, Hulk Hogan—intervened on behalf of both fighters; John Cena defeated Russian fighter “Rusev” (who entered the venue on nothing less than an actual TANK!) to win something called the “United States Championship belt”; Daniel Bryan climbed a ladder and out-head-butted Dolph Ziggler to grab the “Intercontinental” Championship belt; The Undertaker laid to rest Bray Wyatt with a move known as the “Tombstone Piledriver”; and, most importantly, Seth Rollins curb-stomped his way to the WWE World Heavyweight title, defeating Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. Oh yeah, and Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson called on Women’s UFC Champion Rhonda Rousey to clean up a little trash in the ring. Whew! I’m tired just describing it.

But what the public doesn’t see in this grand spectacle is the small army of attorneys, agents, and other business people it likely takes working behind the scenes to put an event like this together, both logistically and in terms of arranging appearance agreements for the special guests such as The Rock and, well, I will stick to calling her “Ms. Rousey” out of both respect and fear. The business of the WWE is entertainment—in massive, action-packed doses. And there is no doubt it takes an equally large amount of planning and negotiations to make that happen.

Although your business may not be to the same scale, it is likely that it takes more than just flipping the lights on to turn a profit. Your employee relations are no different. Successful employee relations takes planning.

Do you have an employee handbook? No—you should probably get one. Woooooooh!

Got a handbook? Good—when was the last time it was updated? Never? Uh-oh. If your handbook’s last revisions bear the same date as Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake’s last title bout, you’ve probably missed some important changes in the law.

Handbook: check. Updated: check. OK, Mr. Wonderful, good job. But, to ensure you and your company are in the best position to prevent and/or defend against lawsuits by current and former employees, you should audit your operations, at least annually, to make sure your managers and supervisors are properly interpreting and applying these policies on a day-to-day basis. Forget this step and you could get “clotheslined” by a lawsuit.

Taking these few, simple steps can go a long waytoward helping your company prevent unnecessary litigation and ensure you retain the belt as the undefeated, heavyweight champion.

Parks Madness

March 25, 2015 1 COMMENTS

In February, one of my favorite televisions shows, Parks and Recreation, concluded its magnificent seven-season run. While it had typical struggles in the early going, it soon hit its stride and gave us a cast of interesting characters whom we got to see evolve from their first interaction with the Pawnee, Indiana, Parks Department all the way into their eventual future lives. March Madness Businessman Hand Filling In Bracket From Above

The beginning of March Madness has helped to alleviate some of the void left by the departure of Parks (yes, I’m on a first-name basis with the show). In honor of both of these exceptional television viewing experiences, I decided to do a Parks-inspired March Madness bracket to determine which Parks character would be the most ideal employee for an organization, and conversely as a result, who would make an HR director pull his or hair out with worry about potential liability or lack of productiveness.

As Parks is littered with a plethora of colorful characters, it made sense to limit this bracket to eight select employees of the actual Parks Department. So unfortunately, that leaves out some very notable characters including, but not limited to: inept TV host Perd Hapley (“It’s a heartwarming story but it’s just not believable, which is why I give E.T. one and a half stars”); Leslie Knope’s best friend and nurse Ann Perkins; Chris Traeger (who “literally” served in part as the city manager); entrepreneur and sexual harassment suit waiting to happen Jean-Ralphio; Ron Swanson’s crazy ex-wives (Tammy I and Tammy II); Leslie’s geeky yet grounded husband Ben Wyatt; and Councilman Jeremy (“You just got Jamm-ed!”) Jamm.

On to the first round.

(1) Leslie Knope v. (4) Mark Brendanawicz
Knope is the 2015 version of Kentucky. The number 1 overall seed and prohibitive favorite due to her dedication as (for most of the show) deputy director of the Parks Department, attention to detail, exceptional focus, the discipline to document every situation, and ability to address and diffuse problems, including disagreements among her employees. Brendanawicz was only on the show for the first two seasons, was a city planner (but worked alongside the Parks department so his inclusion in this bracket is somewhat suspect I admit), consistently demonstrated disillusionment with his job, and eventually left. He’s an unknown commodity with unknown motives and no seeming dedication to his career. Knope in a blowout.

(2) Andy Dwyer v. (3) April Ludgate
An interesting matchup pairing eventual husband and wife. Andy is a lovable, goofy, accident-prone, and frankly dim-witted guy who started as a shoe shiner at City Hall and eventually began to do work for the Parks Department. However, it’s unclear in what capacity he does that work or even if he gets paid, which could be a potential wage and hour lawsuit because of the stringent requirements needed to qualify as a volunteer, even in the public sector. April is the sarcastic college student who started as an intern and eventually became Ron Swanson’s full-time assistant. April’s dry humor, outwardly mocking comments to those around her, and frequent disdain for her job, while endearing to those who know her well, could create morale issues with fellow employees. In addition, while April’s comments don’t delve into protected characteristics, there is no question an HR director would receive complaints from employees who would allege April is creating a hostile work environment. Dwyer is less of a risk and advances.

