July 2008

Vacation

by Evil HR Lady on July 30, 2008

I’m going on one. I am taking a vacation from the internet. So, I shall miss all of you.

I’ve sworn to my family that I won’t even check my e-mail. We’ll see if I last.

{ 4 comments }

Drug Screening

by Evil HR Lady on July 25, 2008

We pre-employment drug screen all applicants. Manager started someone, against my better judgment, before we got drug screen results. Of course, came back positive for Marijuana. Manager told applicant to stay home today, but this manager is in love with this applicant and wants to make exception to policy to keep them on board. Our policy says that the applicant can have other half of their specimen tested at their own expense and if it comes back negative we reimburse them and they can start working for us. Applicant says they don’t smoke, but their husband does and that is why she probably tested positive. Manager wants to allow her to continue working and test her again in 30 days with her continued employment contingent on the results of that test.

Let me start by saying that I have never taken an illegal drug in my past and I don’t view it very highly. I try not to judge folks, but my history does affect my judgment so I am seeking outside advice. Also, to me Marijuana, while pretty widely accepted, is still Illegal. My thoughts are to follow policy and terminate them immediately and be along our merry little way. However, what are the pluses and minuses of making the exception. Of course, our Regional Manager brings it to my attention that we have made this exception in the past, but it was before my time here. Another point I gave the manager was that this person, while they may not be smoking it themselves, is living with someone that does. If the cops break down the door and bust them, chances are they may both be going to jail and now we have a whole other situation. My gut says follow procedure and do not make exception and set a precedent.

I’m with you, 100%. You really have no way of knowing if the person is lying or not, but do you want to start down that road? The drug screen is what it is. She may well be telling the truth, but how can you really believe that? Sure, I wasn’t the one inhaling…

Now, I did watch a Mythbuster’s episode about poppy seeds and that was rather frightening. It made me believe that drug testing isn’t quite so straight forward as we’d like to think it is. (HR according to Mythbusters…hmmm.) But, the problem you run into is that if you make one exception, what’s going to be the rules around the exception policy? (Horrors–rules for exceptions? I’ve been in HR way too long.)

But, yes, rules for exceptions. Think about how the rule would have to be written to allow this: “If candidate says, ‘that test gave a false positive’ or ‘someone put something in my drink’ or ‘it was just a poppyseed bagel’ then re-test in 30 days.” See, it sounds kind of silly.

Truth be told, I’m all in favor of meeting the needs of the individual–you want flex time, part time, telecommuting, I’m all there. You want to work with a positive drug screen? Hmmm, not so much.

The biggest problem in granting an exception is the appearance of favoritism, or discrimination. So, if this is a white woman who tested positive and you let her re-test in 30 days because the manager loves her, what happens if the next person to test positive is a so-so candidate that you made an offer to because you were desperate–and happens to be a black male? Oh joy. See you in court.

Now, as for drug testing in general–as I said, I watched Mythbusters and learned that a relatively small amount of poppy seeds can give you a false positive. Can walking through a smoky room where cigarettes aren’t the vice of choice lead to the same result? I don’t know. You might want to check with your vendor to ask what level of sensitivity you want to pick up. And make sure your vendor contacts the candidates for a list of the drugs they are taking legally. (Yes, I’ve had a candidate told he flunked the drug test only to find out that he was taking legally prescribed Ritalin. He’d tried to tell the vendor, they wouldn’t listen. So they just reported back to the company that he’d failed. HR had to call the vendor back, who then called the candidate’s physician and all was well–except he was unnecessarily embarrassed. I wasn’t in charge of the vendor contract, but if i had been, they would have been fired.)

But for now, I’d say, “I’m so sorry. Good luck with your job search.”

{ 39 comments }

Embarrassed To Be In HR

by Evil HR Lady on July 25, 2008

I got the following comment on my post on networking:

Stop naming it networking, call it nepotism. Hiring people based on who they know is unprofessional. I work in HR and someone’s recommendation means squat, I have enough of a brain to evaluate skills and not relationships. If you had to have life saving surgery would you pick the most qualified doctor or one that is funny at parties? Oh and the recruiter that says we remember names of people who turn down offers, why do you feel your time is more important than the candidates? typical HR workers that make me embarrassed to tell people my profession.

