Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ah … to be French!

My son Adam is in France, studying abroad this semester. He’s a Junior, and finally old enough, in my opinion, to handle the responsibility of a semester far, far away from home.

Well… all but the financial responsibility. That’s for dear Mom and Dad. And on the one hand, I’m very grateful we can scrape together the money to provide this experience. But on the other hand, I’m amazed that we’re actually doing it. The life this kid is living is soooo far from the one his parents (especially Mom here) could lay claim to at that age. Sometimes I wonder, how long will it last?

Because a lot has been written about how the United States is a country in the decline, writing checking for things we can’t afford using money from people (primarily middle class people like me) who can’t afford to give it.

It's an issue with HR written all over it. 

Yesterday, after I’d transferred money into Adam’s account, he emailed me (yes, we’re emailing again instead of texting—too expensive for the Mom who can’t afford a smart phone) thanking me and then asking what I want, because it’s that time of year when the French have mandated store sales, so hey, obviously now is the time to buy.

I was incredulous. Did I just read that correctly? Was this boy offering me a gift with my own money? And alsowhat?! The government tells store owners when to put merchandise on sale? What the heck?

So Adam confirmed that yes, it’s the law (and later I learned this period has a name, Les Soldes), and then he throws in a few other Frenchisms, like everyone (including Adam) has general insurance in case they break something in a store; and he’s now covered by two medical plans, because the French plan is mandatory; and somehow he also qualifies for French social security (or at least he has to register for it).

And it all sounds incredibly warm and cozy, and I kind of want to live there and get my free healthcare and 30 days of vacation, but I can’t help wondering who is paying for all this? 

Or is that just a dumb question and should Americans lighten up already and live a little? At 11.1% unemployment, the French are hurting, but so are we—and we’re way less thin and chic.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dad Heads Off to Jail after Payroll Department Screws Up His Child Support Withholdings (or Something)

In my previous life as a Director of Human Resources, I was responsible for overseeing the payroll function, which also meant occasionally processing payroll when the regular processor was sick, on vacation, or perhaps on maternity leave.

One thing I quickly learned about payroll is that no one has any respect for the complexity of it. Because there are sophisticated programs that calculate taxes and because many employees (salaried and hourly) receive more or less the same pay each period, people who’ve never processed payroll think it must be pretty easy, and anyway, accurate payroll is an entitlement, right? Getting your check correct is the least your company can do, wouldn’t you say?

But that’s the problem with payroll. It’s as subject to human error as any other company process you can name, but nobody wants to hear that. And while it’s true that you don’t need an IQ in the stratosphere to learn payroll, it’s not all rote, either. In fact, the quickest way to make a bunch of mistakes is to treat payroll as though it’s rote, because change happens all the time.

Employees come and employees go, wages increase and wages decrease, benefits change or benefit costs increase, bonuses have to be processed, and employers routinely receive notices of court-ordered garnishments. Or sometimes they don’t but should have. Or maybe it's not entirely clear what happened. 

Regardless, now someone's Dad is going to jail, and news outlets have picked up the story (which sounds odd, and I can’t help thinking we’re missing something here), but in any case the point still stands—not rote.

As reported in the Huffington Post, Clifford Hall, a father living in Texas, received notice that he was behind nearly $3000 in child support payments. Apparently, Hall’s automatic payroll deductions had him underpaying for over a year.

After receiving the notice, Hall promptly paid the overdue amount and an extra thousand (just to be on the safe side) but ended up in court anyway. “Opposing counsel” (The Huffington Post calls it “opposing council,” ha ha) wouldn’t agree to a settlement, and the judge ordered Hall to go to jail and serve the maximum six-month sentence.

I don’t get this. I’ve handled many a child-support garnishment, and in my experience, notices are sent regularly, not just once in a blue moon. I mean, we'd routinely receive monthly “updates” for the same case even if the support judgment hadn’t increased or decreased one cent. 

(Is it possible Pennsylvania is more thorough than other states? Hmmm … no offense, Pennsylvania, but I have a hard time believing that.) I don’t know, but something doesn’t smell right about this case. (The writers on aren't taking it entirely at face value, either.)

Regardless, Mr. Hall did bring his account up to date, so what’s the point in sending him to jail, where (presumably) he won’t be earning an income and will get behind in child support again?

And if I’m in payroll at Mr. Hall’s employer, do I feel awful right about now or what?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Employment Law Blog Carnival for January 2014 is LIVE!

It’s a brand new year, and I, for one, am hoping for better things from the workplace … like a decrease in discriminatory behavior, workplace bullying, and general organizational stupidity… and oh, higher wages and more jobs.


Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen—especially that part about the stupid.

