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Your Anti-harassment Policy, Part 1: What to Include

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As you know, businesses must take steps to protect themselves against discrimination lawsuits. Well, many of the same issues that factor in those suits – unfair treatment due to an employee’s ethnic origin, gender, physical abilities and so on – also form the basis of workplace harassment charges. Your company’s anti-harassment policy must be as clear, comprehensive and logical as possible so that employers and employees alike know how to avoid stepping into trouble and creating an unhealthy work atmosphere.

What does “harassment” mean? You don’t have to have an attempted assault during working hours to have a case of harassment on your hands. The term applies to any kind of hostility, abuse or intimidation based on an employee’s ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, military or marital status, or other characteristic covered by anti-discrimination laws. You must clearly state a policy of zero tolerance for any such harassment in your workplace.

You must also prohibit incidences of sexual harassment. This type of harassment may require its own specific definition so that employees understand exactly how sensitive the issue can be. In addition to such obvious situations as requests for sex, you must prohibit any sexual comments, jokes, gestures or any other such communications that might make a worker feel pressured, uncomfortable, intimidated, offended or insulted. In other words, sexual content of any sort does not belong in your workplace.

But you can’t assume your employees will know what’s right or wrong – you must spell out these off-limits actions precisely in your policy and take steps to educate them on a regular basis. Post this policy in common areas and make sure everyone reads and agrees to the policy at hiring.

The Texas Workforce Commission suggests that your policy should:

  • define harassment in its various forms;
  • make it clear that no form of harassment will be tolerated;
  • notify employees of how to report harassment;
  • stress that it is not only a right, but a duty, to report harassment to responsible management
  • warn employees of the disciplinary actions that could result from violations of the policy; and
  • provide a framework for investigation and remedial actions in harassment situation

In a future post we’ll discuss what to do when an employee reports a violation of your anti-harassment policy. For help with attestation signature documents and other anti-harassment policy help, feel free to contact us.

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Written by Dan Hettrich

July 29, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A Hearty Welcome: Your Best Retention Tool?

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Your new employee seemed really enthusiastic about joining the company during the interview process. So why did he hang around for a few weeks and then disappear? Was he just not serious about the job after all — or did you do something to drive him away?

If you don’t care about the typical 15 percent turnover rate in the business world, then you won’t find much of interest in this post. If, however, losing a new employee after your HR department spent serious time and effort to find that person does bug you, then read on.

The business world has changed, and not necessarily in the employer’s favor. True, the scarcity of jobs in recent years has given companies access to a wider range of qualified candidates — but many of those candidates are in fact over-qualified, and they know it. They’ll accept your job opening today, get another tomorrow, and if you haven’t made a great first impression on them, off they go.

So how do you make new employees happy to be at your company from their very first day on the job?

Develop a detailed plan for onboarding new employees, and make sure the first day is a very positive first impression that lets them know they are important and you are excited (and prepared!) to help them be successful. Think about it — would you want to start your first day at a new job filling out an hour’s worth of paperwork, especially after all the hoops you jumped through just to get here in the first place? If you want new employees to feel welcome, put the I-9 aside until later in the day and walk them through the building. Introduce them to their co-workers. Show off your corporate culture and let them get a true feel for what your company is all about, spend time on ‘the vision’ and get them oriented to the team and position. Then maybe when that other offer comes, the answer will be: “Sorry, I’m no longer available!”

Already have your own “Welcome Wagon?” Tell us about it!

Written by Dan Hettrich

July 20, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Better hiring through referrals (or, goodbye Craigslist)

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If you had to hire someone for a critical situation in your own life — a tax lawyer to rescue you from a serious IRS issue, or a dentist to take care of that nagging toothache — would you feel okay about just grabbing any warm body off the street to do the job, or would you feel more confident using a specialist personally recommended by a trusted source?

If you chose the latter, you understand the power of networking. Most of us would much rather ask the people we know and trust for referrals than just pick a name out of the phone book. Yet all too often, employers rely on Craigslist or other relatively undiscriminating public sites to locate potential workers instead of using the powerful networking tools already at their fingertips.

“I’m not a networker,” you say? But everyone has a circle of trust — a network of friends, acquaintances and colleagues who can point you toward the best and brightest performers for the task at hand. Another great resource to consider is your employees – you’ve hired them, invested in them and gotten to know them. Based on their experience at your company, they also have a great understanding of your culture and demands of various positions, and they may have contacts that may be as productive as they are and would be a good cultural fit.  And thanks to social media technologies these concepts have gone truly global, bringing the entire business world to your company’s HR department at the touch of a mouse.

Among the many social media platforms helping businesses find qualified staff, perhaps none can rival LinkedIn for power and signal-to-noise ratio. LinkedIn focuses purely on business connections. Members post their resumes, bio profiles, company website or other business information, connecting with potential networking partners through requests for online introductions. This structured networking approach gives you access to high-quality referrals from people you trust. More and more smart employers and job candidates are finding each other in this manner. Maybe it’s the smart solution for you too!

Written by Dan Hettrich

July 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Application process do’s and don’ts

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The right application process can land you the ideal employee — and the wrong one can land you a lawsuit. Here are some essential rules for getting it right:

First of all, to best protect your company, you must employ a uniform application process for each and every job candidate. Don’t let anyone squeak through without filling out a written application form. This form covers you in many ways, from preventing critical questions from going unanswered to providing you with written evidence that the candidate answered the questions truthfully or untruthfully.

Take care in the interview process as well. Questions about marital status or children, for example, can lead to accusations of discrimination based on sexual orientation. You can, however, ask alternative questions about whether the candidate is willing to relocate or has outside commitments or responsibilities that might affect their availability.

The answers on the application form can also impact the legality of your interview questions. If for instance you don’t ask a job candidate about previous convictions on the written application and then ask that question in an interview, you’ve violated the law. If, on the other hand, applicants claim in the written application to have no prior felonies, and you discover otherwise during a subsequent background check, then you’ve got a legitimate reason for not hiring that person and the question becomes legal in the interview.

The right mix of sensitivity and attention to detail will help you make smarter selections and enjoy less worry over discrimination suits — two great ways to keep your business moving in the right direction. If you’re still concerned about making potentially serious mistakes in your hiring practices, feel free to post questions to this blog.

Written by Dan Hettrich

June 17, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The “at-will” nightmare and how to prevent it

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Here’s every Texas HR department’s nightmare: An employer terminated a worker on the grounds that he wasn’t “a good fit,” assuming that since Texas’s status as an “at-will” employer meant “for no particular reason”. The Texas Workforce Commission felt differently, demanding documented evidence of the worker’s inadequacies. The employer had to scramble to create the documentation, spend about $3,000 on attorney fees — and still had pay a severance!

Yes, Texas is an “at-will” state, but just because you can hire and fire at any time doesn’t mean you should throw caution, documentation, and good business sense out the window, unless you’re ready to face a lawsuit or other legal action.

How can you avoid this nightmare? Let us count the ways:

  1. Maintain Accurate Job Descriptions. Spell out the employee’s tasks and responsibilities from the beginning in a detailed job description. The clearer the major job functions, duties, and responsibilities are, the easier it is for you to objectively measure the employee’s job performance.
  2. Measure Performance. Depending on the type of position, develop realistic and attainable performance goals for each employee wherever possible.  Communicate these goals to the employee in order to get their buy-in.  Have the employee track their own performance relative to goal, and provide you with periodic metrics or status reports.  Correct any unintentional biases/embellishments that may show up along the way, as they often do, and keep the employee focused on their job function.
  3. Document Performance. This is one area that most owners and managers fall short.  Many see written documentation as an interruption into the day-to-day business function of the organization, and many will tell you they give verbal feedback to their employees all the time.  Verbal feedback is important, yes, but it’s not documented.  The vast majority of employees, whether they’re willing to admit it or not, appreciate the time, attention, and effort a manager puts in to documenting their performance.  Formal performance reviews should be conducted at least annually, and special performance documentation should happen throughout the year whenever something exceptional occurs – good or bad.  This special documentation doesn’t need to be anything fancy or lengthy, nor does it need to be signed by the employee.  It should include name, dates, time, description and location of the event, any witnesses, and a summary of the action you took.  If you give an employee a verbal warning, then document it as a verbal warning and summarize what you told the employee, including what corrective action he/she should take and reasonable time to fix the problem.
  4. Communicate and Be Consistent. Make it well known in your organization that meeting performance objectives is crucial to the success of the company.  Develop and post a mission statement.  Consider displaying individual and team performance metrics in prominent areas in the workplace.  Use a consistent and fair evaluation processes for all employees at each level (i.e. exempt/non-exempt; sales, administration, management, etc.).
  5. Improve Your Hiring Methods. If you hire the right person in the first place, you can generally avoid all this mess.  Standardize your screening process to include: careful reviewing of resumes, phone interviews, review of detailed employment applications, on-site interviews with appropriate questions directly related to the vocational and dimensional qualifications for the position, reference checks, management discussion of top candidate(s), the offer letter, and background check (if required).  Failure to conduct due diligence on a prospective new hire puts your company and employees at risk!

