The 2009 Handbook Review

Your employee handbook should be reviewed on an annual basis, and now’s the time to do it.

You may ask, why do I need to review the handbook?

D. Albert Brannen of Fisher & Phillips outlines, in this article, some excellent reasons for why your handbook should be reviewed and outlines 10 policies that should be included. (Here’s our list as well).

Of the many things to procrastinate on in early 2009, the handbook is not one of them. Diane Krebs, writing in the New York Law Journal, indicates that “todays environment has primed employees to sue.”

A terminated or laid-off employee is not going to find another job easily. And the time spent not working is time that employee will consider looking for an attorney, or learning more about other laid off employees who have won huge sums by suing their previous employer.

FMLA – Can You Require An Employee on Leave to Check In?

Yes. Even a daily phone call is acceptable.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an employer can mandate daily check-in calls for an employee who’s on FMLA Leave.

I’m not sure that it’s necessary to mandate ‘daily’ call-ins, but frequent check-ins are a good idea. But make sure that policy is in your employee handbook – and enforce it consistently.

Thanks to Maria Greco Danaher of Ogletree Deakins.

Sexual Harassment Training is a "Sham"?

Alexander McPherson, a professor at UC Irvine, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times recently outlining his reasons for not participating in mandatory Sexual Harassment training.

His rationale proves that even professors of molecular biology can be idiots.

He cites three reasons for refusing to comply with California law:

  1. The training is ‘a disgraceful sham’;
  2. “The state, acting through the university, is trying to coerce and bully me into doing something I find repugnant and offensive…I am being required to do it for political reasons. The fact is that there is a vocal political/cultural interest group promoting this silliness as part of a politically correct agenda that I don’t particularly agree with.”
  3. [The training] “violates my academic freedom and my rights as a tenured professor.”

Of course, Professor McPherson hasn’t attended the training yet, and is relying on others:

As far as I can tell from my colleagues, it is worthless, a childish piece of theater, an insult to anyone with a respectable IQ, primarily designed to relieve the university of liability in the case of lawsuits…

Actually, the university has nothing to do with it; the law was passed by the state legislature and is required for all businesses with 50 or more employees.

In FY 2007, the Department of Labor received over 12,000 charges of sexual harassment. That does not take into account the number of harassed employees who went directly to their attorney, or (in California), went to the state labor board with complaints.

Professor McPherson obviously is too important and too intelligent to lower himself to the level of every other supervisor and manager in California by taking the course. It’s two hours long and not the end of the world.

There is no ‘vocal cultural/political interest group’ promoting the training. Unless you count the thousands of businesses who have paid hundreds of millions of dollars because their management did not know how to manage a hostile workplace, or avoid retaliation.

The EEOC alone fined employers nearly $50 million for harassment charges. Someone is paying for all of that.

The imposition of training that has a political cast violates my academic freedom and my rights as a tenured professor. The university has already nullified my right to supervise my laboratory and the students I teach… It has threatened my livelihood and, ultimately, my position at the university. This for failing to submit to mock training in sexual harassment, a requirement that was never a condition of my employment at the University of California 30 years ago, nor when I came to UCI 11 years ago.

Uh, no it doesn’t. If you were a professor only, you wouldn’t have to ‘submit’ to the training. But you supervise a laboratory and others – you are in a position leadership and responsibility.

And the fact that training was never a condition of employment 30 years ago? Wah.

30 years ago, you could still smoke in the workplace. It was likely that women and minorities did not have an equal opportunity for promotions. Times change. Professor McPherson has not.

No one is impacting his livelihood other than the good professor himself. If he ‘lowered’ himself enough to attend a 2 hour class, there would be no impact.

But clearly he is too self-impressed and too important to do what everyone else in the state has done.

Sexual harassment training won’t eliminate harassment or absolve employers from liability. But it’s the law. Same as stopping at a stop sign.

Buckle up and deal with it, professor.

Additional Leadership Tools in a Recession

Since publishing my special report on Management Trends for 2009 earlier this month, I’ve received many e-mails on additional ideas for business owners and managers. Here are some ideas:

Mark Roden, a Subway Franchise Owner, as quoted in

“This is a time when you have an excuse to cut back, but now is really the time to show your commitment to your employees.”

