“Smokers Need Not Apply” Debate Reignites

Thanks to new point/counterpoint ediorials in today’s edition of USA Today, the topic of employers refusing to hire smokers is back in the news this morning.

The editorial states that, on Jan. 1, the Baylor Health Care System in Texas stopped hiring individuals who use nicotine products:

Baylor says that as a health care organization, it wants to practice what it preaches: discouraging one of the nation’s deadliest health habits. But such practices are not confined to the health care industry, and they raise a broader issue: If employers routinely reject people who engage in risky, but legal, behavior on their own time, what about  such things as overeating or drinking too much alcohol? If smoker bans reduce health care expenses,  cost-conscious employers might be tempted to stake out new and even more intrusive territory under the “wellness program” banner. A bit further down the road lies hiring based on genetics. In that world, inheriting a gene that shows a predisposition to a costly disease could cost you a job.

The counterpoint is offered by Dr. Paul Terpeluk, the Cleveland Clinic’s medical director of employee health services, which stopped hiring smokers in 2007.

In it, he defends the practice as something that’s completely in-line with the organization’s overall philosophy:

As a health care institution, whose inherent mission is  healing the sick and cultivating a healthier community, does it make sense to support  a habit that  leads to disease, disability and death?

At Cleveland Clinic, we don’t believe so.

That’s why we adopted a smoke-free campus in 2005 and why, in 2007, we went  further, deciding to no longer hire smokers.  Job candidates are told that the offer is subject to a nicotine-free urine test. If a candidate tests positive for nicotine, the  offer is  rescinded, and he or she is offered a free tobacco- cessation program and may reapply in 90 days.

If that sounds harsh to some, consider that cigarette smoke contains  hundreds of chemicals and compounds that  are toxic and at least 69 that  cause cancer. These chemicals travel throughout the body, wreaking havoc in the form of inflammation, cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and a weakened immune system.

To ignore this would be to undermine our commitment to health and wellness, which includes providing a healthy environment for our employees, visitors and patients.  Plus, the policy has not proved to be an overwhelming obstacle for job applicants. Since it was instituted, less than 2% of job offers — about 300 out of 20,000 — have been rescinded due to  positive nicotine tests.

While its overall intentions seem noble, the “smokers need not apply” policy seems to lay awfully close to the precipice of a very slippery slope, and it will be very interesting to see how popular hiring based — at least partly — on personal habits may become.

Indeed, the USA Today editorial ends with an American Lung Association-sourced list of the 21 states that currently allow employers to refuse to hire smokers. Is your state on that list?



Now The Hairiest Place on Earth?

According to the Los Angeles Times, things are about to get hairy for Walt Disney’s employees at the Disneyland theme park, at least for the men. And no more than a quarter-inch of it, either:

Disneyland announced that it’s loosened up its legendary dress code — known as the Disney Look — to allow employees to grow more facial hair. But the rules still forbid visible tattoos, body piercings (other than the ears for women), “extreme” hairstyles or colors. (Shaved heads are OK for men, but a no-go for women.)

Beginning Feb. 3, employees can show up to work with a beard or a goatee without worry, as long as it is shorter than a quarter of an inch. Soul patches are still not allowed.

“Disney Look guidelines are periodically reviewed in relation to industry standards, as well as the unique environment of our theme parks and resorts,” Betsy Sanchez, a Disneyland Resorts spokeswoman, said in a statement. “While we are careful to maintain our heritage and the integrity of our brand, a recent review of our guidelines led to a decision that an update was appropriate at this time.”


The company, the paper notes, has enforced rules that have earned it a reputation as having one of the strictest dress codes in the corporate world, so it’s interesting that they would make such an allowance now.

No word on whether the beard policy will be in effect at the Disney World resort in Florida.



Bad Hires Can “Rob” An Organization

Careerbuilder.com recently unveiled a survey that found more than two-thirds of businesses were affected by a bad hire within the last year. And courtesy of Headline News’ web site, we are presented with this tale of employee malfeasance:

An assistant manager allegedly hatched a plan to stage an armed robbery at his own grocery store in Chalmette, Louisiana, WDSU reports.

After the store closed Tuesday, the “robber” hit assistant manager Bryant Walker over the head with what appeared to be a handgun and made him open the store safe.