Don’t fall prey to the false sense of protection the “at-will” doctrine appears to provide.  Just as you wouldn’t hire someone “at-will” solely because you think the candidate is a good fit for your company, neither should you fire an employee “at-will” solely because you think the employee is not a good fit.  Both employment decisions – hiring and firing – should be made after prudent consideration, effort, and documentation.  Thus, you can be confident that your “at-will” decision is justifiable, “for a particular reason,” and in the best interest of the company.

Written by Dan Hettrich

June 9, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

How flexible is your workplace?

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If you’d fought in a war during ancient times, you wouldn’t be all that surprised when your iron or carbon-steel sword snapped in half at a critical moment. Those early metals lacked tensile strength — they broke because they couldn’t bend or flex under stress.

21st Century businesses need flexibility too, if they wish to survive the constant twists and turns of the rapidly evolving global marketplace.  Flexible work arrangements assist in attracting and retaining better employees and allow them to stay longer under a wider range of circumstances.

What do we mean by “flexibility?” The term holds different meanings for different workplaces. Modern telecommuting technologies, for instance, help employees use their time more effectively while slashing office overhead. Of course some industries such as medicine, hospitality or childcare will always require the personal touch. But even in these cases, employers could offer flexible hours or a choice of several shifts to give employees the widest possible range of options.

How do you create and encourage flexibility in the workplace?

Consider the “Business Champions” program currently endorsed by Corporate Voices for Working Families, a coalition of businesses dedicated to doing just that. Member companies pledge to support their management staff in building, developing and actively promoting flexibility at all levels of the company. “Business Champions” who participate in the program win the right to use an official logo in their HR marketing efforts to show the working world that they maintain flexible work conditions. Who wouldn’t want to work at a business like that?

Check out www.coroporatevoices.org or contact us to learn more about how flexibility can keep your company strong!

Dan Hettrich is the director of sales at Acadia HR located in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at dan@acadiahr.com or 512-745-2985.

Written by Dan Hettrich

May 20, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Social Media and Employees: Keeping Control, Preventing Disasters

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In our previous post we saw how employees’ misuse of social media can have devastating consequences for employers.  Like it or not, though, social media isn’t going away, and employees have access to all kinds of online channels in their personal lives. How, then, can you maintain some degree of control over how your people use social media without infringing on their rights as citizens? Let’s look at your options.

First, are you government or private sector? The Fourth Amendment prohibits governmental bodies from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures, and this prohibition may include monitored communications. Private companies, however, have some wiggle room here depending on state laws and the level of monitoring performed. Most private-sector cases hinge on whether the employee’s “reasonable expectation of privacy” has been violated, and if the employee was using company servers or bandwidth, then monitoring those resources may fall under the scope of normal business procedures.

What can you do to help prevent that social media from turning anti-social?

Have a company policy. You can shape it to suit your industry and expectations, but have it written down and make sure all employees read it, understand it and agree to it in writing as one of the conditions for employment. Employees must understand the potential consequences of distributing confidential information, defamation of the company or its staff and other harmful communications as defined by you. They should also understand the limits of their workplace privacy.

Insist on authorization. Make sure your employees know that they can speak about your company through social media channels only if they identify themselves as company employees, making to clear to readers that their comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of their employers.

We know it’s a complex topic. Contact us if you’d like to know more.

Dan Hettrich is the director of sales at Acadia HR located in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at dan@acadiahr.com or 512-745-2985.

Written by Dan Hettrich

April 20, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized