Thursday, July 22, 2010

Good HR Could Have Saved Shirley Sherrod’s Job

You may have seen the news about the USDA employee, Shirley Sherrod, who was asked to resign on Monday. In a nutshell, a video of a presentation she gave was edited to appear that she denied aid to white farmers based on their race. In a matter of hours after the firestorm started on Monday, she was suspended. She was then told to resign and, before the day was out, was told to leave immediately and to return her government car. On Tuesday, they found out that she hadn’t actually done anything wrong…

This is where good HR practices come in. Firing people is a highly emotional business, but it never has to be immediate. When training leaders I always advocate taking the time to thoroughly investigate a situation. After all, what’s the rush?

There’s a simple tool, called a “suspension pending investigation,” that leaders should always use prior to rule violation terminations. The USDA started there. Unfortunately, they rushed past the investigation process on their way to the firing line.

Temporarily removing the person from the organization gives you time to do a thorough investigation. It should include: interviewing the person, their co-workers, the supervisor, and reviewing your policy on the violation. It also provides time to allow cooler heads to prevail.

As of this morning, the USDA has offered Shirley a new position. The verdict is out on whether she will accept; unfortunately the damage has already been done. Firing is a last resort action for employees that can’t or won’t positively contribute to an organization. Before you fire someone, make certain that you get ready, take aim, and then fire.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Healthcare Reform: Are you ready for September?

It’s been a little while since we’ve talked about healthcare reform, but that doesn’t mean that the changes are coming any slower. In fact, there’s a lot happening in September. Here’s a list of changes effective September 23rd, 2010 for all new plan years starting on or after that date. I picked the topics that I believe will impact business owners the most, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

• Young adults that are covered by your plan as dependents must be offered coverage until they reach age 26 (unless covered by an employer of their own).
• Plans must include preventive care services such as mammograms and colonoscopies for free. Co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance are not allowed.
• Insurance companies cannot rescind coverage for someone who is ill due to a technicality or application error.
• There is a new external review process for individuals to appeal insurance company decisions.
• Lifetime benefit maximums have been eliminated
• Annual limits on essential services have been eliminated
• Pre-existing condition clauses have been eliminated for all children under the age of 19.

Those are the key changes for September and there are some additional changes that will take effect on January 1st, 2011. Those changes include:

• Large employer plans will be eligible for rebates if medical claim costs are less than 85% of the insurance costs.
• Small employer and individual plans are eligible for rebates if medical claim costs are less than 80% of the insurance costs.

The rebates are designed to limit the profit and administrative expense amounts available to insurance companies.

If you have not yet reviewed your plan for changes, I would strongly encourage you to do so soon. Additional information is available on the web at:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Michigan's New Law: To Text or Not to Text?

First, a confession: I’m addicted to my phone. I’ll be the first to tell you that I travel a fair amount in my work and my phone is a key part of my ability to stay connected to my customers. I do use a hands free one while driving, but I am definitely guilty of checking my email at traffic lights.

Effective, July 1st, Michigan made it illegal to text while driving. While I’m not crazy about the idea of having laws that cover every aspect of our lives, I honestly don’t feel safe passing someone on the highway that is looking down at a phone, texting with both hands and steering with his knees. I remember getting hit from behind by a teenager who was talking on his cell phone a few years back. That experience didn’t exactly leave me with a warm safe feeling.

In a related development back in April, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of City of Ontario v Quon. The case involves Quon, a SWAT team member in California, who was sending and receiving sexually explicit text messages using his city owned and provided pager. While the court has yet to issue a decision in the case, it’s safe to say that the case is where it is because the city did not have a policy that covered this scenario. They did have a general policy regarding email and the use of company equipment, but not texting, and their actions did not always conform to the policy. So what do we need to do?

First, make certain your policy is clear and specific: Explain that no employee should have any expectation of privacy while using company equipment at any time. Then, specifically define what equipment is covered by this and update your policy on a regular basis as technology changes.

Second, think safety: Do your employees drive as a part of their jobs? Do they send text messages to their kids as they navigate their way through a forklift aisle on their way to the cafeteria for breaks? Cover this in your policy as well.

Finally, enforce your policy: If your policy says one thing, but you do another (even for your executives), your policy won’t help you defend any disciplinary action that you may end up taking.

While it may be impossible to cover every potential possibility in a policy, this is one area where you really should carefully consider your operation, expectations, and potential pitfalls. Get a team together to brainstorm scenarios – and include your IT person (and your favorite consultant). Setting clear expectations now may just save you a lot of frustration later.