First of all, the usual use of the word “nepotism” is favoritism to family members. There are some who define it as favoritism to close friends, but a better word for what you are trying to describe is cronyism. It’s all about word choice and I’m not saying the anonymous commenter’s choice was technically incorrect, it was just not what I would have used.

I’m rather embarrassed that an HR person would presume to have more knowledge about the skills necessary to do the job then someone who actually does the job. Yes, yes, I can read a resume with the best of them. I can even ask interview questions. But, I would rather get an opinion from somebody who does the actual job.

Would I hire my brain surgeon based on his ability to tell jokes? No. But, if I needed brain surgery, I would start looking for one by asking for referrals for a neurologist from my current physician. Then I would ask the neurologist about neurosurgeons. Theoretically, all those years of medical school, residency and practice means they know a bit more about medicine then I do. Sure, I’d want to check the recommended person’s resume and ask questions like, “how many of these types of surgeries have you performed?” But, would a physician’s recommendation hold more weight than my hairdresser’s recommendation? Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I ask someone with knowledge and experience in the field before making my decision?

You know who else I would want to ask? The nurses that work in neurosurgery. They would know all the doctors, their success rates and their personalities. And in the case of brain surgery, I really would prefer a pompous jerk who knows how to fix my brain rather than a good joke teller. If I’m just basing my opinion on an interview, rather than someone who has worked with the surgeon before, I’m more likely to be swayed by the good conversationalist. And the reality is, conversation is nice, but what I need is a good surgeon.

I do agree that the recruiter who said they would hold it against someone who turned down a job offer is a jerk. If you are a good recruiter, you should be able to pull in quality candidates. Quality candidates frequently have other job offers because they are, you know, high quality. Just because this current position doesn’t meet their current needs/goals doesn’t mean they won’t need a job in the future.

This reminds me of a little story. Once upon a time, my beloved husband went on a job interview that was 7 hours away from our home. He drove and paid his own expenses on the promise that he would be reimbursed. He submitted his expenses and the head hunter sent a check. The company made him an offer. The offer was a rather lousy one and he, at this point, had 4 or 5 offers that were better. So he turned it down.

And they stopped payment on the check.

My husband, being nicer than me, said, “Just let it go. It’s only $300.” (Clearly this was back in the days of reasonable gas prices.) I said, “It’s $300 and dang it, I want the money.” So, he said I could call. Generally having spouses call is a big no-no by the way, but we didn’t have anything to lose. So I called and asked, innocently why they stopped payment on the check.

“Because he didn’t accept the job,” recruiter said.

“That wasn’t part of the deal. You were to reimburse him for expenses related to the interview.”

“But, he didn’t accept the job! We’ve never had anyone get an offer and not accept it before!” she said.

“I want to talk to your boss,” I said. Boss got on the phone.

“Do you even work?” he snarled, “or are you just a housewife with nothing better to do?”

So, now my blood is boiling, but I managed to reply, rather sweetly, if I do say so myself, “Your comment is insulting on many levels, but in fact, I do work. I’m in Human Resouces and I happen to know that paying travel expenses is part of the cost of recruiting.”

“But, we’ve never had anyone turn down an offer before!” he said.

“In that case,” I replied, “you must not be used to working with highly qualified candidates because people like that frequently have more than one offer.”

“You’ll have your check,” he said.

And we did. And he was an idiot. And he was in HR. But, fortunately, most of us are not like that. And most of us recognize networking for what it is–an invaluable tool.

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Lazy Posting

by Evil HR Lady on July 24, 2008

I can’t write a real post today. Why? Because I found Not Always Right and I must sit here and read every single entry. It’s like some sort of strange compulsion.

One other interesting thing I found yesterday was this listing of HR bloggers and their start dates by Michael Fox over at Jottings of an Employer’s Lawyer.

And I just got an e-mail from Kris and the new HR Carnival is up!

Now I’ve given you lots of things to read.