Still, the start of a new year is an opportune time for reflection, speculation, and conjecture, and let’s not forget those resolutions! (Actually, I take that back—let’s forget those.)

But enough about what I want. What does the gang that brings you the Employment Law Blog Carnival have to say about the world of work in 2014? Well shucks, keep reading and find out!

Adam P. Whitney of warns employers that even cases that win small judgments could still result in big bucks for those on the losing end once legal fees and costs are calculated. (Maybe 2014 will be the year more cases settle through mediation? Hmmm ...)

What else should employers strive for in 2014? Randy T. Enochs from Wisconsin Employment and Labor law Blog recommends ixnaying the stray comments about someone’s (advanced) age (yup, recommendations STILL needed), lest the employer end up in court fighting an age discrimination charge following a termination the employer thought was completely justified.

Another consideration when terminating an employee is whether certain forms of income provided by the employer (like disability payments) can be deducted from severance pay. Stuart Rudner of Canadian HR Law discusses what our Canadian neighbors would say about that, especially regarding pension payments.

Back in the states, Ari Rosenstein of CPEhr’s Small Biz HR Blog reminds us that the debate over a “living wage” will continue in the months ahead, with the federal government smack dab in the middle. Is it possible that the federal minimum wage will increase to $10.10 per hour in 2014? ….

Now dang it, I’m almost certain I requested less organizational stupid in 2014. Let me check … Yes! I did. Geez is anyone listening?? Certainly not that employer accused of forcing his employees to scream at ashtrays as part of a Scientology indoctrination. Eric Meyer of the Employer Handbook tells us all about it. As Eric reminds us, employers should refrain from mandating employee “participation in certain forms of religious expression without reasonably accommodating those who feel that participation would conflict with a sincerely-held religious belief.” (And yes, I’m aware these events took place prior to 2014, but come on, there’s enough stupid here to count for several years, easy.)

For those two employers really, really trying to do better in 2014, Jon Hyman of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog offers a bit of employee-relations wisdom. Said wisdom comes from some disgruntled, talking crayons, but so what? I think employers need all the help they can get. Plus, who doesn’t want to know what a crayon would say if he could talk?

Hey! If this talking crayon were a lawyer who also blogs, how would the headline for his first article of 2014 read?

Well, I don’t rightly know, okay? But if the headline were salacious and dramatic, meant to convey the idea that Mr. Crayon Lawyer were presenting THE thing that will change the workplace forever, Daniel A. Schwartz of Connecticut Employer Law Blog would have a few words for him! As Daniel tells us, when it comes to employment law happenings, there's not a whole lot that's new under the sun, regardless of what those attention-grabbing headlines imply.

But we can’t let a few misleading headlines keep us from staying in the know, right? We still need to keep reading. And lucky for us, John Holmquist from Michigan Employment Law Connection has put together a legal heads up for 2014, even while admitting that “the likelihood of the enactment of additional employment laws is slim.”

And while John is looking ahead, Donna Ballman from Screw Your Guys, I’m Going Home is looking backwards (but sort of forward, too), by reviewing how well her 2013 employment law predictions fared. (She did good.)

But regardless of what anyone says, one thing is certain. In 2014 we’ll all continue to put our pants on one leg at a time, because going to work naked is a really bad idea, and that’s why God created workplace dress codes and people like Vanessa L. Goddard from Employment Essentials to provide legal (and commonsense) do's and don'ts every employer should know before drafting those workplace dress codes.

Besides turning up to work naked, another bad idea for 2014 would be not responding to notices from unemployment compensation. (Thank you, Michael Haberman from Omega HR Solutions, Inc.) Did you know (I didn’t) that a law passed by Congress in 2011 provides a means to penalize employers who don’t respond to notices from the UC if the non-response results in payments that shouldn’t have been made? Apparently, nearly $14 billion (that’s “billion,” with a “b”) was overpaid in 2011. (Seriously, UC, y'all need to get it together.)

Anyhoo… for all those whistleblowers concerned that it’s time for their employers to get their stuff together, OSHA has provided a little help. Mark Toth from ManpowerGroup Blogs tells us about the new online tool that makes it easier for whistleblowers to file complaints. (Listen up, employers!)

And that’s not the only resource for beleaguered employees in this here law blog. Heather Bussing from HRExaminer has provided a handy-dandy five-question questionnaire for anyone thinking of filing a lawsuit. The answers aren’t always pretty, but they’re important. (Whaddaya think? Less employment lawsuits in 2014?)

And if that’s not enough, Liza Favaro of Non-Compete Counsel lists all the reasons a non-compete could be deemed unenforceable in court (while teaching me a new word, “fungible,”—although I’m not sure I like that word applied to people, Liza. Just sayin’), which could be real helpful to someone bound by an overly restrictive non-compete (as well as those responsible for crafting non-competes, I imagine).

