#UltiConnect!

This week, I was honored to be included in a loveable group of yahoos – I mean, influencers – at Ultimate Software’s Connections Conference in Las Vegas.  These people are leading the way in human resources and technology, and I’m lucky to call them friends.

The conference itself was really something.  While Robin Roberts and John O’Leary’s keynotes were fantastic, it was Ultimate Chief Executive Officer Scott Scherr who left the biggest impact on me.  Mr. Scherr’s general session did not focus on what was new or why his leadership has brought success to the company like how many other CEOs may have spent their time.  Instead, he focused on his people.  He went through a list of Ultipeeps who have made a difference.  This list was impressive, even if he was slightly embarrassing a few of them.

But what really got me was how Mr. Scherr focused on their “People First” mantra as not just a mantra but a lifestyle.  In a presentation to SHRM in 2009, Mr. Scherr said the following, “The measure of a company is how they treat their lowest paid employee.”  In this year’s session, Mr. Scherr talked about how the character of the company relies on the character of its people.  When you hire good people, you treat them well, they will take care of the 3,700 customers there at the conference and all those who were unable to attend.  This is so true.  Another (more lawyerly) way to look at this is when people are treated well, the compliance risks are significantly lower for an organization.

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If you’d like to see the sessions where I presented, please see the links for employee communication (I start at 17:25) and women in leadership.  The women in leadership session was made up of some fantastic women!  I highly recommend spending some time to learn from them.

 

Chatbots Listening

Yesterday, chatbots chatted with our employees at our own behest. HR bought, paid for, and implemented the chatbots.  Today, we’re going to chat about chatbots that listen even when they are not our chatbot but it is our business.

We’ve learned the unfortunate statistics that seven out of ten harassment instances do not get reported.  Employees fear for their jobs, they don’t want to be “that” person who upsets the apple cart, or they simply don’t know that what happened to them violates an employee handbook or who to talk to about it.  There’s one more reason though.  According to this Recode article and the overall theme of most harassment news reporting, employees don’t trust us.  However, they’re willing to trust a chatbot.

SpotSpot allows employees to go through a bunch of questions about potential harassment, develop a report, make it anonymous, and then submit the conversation report to the company (if the chatter wants to).  The chatbot helps potential reporters organize their thoughts, think about other evidence that might exist to help show something inappropriate happened, and it can show them that they can have this conversation with their organization, bolstering their confidence. These are all good things.  And, things that will be ultimately good for the organization.

But the bot also can give the employee the impression that by conversing with the bot, their job is done, they won’t have to deal with this directly.  This impression is wrong, very wrong.

Humans have to be involved.  If (and when) a report gets sent to the company, we have to do something.  Most often, we launch an investigation.  We talk with the individuals involved, including the reporter.  We look for other evidence, review policies, and then take action if necessary.   Failure to do something could mean liability.

Moreover, anonymous reporting doesn’t mean that the reporter isn’t going to have to talk to someone.  Even if a Spot user scrubs the report to make it more anonymous, we have an obligation to figure out who is reporting and how can we stop any bad behavior.  We might not know who or even what department, but HR has to ferret out the information based on what little information we have.  Failure to do so could mean liability.

For HR, we must accept complaints from employees in any and every way they come to us.  We will get anonymous reports through chatbots like Spot.  We will hear from the water cooler gossip mill.  We may see a negative post on Glassdoor or Indeed.  We will have employees come to our office.  We will get hotline calls.  In any and every instance, we have an obligation to do something.  Our first priority to make safe, respectful workplaces for our employees.  So, we listen.  Please listen.

 

Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

Priorities, Priorities

On Tuesday, The New York Times published an article – complete with advice – about the office fridge.  Give employees only a specific amount of space in the refrigerator, ban certain foods, if an employee violates the rules, take fridge privileges away.  Seriously, this was the advice listed in the article.  Don’t we have bigger things to worry about?

Yes.  Yes, we do.  We’ve got a national harassment issue.  We have new laws.  We have super low unemployment so recruiting is tough.  Technology driving head-long into our work lives.  Employees are facing more challenges both at work and at home affecting their abilities to get their jobs done.  All of these issues are more important than the office refrigerator.

Not gonna lie, the focus on the fridge irks me.  We have bigger fish to fry.  Yet, it is human nature to find the “easier” issue that can be solved.  Fixing the fridge shows immediate results, whereas growing a positive culture takes significantly more time and isn’t easily measured.  I get it.

The same is true with Mitchell Hamline’s HR Compliance Certificate Program.  I’m honored to be an adjunct professor in the program and one of the authors of the case study used in the program.  My teaching partner, Ali McGinty, and I added a kegerator to our fictional workplace that is rife with compliance issues.  The workplace has no affirmative action program despite having a large Department of Defense contract, potential wage disparities, misclassification issues, recruitment issues, employment agreement issues, outsourcing problems, etc.  Yet, so many of students jump on the kegerator as the first problem they would solve.  I’m taking aback each time.  It surprises me as I assume that employers hire who they think are responsible adults, yet we want to remove alcohol every time we see it.  But when I look at all the other issues plaguing our fictional software company, I see that kegerator is easy and immediate.

