How having a succession plan now can help in the future.

  
Everyone who is a Saints fan like me knew how traumatizing  it was to discover Drew Brees was sitting out of one of his first games in over 10 years as the Saints Quarterback. I often wonder what it would be like without him as he is such a star on the field for us. When he got injured a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about how the Saints really need to develop someone into a leader with effective passing skills. Every fan in the NFL realizes if their star quarterback goes down it can affect their winning ability almost immediately. It would be like taking Peyton Manning out of the Denver Broncos game and hoping his backup would perform the same.

Succession planning is no joke, whether in the NFL or in the workplace. The results are similar based on how the company or team develop the next best leader for the organization. Having a CEO retire is something a lot of companies have to deal with sometime in the future. Unfortunately, everyone has an exiting date with a place or organization. Usually it takes months or years to find an equal replacement for senior leadership positions. Organizations can suffer on the front and back ends when leadership is not in place to fill the gaps left by the exiting party. 

Succession planning means determining ahead of time what team member or members would be a valuable asset to the company in the long run. Once this/these person(s) are determined, the company should then meet with the individual(s) to see if they feel the same way long term. If the feeling is mutual, the company can then set up development plans to educate and train the individual on how to handle the specific situations they encounter everyday. These development plans should not come from thin air, but should be formulated on the premise of feedback and suggestions of the person who is being succeeded. The successor should also have time to receive mentorship from the person who will leave in the future so they can be prepared for most situations.

I’ve seen many teams in the NFL lose games after a backup was put in the game, and it is shocking to discover how the team did not have a very efficient succession backup plan in place. Then again, we’ve seen those teams who end up winning more when the backup gets put into the game. I don’t know of any company who wants to put the faith of their employees in someone who is not ready to lead or run the operations efficiently and smoothly. The best way to deter this from happening is to ensure someone is developed and ready to take over the soon-to-be vacated position. 

Not all individuals who are thought to be the next-best-leader end up being fit for the role. The best way to discover this is to have multiple people on this development plan track. When going through leadership training and testing, one who will most likely not succeed will most likely show in their results. To be a leader requires special hard and soft skills like communication, people skills, motivational skills, tactfulness as well as ability to understand complex information and issues. The individuals who are unsuccessful should be removed and possibly developed into a different type of role which is not in leadership. The ones who are successful in their training and development track should be moved forward into the process.

In my last position, I recall a senior leader who was going to retire in a about a year. I immediately informed the VP how we needed to start a search for a leader within the organization and get her on a development track so she can move into this vacated postion in the future. The person was eventually chosen and moved into a leadership role to learn and understand the first part of the business she was going to handle. Once she mastered this part, she would then be mentored by the senior leader on the areas which were also required in order to be successful in the role. I just remember the individual was well fit for the role and appeared to have the tactfulness to work as a senior leader.

Whether it is starting quarterback or a senior leader, always have a plan in place to replace someone in the future; especially if you have knowledge of their eventual departure in the distant future. These individuals carry knowledge and skills which can be lost in an instant without a back-up plan. The responsibility of a succession plan falls with senior leadership and management. No company or organization wants to have to suffer a loss whether its losing games, money or employees, so be sure and work on getting your next best leader developed ahead of time. 

Here is a link to a really good article about how to implement a succession plan and the challenges one can face when implementing one. 

http://hrcouncil.ca/hr-toolkit/planning-succession.cfm.

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Policies which are downright odd.

  
A friend of mine on Facebook shared this policy sheet a few days ago, and I was baffled to say the least. I believe their are a lot of good individuals out there who do things to benefit both parties. I also believe there are inexperienced individuals running companies without clear guidance or direction. The above sheet can be looked at as either a practical joke or a learning experience for all. I would like to tackle each item one by one:

Sick Days:

Regular attendance is something every job requires. The job would not exist if the person did not need to show up everyday. Everyone has those days where they’re feeling blue and just can’t come into work. This policy makes me chuckle because the owner/HR department says if the person can go to the doctor, they can show up to work. Any person in their right mind would not do this to someone, especially the people responsible for running your company. Sick days are not mandatory or required by law; however, it is more of a courtesy to those who are not feeling well. 

If you ask me, I think it becomes a safety or efficiency issue by letting ill employees come to work in their current state. The employee may work in an assembly line and could get their hand caught in a belt because they can’t react as quick. Or the person could pass out and injure themselves further. Each of these scenarios are far fetched, but are also realistic. If this happens, the employer will be paying the workers compensation support for the employee for quite some time. 

Whether it was the employers or the employees fault does not matter. I would always recommend giving employees an opportunity to seek care if they’re not feeling well. It does cost you money and spreads more work across the group, but you will definitely have much happier employees. The best practice is to require the employee to call you within a certain time period before their shift and engage in a discussion with the employee. The employer should just ask if it is health related or other. If the employee says they’re ill, do not ask what is wrong with them, just ask the employee to bring a doctors note if you suspect the employee is not telling the truth. This is something which is not easy to do because some employees lie very well, but the manager/supervisor should be able to decifer whether a doctors note is needed or not. If the employee has a pattern of illness, the discussion should move into FMLA/Intermittent FMLA.