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Excessive Sick Time

by Evil HR Lady on July 23, 2008

I have worked for a company in Northern California for over 5 years. We have a small inside sales force that is extremely busy and we are all exempt employees. We are paid on commission (after our salary is covered). The company policy does not have a sick time policy for exempt employees and everyone is good about it but one of our top sales people. When he is out we are expected to do the best we can to cover all of his clients. Everyone was good about it the first two years(things will change right?) and now are very fed up about it. It is costing us time and all the customers are getting upset.

We are in our 5th year of this person being out 2 to 5 weeks a year (more like 3 to 4) and it takes away from our work (and commission). We’ve had several managers but since this guy’s sales numbers are giant they keep saying they’re “monitoring” it. This person has a sense of entitlement, is always sick (doesn’t take care of themselves) and thinks as long as they bring in a number it doesn’t matter.

The managers seem to feel that California law “ties their hands” and they keep thinking it will go away. There have been other employees fired in the company for excessive absences so wouldn’t this be a bit discriminatory based on this employee’s excessive number of sick days? What type of recourse do we have besides not help this guys clients and make them all mad?

Now, now, let’s not make the clients mad. That would be vindictive and biting the hand that feeds us all at once. While it seems like justifiable fun and would “wake up” management, it will reflect poorly upon you.

First and foremost, I have little experience with California’s special laws. So, I’m going to pretend you live in Kansas instead. (I have NO experience with any special laws Kansas may have, but I did drive through Kansas once and saw Bob Dole’s home town, so that makes me feel more confident about Kansas law.)

Your problem is not your co-worker. Repeat after me: “My co-worker is not my problem. My co-worker is not my problem. My co-worker is not my problem.” See if you can get into a zen state while you say this. Now you can switch, “My problem is my work load. My problem is my work load.”

Since you are commissioned sales people, if you are supporting clients for your ill co-worker, you should be reaping the rewards for his clients. Present that to your boss. And sit down and say, “When Bob’s out of the office, I have to do x and y for his clients, which means I can’t do x and y for my clients. How would you like me to handle this?” No whining about Bob. Just “how should we manage our workload.”

Since Bob has such stellar sales numbers, I doubt your management really believes customers aren’t happy. (Now, of course, they may be and one day they’ll all just drop you company like a hot potato, and then where you will be?) As for Bob’s excessive sick days–he may have an FMLA approved illness. He may even be approved for “intermittent” FMLA, which means he can takes days off as needed, rather than taking a 12 week chunk of time off. If he does have an FMLA covered condition, your manager’s hands are tied. Since his performance when he is in the office is stellar, they would find it very difficult, legally, to fire him. And why would they want to?

Stop worrying about him and worry about your workload and your clients. I think it’s fair to get compensated for the work you do for Bob’s clients. Ask for it. But, remember, your problem is not your co-worker. It’s your workload. Don’t worry about him (and his unhealthy lifestyle). Solve your workload issues and ignore him.

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A Potential Bad Manager

by Evil HR Lady on July 22, 2008

I’ve been reading your wonderful blog for a while, so I’m hoping you and/or your readers can come up with some helpful suggestions. I’ve been working at the same medium-sized company for 15years. My current manager is getting ready to retire within the next 2 years. He supervises 8 people (including me), divided into 3 teams, and is generally very by-the-book but can be flexible with the rules if one makes a good case. My current team leader has been with the company 2 years longer than I have and is a smoking buddy of his (they are the only2 who smoke).

It is generally known within the department at the non-managerial level that the reason my team leader got the position instead of me after the last team leader resigned is because she used her special relationship to sabotage my reputation with our manager while I was on maternity leave. As might be expected, my team leader has started campaigning for the manager slot, but the rest of us in our unit feel she would be a terrible manager. Leaving aside the fact that she doesn’t understand what our unit does except at a very superficial level, she is very vindictive against people who call her on her mistakes, and she’s even more strictly by-the-book than my current manager.

Unfortunately, she has seniority over almost everyone in the department who is likely to apply for the manager position, so she is very likely to become my manager soon. Other than hunkering down and trying to be invisible, is there anything constructive that my coworkers and I can do? The head of the department is pretty clueless about personnel issues, so I’m pretty sure talking to her would be a bad idea.

Two years. Your manager is getting ready to retiree within the next two years. On the one hand, I applaud you for looking at your career that far in advance. (Despite the ubiquitous “where you see yourself in 5 years” question, people don’t do enough career planning.)

