On a Reddit post, I advised a poster to speak with her HR department. Several people jumped in to say no, go straight to the Labor Board, as HR is bad.

This is sometimes true, and I clarified that if you had a bad HR department, you should, of course, go directly to the relevant government agency or hire an attorney. And I got an excellent question back “How can you tell if you have a bad HR Dept or a good one?”

I hang out with good HR people all the time. (Virtually, of course!) The HR people I know well would take care of any sketchy management behavior as fast as they could. Sure, sometimes, HR gets overridden and leadership does dumb things. But, good HR people do their best.

How does the average employee know if an HR department is a good one or a bad one? Employment attorney and HR consultant Kate Bischoff says that good HR is like the CIA–they go in, and go out, and get the job done and you never know they were there. You only know they were involved if things go poorly.

While people in senior leadership roles often interact with HR Business Partners, your average employee doesn’t interact all that much. So, here are some signs to look for.

Do you know how to contact your HR department?

If you have no idea where the HR manager sits, what her name is, or how to get in contact at all, it’s a pretty good sign that your HR department isn’t interested in keeping employees happy. This should be a readily available piece of information and not having it is a red flag.

How is employee morale?

If your workplace is an awful, miserable place, chances are there’s an awful miserable HR person involved. While it is true that HR is never the final decision maker, it’s unlikely that HR will advocate for you in a miserable place. They know they’ll get shot down by the executive team, and so they give up trying.

Is your pay fair?

This can be a difficult thing to assess. Sure, you can look at pay on Glassdoor or PayScale but unless you’re speaking to your coworkers about their pay, it’s difficult to assess if your pay is fair. But, it’s pretty easy to know if you’re happy with your pay and your raises. Unfair pay is a sign of a weak HR department and a weak HR department is a bad one.

How does your company respond to emergency time off requests?

If your mother dies, what will happen? Are there 40 pages worth of paperwork and a requirement to bring a program from her funeral before they will grant you bereavement days? Or does your boss say, “Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss” and the company sends flowers?

Bullies don’t last

General bullying just based on meanness and not on protected characteristics is not generally illegal, but a good HR department will put a stop to it as soon as they are aware of it.

Responsive HR

If you have a question about your benefits or FMLA or something like that, HR gets back to you quickly. They speak with you as equals and don’t condescend to you. If they are nice about this stuff, they are likely to be on top of a serious problem.

Now, of course, you can have the world’s best HR person and have the company be horrible. But, good HR people will either make changes or leave. They aren’t going to sit around forever, watching companies destroy themselves.

From a management perspective, you also want to look for an HR person that tells you no from time to time. They should be able to explain why, but if they never say no, it’s likely that they are either incompetent or scared of you. HR is not a job for wimps.

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The CDC’s Definition of 15 Minutes Just Changed

by Evil HR Lady on October 23, 2020

At the beginning of the school year, one of my siblings shared the absolutely brilliant idea his children’s school had: Have the kids get up and run around the classroom every 14 minutes so that no one sat next to anyone for 15 minutes. Therefore, no one would meet the quarantine criteria for exposure if someone tested positive!

Incredibly brilliant and also possibly the stupidest thing I’ve heard during this pandemic. And I’ve heard A LOT.

Finally, the CDC is catching up with this little loophole and slamming it shut. They updated the definition of 15 minutes of exposure to include cumulative minutes.

Here’s their new definition of contact:

Someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period* starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

* Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define “close contact;” however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation. Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk), the duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding), if the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting), and other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors). Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE.  At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using fabric face coverings is not recommended.

This definition makes a lot more sense, and you need to incorporate it into your notifications for employees. Should you have an employee test positive, these are the guidelines for determining who else should also quarantine.

Remember, that, if you have fewer than 500 employees, you’re subjec to FFCRA and quarantine time is paid.

Having people work from home or being physically separated are still your best bets for keeping a healthy workplace, but keep this new definition in mind.

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The VP of Administrative Services is in charge of the office Covid policy. We do have a Manager of Human Resources who is certified but for some reason is not involved in the decision making. 

A staff accountant (call her Jane) who reports to me, sent me a text message on a Saturday to let me know she had tested positive for Covid. I forwarded it to my supervisor, the SVP of Finance.  She let our VP  of Admin know. Meanwhile Jane informed two co-workers who she had spent time with that she had tested positive. 