Personal Days:

Paid time off (PTO) is something the majority of employers offer; however, it is not required by law. Again, accrued benefits are not required but must follow the law if an employer decides to offer it. This employer above has a realistic approach on the matter because all employees should use their weekend to relax. 

Lunch Breaks: 

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about lunch breaks and how they’re governed by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Some states require lunch breaks and a minimum time for them. Louisiana is not one of them. Bona Fide lunch breaks should be no less than 30 minutes for anyone. The employee should not be engaged in work related activities. If they are, the employee should be paid for the time. This employer is talking about peoples body sizes; truthfully this reminds me of an ADA issue as some people may have a disability which causes them to be a certain size. This employer definitely is exposing themselves to potential litigation if a lawyer finds discrimination in the policy.

Dress Code:

Every employer should have one of these in place and do their best to have wording which describes what is acceptable and unacceptable attire. Whether someone is rich enough or broke should not matter as everyone should be able to dress according to the policy. If the person does not follow the dress code policy, then coaching and disciplinary action should follow. 

Bereavement Leave:

This one strikes a nerve for me; I can’t believe anyone would put something like this in writing. To say a person is dead and they can do nothing for you is just plain harsh. Yes, bereavement leave is not required by state or federal law. Any person on this earth (besides the person writing this policy) would be understanding enough to allow someone to take time off to grieve the loss of their family member or close relative. The person does not need to be paid for the time, but it is definitely a kind gesture to let the person take time to go through the grieving process. Most policies which I have seen give the person 3 days maximum for close relatives (Mom, Dad,  Brothers/Sisters, Step-Mom,Step-Dad, Spouse or Children/Step-Children) and 2 days maximum for secondary relatives (Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Nieces and Nephews). 

Restroom Use:

The ADA clearly defines how a person is considered disabled if one or more of their major life activities are not functioning properly. Bowel movements are included in their wonderful description. Telling a person they have so long to use the bathroom is something which can be considered discrimination in a sense. Some people need time and some don’t need much time. The other issue is the bathroom is a place where all individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This means a camera installed in the bathroom can infringe on a persons privacy and could potentially lead to a lawsuit. I know many people including myself would not like a picture of ourselves posted on a board for others to see. I sense a lawsuit in the horizon if this employer actually follows through on their policy.

To summarize this sheet, I think this employer is in for a rude awakening. I don’t know who would work here after reading this, I know I would approach them and let them know the laws they violate by putting some of these things in writing. I wonder why some individuals go into business if they do not like people. It definitely shows here. I had to laugh at the persons last statement of, “We are here to provide a positive employment experience,” nothing is as far from the truth. Anyone reading this, use this as a motivation of what not to do if you want to keep employees working for you.

How job interviews are like a first date.

  
Everyone who has a job or is looking for a job knows the feeling when going on an interview. The butterflies start to move in the pit of your stomach and possibly a little anxiety. Somehow, it reminds me of going on a first date with someone (except there is no love involved). Let’s explore how these feelings feel the same.

Anyone who has looked for a job or a lifelong companion know their standards and what they’re looking for. When looking at employers, everyone wants to find one who is well respected and well liked by others. It’s funny to me how you look for specific things when going to work for someone. It is a relationship and sometimes can be a long term one. It’s important to find the right employer; one who treats you good, listens to you and makes you feel better about yourself. These comparisons are nothing shy of shocking to me because they both have a very close relationship.

When I search for a career, I look into Glassdoor and Indeed.com to determine what current or former employees are saying about the company. You get the good, bad and ugly. When I see these reviews, it tells me whether I would really want to work at this place. If I see a lot of poor reviews, I generally steer clear. I give the employer a chance if the job sounds interesting because there can be a lot which does not happen at a particular job site. I’m taken by the fact how reviews are generally close to accurate of the company. I just wonder if a lot of employers are reading these reviews and trying to make changes.

After finding the right employer, you apply. To me, it’s like walking up to a complete stranger and offering them your number. It is either uncomfortable or really nice and refreshing to have an opportunity. Applying for jobs is a very eye opening experience as well as vulnerable time. Some individuals really need to work to support their familes and others are trying to get away from their current line of work into a different one. The waiting game is always a side effect when putting yourself out there for others to notice you. 

You’re lucky if the employer calls you back in a matter of days. When they do call, it is exciting to say the least. You can hear in the recruiter or managers voice whether they love their job or not. Whether they’re interested in you being a part of their team, or if they’re just at work to get by. When the person you gave your information to calls you back, it is a great feeling when the both of you agree to meet up (in this case, an interview). The fun has just began once the interview is scheduled.

