Issues for HR Compliance Students

Wednesday marks the start of Mitchell Hamline School of Law’s HR Compliance Certificate program.  As one of the Adjunct Professors, I’m pumped!  With a cohort of HR folk from around the country, we get to analyze, theorize, and hash out business and HR compliance issues that can pop up in every company. We also get to chat about current HR compliance events.  Here are a few we’ll touch on:

“Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber”

Over the last few days, a “manifesto” written by a male Googler went viral.  The 10-page document recounts how the genders are different and diversity and inclusion programs have only resulted in more discrimination.  (His words, not mine.)  Here’s a snippet:

We always ask why we don’t see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.

Status is the primary metric that men are judged on, pushing many men into these higher paying, less satisfying jobs for the status that they entail. Note, the same forces that lead men into high pay/high stress jobs in tech and leadership cause men to take undesirable and dangerous jobs like coal mining, garbage collection, and firefighting, and suffer 93% of work-related deaths.

Yonathan Zunger, a former Googler, wrote a well-reasoned response to the manifesto discussing how it makes it harder for Google to operate.  Google’s brand new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity & Governance also weighed in, writing “Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

Google is in the midst of a gender discrimination action brought by the OFCCP.  The action has already garnered a great deal of attention.  This manifesto makes the action even more interesting.


Last session, HR compliance had an easy mark in Uber.  Gender discrimination, sexual harassment, former United States Attorney General investigation, HR leader encouraging hugs, a new performance review, ousted CEO, you name it, Uber has an HR compliance issue for you!

Uber’s compliance issues have not gone away nor have they really calmed down.  Following a petition from employees to return embattled and controversial CEO Travis Kalanick, Mr. Kalanick appears to want control of his company.  He has made such comments that he is “Steve Jobs-ing it” and has hired a CEO-consulting company to help him regain control.  While his success remains to be seen, he poses interesting HR risks.

While both of these issues come out of Silicon Valley, they are not new to HR.  Every sector has issues, and every company could have a PR nightmare like these.  I’m particularly interested in how students would try to attack these issues.  So, how would you respond?


Photo by Christian Battaglia on Unsplash

More DC Lessons: Leadership Edition

Two months ago, I posted some lessons from DC.  Because DC (and more accurately, the current occupant of the White House) continues to be the gift of organizational lessons that just keeps giving, this post provides some more lessons for every organization.  We’ll call this the leadership edition.

There’s good leadership.  There’s bad leadership.  There’s truly atrocious leadership.  There’s a failure of leadership.  In all cases, leadership has a role in creating healthy workplaces. Healthy workplaces, regardless of waist-line sizes and the existence of lots of fruits and veggies, are places where employees thrive, feel valued, and are built on a system of fairness.  They are also compliant workplaces.

Over the past few weeks, there have been some truly spectacular examples of atrocious leadership.  A few examples are below.  These examples demonstrate how a workplace can go off the rails and foster environments that are not compliant with the law.

Loyalty as blind devotion is badTrue loyalty to a leader and/or an organization means sharing opinions and taking action in the best interest of the organization – especially when the organization has made or is about to make a mistake.  Loyalty has costs, and those costs can sink an organization.  Take for example, Uber.  When employees signed a petition to return former CEO Travis Kalanick, it was a signal that the culture at the center of Uber’s six-month catastrophe was an even bigger problem than a single individual.  Potential fix:  Define loyalty as raising voices to share problems and solutions.

Threats are bad.  Leadership by threat is perhaps the worst kind of leadership.  Employees in fear perform poorly.  Potential fix:  Build trust with employees.  Let them try something and fail in a safe environment.  You’ll be better for it.

Not recognizing and celebrating differences means there won’t be any.  The value of inclusion has been rightfully gaining traction, not only because it has real benefits, but it is also where we’re going as a world.  When we don’t recognize differences or choose to be “colorblind,” we automatically discount groups in the workplace.  This drives employees out and makes it harder for us to find new employees. This will bring a workplace out of compliance with diversity under an affirmative action plan.  Potential fix:  Embrace (please, not literally) the diversity already exists in your organization and work towards building a more inclusive workplace.

Narcissism has more cons than pros.  Narcissistic leaders, including Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bonaparte, and both Roosevelts, accomplish some great and not-so-great things.  They have loyal (see above) followers, but their blind spots are huge and often spell their downfall unless checked by internal leaders, shareholders, employees, the press, and consumers. In fact, at least one study found that narcissism is a bad leadership trait.  Potential fix:  Encourage leadership to seek out different opinions and understand that the best ideas may not come from the leader.

Criticism in public is a mistake.  The adage that leaders “praise in public, criticize in private” remains solid advice.  When leaders publicly criticize their teams, they undermine the organization’s own progress.  It may inspire the targets of that criticism to leave, but other leaders could look to leave too.  Plus, it is not a good look.  We don’t celebrate parents who eat their young, so why would we celebrate leaders who do the same?  When an employee believes she has been criticized unfairly, she is more likely to bring a lawsuit.  Potential fix:  Handle differences and performance criticism behind closed doors.  (Isn’t this HR 101?)

Get & keep your facts straight.  This one should go without saying, but don’t lie.  Employees are smart.  They figure out your lies and will leave because of them.  Fix:  Don’t lie.

While I would really love to use DC as an example of a great organization doing right by its employees and customers (i.e. us), it looks like we’re in for more lesson learning.


Photo by srikanta H. U on Unsplash