A few hours later, investigators concluded the dramatic robbery was really a hoax.

“[It] just didn’t feel right,” Sheriff-elect James Pohlmann said. “Based on the evidence our detectives found, I don’t know how the two of them thought they would get away with this.”

The robber ended up being a friend of Walker, Travis Nobles, police say. The dynamic duo are accused of planning the choreographed caper, but it all unraveled with the getaway vehicle.

Investigators say descriptions of a van that the assailant used to drive away from the scene of the crime matched a van owned by Walker, and an oil spot left at the scene matched one found on Walker’s home driveway. A toy water gun believed to be the “weapon” used in the fake attack was also found near the store.

Police say Walker eventually changed his tune and admitted the robbery was staged. Both men are charged with felony theft over $5,000. Investigators still haven’t found the money.

While the money has yet to be recoverd, you can bet that the good folks in the HR department at Winn-Dixie — which owns the supermarket where this all went down — will now be redoubling their efforts to prevent any more bad apples from slipping through the hiring process.


Woman Fired for Working During Lunch

Talk about a bureaucratic boondoggle, a lack of common sense and an obvious disregard for the poor public relations. Then, mix in an excessive fear of a wage-and-hour lawsuit, I guess.

Taken together, they create the situation at Equity Lifestyle Properties, Inc., a Chicago-based real estate company, that fired Sharon Smiley for working through lunch — even though she had punched out. Then, the administrative assistant and receptionist, who had worked there for 10 years, was rejected for unemployment benefits, according to this story on Good Morning America.

The company’s HR director, who apparently wasn’t happy with Smiley anyway because she ate breakfast at her desk, took a rigid view of the company’s handbook — which required employees to take a 30-minute lunch break — and Smiley was fired for insubordination. You see, a manager had ordered her “to go to lunch and  step away from her desk,” and she refused.

This case is right up there with the employers who fire their workers after preventing robberies.

An appeals court this month reversed the decision of the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which three times denied her benefits.


Thoughts on PSU as Paterno is Laid to Rest

There are so many thoughts and feelings swirling in me as mourners gather for Joe Paterno’s funeral in State College, Pa., today. One is my wish that I could be there with my son, a recent main campus mechanical engineering graduate. It just wasn’t realistic, considering both our jobs. (He’s now an engineer for a Philadelphia firm — a job I am enormously proud of, for him; a job I am — and I’m sure he is — eternally grateful to Penn State University for.)

I’m also thinking of the culture I knew as a visiting parent, the tugs at my heart looking at a picture like this one, of the Old Main building, thinking of the many trips my son must have taken up and down those steps. No doubt the trips Joe Pa must have taken, too, in his 62 years there.

I’m thinking of the family weekends we attended at my son’s fraternity, the spirit and enthusiasm in the air about promising futures and convictions and pride, the life-size cutout of Joe Pa I remember standing alongside us on at least one of those occasions.

My heart aches for every one of those graduates, every one of their parents, every one of those victims at the heart of the scandal now hanging over the campus, every member of the Paterno family and even every trustee who had to wrestle with whether he or she would or should attend today’s ceremony.

Did Paterno’s firing hasten his death? Probably. Was his termination handled the way it should have been? I don’t believe it was. Was Paterno blameless in all this? Of course not. Erring through omission, not commission, is erring nonetheless.

But I hope, for Penn State’s sake, that the already-controversial investigation now under way into how the crisis was handled takes a long, hard look at the culture Paterno was part of and the system he said he was trying to protect by handing the information over to his next-in-charge. Merrie Spaeth, head of Spaeth Communications Inc., recently addressed the importance of PSU’s culture in this piece written after the scandal erupted. In it, she offers some lessons learned that every organization should take to heart from this tragedy — not the simple ones, like having tighter policies for child-abuse or sexual-harassment reporting in place, but the much deeper ones, like, “What are the unspoken barriers or constraints that affect how we process information and how we act?”