Now it’s time for the person to decide what they want to talk about and what questions they want to ask the employer during the interview. The person also practicies for what may be asked of them. Not only do you have to prepare, you need to clean your car, press your suit, clean your shoes, clean up your hair and or facial hair and get ready to go on your interview. It costs money to interview; like any date does. The time to drive 80 miles roundtrip and the time it takes out of your day to get their. Once you’re there, its time to relax and be as confident in yourself as you can be.

The employer is there to understand who you are, what you’ve done in the past and if you would be a good fit for the organization. Like a date, the other person is formulating their opinion of you as soon as they see you. During your conversation, the employer is listening for key items as well as trying to understand the situations you’ve experienced. You’re lucky if they’re impressed with your credentials and past experience. Oftentimes, there may be someone better than you who has more qualifications and experience. Or maybe the other person just fits better with the company. Whatever the case may be, rejection hurts and puts you down. 

Like dating, rejection can do one of two things: A) Make you curl up into the fetal position and cry (as well as quit trying), or B) Keep trying and keep applying. Perseverance is very important when looking for work. I’ve had my fair share of rejections and denials, but I just pick myself back up and keep going. Yes, I hurt as well and get down about it but I feel there is a company out there who is looking for me. It’s a roller coster of emotions to have to interview or go on dates. There is money and feelings involved before anything is even set in stone. 

There is no better feeling than when the offer comes through. Once you except, you tell all your friends and coworkers about it. You also update social media so everyone can know you’re taken. I chuckle to myself about the distinct similarities both interviewing and dating have in common. I realize how life takes you in different directions and usually has bigger and better plans for you after you’re passed up on the opportunity. Life moves on and you continue to work just as hard to find the  one true……career. 

Tipped employees

  
Everyone has had the pleasure of meeting the person who is responsible of delivering both your meal and a personality which is warm and inviting. It is by far one of the toughest jobs out there because not all restaurant go’ers are typically nice to wait staff. Wait staff have the grunt work most of the time, like dealing with rude customers, taking complaints about the food when the chef or cooking staff made the error or when the waiter does not get a tip at all. It became apparent to me more than 10 years ago which all wait staff were legally allowed to be paid a lower wage than minimum wage. This article is dedicated to exploring the legality and the responsibilities of both employees and employers.

Tipped employees who claim tip credit on their payroll can legally be paid a wage of $2.13 an hour for all hours worked. The employee who is paid this wage does not get this wage altogether, they must have a tip credit which brings them to the federal or state minimum wage (which is $7.25 in Louisiana). If the employee fails to get to the minimum wage, the employer must make the employee whole by bringing them up to the full $7.25 an hour. I’ve read Facebook posts saying waiters and waitresses were struggling to pay bills because they only get $2.13 an hour and would go home virtually broke after taxes. I informed the person how the FLSA protects tipped employees and requires employers to make employees whole with the full minimum wage if they do not get the applicable tips. The FLSA fact sheet below describes tipped employees as those who regularly receive at least $30 in tips per month.

The employer is required to follow through on 5 criteria or else they may not pay employees the $2.13 an hour: 

1) The amount of the wage; must be at least $2.13 per hour, 

2) The amount claimed as tip credit, cannot exceed $5.12 per hour ($5.12+$2.13=$7.25), 

3) The amount claimed by the employer cannot exceed the tips received by the employee, 

4) All tips should be retained by the employee unless there is a valid tip pool which all employees agree on (those which are considered tipped employees) and 

5) The tip credit will not apply to the employee unless they’re informed of these stipulations above.

If your employer is only paying you $2.13 an hour and not bringing you up to your respectable minimum wage and overtime rate because of lack of tips; you should contact the wage and hour division of the department of labor after attempting to get the employer to pay you the wages you’re due. Employers do not get the tips and dispearse them unless the customer pays tips by credit card. In this specific instance, the employer needs to pay the employee their tips less any applicable credit card fees. If the employee is still below the minimum wage after tips are paid, the employer must bring the employee up to the respectable minimum wage. 

The only other time an employer may pay an employee less than minimum wage is when an employee under the age of 20 starts working for the first time at their place of employment. The employer can legally pay the employee a wage of $4.25 an hour ($6.39 overtime rate for hours over 40) for the first 90 days of employment. Once past 90 days, the employer must move the employee to the respectable minimum wage of the state. If the employee leaves at 60 days and comes back 40 days later, the employer may not continue to pay the employee the lower wage because the clock stops at 90 days (whether working or not).

So for those out there who believe tipped employees are going home broke, the question should be asked if the place of employment is bringing them up to minimum wage when they’re not tipped. I definitely want all employees to get a fair wage, and I absolutely have sympathy for anyone who struggles to get by while getting paid minimum wage. So if you’re employer is not paying you the wages you’re due, please speak to them. If you’re lost, contact me and we can figure it out before advising you to go to the department of labor. 
Here is the FLSA Fact Sheet regarding Tipped employees to help you stay in compliance:

http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs15.pdf

Can employers withhold wages from cashiers when the cash drawer is short?