And in a spooky coincidence (okay, maybe not that spooky), Robert B. Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick on Employment Law has a few words to say about non-competes as well, specifically the enforceability of physician non-competes.

Well, I believe that about does it for the 2014 January issue of the Employment Law Blog Carnival. Bring it on 2014!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

I Am Not a Sheep: How I Learned the Hard Way That Revolver Door Recruiting Is Not for Me

A couple of weeks ago, I surprised myself by walking out of a job interview.

Well, technically the interview hadn’t started yet, and that was a big part of the problem.

See, I’d applied for an HR specialist position and on three separate occasions been contacted by the recruiter du jour about an interview. The first two times I’d declined the invitation, because the pay was too low (as in what-the-hell-are-these-people-thinking? low), but Call Three broke me down, and I decided to check it out. Maybe it’s fate, I thought. Maybe I’ll meet these people and convince them how ridiculous their rate is, I thought.

Mistake #1.

The interview was scheduled for 10:00 AM in a town several counties over from mine. As the appointment neared, I really, really didn’t want to go. But, I’d made a commitment, and then there were fate’s plans to consider. 

And, what do you know? The day before the interview, there were 
forecasts of a snow storm. “Well, that seals it,” I thought, “To heck with that interview.” I emailed my brother for his advice.

“Don’t go,” he told me. “It’s a waste of time. You’re worth way more than they’re willing to pay.”

I didn't listen. I rescheduled instead.

Mistake #2.

The day of the interview (which would now be 11:00 AM) was cold, bright, and clear. I got a little lost finding the recruiter’s office but managed to pull up at 11:00. As I was pulling up, I called the office to apologize for being late and to say I was in the parking lot and would be right in. I absolutely, positively hate to be late, and I believe that if an appointment is for 11:00, and you show up at 11:01, you're late. However, when I called the recruiter, she didn’t pick up. Hmmm …

After entering the recruiter’s office and introducing myself, I was invited by the receptionist to sit in the lobby and wait for the recruiter who’d see me “soon.” Seated on the other side of the room is a young woman in a cheap suit with flyaway hair filling out a stack of papers on a clipboard. 

Uh oh
. Never, ever in my whole, entire 25-year career has anything good come of me filling out a whole stack of papers at the start of the application process. I resolve right then and there that I’m not completing a damn thing before I talk to the recruiter. Meanwhile 10 minutes go by with no recruiter and no word about the recruiter.

At 11:12 or so I text my brother that if this woman doesn’t show up in the next 15 minutes I’m gone. Again, punctuality is very important to me, but more than that, I’m getting a niggling feeling that I simply don’t belong here. Frankly, sitting on a sinking sofa in some dingy recruiter’s office watching bad television is beneath me. Yeah, I said it.

Around 11:15, the receptionist approaches me with the dreaded clipboard and stack of papers. I smile and politely take it, but I already know I’m not giving these people my social security number, permission to do a background check, or anything else without talking to someone, which as I understood it, was the entire point of this interview. The receptionist tells me that the recruiter will be out in a moment.

About 2 or 3 minutes later, a door opens and two women walk out. One is clearly an applicant. The other approaches me—my Millennial recruiter!—introduces herself, and tells me in sing-song, entirely too-upbeat tones that she’ll see me in a bit. She then disappears back into her office without seeming to notice that it is 11:20.

I read all the paperwork and see that I’m being asked to sign a noncompete. Noncompete? Where’s the reciprocity? Why in the world should I sign a noncompete at this stage? I am definitely ready to go.

My recruiter opens her office door, but wait! She needs to see that other applicant again, and when her door closes, I am both done and undone.

It’s now 11:30, and I gather my purse and coat, hand my clipboard to the surprised receptionist who thanks me (and I respond that she’s welcome), and then I hightail it the hell out of there.

It's time to correct my mistake. 

“I am not a sheep to be herded into someone’s office at her leisure,” I think.

“An appointment time should be more than a guideline,” I think.

“I don’t understand why any self-respecting company would believe this is the way to treat applicants,” I think.

“I’m a stubborn idiot,” I think. I just had to find out for myself that further inquiries about this job were a complete and utter waste of my time.

So here’s my takeaway.

It is generally far better to spend good energy pursuing opportunities that make sense than to spend bad energy chasing foolishness that makes no sense. Chasing foolishness that makes no sense squanders everyone’s time and is a downer to boot. 

And I should have known better. In fact, I did know better, but I acted like a dumb dumb anyway. Not again. 

Oh ... and the last lesson? Some recruiters suck.