Tag Archives: hr

The Privilege of Talking with Your Lawyer

I am pleased to share my latest post to The SHRM Blog.

Almost every HR professional deals with an attorney.  With strong relationships, sometimes you will refer to the lawyer as your lawyer. Not so fast. Here are 6 recommendations to keep in mind when you deal with “the” lawyer:

  1. The lawyer engaged by the Company represents the Company and not you. So be honest about work issues but be careful about issues that may be adverse to the Company. If you are thinking of exercising your legal right to bring a claim, do not give the Company’s lawyer a heads up! He or she, ethically, cannot retain your confidence.
  2. The attorney-client relationship covers only communications in which you ask for advice on behalf of the Company or the attorney gives advice to the Company through you.  It does not cover, for example, an offensive “joke” that you tell the Company’s lawyer in confidence.  By the way, don’t tell the “jokes.” Full stop.
  3. While only the Company can waive the attorney-client privilege, steps HR takes may be used to argue the Company has indeed waived the privilege. So, do not tell others, except those within the Company with a need to know (narrowly defined and fact specific) about the legal advice provided.
  4. Label e-mails where you seek or respond to legal advice “privileged and confidential” or “attorney-client privileged.” Avoid labels that may imply such but still can be less than fun to address in litigation, such as “Help! I am going to jail.” You should win on the privilege issue but who wants to win an issue that can be avoided.
  5. Do not put “privileged and confidential” or “attorney-client privileged” on business documents. That does not shield it from discovery. It only makes the label, where you legitimately have it, questionable. If everything is privileged, then nothing is.
  6. If you have a conversation with the Company’s counsel and a manager during which you make a business decision, that decision was made in a privileged call. Unless you want to risk having to disclose what you discussed, including the risks of the business decision, have a separate business conversation with the manager and without the lawyer.

These are but a few issues to consider when dealing with the Company’s counsel. More to common in a future blog!

Oh, by the law: this is not legal advice :-).

IT and HR Must Work Together to Improve Security

I am pleased to share my latest article for SHRM regarding the role of HR in cyber security.

Cyber security is a significant concern for businesses, and it is only going to get bigger.

In 2016, many companies of all sizes were affected by cyber attacks from outsiders.

But some cyber security breaches are inside jobs. Sometimes they are deliberate. Other times, the breach is due to human error. Either way, these attacks can have disastrous effects.

The National Cyber Security Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, reports that a data breach can shutter a small business. And a survey by Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab, 2016 Corporate IT Security Risks, stated that the average amount of damage caused by one attack may cost small and medium businesses up to $99,000.

The practice of cybersecurity carries with it legal and reputational implications. So the question becomes: Who owns these responsibilities?

However, I bristle at the notion that a single function “owns” an issue because then employees in other functions may believe by negative implication that they do not need to do anything. In this case, while IT plays a central role, ownership of cybersecurity must go beyond IT and include HR, among other departments.

Let’s divide HR’s role into five categories.

HR as the Problem 

Sometimes in HR we feel like we are the policy or procedure police. Well, sometimes we are the culprit, too. As you well know, HR has access to highly sensitive information, including employees’ Social Security numbers and some medical information. HR needs to evaluate whether the background check procedure for those seeking positions in the HR department is robust enough. In some organizations, criminal record and credit checks are done for some employees in finance and IT but not for employees in HR. HR needs to consider this gap.

HR Policies

HR may want to consider including in the employee handbook or other policies a summary, developed with IT, of do’s and don’ts relative to cyber security. This is not in lieu of but in addition to mandatory employee training.
Here is but one example: Employees must report immediately the loss of any device, including a mobile phone, that contains their employer’s confidential information. Immediate reporting and rapid wiping can mitigate the risk materially.

HR and Employee Training

As noted, employee training is essential. IT can develop the training program, but HR plays a key role, too. For example, HR can listen to the proposed program and make sure it works for the intended audience. Simply telling employees not to fall for phishing schemes is meaningless unless you define phishing and give concrete examples.

HR and a Rapid Response Plan 

In the event there is evidence that someone is appropriating confidential information, HR needs to be prepared to work with IT in questioning the employee and taking corrective action as appropriate. These are not IT investigations alone. IT should not be expected to have the expertise necessary to handle employee rights issues in the context of these investigations.