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Have you or someone you know had their pay deducted because their cash drawer was short at the end of their shift? Let’s see if I can answer this question with the wonderful resources the government provides for us. It is an interesting topic because I recently came across an application which had notice of how the employer would be permitted to withhold money from employees if their cash drawer was short at the end of their shift. I decided to do some legal research to see if this was legally permissible in the state of Louisiana for all of my friends out there who are cashiers.

According to the Federal Department of Labor, employers are legally allowed to deduct the following: Taxes (State, Federal (unless you claim exemption from both), Social Security (OASDI) Taxes, and Medicare Taxes), Health, Dental, Vision Insurance Premiums (if employer shares cost of premiums), 401K or Retirement deductions. These deductions are usually seen by all on their paychecks and are a necessary part of working. Mind you, the Federal Government has promulgated for deductions such as Cost of Uniforms or Recouping monies short in a cash drawer to not bring an employee below the federal or state minimum wage as well as overtime. If the employee is brought below either from such deductions, it could lead to serious repercussions. The Fact Sheet mentioned the following phrase, “Items which are considered primarily for the benefit or convenience of the employer;” I interpret this as company equipment (cars, computers, phones, iPads, tools etc). The fact sheet states how an employer may deduct the cost of these items according to the guidelines of *not* bringing an employee below the required federal/state minimum wage and overtime compensation. I find this quite stunning considering I denied a former employers Plant Services Manager the authority to have employees sign a waiver to accept charges for damaged iPads. In my opinion, all employers take on their own risk by employing others and are subject to loss in their organization; whether it be equipment or other kinds of loss.

The Louisiana State Legislature mandated the permitted withholdings article below and advised the following, “Except for deductions required by law, no withholding may be made from the earnings of an employee for the purposes permitted by the Section unless the withholding is specifically and voluntarily authorized by the employee is writing.” So in other words, the federal law allows for such deductions (uniforms and cash reimbursement for short drawers) as long as the employee is not brought below the federal or state minimum wage as well as overtime compensation. The state states the deduction can be permitted if the employee authorizes the deduction in writing. The application I filled out asked for me to authorize my understanding and acknowledgement of this stipulation; therefore I would be subject to this should I work as a cashier. I’m sure shortages happen quite often and could put the employer in a bad place, but I never imagined an employer would do something like this. The HR part of me is saying it would be better to talk physically to the employee with this stipulation and get their written permission instead of requiring it as part of the employment paperwork (I like how it is included, just not the way it was presented).

So there you have it folks, you can have other deductions besides the common ones if you give your express and written permission. I don’t know of any respectable working individual who would want this to happen to them (I know I would not want another deduction myself), so it may very well be a lost cause unless someone brought it up in the interview. Please remember if your employer makes any deduction for damaged equipment, short monies from a cash drawer or uniforms which puts you below minimum wage and below your overtime compensation rate, it is considered illegal and should be reported to them immediately to fix the error. If they don’t fix it, it may be time to call the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. It may be happening to others besides you. I know the employers I worked for did not require this because this is obviously the cost of doing business and some loss is part of the game.

Department of Labor Fact Sheet:

http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs16.htm

Louisiana State Legislature Permitted Withholdings:

http://legis.la.gov/Legis/Law.aspx?p=y&d=99474

Break and Meal Periods

  
Meal periods and breaks in a workday can definitely help one recharge their batteries when at a tough day of work. It’s difficult for some to stay put for eight plus hours a day and keep their concentation on work at all times. The FLSA has tight rules around both rest periods as well as lunch periods. I wrote an employee handbook for a car body shop about a year ago and I recall how shocked I was because they did not have a policy surrounding meals and breaktimes. This car body shop had a wage and hour lawsuit at the time and I remember advising them how a policy handbook is necessary and should signed by all employees. 

The FLSA states breaks are to be paid if they’re twenty minutes or less; however, if they’re over twenty minutes, they’re non-compensable. I advised the car and body shop CEO they should have a clear policy on their break and meal periods to help protect them from a future wage and hour lawsuit. The CEO would tell me how his employees could take smoke breaks, but did not have a timeframe on how long those breaks could be. Please remember, break times are *not* required under the federal law, but may be required under state law. According to this link, there are nine states which require some form of a paid break time during the work day http://www.dol.gov/whd/state/rest.htm.  

The FLSA promulgates the age of fourteen (14) to be the minimum age to begin working in non-agricultural jobs. At age sixteen, seventeen and eighteen there are no restrictions on the employee in regards to hours worked. Employees fourteen and fifteen years of age may not work more than three hours a day on school days and more than eight on non-school days. They also may not work more than 40 hours in any workweek. Here is a link to the law guidelines: http://webapps.dol.gov/elaws/whd/flsa/docs/hours.asp. When an employee tells me they’re disappointed for not getting breaks, I inform them the federal law (and state law in Louisiana) does not require employees to get breaks or lunch breaks; however, the employer must pay them overtime for all hours worked over forty in a single workweek (if they’re non-exempt).