I hope investigators will consider the thinking of someone like behavioral-science expert Darnell Lattal, who talks in this piece about the much-bigger factors than one man’s omission or commission when an organization goes through an ethical breakdown the size and scope of Penn State’s. “Decisions are [often] determined by a phenomenon that Hal R. Arkes and Catherine Blumer call the ‘sunk cost effect,’ ” Darnell writes, “meaning that people are often more influenced by what they have already invested than by factors that should determine the appropriate action.” I think we can all agree there was an element of that going on when certain people chose to go only so far, or to not go at all.

Clearly, Penn State will never be the same. Songwriter Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” keeps playing in my head. I just hope, and pray, that the entire world that is Penn State — investigators, new leaders and all — can tread carefully and objectively into this next chapter with a vision for a Happier Valley that doesn’t kill the spirit and the legend and the pride any more than those three entities have already been killed.

Bias Charges at All-Time High

It’s probably not too much of a surprise — due to both the economy and a more aggressive enforcement atmosphere — that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that private-sector bias charges hit an all-time high in fiscal year 2011.

The EEOC reports that it received a record 99,947 claims of employment discrimination, with the top five being:

Retaliation: 37,334

Race Discrimination: 35,395

Sex Discrimination: 28,534

Disability Discrimination: 25,742

Age Discrimination: 23,465

Employment attorneys say they always expect more claims in tough economic times — since there are plenty of laid-off workers struggling to find new jobs with little else to do than think about suing their former employers for real or imagined offenses.

Last year, we reported on HREOnline™ that the EEOC received 99,922 job-bias charges — which then was the highest number in the agency’s history.

The agency also reported that it obtained $455.6 million for complainants through administrative programs and litigation in fiscal 2011, and for the second year in a row, resolved more charges than it took  in — decreasing its inventory for the first time since 2002.

As for the agency’s enforcement efforts, some attorneys are suggesting that the EEOC goes too far, too fast at times — and may try to stampede companies into admitting to violations without having actual proof of any violations. See our story on a recent case, where the EEOC was ordered to pay $2.6 million in legal fees to an employer it sued.

That story and this bylined article by a former EEOC attorney also offer some advice to HR leaders on what to do when faced with inquiries from the agency.


HR Pay Grades

Taking a leaf from David Letterman’s list of 10, Human Resources MBA, a website that offers information about scholarships and educational programs targeted to MBAs focused on HR (in case you couldn’t tell by the name!) has reviewed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Salary.com to create a list of the best-paying HR  jobs.

They are:

10. Employment, Recruitment and Placement Manager, with a median annual salary of $56,110

9. International Human Resources Associate, with an average annual salary of $62,400

8. Executive Recruiter, with an average annual salary of $78,785

7. Labor Relations Specialist, with a median average salary of $83,298

6. Human Resources Consultant, with an average annual salary of $87,000

5. Training and Development Manager, with a median average salary of $87,700

4. Compensation and Benefits Manager, with a median annual salary of $94,291

3. Human Resources Manager, with a median annual salary of $96,130

2. Human Resources Director, with a median annual salary of $142,860

1. Chief HR Officer/Vice President of Human Resources, with an average annual salary of $214,427.

Of course, at HRE, with the help of Equilar, we compile a list of the top paid CHROs, as reflected in proxy filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Our 2011 list won’t be out until September, but in the most recent listing for 2010, Richard J. Ranieri, executive vice president of HR at Dendreon Corp., was the top wage earner, at $4.8 million.

Even those at the bottom of our list of 50 aren’t doing too shabby, however. The last spot  in the 2010 list was held by Coretha M. Rushing, vice president and chief HR officer at Equifax Inc. She earned $1.45 million.

You can see the whole list on HREOnline‘s HRE Rankings page.


Beware of Groups

If you’ve ever sat in a work meeting and felt your brains literally turning to tapioca, it turns out there’s a medical reason for that, at least according to researchers at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute.

Researchers there found that small-group dynamics — such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions, and cocktail parties — can alter the expression of IQ in some susceptible people.

“You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well,” said Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who led the study.

According to the school’s site, the scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how perceptions of that status affect expressions of cognitive capacity.

“We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ,” said Montague. “Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect.”

“Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning,” said lead author Kenneth Kishida, a research scientist with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “And, through neuroimaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit.”

The researchers recruited subjects from two universities and administered a standard test to establish baseline IQ. The results were not viewed until after a series of ranked group IQ tasks, during which test takers, in groups of five, received information about how their performances compared to those of the other group members.