From an Adecco article:

  • Keep the line of communication open and honest — Don’t hide vital information from your employees.
  • The only thing worse than laying someone off is losing key talent because they feared for their jobs.
  • Talk frequently — Communicate as often as possible, striving to keep your staff well-informed about what’s happening internally and externally and how it will affect their place a the company.
  • Be creative — companies will need to be as innovative and creative as possible to successfully meet the current challenges.
  • Treat everyone with respect — Unfortunately, the effects of a recession are not limited to the workplace. Many of your employees will be under additional stress in their personal lives. Going the extra mile and making sure everyone is treated fairly will not go unnoticed and will yield huge benefits in the form of better retention when everything turns back around.

More coming in the upcoming weeks…

Ways To Motivate Employees In Tough Times

While I don’t agree with every suggestion offered by HR author Peter R. Garber, I do agree that innovative ways of motivation are crucial to maintaining a productive work environment in tough economic times.

Adversity breeds innovation. And businesses that think about innovation first are those that will succeed in this economy.

Courtesy HR Daily Advisor, through my friends at

Layoffs & Wrongful Termination Lawsuits

When businesses get hit by a recession, employee layoffs inevitably follow. And when layoffs occurs, wrongful termination lawsuits inevitably follow as well.

Generally, layoffs should be a last resort; there are many other techniques available to reduce your payroll costs that should be strongly considered before terminating your employees.

Extreme care must be used when terminating or laying off employees. You need to consult with a qualified Human Resources expert or employment attorney.

Do you know about the WARN Act?

Do you know about the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act?

Are you completely comfortable with knowing that your layoffs will not result in a discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuit?

Extreme care. Use it in these situations.

Age Discrimination Begins Early

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) bans discrimination on the basis of age, and age in this act is defined as any employee 40 years of age or older.

Emily Brandon, writing in, quotes a report from Gray Hair Management, an Illnois-based outplacement firm. Gray Hair survey 900 executives to determine at what point does age begin to negatively affect hiring decisions. The executives said:

  • Before age 50: 24 percent
  • Between age 50 and 54: 39 percent
  • Between age 55 and 59: 23 percent
  • Age 60 or older: 11 percent

This is the first time I’ve seen statistics involving age discrimination by age.

Never ask a candidate how old they are. Never ask for proof of identification UNTIL AFTER a job offer has been given.

And never take any job action against an employee until you’re sure you can defend that action on the basis of business, and not a protected class such as age.

$185 Million For Wage & Hour Violations

Earlier this month, the EEOC announced that it has collected $185 million in unpaid wages on behalf of more than 228,000 workers nationwide. This was for their fiscal year 20087 alone, and represents an increase of 40% over 2001 numbers.

Violations enforced by the EEOC include minimum wage, overtime, and child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

What this number does not include are class-action lawsuits and other legal proceedings where the employee didn’t bother to go through the EEOC. And in states such as California, the state has their own enforcement department.

The biggest issue facing small businesses is compliance with the complex wage and hour issues. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Special Report – Management & Leadership Trends in 2009

2009 is shaping up to be a challenging year for small businesses with a world full of unknowns. The businesses that succeed will be those who can quickly adapt to change; embrace unknowns; and innovate.

Successful small business owners don’t look at this recession as a challenge – they look at it as an opportunity. Your competition is going to struggle, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

I just published a special report for our clients – “Management and Leadership Trends for 2009”.

It’s available free by clicking here.

How To Avoid Burnout

The economy has moved the overall workforce from an ‘entitlement mentality’ to a ‘I’m just happy I have a job’ mentality.

But with layoffs already taking place and more sure to follow, it means fewer workers will have to work harder. This leads to stress and burnout – and this is a realistic theme for 2009.

It’s a major decision for an employee to make – do I hate my job? Or, – am I burned out?

If you truly hate your job, you need to quit. Life is too short to be saddled with a miserable existence for one-third (at least) of your life.

But if it’s burnout, there are a number of steps you can take to turn it around. It always starts with you. Only you can change your attitude.

Sherri Campbell and Bob Rosner of workplace911 have these tips on turning around workplace burnout.

Courtesy ABC Action News in Tampa Bay.