I recall my first job and how I would be hounded all day about when I needed to take my lunch break and when I would need to clock out. It was scary as I realized how much liability an employer takes when they hire someone at age fourteen and fifteen. I recall working over eight hours one day and the manager said she was going to adjust my timecard to reflect the eight hours so we would not get fined by the DOL. I was so young and naive, I did not even realize how the laws worked and protected me. I realize now how she violated the law by not paying me overtime for the small period of time and for adjusting my timesheet. I was never upset as I realized at the time how the facility could not be fined as they were barely making it at the time. 

Lunch breaks must be a minimum of thirty minutes, and the employee may not perform any type of work during this period. If the employee does work during their meal period, they must be compensated for this time. If the employee is away for lunch for a minimum of 20 minutes and performs no work, this time is classified as non-compensable break. At one of my former jobs, I would see employees who would talk with each other for forty minutes or longer and tell me how they did not clock out because they were owed the time. It was interesting how the policy and procedures would be written clearly for every employee to understand; however, they did not read or follow them. If I took a personal call and it went over twenty minutes, I would adjust my time to show the applicable unpaid break. Here is a fact sheet for the law and how it operates: http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/workhours/breaks.htm.

So if you’re worried you’re not giving employees breaks or the timeframe involved, please consult the Department of Labor website (www.dol.gov) and discover which laws apply to you. If you don’t pay employees who eat and work at the same time, you could eventually see a class action lawsuit in the future for unpaid time which should’ve been compensable. A clearly written policy does not always do the trick, managers and supervisors must monitor time and attendance as well as their employees breaks/lunch breaks. You could also be paying for breaks which are extending past twenty minutes each day (this could potentially be a huge expense if thousands of employees are doing this everyday). 

Do you feel your organization does a good job at monitoring breaks and lunch breaks? Does your organization have a clearly written policy and procedure for lunch breaks and break times? If the answer is no to both of these questions, it may be time to sit down and write a clear policy. 

Attendance issues.

We’ve all struggled with showing up to work on time here and there. Some of us are probably habitually late more often than we would like. Regardless of the situation, attendance at any job is necessary for operations to continue without interruption. Attendance was the number one reason for employees losing employment as I worked at my last job. It’s hard for me to understand how one wants a job and can’t get to work on time.
But before I stereotype those who are habitually late, I’m also a very understanding person when it comes to attendance. If you work in Baton Rouge, it is near impossible to get anywhere on time unless you leave with a large amount of cushion. I commuted to Baton Rouge for 5 years and was only late on the days when there was a three hour accident. I spent many of those days in my car wondering why I had to experience this with everybody else. I was lucky to work for a flexible company which understood how traffic was out of my control.
I recommend all managers and supervisors to be very understanding and reasonable with time and attendance. Some individuals may have reasonable situations which prevent them from getting to work on time. For a person to just write someone up for being late/tardy without hearing the persons excuse is just insane to me. I like my managers and supervisors to give verbal warnings and or work with the employee to adjust their schedule to accommodate the lateness issue. Sometimes, a simple adjustment can make for a loyal and on-time employee.
I tell managers and supervisors how a person who says their tire blew out on the interstate, their child got sick, their car would not start, or they got stuck in really bad traffic (etc.), this would usually fly as a reasonable excuse the first go around. A reasonable employee would reach out to their manager or supervisor and let them know they will be late because of the situation. I believe an employee who discloses their excuse ahead of time in a reasonable fashion should not be counted tardy unless the same excuse comes up more than once in one week. If a person says they have a blow-out or engine trouble more than once a week may need to be told to get their car looked at or find a way to get to work on time.
I know if my car would not start, I would have a 40+ mile drive ahead of me with nobody to pick me up or take me there. It’s difficult for some individuals to get to work, but I would find a way because I care about being at work. Not everyone feels the same about being conscientious about showing up to work, and will take their personal lives first before coming to work. I never struggled to have the conversation with the individual who had issues showing up to work on time. I had an employee once ask me if should they choose their job over their child; I would simply answer their question by saying it is important for them to care for their child, but I was not going to make the decision for them.
I scheduled a meeting with an employee who was chronically late to work all the time. I had suspended her since she could not show up to work on time. I chuckled to myself because she was 30 minutes late to the meeting. I sat her down and asked her if she wanted to keep her employment, she needed to be more conscientious about time and get to work on time. I left my employer prior to seeing if she actually started showing up on time, but it appeared she was there before I left. Sometimes a simple conversation with an employee can clear up any mess and potentially gain their loyalty.
Mind you, there are potentially some issues which can arise from a person being late. Some of those reasons extend to something of a personal nature like a disability or a family member’s disability. The ADA is nothing to play with either, especially in this litigation filled environment we’re in today. I would proceed with caution when asking an employee about what is causing them to be late like, “Susie, can you help me understand what it is which is making you late everyday for work? If it is a health related issue, please just tell me a “health related issue” and not the specifics of the health issue.” This I feel gets down to the bottom of the issue by focusing on what is causing the person to be chronically late. If it is health related, the conversation will then need to shift to FMLA or intermittent FMLA. The employee should be directed to the LOA department to discuss procedures which need to be followed in order to start the process.
In a lot of the cases I handled, many of the individuals could not get to work on time even after being written up. A lot of them continued down the path they were on until myself and the company decided to terminate their employment. Some employees would start working at the facility and not show up for 3 consecutive days. That resulted in a no-call, no-show termination. It would baffle me how employees would do this so often without letting us know they were not coming back. If the employee would call us and say they were not coming back, I would simply ask them to email me a letter of immediate resignation so I could move forward with removing them from the system.
I understand many people have things going on in their lives which prevent them from getting to work on time; however, it is important to be conscientious about time if you want to keep your job. Being late or not showing up will eventually result in disciplinary action up to including discharge. Firing someone who did not file FMLA and continued to not show up to work on time (or at all) after being advised so was always difficult. It was necessary and it was something we needed to do to keep operations where they needed to be. Running any business requires regular attendance from all employees, too many absences/tardies will usually result in incremental overtime as well as delay in processes.
When interviewing with a company here in Hammond, LA; they asked me if I had any illnesses or disabilities which would prevent me from having regular attendance. I was completely baffled they asked me this as it was an illegal question to ask anyone. It violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it is trying to impede on information about a disability. When I informed the young lady interviewing me to please not ask the question to anyone else in the future, she had the wit to say they had to because their jobs require regular attendance. I chuckled for a quick second and told her how all jobs require regular attendance; however, it does not mean a company should inquire about someones disability illegally in the form of questions in the interview. Needless to say, I did not get the job and am happy I did not because I would never ask the question to someone in an interview.