Anything can happen in two years. Your arch nemesis could quit. Your “clueless” department head could quit, be promoted, or gain a renewed interest in your group. You could quit. You could get promoted. You could be transferred to a different department. The whole company could collapse. [Enter presidential candidate you don’t like] could win the election and the entire country could be taken over by Iran. Anything can happen in two years.

Why do I mention this? Well, to give you some perspective. Here’s some other perspective. Your department head may well know precisely what is going on. She may be simply waiting for your manager to retire before making big changes. She may be counting down as well. It may be a carefully calculated decision to appear to be ignoring your department personnel issues.

And speaking of not knowing what is going on, how is it possible that the team lead, who has the most seniority, doesn’t understand what the department done, yet she is very by the book? You may be letting your distaste for this person color you views as well. You say it’s “well known” that she sabotaged your relationship with the boss while you were on maternity leave. I’d ask you to figure out what evidence there really is of that.

My suggestions are as follows:

1. Approach your manager and ask for career planning guidance. You want to move into a manager role. Ask her advice on how to achieve that.

2. Let your manager know that you are also going to approach your department head on the same topic. Let her know you are interested in taking your manager’s job when she retires, and ask if that is a possibility and what skills you will need to gain and ask for help in gaining those skills. Are there projects or classes you can take on to help with this.

3. If it really is clear that the team lead will be your new boss, evaluate how much you want to stay in this job. You have two years to find a new job if you don’t wish to report to this person. Did I mention two years? If something bad is going to happen in two years, I’d make plans now to change that. You can work to gain the job yourself (see above), you can work to get a job in the same company in a different group, or you can look for a new job with a new company. You can also try to get to know the team leader. Just because she’s smoking buddies with the boss doesn’t mean she’s a bad person.

{ 5 comments }

Who Will Companies Hire?

by Evil HR Lady on July 18, 2008

I have often been told that employers hire people they know to fill positions before they pick someone qualified for the position. Is this true? if so are there companies that prohibit the hiring of friends of friends and relatives of relatives?

Sure, lots of companies prohibit the hiring of relatives of current employees. I work in such a large company that this would be impractical, so we prohibit the hiring of relatives within the same department.

But friends? Honey, that’s called networking and it’s how the business world works. Unless the management is utterly incompetent (not saying such companies don’t exist), they still hire qualified people–just not you. (That’s what I’m getting out of your e-mail anyway. Why can’t I find a job? Forgive me if I’m wrong or jumping to unwarrented conclusions.)

Hiring is an unpleasant and risky activity. Even though I harp on here that most employment in the United States is “at-will,” meaning that a company can fire you for cause or no cause at any time, most companies don’t terminate people willy-nillly. They have processes and procedures and just because termination is technically legal, they have to be concerned about lawsuits. (Even if a company wins a lawsuit they still have to pay legal bills.) Not to mention, no actual work gets done while you are dealing with a bad hire.

Because hiring is so risky, if Bob is a fabulous employee and he comes to me and says, “Hey, I worked with Karen at my previous company. She has all the skills needed for this vacant position and she’s wonderful because of A, B, and C,” then of course I’m going to interview Karen.

Karen gets an automatic bump up because Bob (who I know) has personally worked with her and recommends her. This is smart hiring, and not something to be stopped. (Not saying that hiring managers should automatically hire people who come recommended, but rather that these people are more likely to be a good fit.)

Now, of course, if Bob’s reason for recommending Karen is “I understand I get a referral bonus if you hire her,” she won’t get that bump. “Hey, Karen was my college roommate, and dude, she’s awesome!” probably will get an eyeroll from me.

Karen still needs to be qualified for the job. But, to an outsider who is trying to crack through the company fortress it can look like we only hire people’s friends. This isn’t likely to be true, but it can seem that way.

So, you need to start meeting people and networking. You also need to do a fabulous job at whatever company you are at now. Your co-workers may one day be in a position to recommend you. And heck, you may be in a position to to recommend them. Of course, networking has it’s limitations. A recommendation from someone who worked with you for 5 years is going to pull a lot more weight than a recommendation from someone you exchanged business cards with at a mutual friend’s birthday party.