Our Admin VP informed Jane she had to report her Covid symptoms to her each day so she could chart them. She also told her it was not appropriate that she had informed other employees about her Covid status. 

My questions:
1)Is reporting of detailed symptoms required? Wouldn’t a simple statement each day saying she still had Covid symptoms suffice? Why is charting the symptoms necessary?

2) Can she control what health information Jane shares with others? Jane informed me before notifying other co-workers.

Oh boy. While I advise companies to have a specific Covid contact person, that is to make things easier not harder. The CDC and individual state guidelines are always changing, so it’s best to have one person who keeps an eye on all that stuff. This person does not need to keep an eye on individual people who are sick.

Your SVP of Administrative Services is your Covid contact person. Super. She is aware that Jane has Covid. What she should do:

  1. Say, “Oh, Jane! I’m so sorry! Of course, you’ll need to quarantine and follow your doctor’s instructions! What can we do to help? We’ll get you set up for FFCRA pay right away!” (That is, if you have fewer than 500 employees.)
  2. Because Jane has already notified everyone, there’s no need for the Covid contact to do so, but if she hadn’t, I like this template from the Harvard Business Review

Someone in our workplace has tested positive for Covid-19, and they have identified you as a close contact according to the CDC definition. We are here to support you. If you are at work, please prepare to leave as quickly as you can. Once you get home — or if you are already working from there — find a place to self-isolate, monitor yourself for any symptoms, and talk to your doctors. How can I support you in doing all this?”

I’m not a huge fan of what happened here, which is Jane tells you, you tell someone else, and that person tells a third person. As the manager, Jane was right to tell you, but you should have skipped your VP and gone straight to the Covid contact.

3. Inform Jane of the CDC guidelines for return, which are:

  • 10 days since onset of symptoms (or positive test, if asymptomatic)
  • 24 hours with no fever and no fever-reducing medications (including ibuprofen, acetaminophen, etc.)
  • Improved Covid symptoms (but not perfectly healthy). The CDC specifically says that loss of taste and smell can last for months.

4. Wait for Jane to meet these criteria and then let her return to work. (If Jane’s doctor says she should stay out longer, then, of course, we defer to her doctor.)

5. The end.

Under no circumstances should Jane be required to call in daily and report her symptoms to the Covid contact. She has no need to know. Jane is at home, quarantining, and listening to her own doctor’s instructions. You’ve told everyone who meets the exposure guidelines to quarantine for 14 days.

This is why we don’t allow nosey people to be a part of the Covid contact team.

As for your second question, she cannot control what Jane says to others. Talking about working conditions is a right under the National Labor Relations Act. We normally hear about this when employees discuss salaries, but it also applies to talking about Covid infections. Jane is free to talk all she wants, as are her coworkers.

As her boss, you are in the best position to support Jane and her coworkers. If they can work from home, great. If they can’t, and you have fewer than 500 employees, they are eligible for FFCRA. And, for the love of Pete, don’t require Jane to report in on her symptoms.

If you have a workplace dilemma, email me at EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

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The Real HR Show: Pushing Back on Your CEO

by Evil HR Lady on October 20, 2020

In a continuation of our Just Say No October series, we’re talking about saying no to the executive team. Sometimes the most important thing an HR person does is say, “No, that’s a terrible idea. Here’s why.”

Plus, a question about unions and a question about exit interviews! And learn the secret to knowing when I’m nervous or stressed.

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I want to be clear that I love donuts. This post has nothing against donuts. I believe that every office that I visit should have donuts available. I think this is a good idea.

However, I ran across a Reddit post about an office tradition involving $100 worth of donuts. The tl;dr summary: The Original Poster (OP) works for a company where once a month an employee buys $100 worth of donuts for everyone to share. This tradition has been going on forever. The employee who pays for these donuts does so out of pocket. OP is a part time employee, earns $10 an hour, and only works 12 or so hours a week. If he bought the donuts, his real pay (after taxes) would have been around $11. OP refuses. The office hates him and the boss makes cryptic comments about taking it out of his pay.

So, what’s wrong with this scenario, besides everything?

Major FLSA violation

If the boss requires this, then it takes the OP way below minimum wage for the week. You can’t require any deduction that brings someone below minimum wage.

