When Employment Applications Go Bad

Starbucks narrowly missed losing another employment-related lawsuit – this time, about their employment application.

A California State Court of Appeal overturned a decision that would have made Starbucks liable for $26 million because of an improper employment application.

In California, it’s permissable to ask if a candidate has previous criminal convictions – except for minor offenses, such as possession of marijuana. The Starbucks application made no such provision.

An excellent summary of the case is written by Richard S. Rosenberg of Ballard, Rosenberg, Golper & Savitt here.

What is of bigger concern is what application form most businesses are using. One of the first things we review during our HR Compliance Audit is the employment application. Small businesses often use applications from their local office supply company.

Big mistake.

Each state has different criteria, and the employment application needs to be state-specific and legally reviewed.

Time to check your employment application!

Alternatives To Employee Layoffs

When consulting on potential workplace layoffs, the first thing I try to do is get an employer to quantify how valuable an employee is. For example, when the economy eventually rebounds, what will it cost that employer not to have that employee there?

It’s easy to make a rash decision to eliminate jobs, but the long-term consequences can be significant to a business.

Now, the California Employment Development Department has issued a “Guide For Worksharing Employers” – an alternative to employee layoffs. It’s an Unemployment Insurance program, which allows certain employers to reduce employee hours while the employees collect partial unemployment insurance benefits.

The program may help employers with cost-cutting as well as keep key employees. and avoid the mad hiring dash later.

An employer may be able reduce the employee workweek from five days to four – which results in a 20% reduction. The employees would be eligible to receive 20 percent of their weekly unemployment insurance benefits—and are spared the hardship of full unemployment.

There are qualifiers – but this is a good example of yet another alternative that should be considered when contemplating employee layoffs.

If You Don’t Act, They Will Come

There are a number of missteps an employer can make when faced with an employee accused of harassment or discrimination.

But the easiest mistake to avoid is often the first decision an employer makes – to ignore that accusation.

Employers are mandated to take “prompt corrective action”. In most cases, that means conducting an independent, unbiased workplace investigation; consulting with a labor attorney; avoiding retaliation; and taking appropriate action against the accused.

These steps are appropriate and necessary for all businesses. I’m constantly amazed, however, how large corporations replete with well-staffed human resources employees get accused in this area.

Case in point: The Cheesecake Factory, which was recently sued by the EEOC for failing to respond to accusations of same-sex sexual harassment.

The case is documented by Melissa Fleischer, Esq. in the Employment Law Information Network blog.

"Linkedin.com" and the Employer’s Dilemma

Most employers have a policy in their Employee Handbook (as they should), limiting the use of internet to ‘business use only’). Many employers also have ‘firewalls’ to ensure appropriate use of the internet and to mitigate the intrusions of viruses.

Myspace and Facebook are clearly social sites and – in my opinion – should not be used during worktime.

But what about linkedin.com? This is a business networking site which toes the line between social (“look up old classmates”) and networking for professional opportunities.

The answer? It’s really up to the manager. While professional networking can increase visibility and potential sales, a lack of productivity may result as employees spend too much time ‘networking’ and not enough time producing.

My recommendation is to monitor each employee’s productivity individually. If productivity is falling, then consequences should result.

And remember – a lot of linkedin users are on the site to network for another job…

An article from Eric J. Sinrod via cnet.com adds some more perspective.

Creating Value For Your Employees

In the last two employer assessment surveys we conducted for medium-sized businesses (both since the recession started) – both employers were ranked very low by their employees with the statement “I know what my benefits are”. In addition, employees felt their benefits package was inferior.

One way small businesses can manage those issues (which go directly to morale and performance) is to communicate precisely what those benefits are worth to each employee. In fact, we’re designing those communications for those clients right now.

The best communication tool I’ve seen in this area in a long time comes from Jessica Lee, an HR executive with APCO Worldwide, and blogger at Fistful of Talent and now her own blog.

Take a look how she designed the compensation summary – it’s clear, concise, and communicates not only what is included in the employee’s benefits package but the dollar value on what it costs the company.


Pitfalls of Reductions-In-Force

We’re presently working with a number of clients on reducing their workforce. There are a number of organizational development issues related to a RIF (such as who stays, who goes, what does the company look like after the reduction and how will all the tasks continue to be done).

But there are a number of compliance issues as well.

Baker Donelson has a good piece on some of those pitfalls.

A reduction-in-force is not simply “let’s eliminate ‘x’ number of positions”; it takes careful decision making; excellent organizational development consultation; and a good employment attorney.

What’s The Best Way To Communicate In The Workplace?

One of the cornerstones of my management philosophy is:

Without the ability to communicate well, a manager is doomed to failure, no matter how well he or she does in every other required area.

How should you communicate?

Lindsey Pollack, writing at abcnews.com, suggests that how you communicate information is predicated on the person you’re communicating to. [By the way, she’s right!]

That means you must understand your boss (or your subordinate) well enough to be able to make that correct decision.