Now, there are some problems with hiring via employee referral. One is that employees tend to be friends with people like themselves–same age, race, gender, socio-economic status. Fine, fine, fine, but if you’ve got affirmative action goals recruiting this way can make you over-represented in whatever hiring group you started with. (I seem to recall a court case where a cleaning company got sued for discrimination because almost all the employees were Korean. The case hinged on whether they were legally hiring people they knew or illegally discriminating against people who weren’t Korean. I’d tell you how the case resolved, but that would involve either Googling (feasible)or going downstairs and pulling out my old constitutional law text book out and looking it up (ain’t gonna happen).)

So, if you are recruiting, you need to use many methods to source your candidates. Referrals are great, but shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all of existence.

If you are looking for a job, keep on it. Talk to everyone you know. Don’t get angry and try not to get frustrated when it seems like you have to know someone to get a job. My first “real” job was at a company that was extremely difficult to get into. I didn’t realize this (I was new to the area) and applied because I had the right skill set. I got the job even though I didn’t know a soul in the company. People who had been recommended internally didn’t get the job because they lacked a critical skill that I had. (In this case, the ability to do statistical analysis. Few HR people have that skill, which is a topic for another day.)

{ 7 comments }

Why Do You Want This Job?

by Evil HR Lady on July 16, 2008

I am a graduate looking for jobs. I frequently attend interviews and I am asked “ Why do you want to join this job?” I actually couldn’t reply anything.

In the same way I got a interview call from another company in India. They have a opening for software engineer job. They have asked me to update my details and have to write “Reason why I am interested in this job” in 300 words. Could you please help me out in this.

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but no. I can’t help you. Why? Because not only do I not want a job as a software engineer, my desire to move to India is, well, low.

But apparently you want to be a software engineer. That is good. Now tell me why you want to work for this company? IF you don’t want to work for the company don’t bother going through with the application.

They want to know why you want to work there because they want someone who wants this job, not just a job. They want to know if you’ve done your homework about the company. They want to know what you know about the company and why you will be a good fit. What is it about this company that makes you want to work there.

Since the position is for a software engineer and they are only looking for 300 words, they aren’t after brilliant prose that will be published in the company newsletter. They just want to know why you want to work for this company.

Stop overthinking it, and just write out a draft. Have some trusted friends review it and make the necessary changes. If you don’t know why you would want to work for this company, find out. Do your research. Find out.

My guess is that you didn’t write a cover letter when you applied. I could be wrong, but a cover letter should establish why you want to work for this particular company.

Good luck!

{ 24 comments }

The Strangest Vacation Policy I’ve Ever Seen

by Evil HR Lady on July 15, 2008

We are a very small company and, up until now, haven’t had a need for anything more than a vacation policy. Recently, I have been placed in charge of creating a sick leave policy or PTO policy. My research has lead me to wonder about the legality of our vacation policy. Basically we are given a set number of days off for various years of service. Where the issue lies is taking the vacation time.

If vacation is taken during the months of November through February, we are allowed to use ½ day of paid vacation time per full day off; if vacation is taken during the months of March, April, September and October, vacation time is day for day; if vacation is taken during the months of May through August, 1 ½ days of paid vacation time is used per day off. So if I take 5 day vacation in January, I only have to use 2 ½ days of my paid vacation time. If I take the same vacation in July, I have to use 7 ½ days of my paid vacation time. Bonus in the winter, but for those of us who have school-age children, the summer months are family vacation time and time off from school in the winter is limited.

Do you have any insight into this? Is it legal to require employees to use their vacation time in this manner?

Not a lawyer and not going to comment on the legalities. I am going to comment that you are nuts if you think the only official policy you need is a vacation one, but I’m now going to leave that alone as well.

On the one hand, I think this vacation policy is brilliant! It would effectively encourage winter vacations and discourage summer vacations. I assume you have a business that is busier in the summer. Or perhaps you just don’t want everyone on vacation at the same time.