OP isn’t the only one who can’t afford this

$100 is not a lot for some people. For others, it’s their entire grocery budget for the week. Or it’s the difference between paying their rent and not paying their rent. $100 is a significant amount of money. Even, though you’d only have to purchase the donuts every once in a while, it’s not something that any business should ask of their employees. It’s putting people in a huge financial burden.

The OP points out that everyone else makes more money than he does, so it’s not a big deal for them. We never know anyone else’s finances. Someone may be supporting an ex-spouse, six kids, two elderly parents, and paying off student loans. Or, has gambling debt. It doesn’t matter. Your paycheck is your paycheck and (outside of taxes), you get to decide how to spend your money.

This can be morale destroying

The OP’s assumption is that everyone loves this but him. It may be true, but it’s probably not. Traditions like these come with pressure to conform. And seeing how the boss reacted when someone objected, you can be sure that other people didn’t object because they predicted such a reaction.

Fun things need to be fun. This has stopped being fun.

The OP is now looking for a new job. I suspect he’s not the only one.

Not everyone loves donuts

I realize the above statement is shocking, but it is true. I love the idea of a monthly donut day–because I love donuts. But, you are excluding people without realizing it. Change up your monthly offerings.

The business buys the treats

If an employee loves to bake and wants to bring in cupcakes, yay! Cupcakes for all! But, otherwise, any treats are business expenses. If the boss wishes to treat the employees, fine. But it comes out of the boss’s paycheck, not not the employee’s. Period.

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I have a question about an HR experience I had at a previous place of employment.  I suppose I am seeking closure but I also need to understand how this can became a relevant issue in any woman’s employment.

“Acme Company,” a company of under 50 employees, hired me two months before I defended my dissertation. I was happily and successfully employed as a scientist for them for over 10 years. My duties included traveling across the country to present educational seminars at professional association meetings of up to 1000 people. I was well liked and frequently asked to teach additional seminars. I was drama-free and very successful within the company. My corporate responsibilities grew dramatically and I flourished. I had glowing reviews and excellent end of the year bonuses, one year I was the only employee to even receive a bonus. Enter stage right- the new office/HR manager… first this person gossiped that I thought I was too good for everyone. My supervisor told me to not worry about it. Then this person started documenting my comings and goings when I was in town and “warned” me that I was abusing my lunch break privileges. I showed my supervisor the receipts for the materials I purchased on behalf of the company on my “lunch break” and once again my supervisor told me to not worry about it because I was doing my job and met or exceeded all expectations. And so on… I consistently checked in with my supervisor and I continued to receive very good reviews.

During year 12, I was called into the company conference room by the president of the company, the office/HR manager (the only woman in the room) and our corporate legal representative. My supervisor (a VP in the company) was not in the room. During this meeting, I was informed that my nipples were too visible through my clothing, that the company received multiple complaints about this issue, I needed to wear nipple covers from now on, and that this was being filed as a formal complaint in my employee record.

I was blindsided, and dare I say, scarred by this event from 5+ years ago.  I never received complaints, warnings or comments regarding my apparel prior to this formal warning.  To this day, I don’t understand how this only became an issue at year 12, after hundreds of trips, professional meetings, and invited speaker seminars.

My questions are, was this handled appropriately? Would a warning of some sort have been appropriate or even possible? Wasn’t there a better way? I want to make sure I don’t make the same mistake with the employees in my company.

To almost quote Alison Green at Ask a Manager, “what in the heck?”

No. The only person in this story that handled things correct was you–and you did that by leaving the company.

I’m a fan of dress codes (and every time I write about dress codes I get an onslaught of people declaring that dress codes are the worst, so I’m prepared). I’m even a fan of pulling an employee aside who may be displaying more of themselves than they intend and letting them know. I also think proper foundation garments are appropriate for males and females. No ones nipples should be seen through their clothes.

This is what should have happened–assuming a client made a comment about your. (I’m not convinced a client made a complaint, let alone multiple clients.)

If it was the same day AND you were still wearing the same outfit AND your supervisor/HR also observed too much nipple showing then your direct boss or HR person should pull you aside quietly and say, “FYI, [client] complained that your nipples are showing. I thought you would want to know and please let me know if the client behaves inappropriately with you. This is not something clients should be focusing on. Do you feel comfortable continuing to work with this client?”