What types of issues are you experiencing in your business? Do you believe attendance impedes your ability to operation 100%? What measures can you take to make your business better with attendance? I have a few solutions and can gladly offer those to you if you ask. Thanks for reading!

What is involved in Terminating employees?

Terminating employees is never easy, especially since you spend more of your time with coworkers than you do with your own family. There is a dirty side to HR, and terminating is most likely the side many managers and supervisors try to avoid. It’s unfortunate, but it is a necessary evil in order to keep the business running. I’m definitely not a pro at firing people, but I had plenty of experience in my last position (around 50-60 terminations in 8 months). 

My previous blog post talked about the steps to document performance and or behavioral issues. It is important to always communicate clear expectations to the employee in question. I had to have my clients go through painstaking documentation and steps to ensure we were always following the right procedures.  HR seems to get a bad rap at telling others what to do, but I certainly did not have a problem with it because I realized my due diligence would keep them out of court. I certainly believe the goal of employee relations is to keep the company out of litigation and to always strive to do things in an ethical, practical and legal manner. 

There were quite a few times where a client would tell me their employee was terrible and they wanted them gone on the spot. I would remind them of the legal exposure they would put us through if they did terminate them on the spot. Most of them seemed to get the gist of what I was saying and would take a different position. I loved telling them it was time to get a clear trail of documentation against the employee so any legal case could be shut down immediately. There are some factors and questions which must be asked before moving forward with a termination:

1) What was the offense? How severe was it? Is this the first time the employee made this offense? 

2) Are there previous documented disciplinary actions and or coaching sessions? 

After answering these questions, it’s easy to determine if the employee is near the end or at the very beginning. Other factors should be considered and possibly discussed with legal counsel. These topics include pregnancy, protected status of employee (Title VI, ADA, ADEA) and other areas as well. All documentation should steer clear of any protected legal areas, if anything is ever said or documented about these topics, it may be safe to start over with the disciplinary process and coach/counsel the manager and or supervisor for the inappropriate documentation/statements. 

After all areas are checked to ensure there is no legal exposure, it should then be determined if the documentation is sufficient enough to warrant termination. If the employee is to be terminated, the question should be asked if past incidents similar like this one have been handled the same way in the past. If all signs point to yes, it should be approved by HR to perform the termination. The most crucial part is the offboarding process.

If an employee is to be terminated during business hours and in a high traffic area, the termination should happen in the most private area of the building with little exposure to interruption. If the person may pose a safety risk, it is important to arrange security to be present outside the room to escort the employee after the termination has taken place. If the employee is on suspension (away fromt he facility), the termination can take place on the telephone.

On the day of the termination, the meeting should take no longer than 2 minutes. Anything longer than this is just an opportunity for someone to say something they should not say to the employee. The person performing the termination should only say a few lines which may include:

“Hello _______, I’m __________ from HR and am here today to talk about your continued performance/behavior issues which we have discussed with you previously. After evaluating all the documentation, the company has approved for your employment to be terminated effective immediately.” 

After this small statement, it is then time to talk about the employees benefits, their PTO, COBRA, final paycheck as well as who to call with questions. The last thing to collect before escorting the employee out is their keys or ID badge. Once collected, the manager/supervisor and or security should escort the employee out of the building.  Once this is done, the hardest part is taken care of. The manager and or supervisor should ensure all accesses are turned off. 

The most common question I would get from the person being terminated is why was this happening to them. I would generally answer them in a manner which was honest and straight to the point. I would say, “This does not mean you’re a bad person or a failure, you are just not a good fit for the position.” Most of these individuals have a somber mood and generally are checked out when we’re talking to them. When they leave, most are not angry and walk out quitely. 

This will by far be the hardest task a manager will have to deal with  besides disciplining another employee. While difficult, it is necessary to perform these tasks. Business cannot go on if poor performance/behavior continues. Businesses rely on HR to keep the company running efficiently and without interruption. 

If this is your first time terminating someone, you should consult with HR to get some assistance on their procedures of termination. Also , do a lot of practicing before-hand in order to keep dialogue to a minimum. As I tell all managers and supervisors, you don’t want to become a professional at terminating employees, but you want to be good at it and prepared to do this at any time. 

Discipline or Coach?

We’ve all met the employee who has a bad attitude, is a low performer or even a slacker. The most difficult thing for a manager to do is to figure out exactly what path to take with an employee who is a repeat offender. The great thing about the Human Resources department is there are policies, procedures and even disciplinary guidelines to follow. It is usually difficult to make a decision for disciplinary action; especially if it means moving towards suspension or termination.

Two of the most common types of issues experienced when I was in the employee relations position was both performance and behavior. Behavior was usually in the form of cursing, mistreating coworkers, wearing something out of uniform, complaining, combative and insubordinate with managers/supervisors. Some of the common types of performance issues were not following procedures or doing something which put the patient at risk. The greatest thing about discretion is deciding the level of discipline based on the infraction.

I personally like to recommend all managers and supervisors take the approach of coaching employees on the initial infraction or issue. Some managers have tried to press me to fire someone because Louisiana is an Employee-At-Will state. I would clearly communicate the information to them about the law; stating the State is an employment-at-will state and we can fire with or without reason as well as with or without notice as long as both reasons do not violate any federal or state laws. I would then tell them how the company empowers the HR department to make the judgment call on how we handle these situations, and I would tell them we would need to follow our formal disciplinary process since the infraction was the first offense. 

Mind you, the level of the offense would generally put me in a different position. The more serious a situation, the more likely we could potentially move to termination or formal disciplinary action without prior warnings. For example, if an employee went into a family members patient file just to understand their family members diagnosis would constitute a violation of HIPAA if it did not have anything to do with Treatment, Payment or Operations. A situation like this would warrant an investigation and I would recommend suspension pending an investigation of the violation (of course the employee would not be paid if they were found guilty; but paid if they were not guilty). If the employee was found to have violated HIPAA, we would move forward with terminating the employee. 

Now regressing to normal performance or behavioral issues, I would usually ask the manager/supervisor to bring the employee aside in a private area and talk with the employee about their behavior and or performance issue. Some managers who were uncomfortable with this process; I would offer my services to them to support and speak to the employee/employees. I would always start off by introducing myself and how I came into the meeting. I would tell the employee their performance and or behavior is concerning and I wanted to have a conversation with them about the situation as this was more-so a coaching/verbal warning session. I would clearly ask the employee what they can do to improve their behavior/performance. If the employee would say, “I don’t know,” I would tell them to take a day to think about it and write down some goals/expectations of what they intent to do. I would tell the employee they would have to be involved in the process as well in order to improve. 

After the employee engaged with us to find solutions on how to improve their performance/behavior, I would inform the employee that failure to meet those expectations would lead to further action which would include disciplinary action up to including discharge. Employees would always have a clear expectation of what would happen with further noncompliance, generally by signing or reading the disciplinary action form. If the employee refuses to sign the form, I would inform them their signing does not admit guilt, but is merely an acknowledgement of the meeting taking place. The majority of the time, employees would sign the form and make the necessary adjustments. 

I like to use the coaching approach which engages the employee to do better with their performance and or behavior. Somethings happen quickly, but definitely not behavior. Some behavior issues end up getting worse and lead to the employee being terminated in the end because their attitude is becoming toxic to the culture in the office. Performance is fairly common as well because mistakes often happen when humans touch anything; we’re definitely not immune to mistakes. It is painful to write up and or terminate employees because their performance is not where it should be; especially if they’re willing to work harder towards the solution. 

As a professional, I sleep better at night knowing our formal disciplinary process protects us from legal recourse since we’re diligent to work with employees as much as we possibly can. A formal coaching and disciplinary process shows good faith and fair dealings with all employees. It is unbiased and is fair according to policies and procedures. It is important to have all managers and supervisors document as clearly as possible on any formal coaching/disciplinary forms. These forms can become evidence in legal proceedings if legal action is ever taken in the future. If arbitration occurs prior to the formal legal system, these documents can most certainly put any litigation out of reach; especially if it is clearly documentated how performance and or behavior was the result of the eventual termination. 

Please always consult your HR department before starting any formal disciplinary process if you’re not sure. Sending an employee home on suspension without a gameplan can be disasterous, esepcially if it was not serious enough or warranted. 

Does your organization have a clear expectation of disciplinary procedures? If not, it would be a good idea to work on getting one together so the company can better document its performance/behavior issues effectively while protecting the employer from litigation. Unfortunately, nothing is sue-proof. This is why it is very important to keep emotions out of the equation when disciplining and or terminating employees as well as showing each one dignity and fair treatment. Never move forward if you’re not comfortable or if you feel  uneasy about the determination. HR should always be consulted before any decision is made so you can be coached and or trained to become an independent thinker. Eventually, HR won’t need to be contacted unless you go to a certain extent in the disciplinary process (generally suspension and or termination). 

Clear documentation, fair dealings, no emotion and clear documented expectations will always prove key in the end. If you’re in a sticky situation, it may be good to contact both your HR and Legal teams for guidance. 

Getting Prepared for the PHR while working.

Anyone who has accomplished a certification knows the work and effort required to get one. Back in 2013, I bought my SHRM Certification Prep books (2 years outdated) and decided to start my studying in July. I signed up to take the test in December, so I gave myself a solid 6 months. The challenge of working a full-time job and studying was proving to be difficult for me. I worked on the weekends when in college and never had to work after studying, so this was a whole different experience for me.

I started reading the books and typing in my iPad as I read. Some of the topics required me to read a lot slower. I recall training and development as well as executive compensation plans being the toughest for me. The topics could be extremely dry and burdensome to go through, but would absolutely help me get a clearer understanding. I was getting more excited as I went through the material because any college course I took never went into thorough detail about some of these topics. Reading and studying the topics helped me apply those concepts on the job immediately. 

After reading all the chapters, I took a test every single time to check my understanding. To say the least, I was doing very poorly in the beginning. I was surprised I did so poorly on these practice tests because I thought I had a very good understanding of Human Resources in general. I realized very quickly how I needed to go back and study the ones I missed. I re-read the material and ingrained the answers into my brain so I would know it if it came up again. I actually read through each of the topics twice and took the exams until I had a satisfactory score (I set up a score of about 90% and above).

Some tips: Type out your notes on an iPad or tablet so you can travel with your notes everywhere you go. Type out the exam questions on one page and then type out the answers on another page. Take the exams as many times as you have to so you can master the material. The HR Certification Institute requires a score of 500 or higher (Scale is 100-700). It is important to gauge your weak points ahead of time when studying. It’s important to spend the majority of your time studying in the areas which have the heaviest weights on the exam. Employee and Labor Relations will always have the highest weight (I’m pretty sure it will continue as the exam goes on). Even though none of us will ever have to deal with a Union, it’s important to know the in’s and out’s of them. 

I was able to work 40 plus hours a week and study every night for about 2-3 hours before going to bed. I bought audiobooks by David Siler and listened to them on my commute to and from work. There were also practice tests online which I took every night. I also bought HRCI’s practice tests from retired exam questions and took one at the beginning and one at the end of my studies. I took the last one the day before my exam since I needed to ensure I was ready for the testing software. I find those were very helpful for the testing environment as well as help me gauge a feel of the test.

One very important thing I did was using the scratch paper to write down information during the exam. I wrote 1-175 down on the paper and wrote A-B-C-D next to each one while the instructions were going on in the exam. I used this strategy because the software lets you mark and strikeout any options you need during the exam. The issue is the exam will not allow you to write down your thoughts. On paper, I would put an “X” over the answers which I knew were wrong, and circle the ones which I felt were right. I would gauge a percentage over each of those which had a circle over them. If A and C were circled, but A had a 70% and C had 30%; I would choose A when it came down to the wire. Me doing this saved me time in the end. 

I literally gauged my success level by circling the numbers and putting 50/50 or 90/10 next to them. This gave me an idea of how well I did. Mind you, there are 25 questions on the exam which are placebo questions, so they will not count against you or help you do better if you get them right. We won’t know which ones they are, but I felt the hardest ones might have been it (just a guess). Utilizing the strategy above allowed me to save time and make an educated guess in a short amount of time. With 175 questions and 3 hours, this is less than 1 minute per question. I know this strategy may not work for everyone, but I know it worked for me. 

If someone asks me what it takes to pass the exam, I would tell them the following:

1) Buy study materials and budget at least $300 to $400 for those materials. Use eBay to buy used books and other study materials. I would recommend buying HRCI’s retired practice exams. These will help you gauge the testing environment.

2) Study at least 6 months in advance of your exam. It does not ensure success, but I can certainly tell you 6 months of studying saved me. 

3) Use something portable to have your notes and study materials. If you commute like me, it’s good to have audiobooks to listen to in your car in between commutes.

4) Take as many practice exams as you can get your hands on. There are lots of websites which will let you take them for free. I used these to buffer in between study sessions. Take them as many times as you can so you can master the material.

5) Get plenty of rest and take deep breaths. This will be a very informing and trying time. You will get through it, just be patient and it will come.

Best of luck to all of you!