On the other hand, I think, are you people on crack? Talk about discriminating against parents of school age children! Now, honestly, my oldest child starts kindergarten this fall (sob!), so up until this September, I would have loved your policy. I’d much rather go places on the off season anyway. But, starting September 2 I’d be really ticked about it. Not only do I get the priviledge of spending all my vacations with other people’s annoying children, now my vacation time is cut! In all honesty, I’d start looking for a new job right about now.

Yes, you heard me. That policy alone would make me start looking for a new job. I love vacation. Do you hear me? I love it. I use every allotted vacation day. Every.single.one.

So, anyway, I’m intrigued as to what other people think. I’d think there would have to be a pretty strong business reason for such a policy. If there is one, I might be able to get behind it. Otherwise, say goodbye to people who can’t (easily) take vacations during the winter.

{ 20 comments }

Unfair Discipline

by Evil HR Lady on July 14, 2008

I was issued a written warning for failure to use the proper channels to report a complaint, referencing a policy from the handbook. This stems from a private conversation I had with another manager regarding how my boss/hostile environment is making me sick.

The other manager was concerned and reported to HR (or as some would say “threw me under the bus”). When I read the policy, I found that there was a paragraph that stated ‘if you do not feel comfortable talking with your direct supervisor, you can talk with any other member of management’, which I did.

I told the HR lady and my boss that i was not making a complaint and later emailed my comments and asked that the warning be revoked because it had not been violated. No response. I have been with the company for 12 years and have always received good performance reviews and have never experienced anything like this. I am sick over this. Our workplace is very dysfunctional and policies are broken every day without discipline (including harassment, safety violations, etc.).

The injustice of it all is what really bothers me. Can an employer just pick out one employee and one policy and decide to enforce it? I am under the care of several therapists and a doc and need to be medicated to go to work. I am feverishly looking for another job, but am sure that it will create a financial burden to my family. Thanks for any help you can provide.

You are clearly upset over this incident, but if nothing else was said, it is possible that the HR lady realizes she made a mistake and is too embarrassed to admit it to you, so she’s ignoring it, hoping it will go away.

Or she has 112 unread messages in her inbox and hasn’t gotten to yours yet.

Or she’s a complete idiot who writes someone up for making a complaint according to the company’s established procedures.

Take your pick.

I’m glad you are looking for a new job, because you aren’t happy at this one. But, you aren’t going to find a better one until you calm down and process what happened. Were there consequences to you, other than the write up in your file? Demotion, bad assignments, or something similar? I ask because this doesn’t seem, in and of itself, something to be so horrified at that you are sick over it. This fear and panic are going to come across in your job interviews and it may prevent you from getting a good job. There ARE good jobs available. Being positive will help you in your search.

You also need to come up with an answer to the “why are you looking for a new job?” question that doesn’t involve any of this. It needs to be an accurate answer, but without being negative towards your current company.

Now, the above was the answer to the question you didn’t ask. Here’s the answer to the question you did ask: Companies should apply their policies fairly across the board. No one should ever be punished for bringing a legitimate complaint to management. It should always be perfectly acceptable to approach a member of a management team with your concerns.

My advice to you is to make an appointment with your boss to apologize for not speaking with her first, and to ask what you can do to help resolve the issue. I realize you were acting within policy when you went to another manager. I realize you did nothing wrong. I also realize that you are miserable and if something doesn’t change you will continue to be miserable and it will affect your ability to find a new job. Be willing to work with your boss to find a solution.

For future reference, except in the rarest of rare circumstances, you should go to your boss first. Sidestepping her can cause animosity to rise from the boss. You should only go to someone else if you have attempted to resolve the issue with your boss. Remember also that even if you go to happy hour with this management team member you spoke to, it’s still business. When you are with people you work with, you are absolutely at work, regardless of the setting.

I don’t know what your complaint was about, but if it was something involving safety, harassment, or an illegal practice, this manager was required to act. You can’t come up to me and say, “Hey Evil HR Lady, the funniest thing happened on the factory floor yesterday. Karen and Steve were having a water gun fight!” and not expect me to act on it.

Now some of you are shaking your heads and wondering why on earth I’d care about a harmless water fight. Well, water on the floor could be a safety hazard–hello, OSHA violation. Depending on the product it could cause contamination and be an FDA violation. Do you want to have product fail? Me neither. Perhaps neither did the manager you confided in.

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