Although the test subjects had similar baseline IQ scores — a mean of 126, compared to the national average of 100 — they showed a range of test performance results after the ranked group IQ tasks, revealing that some individuals’ expressed IQ was affected by signals about their status within a small group.

“This study tells us the idea that IQ is something we can reliably measure in isolation without considering how it interacts with social context is essentially flawed,” said coauthor Steven Quartz, a professor of philosophy in the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory of Caltech. “Furthermore, this suggests that the idea of a division between social and cognitive processing in the brain is really pretty artificial. The two deeply interact with each other.”

“So much of our society is organized around small-group interactions,” said Kishida. “Understanding how our brains respond to dynamic social interactions is an important area of future research. We need to remember that social dynamics affect not just educational and workplace environments, but also national and international policy-making bodies, such as the U.S. Congress and the United Nations.”

The research appears in the Jan. 23 issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.


The Word for Today Is …

“Profersonal™.” And yes, it’s a word that’s actually been trademarked by one Jason Seiden, a social networking consultant and author of an upcoming book, Beyond Social. I always like discovering new words, even trademarked ones, and this particular word was brought to my attention by Curtis Midkiff, SHRM’s director of social engagement. The context of our conversation happened to be the recently published 2011 National Business Ethics Survey from the Ethics Resource Center, which I’m writing a news story about. The survey finds that employees who are “active social networkers” are far more likely than their colleagues to experience pressure to compromise standards (42 percent vs. 11 percent) and to experience retaliation for reporting misconduct (56 percent to 18 percent). They’re also, according to the survey, much more likely than their non-social networking colleagues to find acceptable behaviors that have traditionally been considered “marginal,” such as keeping copies of confidential company information for future career use or taking home company software.

Midkiff served as an advisor to the ERC research team that oversaw the study and says he’s not surprised by the findings. Employees who are active social networkers–especially those who, like him, post to social networks like Facebook and Twitter as part of their everyday jobs–do, in fact, tend to have a somewhat different mindset than others when it comes to what’s considered permissible workplace behavior. Part of it is demographics, he says: These tend to be younger employees who’ve spent almost their entire lives online. They text, post, update and email 24/7, including for work, he says. So, while taking 10 minutes in the middle of the workday to buy something on Amazon or update their Facebook status may strike older employees as a no-no, to them, it’s justified–after all, at 11pm the previous night they were Tweeting news about their company’s newest product release, weren’t they? Likewise, sharing news about the company or their coworkers doesn’t seem verboten to a generation used to sharing almost everything about themselves online, says Midkiff. For them, the line between work and life is exceedingly blurry–it’s not personal, it’s Profersonal™.

Job seekers Vote on Best Job Boards

For the eighth year, Peter Weddle has surveyed  thousands of jobseekers to find out which job boards they like best. The top 30 vote-getters — among 150,000 job boards and social media sites — were selected as the Weddle’s 2012 User’s Choice Awards.

Weddle — who also conducts research designed to identify best practices in online recruitment and job search as well as publishes guides to employment sites — notes that the poll is not scientific, but does indicate intensity of support among users. Ten of the winners are all-purpose sites, while 20 are niche sites that specialize in a particular career field, industry, geographic location or personal attribute.

“We believe customers count most,” he says. “While pundits will always have their favorites, it’s the people who use the sites who really know which are the most helpful.”

Two dozen of the winners are repeats from the previous year — with the first-time winners being EmploymentGuide.com, HealthCareerWeb.com; JobsinLogistics.com; Military.com; Net-Temps and TopUSAJobs.com.

The return winners are Absolutely Health Care; AfterCollege.com; AHACareerCenter.org; HigherEdJobs.com; HospitalDreamJobs.com; Indeed.com; AllHealthcareJobs.com; CareerBuilder.com; Climber.com; CollegeRecruiter.com; CoolWorks.com; Dice.com; EHSCareers.com; FlexJobs.com; Hcareers.com; HealtheCareersNetwork; Job.com; Jobing.com; MilitaryHire.com; Monster.com; National Healthcare Career Network; SimplyHired.com; SnagAJob.com; and VetJobs.com.