I’ve got a challenge for you.  Write down the issues you want to tackle.  Ask some managers and some employees about what they think you should focus on.  Consider each issue carefully.  What will take you more time?  What will take more effort or resources?  How will you know if issues have been resolved?  Once you have a list, ask your leadership where they want you to spend your time.  Then, prioritize the list.  Here are some priorities I recommend – priorities more important than the fridge:

  • Renewing a commitment to effective training on the perils of harassment and discrimination
  • Revising employee handbooks that reflect new laws
  • Training managers on basic management skills like having difficult conversations with employees
  • Implementing effective performance management systems

HR guru (and my friend), Kelly Marinelli, recently tweeted that audacity is her word for 2018.  YES!  We need to have the audacity to take on the biggest challenges facing our organizations.  That probably does not include the office fridge.

 

Photo by Squared.one on Unsplash

 

Overreacting

James Damore is suing Google, alleging the tech giant “systematically discriminates” against conservative white men.  While being both conservative (i.e. political affiliation) and male are protected class statuses in California, it’s not clear to me that Mr. Damore’s case has much merit.  (For Pete’s sake, he claimed women are not biologically capable of being good software engineers.)  Yet, it is a great example of an overreaction and an attempt to halt diversity initiatives nationwide.

Mr. Damore’s lawsuit was predictable.  He told us he was going to bring one.  It is also typical.  Affirmative action programs at colleges were attacked when white applicants were not getting in at the same rate as before.  A Christian sued Ford and its affiliates when the car manufacturer came out in support of gay marriage.  These kinds of lawsuits attempt to scare organizations into worrying that their diversity initiatives may swing too far, launching them head-first into litigation.  They may be effective on occasion, but as a scare tactic, it may be just as effective.

What should HR do? We should follow some of the same advice we’ve been bandying about for decades:

  • Dip into all sorts of candidate pools
  • Seek out affinity groups at colleges and universities
  • Think of churches/temples/mosques as places of worship and potential sources of candidates
  • Post job announcements EVERYWHERE
  • Offer training (maybe even English) to high-potential employees
  • Treat your employees with care
  • Draft policies with care to not affect a particular group
  • Validate selection programs for disparate impact
  • Seek out the opinions of employees of all shapes and sizes, genders, races, religions
  • Accommodate employees without putting up theoretical barriers
  • Acknowledge differences in the workplace and celebrate them
  • Listen

(Please note, this is not an exhaustive list.)  None of these tactics or strategies are discriminatory.  Only hiring women can be.  Setting specific quotas can be.  Only offering benefits for referring minorities or women can be.  We have to be careful and mindful that whenever we use a protected class status as a basis for hiring, we get closer to violating the law even when our intentions are good, moral, and just.

In response to the sexual harassment revelations, the Time’s Up Now group, 50/50 by 2020, pledges to get to 50 percent representation of women in Hollywood by 2020.  There’s a James Damore in Hollywood too.  While I don’t doubt that plenty of women are qualified or over-qualified for positions in Hollywood, the Hollywood version of James Damore is planning his attack.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

All Over The Place

In the past few weeks, I’ve been all over the place talking compliance, sexual harassment, technology, holiday parties, and what’s coming for 2018.  Here are a few:

  • The New York Times. The New York Times.  A week or so ago, Noam Scheiber of The New York Times reached out to ask about the role of HR in sexual harassment reports.  The premise of the article is that HR can be ineffectual.  That’s a fair critique given the current climate, but there are some reasons for that.  Please read the whole thing.  Then, let’s brainstorm on how we can change this situation.
  • I talk about holiday parties and greetings with Marc Alifanz and Dennis Westlind on their podcast, Hostile Work Environment. This is a thoughtful and hilarious podcast for any HR practitioner and/or employment attorney.  Marc and Dennis hash out some fascinating cases and noodle through some tricky legal analysis.  The podcast is available on iTunes and wherever you non-Apple cult members can find podcasts. Subscribe.  You won’t be disappointed.
  • Social media has a role to play in harassment claims, and with #MeToo, it can be an avenue to report it whether employers like it or not. Here’s an SHRM article making this point and stressing how employers should be aware and ready to deal with social media reports.
  • In addition to the holidays, we’re well into the “what’s coming for 2018” season. Ultimate Software included me in their webcast on Employment Law 2018:  What You Need to Know Now.  We covered everything from salary history questions, overtime, minimum wages, diversity, social media, and more.  It’s only an hour, and feel free to disagree with my not-so-scientific predictions for the coming year.  Over 1800 people signed up for the podcast, so don’t be left out!
  • One of my favorite HR blogs is HRBartender. Sharlyn Lauby provides great hands-on advice on a full range of HR topics.  Sharlyn kindly included me on a reader question about bullying and the concern about what happens when this issue gets to HR.  Take a look and let me know if what I wrote is how you would handle the situation.

It is really quite an honor to be included in these publications, the podcast, and with these organizations.  Thank you to them and their readers, viewers, and listeners!  I’m one heckuva lucky lady.

Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any comments, questions, or want to chat further.

Employees & Their Pesky Social Media

In my experience, giving the finger to the President of the United States isn’t the worse thing an employee has done on social media.  (Heck, I’ve helped fire people after Charlottesville if you catch my meaning.)  But, the incident of Juli Briskman, her middle digit, and the President’s motorcade illustrates the employer conundrum of employee social media.  Whether you love social media (me) or hate it (lots of people), it is now a factor of every day human resources.  We must deal with it.

Before getting to the meat of employee posts and pics, let’s get three things out of the way. First, employees have no First Amendment right to freedom of speech when working for a private employer.  If Mike declared his love for canned cheese at a dairy facility, Mike’s termination would be lawful. It doesn’t matter where Mike made the declaration – the factory floor or on Twitter – a private employer may take action.  It doesn’t matter that it was Mike’s personal opinion, an employer can simply not like the comment and terminate Mike lawfully.

Second, social media is a 24/7/365 after-work happy hour.  Social media is at work.  It’s used to connect employees, improve relationships with co-workers, and find out more about new job opportunities.  When folks use social media to share their political opinions, complain about a neighbor, or simply rant about a particular product, co-workers learn about these things.  Because we are so connected through social media, those rants, diatribes, or laudatory praise are seen and heard by co-workers just as if they were said at work or happy hour.  This means the post can affect the workplace, it does affect morale, and it can hurt the organization.  There is no “her Facebook is private” or “it was during her off time” argument when employees (or customers or clients) are connected to each other.  Social media is definitely not Vegas.

Third, when a post has to do with the employer itself, taking action gets tricky.  The National Labor Relations Act allows employees to discuss, complain, or rant about working conditions with each other.  They can do this on social media without fear of retaliation.  The rest of this post will deal with employee posts and pictures that have nothing to do with the employer.  If a post has to do with the employer, find your friendly neighborhood employment attorney.  Fast.

If employers can take action when an employee posts something they don’t like, the question then becomes should they.  Some – like the Charlottesville posts – are easy calls.  If someone posts something racist or sexist, the employee has got to go.  I often use the example of Justine Sacco.  Her tweet rightly got her fired, and nearly all of the HR pros, students, and business leaders I speak with agree.

Justine Sacco

However, when an employee posts something, many of the same HR pros, students, and business leaders get nervous.  I use the following hypothetical:

Mike has been a Manager for 11 years.  His work is well respected & his contributions to the company are immeasurable.  Erin is a new Assistant.  She got the job, because her friend, Joe, referred her.  Joe is connected on Facebook with Mike & Erin.

Erin shared a post from her friend criticizing the Women’s March, stating women & “the gays” already have equal rights.  Joe comments on the post that Erin is wrong.  Because Joe commented, Mike sees the post.  Mike is really, really upset.  Mike tells his manager about the post.

When I ask, “What would you do?,” the responses vary from “well, I guess I’d have to fire Erin” to “Couldn’t we just discipline her?”  Sometimes, the response is “Do nothing, an employee gets to be who she is outside of work.”  While this is admirable, it might not always be the best answer.  What if Mike threatens to leave the organization because of the post?  What if Erin rose through the ranks and started making hiring and firing decisions?  Couldn’t her post have an impact on hiring candidates from the LGBTQ community or her involvement in your diversity program?  This is where things get dicey, and employers have to think long and hard about what they are going to do with the Erins of the world.  The right answer will depend on the employer’s culture and tolerance of risk – both legal and reputational.

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • What has or will the effect on the workplace be? How much of disruption will this be?  How much will morale be affected?
  • If a manager made the post, what will the effect be on their employees? Will the post influence or have the appearance of influence over their ability to hire, manage, discipline, and fire employees?
  • Does the post conflict (directly or indirectly) with your mission, vision, or reputation?
  • Does the post violate a policy? For example, confidentiality or harassment policies could be implicated.
  • How many people outside the organization can see it? Will customers or clients see it?
  • If this was posted by a different employee, would we treat this differently?  Why?

These questions, along with all the other questions employers normally go through before disciplining or firing someone, are necessary.  Employers need to see the entire picture.

The next important consideration is consistency.  In the POTUS-middle-finger incident, Ms. Briskman’s employer claimed that her picture of her extending her digit towards the President was lewd and obscene.  Hence, her termination.  However, Ms. Briskman pointed to a “director’s” posting where he called an individual a “forking Libtard ascot” (Shout out to The Good Place.)  Arguably, this post is equally (if not more) obscene and lewd as Ms. Briskman’s finger, but the director was able to keep his job after removing the post.  And, arguably, if the only difference is that Ms. Briskman is a woman and the director is a white male, when then, Ms. Briskman could have a gender discrimination case.  This is exactly why consistency is key.  If you’re going to fire Ms. Briskman, you have to fire the director too.

My friend, Heather Bussing, jokes that you find out about employee bad behavior on social media just as fast as employees run to the cafeteria for free pizza.  It’s true.  When Janine does something controversial on social media, you find out about it quickly.  You may have to deal with it just as quickly.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash