Monday, June 30, 2008

Would you happen to have a pen handy?

My mom is a firm believer in the reminder note. She'd scribble one before going to bed to remind herself about something I needed for school or an item to pick up at the grocery store. We always had stacks and stacks of scrap paper by the telephone in the kitchen, with the handy coffee mug stuffed with pens (some of which didn't write, but that was beside the point), just in case inspiration struck.

Years later, I find myself frequently employing Mom's reminder system. I have two different stacks of jot-able paper on my desk, another pad beside my office phone, a pad in my car (no, Mom and Chris, I don't write while driving!), a couple by the computer at home, and the ever-important magnetized one on the refrigerator. Why? Because I've found that if I don't write my thought down, I don't remember it. It's as if the thought never happened.

Okay, all my HR friends out there - you saw that one coming. Anyone who has attended a seminar where attorneys talk about HR issues knows the favorite phrase by heart: "If you don't write it down, it didn't happen." Can I get an, "Amen!"?

Attorneys can be pretty creative people, so don't think we repeat that mantra just because we don't have anything else to say. (The documentation saying, not the "Amen" saying.) It's because we've seen the scars from employment terminations, charges of discrimination, and lawsuits. Those are the rare situations where you wish you were, in fact, bleeding because the employee counseling form detailing all the shortcomings of the plaintiff gave you a paper cut. Often, though, the bleeding is from the jabs plaintiff's counsel has thrown at the employer for failing to document.

Yes, documentation takes time. Yes, employees frequently refuse to sign the counseling forms. Yes, it can be a struggle to come up with the verbiage for the forms. And yes, your attorney will love you even if you don't document. After all, defending a charge or case without documentation means that you and your attorney will probably get to spend more time together than would otherwise be necessary.

Write on!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Have you met GINA?

No? Allow me this brief introduction. GINA is the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. GINA, among other things, makes it an unlawful employment practice for employers to request, require or purchase the genetic information of an employee except in limited circumstances. It also prohibits the use of an employee's genetic information in employment decisions such as hiring, firing, job assignments and promotions. GINA applies to those employers who have 15 or more employees, and employees in the Federal government, Executive Branch, and state and local governments are included.

Most of you may be thinking, "Well, I'd never have that information anyway." And that may be the case. The concerns that have been raised about GINA thus far, though, revolve around some of the broad language and yet-to-be-defined terms and concepts used in the Act. For instance, if an employee requests time off under FMLA to care for a sick parent, the employer may request additional information on the reason the employee is needed to care for that parent. If the employee discloses that she needs to take her mother to her chemotherapy and radiation treatments for her mother's breast cancer, then a potential request of genetic information by the employer just occurred. Additional questions about information disclosed as part of an employer's wellness program and information which may be gathered as part of workers' compensation investigations/litigation are also lurking.

GINA is only recently passed, meaning that it's effective date is still quite far away (November 21, 2009, or 18 months after it was enacted). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will be charged with enforcing GINA, meaning than an employee will have to exhaust his/her administrative avenues before seeking redress in the court system. The EEOC is currently working on the draft regulations to implement and carry out GINA. Those draft regulations must be issued no later than one year from GINA's enactment.

Thus, this should be one more item to put onto your radar screen. Hope lingers that the EEOC will be able to address some of the employment communities concerns about what it means to "inadvertently acquire" genetic information, how long an employer remains "on the hook" if it does come across genetic information, and the like. Let's keep our fingers crossed (unless you can't do that, which may be a genetic marker of some condition, so don't mention this to your employer if you can't cross your fingers, and I don't want to know either . . . ) that the regulations will shed light on what promises to be another learning opportunity for us all.

Buckle up!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Who doesn't love an OREO?

As a kid, I was a big fan of the OREO cookie. Like many people, the middle was where I focused my efforts. (Please note: I was NOT a fan of the Double Stuf OREO, where the adage "too much of a good thing" rang totally true with me.) And while it was fun to eat the cookie in separate parts, it wouldn't have been an OREO unless it had those two chocolate cookies bookending the filling. Who knew that an indulgence such as the OREO would later find its place on the blog?

Stay with me, here. Think about how you handle employee counselings, evaluations, and other opportunities for improvement in the workplace. I've mentioned before that no one really enjoys being the bad guy (despite what he/she may claim). As a result, our desire to be nice, friendly and come out with a good feeling in a situation that normally doesn't lend itself to that means that we sometimes sugarcoat the situation. That approach does not serve anyone very well. Enter the OREO.

Allow me to use my husband, once again, as an example. He's getting play in this entry because (1) he's the one who coined "OREO Approach" to me, and (2) a recent situation provides a great example for how to use the OREO Approach.

Think about starting off your opportunity with something positive: "You're doing a really good job driving the car. You've improved a lot since we got it."

Then get into the heart of the opportunity: "When driving a straight, try your best to ensure that the clutch is either in or out. Holding it somewhere between can cause a lot of unnecessary wear."

Wrap it up with another positive: "Your hair looks great today."

Yes, this can be adapted to the workplace, and you may want to stay away from any hair comments. For example: "You're doing a much better job keeping me posted on the status of your projects. I appreciate that. I need you, though, to put that same effort into the details of your work, such as proofreading your memos before giving them to me. And thank you for handling the telephone call from John Smith so professionally. That type of assistance is very valuable to me."

Too often, it's the "middle" that keeps our attention, and we forget that the "cookies" are also necessary. The same is true with our approach to counseling. We get caught up in what is wrong and can forget that we need to include what is correct and being done well. I'm just as guilty as the next. The driving scenario used above was what my husband presented to me after I lost sight of using the OREO Approach and instead focused on my desire to curb him of riding the clutch.

Think about opportunities for you to employ the OREO Approach in your worklife. And if you need to keep a bag at your desk to remind you to use it, well, that's a sacrifice you'll just have to make.

Happy dunking!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Not so fast!

My husband is an assistant soccer coach at a local high school. He and his head coach have a policy of not talking with parents immediately following a game. The gist behind this philosophy is that emotions are still running high - win or lose - and that little will be accomplished in that sensitive time period. No one involved has had an opportunity to objectively assess the situation when it follows that closely on the heels of a game. (I first thought the policy was simply to allow them time to partake in the grilled goodies that remained at the concession stand and needed to be disposed of one way or another.)

Too often, employers do not afford themselves the same breathing and regrouping room that coaches often utilize. When faced with an emotionally-charged situation, such as a counseling, a claim of harassment, or general employee unrest, employers feel that the need to react is immediate. Actually, the best course is usually to allow for a cooling-off period. Obviously, you want to hear the employee's complaint and not put him/her off, but the time to make a decision on the complaint is rarely during the same visit the employee makes to lodge the initial complaint.

The cooling off period gives all parties involved time to think, to distance themselves from the emotions that can sometimes interfere with their better judgment, and to develop a more objective opinion of the situation before them.

One option is to send the employee home while you consider the situation and form your plan of action. Despite appearances, sending employees home during an investigation is not punishment; rather, it's quite often good practice. So the next time you are faced with a situation that potentially is rife with emotions, allow yourself some breathing room and distance. It will benefit you in the long run.

Happy working, and go SoccerCats!