HR and a Business Continuity Plan 

If there is a cyber attack or an internal breach, whether deliberate or as the result of carelessness, the company is going to need to move quickly in response. How will the organization work if its systems are shut down? When must employees be paid if they cannot work? Legally, what notification requirements exist if certain employee information (or that of patients or customers) has been exposed? As with any other crisis, whether it be a weather disaster, an incident of violence or a pandemic, the role of HR in the business continuity plan cannot be underestimated.

How to Prevent Presidential Debates From Becoming Disruptive Workplace Debates

I am pleased to share my latest article posted to Entrepreneur.com.

We just saw the first Presidential debate. No matter what your view, I think we all can agree it was contentious. The feelings of the campaign in general, and the debates in particular, will undeniably leak into workplaces. What do you do? Or better yet, what don’t you do?

To help guide you, here are eight questions and answers to help handle political workplace discussions.

1. Don’t employees have a First Amendment right to say what they want politically?
No. The First Amendment applies only to restrictions imposed by the government. Private sector employees have no First Amendment rights in the workplace. If you are an entrepreneur, you can prohibit employees from talking politics without worrying about the First Amendment.

There is one exception — keep in mind some state constitutions, such as California, apply (or may apply) to private sector employees. So a ban in California, for example, is asking for trouble.

2. Do employees have any rights to express their political views in the workplace, independent of any constitutional right?
Yes, employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) probably would have the right to share their views, including wearing buttons, if the political statement relates to the terms and conditions of employment.

Let me give you two examples — Vote for Clinton so there is more generous paid parental leave or vote for Trump so that religious rights in the workplace are respected. Keep in mind that supervisors and managers, as defined by the NLRA, are not protected by the NLRA.

3. Can employers discriminate based on message? That is, favor one political view over another?
This may come as a surprise to many but, unlike race, sex or religion, one’s political affiliation is not a protected group under federal law and almost all state laws. There are exceptions, such as in the District of Columbia and under a few other local ordinances.

But just because something may be lawful does not make it right. It would be foolish, even if not illegal, to discriminate based on political view point. Do you really want to alienate a large percentage of your employees and customers?

4. What if what is said in the workplace is discriminatory?
What if someone makes a statement hostile to Mexicans or disparages Evangelical Christians? Employers have more than a right to respond to discriminatory messages in the workplace. They have a legal obligation to do so. Employers can brook bias of no kind — that includes during this election season.

5. Aren’t we better off just banning all political speech, to the extent we can, to avoid disruptions?
No. It’s simply not practical. And, it will get even less so as we approach the election. It also is not desirable. Ban political talk and political opponents will agree on one thing — you, as the employer, have gone too far.

6. Aren’t there reasonable restrictions that you can and/or should impose to minimize disruption and/or risk antagonizing customers?
Yes, you probably could have a rule that anyone who interacts with the public not wear a political button or otherwise convey a political message of any kind. I say “probably” and not “absolutely” because the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that interprets the NLRA continues to limit what employer can do. But entrepreneurs need to balance the potential legal risk against the business risk of doing nothing.

7. But what if there are disruptions in the workplace?
Some disruptions are inevitable. You absolutely can respond to the disruptions. You are not paying employees to be as dysfunctional as Congress. But focus on the disruption as opposed to the content of the disruption — unless what is said is discriminatory. There should be both the reality and the appearance of being even handed.

8. Can you as a leader express your own views?
Yes, there is no question that you can share your views. The question is, how and when? Remember, your power is based on your influence, and your influence may be tarnished if you do not temper your political views.

Better to support a candidate than bash the other side. And, at all costs, avoid the “I don’t know how anyone could vote for [fill in the blank].” You are effectively calling those who disagree with you idiots. Not exactly the key to engagement.

I Wish

I am pleased to share my latest post to the SHRM blog.

I had the opportunity to talk randomly with a number of #SHRM16 attendees and ask them one question.

The question is based on Steve Wonder’s “I Wish.”

I asked people what they wished were different about their day to day HR jobs. Here are the top 5 top answers I heard.

1. I Wish I Had More Time with the People (Outside of Emergencies)

Spending positive time with employees is more than just an aspiration. It is essential to effective human resource management.

Employees need to know that they matter. And, they won’t if you don’t acknowledge that they exist.

Make sure your employees know that they are valued and appreciated. There is no better way you can do so than to spend time with them.

2. I Wish I Spent More Time with Strong Workers

No question: we all spend more time dealing with struggling employees than we do with those who meet or exceed expectations. Sometimes, it feels like we spend 85% of our time on the 15 percent who don’t meet expectations.