(1) Ron Swanson v. (4) Tom Haverford
The selection committee gave Swanson a Number 1 seed due to his longstanding history as the Parks’ Director and the endless quotes attributed to him such as: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing”; “When people get a little too chummy with me, I like to call them by the wrong name to let them know I don’t really care about them”; “I’d wish you the best of luck, but I believe luck is a concept created by the weak to explain their failures”; “Since I am not a rabbit, no I do not” (in response to waiter asking whether he wants a salad); and “Skim milk is water that’s lying about being milk.” Although Swanson cares about his employees on a personal level, he outwardly discusses the uselessness of his job and cares little about the work his employees perform or whether they perform it, letting Knope essentially run the department. Haverford is no ideal employee, but liability prevention and structure begin at the top level of management so Haverford wins in an upset.

(2) Donna Meagle v. (3) Jerry/Gerry/Gary Gergich
Gergich is the most underappreciated employee of the Parks Department, and like Michigan State, therefore under-seeded in this bracket. Other than his clumsiness, he is a great employee–enthusiastic, prompt, and does his job as required. Meagle isn’t necessarily a bad employee, but she is often preoccupied with the goings-on in her personal life, and spends exorbitant amounts of money during her “treat yo’ self” days with Haverford. While Meagle can seemingly afford these expenditures, employees with a history of financial difficulties often are problematic in the workplace for obvious reasons. Gergich advances simply because he is the more reliable and dedicated employee.

Semifinal #1 – (1) Knope v. (2) Dwyer
Knope wins. Dwyer, while a good-natured employee, lacks the technical skills (unless he’s playing “Johnny Karate”) necessary to get the job consistently done, which poses more of a problem with respect to customer complaints and productivity. Dwyer’s not the kind of employee who will likely cause waves, but he’s doomed to receive those failure to perform the job in accordance with the requirements type of warnings and eventually be let go due to his performance. Knope, on the other hand, is in there for the long haul.

Semifinal #2 – (3) Gergich v. (4) Haverford
While Haverford showed some dedication and management skills in his later ventures, his forays into “Rent-a Swag,” “Tom’s Bistro,” and “Tommy’s Fresh” cologne, among many others, demonstrate he is an entrepreneurial spirit most interested in creating his own personal brand, rather than being part of a team. Gergich, on the other hand, is the ultimate team player and takes this matchup.

Finals – (1) Knope v. Gergich (4)
This matchup stays close in the early going, but Knope pulls away in the second half for a resounding win and the championship. Why? Because it all starts at the top. While Gergich is a good employee, Knope is a great manager. The Parks Department would be in disarray without her leadership. In fact, despite the many shortcomings of the individuals listed above, Knope was able, more often than not, to rally her employees to get the job done and to put aside their personal agendas for a common goal.

While the hiring process at every level is important for a company, management employees (whether it be at the local, area, or regional level) are the most integral. They can help a company ensure not only productivity, but consistency in following proper procedures, which can save a company a lot of money. In addition, these actions help to prevent liability, whether it be properly investigating internal complaints, ensuring wage and hour policies are being adhered to, or simply keeping employee morale positive. So do yourselves a favor. Go find your own Leslie Knope.

It’s never easy, but Oprah delivers layoff news in person

March 09, 2015 7 COMMENTS

Last week, entertainment powerhouse and former talk-show host Oprah Winfrey announced that Harpo Studios in Chicago will be closing its doors by the end of the year, resulting in the loss of nearly 200 jobs. In typical Oprah fashion, she delivered the bad news to her employees in person, probably ambling around the room, microphone-in-hand, and breaking into her famous “ugly cry” for good measure. Handling employee layoffs are never easy, even if you’re Oprah, but here are three steps to follow if your business ever needs to downsize:

Harpo Studios, Chicago

1. Develop a Plan.

A reduction in force can open up a Pandora’s Box of potential liability if not handled appropriately, so before you start handing out pink slips, you’ve got to have a plan in place. To navigate the murky waters of employee layoffs, companies should obtain experienced employment law counsel to draw up severance agreements, review layoff criteria for potential disparate impact, and ensure compliance with the myriad of laws implicated by employee terminations. One such law, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act (OWBPA), requires an employer to make specific disclosures to an employee over 40 years of age and to provide the employee with additional time to review, and revoke, an agreement to waive federal age discrimination claims. Many states impose additional requirements, above and beyond OWBPA’s protections, and there are a multitude of other state laws that govern issues such as when an employee must receive his or her last paycheck and whether the employee must be paid for accrued but unused vacation time.

Of course, the first question you will need to answer when planning a reduction in force is what criteria you will use to determine who will be selected for layoff. Across-the-board reductions based on lack of seniority, while easy to administer, usually are not the most effective business solution. Instead, in a large workforce comprised of different departments and job functions, layoffs should generally be based on employees’ particular skill sets, with an eye toward maintaining those departmental functions that will improve the organization’s overall efficiency.  For example, if Oprah wants to focus her business operations on hard medicine rather than psychological counseling, it makes sense for her to retain Dr. Oz over Dr. Phil, even though Dr. Phil’s been around longer. Whatever the criteria used, it is crucial for the company to articulate clearly its reasons for selecting a particular employee, or group of employees, for layoff and be able to explain how the layoffs served the company’s legitimate business needs.

2. Comply with the WARN Act.

For large lay-offs, companies also will need to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act).  The WARN Act requires covered employers to provide employees 60 calendar days’ advance written notice of a plant closing or mass layoff. To be covered under the WARN Act, an employer must have either (a) at least 100 employees, excluding part-time employees, or (b) 100 or more employees who, in the aggregate, work at least 4,000 hours per week. The employer also must provide notice to the state and the chief elected official of the local government where the layoff or plant closing will occur. In addition to the federal WARN Act, many states have so-called “mini-WARN” statutes that employers must follow during a reduction in workforce. WARN laws are complicated because they contain many eligibility and notice requirements that differ across jurisdictions. As a result, it bears repeating that companies should seek the assistance of experienced employment law counsel before downsizing their operations to ensure they are in compliance with all applicable laws.

3. Treat Your Employees with Dignity and Respect.

Perhaps the most important tip for handling employee layoffs is also the simplest: Treat your employees with dignity and respect throughout the termination process. While you may not be able to dole out cars to your departing employees or surprise them with a giant check like Oprah, providing employees with open communication, sufficient notice, and emotional support will go a long way toward helping them through a difficult situation. Besides, nothing will kill the morale and loyalty of a remaining employee more quickly than cramming his buddy’s cubicle contents into a banker’s box and subjecting him to a humiliating walk-of-shame to the nearest exit.

Hopefully, employee layoffs are not in your company’s future, but if and when that time comes, you will be ready as long as you develop a plan with the assistance of experienced counsel, follow the law, and treat your employees with the dignity and respect they deserve. As Oprah would say, that’s what I know for sure.

Live long and diversify your workforce

March 02, 2015 1 COMMENTS

The death of Leonard Nimoy this week brought back many memories of the actor’s classic portrayal of Mr. Spock in the original “Star Trek” television series and subsequent movies, as well as his talents as a photographer, writer, and lecturer.Man giving Vulcan salute

Spock, as personified by Nimoy, embodied many qualities that employers value in their workforce, such as intelligence, logic, and loyalty. But as I was lying awake at night desperately trying to think of some justification for paying tribute to Nimoy–who was, by all accounts, truly a kind, thoughtful, and intellectual man–in a blog about employment law, something else struck me: how “Star Trek” depicted the ultimate diverse workplace, decades before anyone was even talking about such things.

Other television shows in the 1960s were beginning to introduce racial diversity into their fictional workplaces, such as Linc Hayes in “Mod Squad” and Peggy Fair in “Mannix,” but Star Trek took the concept to a whole new level. The U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew included not only an African-American communications officer, an Asian helmsman, a Scottish chief engineer, and a Russian ensign, but also a first officer, Spock, who was not just from another nation, but from a different planet and indeed a different species altogether (well, half of him anyway). With apologies to those who believe men are from Mars and women are from Venus, this was the first truly interplanetary workforce.

While the other diverse members of the Enterprise crew did not (as far as I can recall) really act any differently from their American, Caucasian counterparts such as Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy, Spock was a different story. Being of two different worlds, Spock would occasionally let his human emotions show, but for the most part, he conducted himself in accordance with his Vulcan heritage: cold, unemotional, and of course, very logical. The ways in which his personality and conduct varied from his human counterparts often produced conflict on the Enterprise, as well as comic relief. But ultimately, the other crew members embraced Spock and appreciated the different viewpoint and perspective he brought to their traveling workplace.

Today’s diverse workplaces often deal with similar issues, as employees learn to live and work with co-workers from different cultures–albeit not different planets or, for the most part, species. We have learned, for example, that some employees may dress differently based on the customs of their ancestry. Or maybe that a particular female co-worker from a different background may not feel comfortable shaking hands with a male client. We know that during company events, the culinary offerings should include alternatives for those employees whose cultures do not eat beef or other types of foods. And of course, different cultural backgrounds often mean different religious backgrounds. Thus, we try not to make non-Christian employees feel excluded by having “Christmas” parties or scheduling events during those employees’ important religious holidays, and we accommodate employees’ beliefs by allowing days off for religious holidays, providing prayer breaks, broadening the dress code to allow for religion-based clothing preferences, etc.

Not being a “Trekkie” myself, I can’t identify any specific “Star Trek” episode where Captain Kirk had to pause in the mission of “going where no man [or woman] [or other gender] had gone before” to order a special vegetarian meal for Officer Spock, nor do I recall any instances when Kirk had to call time out from his inter-species romantic liaisons to cover for Spock while he had the day off from work for a Vulcan holiday. But hey, it could have happened. If the Starfleet’s Human–make that “Species”–Resources professionals were earning their keep, they would have made sure that the Crew Handbook addressed the need to accommodate the cultural and religious beliefs and practices of all employees–even the ill-fated, red-shirted, anonymous crew members who would accompany the show’s stars in landing expeditions. And if any members of Starfleet didn’t want to accommodate members of different species, I’d like to think that Mr. Spock would have told them that their opposition was “highly illogical.” After all, when it comes to adapting to changing workplace demographics, resistance is futile.

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