If it were a different day and you were not wearing the same out but your supervisor/HR had noticed this was a REGULAR problem, then your boss/HR should pull you aside and say, “proper foundation garments are a part of our dress code. Can you make sure your nipples don’t show through your clothes? [Client] commented on this and I’ve noticed it too. This was an extremely inappropriate thing for the client to say, and I want to ensure that his relationship with you has been professional. Do you feel comfortable continuing to work with this client?

If I couldn’t see a problem with your outfit then your manager/HR person should say, “[Client] made an inappropriate comment about you. Do you feel comfortable continuing to work with this client? Has he done or said anything else?”

At no point woud the company president or attorney be involved here. Yes, dress codes can be enforced (and yes, I’d say the same to a male employee), but the bigger concern here is a CLIENT THAT IS FOCUSING ON AN EMPLOYEE’S BREASTS.

This client gets watched like a hawk from now on and fired if they don’t behave themselves.

So, that’s how I would recommend handling the situation.

But, I suspect that no client complained. I suspect that someone disliked you and decided to humiliate you in this fashion–therefore the company president and the attorney.

Sometimes, we have a “wardrobe malfunction.” It happens to the best of us. Pulling someone aside and saying, “Hey, you may not realize how thin that blouse is…” is one thing. Calling that person into a formal meeting to talk about her nipples? No.

Of course, if an employee regularly dresses inappropriately and you’ve talked to her before, you can escalate it. But a first time thing? This is so full of nope.

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President Trump released an Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping on September 22, 2020, giving federal employees instructions on diversity training. This controversial move left people confused, with many people claiming that President Trump canceled diversity and inclusion training altogether.

However, it does not ban diversity training. What it does ban is training that relies on “race or sex-stereotyping or scapegoating.” 

The order goes into effect on November 21, 2020 for new federal contracts, which gave businesses 60 days to prepare. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) just released the guidelines for federal contractors. (These guidelines do not have the force of law, but clarify the impact of the Executive Order.)

If your business is a federal contractor, then your diversity training needs to stay within these guidelines, which means staying away from stereotyping and scapegoating. The OFCCP gives the following examples:

To keep reading, click here: New Diversity Training Requirements for Federal Contractors

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The Real HR Show: When to Tell an Exempt Employee No

by Evil HR Lady on October 13, 2020

It’s a continuation of our “Just Say No October.” Plus questions about ghosting candidates and why you can’t get away with firing old people. (Old meaning over 40.)

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How on Earth Is HR Supposed to Prepare for 2021? (3 Tips)

by Evil HR Lady on October 12, 2020

Neelie from AIHR: Can you write an article for us?
Me: Sure. Any topics?
Neelie: Perhaps how in the ^*!&#$ HR is supposed to prepare for 2021?

Ahh, this is such a good question.

HR people have to plan – we have cyclical things we plan for. We know that the fourth quarter brings performance appraisals and year-end raises, and the fiscal year ends in July, so we need to be prepared with a budget. We know that sexual harassment, code of conduct, and diversity training all need to be completed by a specific date, and then we get to follow up with people who skipped out.

This, we’re good at doing.

To keep reading, click here: How on Earth Is HR Supposed to Prepare for 2021? (3 Tips)

What to Do When Your Employees Want a Stress Leave

by Evil HR Lady on October 12, 2020

The Center for Disease Control reported that, as of late June, 40 percent of adults were struggling with mental health or substance abuse.

Forty percent. Chances are a good number of your employees are in that 40 percent, and you may well be also. The pandemic and the damage caused by the shutdowns have caused an incredible amount of stress. Plus, none of this took away any of our other problems–except maybe seeing the inlaws more often than you’d like. If your marriage was shaky pre-Covid, being quarantined together probably didn’t help. If your job was stressful before, it’s probably worse now.

In other words, Americans are just big balls of stress, and that’s spilling over into your work environment. As such, some of your employees may ask to take a stress-related leave of absence. You can always say yes to this, but depending on how the stress manifests, the Americans with Disabilities Act may not require you to grant the time off.

However, the best thing to do is prevent your employees from reaching the point where the need to take a stress-based leave of absence. Here’s how you can help.

To keep reading, click here: What to Do When Your Employees Want a Stress Leave