We can’t reverse the percentages, but we can move the dial.  As with everything that is important, reserve time to interact with your solid players and stars.

Don’t just thank them.  Ask them how you can make their work lives easier.

They are often the least likely to complain. They sometimes have the best ideas.

3. I Wish I Spent Less Time On Compliance.

We are talking about human resources, not legal resources.  So your job should not be only about legal compliance.

Even so, legal compliance is a key part of each of your jobs.  The question is how to integrate the legal with other aspect of your jobs.

Think, and show, how legal compliance is in the best interests of the Company’s business. For example, employees who are or feel harassed are diverted from giving their all toward your organization’s mission.  That does not even address the cost of litigation.

And, try to think of compliance as values. While sometimes the regulations are burdensome, employment laws focus on important issues. Thinking of the values underlying the laws makes dealing with the more onerous regulations a little easier.

4. I Wish I Were Not In the Middle So Often

Let’s face it. We often are in the middle. And, sometimes, we get hit from all sides. Remember this.

Employees complain that they are working too hard and have no lives. Some managers complain employees are not working hard enough and spend too much time on their lives.

Remember, you are not a neutral. You are part of management. But you still can help bridge the gap.

For the benefit of the business, let managers know that there is only so much employees can give. By asking for a  a little less, you may actually get a little more.

And, let employees know that more is expected of all of us. Accepting it is more productive than fighting it.

Of course, no one will be fully happy, but you already knew that. But at least you can help the bridge the gap in expectations so it is not insurmountable

5. I Wish I Could Have More Fun

Let’s face it: the SHRM conference is fun.  We all love seeing our friends and colleagues with whom we may connect primarily on social media.

Well, without the help of SHRM, you probably cannot have a party with 15,000 people. But you can have more fun with your colleagues. And I encourage it.

But here comes the lawyer. Be careful when you blow off steam that you don’t say something that could bite you in litigation. Share about frustrations (where they exist). But don’t talk about specific employees or pending, threatened or actual claims. There is no “HR” privilege from discovery.

Let me end this blog by playing a song that I hope will bring a smile to your face.  Just substitute “HR” for “girls”.

Politics and Work: 7 Guardrails for Leaders

I am pleased to share my latest blog for Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/270670?utm_source=Social&utm_medium=Sharebar&utm_campaign=Sumome_share

For years, we have witnessed a stark partisan divide. Some families have rules — no politics at dinner.

For employers, it is neither practical nor desirable to prohibit all conversations in the workplace. Indeed, to do so is legally dangerous.

Political conversations that relate to terms and conditions of employment may be protected. One can easily see how many political issues have workplace implications, like the gender pay gap, LGBT rights, religious liberty, Obamacare, paid leave, unions, immigration, etc. I think you get the point.

Still, the political divide can create workplace divides that are unhealthy. So here are some guardrails for leaders to minimize the risk that the inevitable will turn into the incendiary:

1. Remember your role as a leader.

If you are a leader, you don’t forfeit your rights to have political views. But be thoughtful about how you express them. You don’t want to suggest those who disagree with you are idiots. Yes, politics is a diversity issue, and we cannot exclude from the talent pool those with divergent political views.

2. Know your audience.

Some people take differing political views very personally. Unfortunately, in my view, many in both political parties demonize the opposition — so they serve as bad role models for the rest of us.

Make sure, before you talk politics, that there is a good working relationship. I enjoy good political discourse and that includes respectful disagreement — but only with those with whom I have a strong underlying relationship.

3. Focus on the positive.

Yes, you read it right. Safer to talk about whom you support than to talk about whom you loathe.Stated otherwise, it is one thing to say support A. It is another to bash B.

4. Think public versus private.

With a close colleague, a one-on-one dialogue (not diatribe) may be fine. I would stay away from the hard-core political in group meetings or leadership communications.

5. Listen.

I don’t mean to sound condescending (that means talk down), but listen to those with different views. You may learn a lot about them in a way that helps you work better with them.

At the risk of delving into political waters, someone who is a strong libertarian may not like “big employer” any more than they like “big brother.” That does not mean you should abdicate your management rights. But it may inform how you exercise your influence with the employee.

6. Careful of discriminatory language.

The candidates differ in terms of their age, ethnicity, gender, race and religion (in alpha order), among other factors. Comments that focus on what are “protected factors” under the employment laws are deeply problematic.

“Too old.” “Too religious.” You got the point. Don’t go there.

7. Respond proactively if you become aware of potential problems.

I confess that I enjoy watching debates. And, I can appreciate knockout punches regardless of whether I like the person throwing one.

In a workplace, there is no room for knockout punches. If you see temperatures are rising, intervene. Consider: “While we may have very different political views, we have at least one thing in common — we want X. [X is your mission, a specific project, etc.] So let’s focus on that.”

If comments reasonably could be seen as biased, you all but must respond. When you are a leader, there is no such thing as a passive bystander when bias is concerned. So, if inherent in the criticisms of a candidate is the person’s age, ethnicity, etc., make clear it’s not okay. It’s not.

Enough. Everyone back to work.

Care For, But Don’t Coddle, Millennials

I am pleased to share my latest blog for TalentCulture: http://www.talentculture.com/care-for-but-dont-coddle-millennials/

Spend about half an hour Googling for articles on millennials and the workplace, and you will find more written in the last year alone than you will be able to read in a week. How do we attract millennials? What do millennials want? How do we make millennials happy? How do we make millennials feel valued? How do we make millennials feel comfortable?

Then, there are the less public discussions about millennials. In these private conversations, Generation X, baby boomers and traditionalists (and sometimes even older millennials) grouse about what they perceive as an entitlement mentality among some young millennials. Some go as far as to forget the “some.”

From what I have witnessed, there is a jarring juxtaposition between the public and private discourse. This disconnect is disturbing, at best.

Millennials are now the largest part of our workforce. Make no mistake about it; they are an important part not only of the future but also of today. So, we should be thinking about them. A lot.

The problem is that we seem to focus on them to the exclusion of other groups. This boomer worries not enough time is spent on Generation X, for example, the Sheryl Sandbergs and Michael Dells of the world.

Do a Google search focusing on what we need to do attract and retain Generation X. Are you done reading?

From a legal perspective, millennial myopia in the workplace may be evidence of age bias. There is one expression for almost all non-millennials: older workers protected by federal law.

The first year of Generation X turned 50 last year. Soon, all members of Generation X will fall in the federally-protected age group (40 and over).

I also worry that we talk about millennials as though they have monolithic needs and wants. We ignore the substantial diversity among millennials, engaging in the kind of stereotyping we would never do about any race or religion (or, at least, I pray not).

Finally, I worry that the almost obsessive focus on millennials is creating in some millennials that about which some complaint. If leadership mavens worry about your every want and need, it should be no surprise that “I want to be successful” may trail “I want to be comfortable.”

Regarding comfort, no one should have to endure harassment, abusive conduct or even subtle bias or true micro-aggressions. But not every moment of discomfort gives rise to a feeling we needs to articulate, let alone address.

And, for this, I blame those millennials who exhibit such behaviors less than those who have created the expectations giving rise to the actions. No sacred cows, here.

I start with helicopter parents of my generation that have involved themselves too often in their children’s education. And now, some are doing the same in the workplace. “Why did my son not get an A” has become “why did he not get the promotion.”

But it does not stop there. Some of our colleges and universities have gone so far to protect anything that could make anyone feel uncomfortable that that they have not only oppressed dialogue, but they also have infantilized these young adults. As one College President said in exasperation, “This is not a daycare. It’s a University.”

When these young people go from the safe places created for them in the educational space to the real world called the workplace, they sometimes struggle with this reality. When someone does not meet their needs or makes them the slightest bit uncomfortable, they feel microagressed or bullied.

The message is not that we should care less about millennials. The message is that we should apply a more calibrated and balanced approach.

We need to listen to millennials concerns. But we also need to make clear to them what we expect from them.

We need to appreciate the greater focus on life outside of work. But we need to make clear that without happy customers and clients there is no work.

We need to ensure that they do not endure unacceptable conduct. But we need to be clear that feeling uncomfortable does not always mean that someone has done anything wrong.

We need to understand this generation probably has it harder than any preceding it and, with that, a different perspective. But we need to focus on millennials as individuals and not merely the embodiments of generational stereotypes.

Perhaps, and most importantly, we need to care about millennials so that they genuinely feel valued and are productive and entrepreneurial as a result. But we need to be careful not to allow caring to slip into coddling.

When we coddle, we unconsciously satisfy our needs, but we rob millennials of the opportunity to grow. And, in doing so, we limit the growth potential of our organizations.