Think Twice Before Hitting Send …

That’s what the HR department should have done at Aviva Investors when it accidentally fired more than 1,300 employees. Yikes!

According to a story in the International Busines Times, someone at the London-based company ordered all of its employees to return company property and security passes, and leave the building — and wished them “all the best for the future.”

The email — which was supposed to be sent to one individual — went to workers in the United States, UK, France, Spain, Sweden, Canada, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Finland and the Netherlands, according to IBT.

The error was discovered about 25 minutes after the email was sent. The HR department recalled it, and an apology was then sent to the entire staff — except to, I guess, that unfortunate worker who had been terminated.

NLRB’s Union-Election Rule Changes Effective Monday!

In case you haven’t been following this, or forgot, the National Labor Relations Board is making new union-representation and union-election rules effective this coming Monday, April 30. Here is the Board’s guidance to regional offices about the rules, with a link to the entire memorandum. And here is an earlier explanation of the rule changes posted by the NLRB that you need to read.

As NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon lays out in the former release, “It is my sincere hope that the new Board rules and this guideline memorandum will save time and resources for both agency staff and the parties who appear before the Board. While these guidelines present challenges with regard to their implementation, they also provide opportunities for us to fully effectuate the policies and purposes of the [National Labor Relations Act], as they relate to the representation process.”

Others don’t see it that way. As labor relations expert and former NLRB agent Jason Greer puts it in this dire warning, “Employers used to have adequate time to educate employees regarding the pros and cons of joining a labor union. Now, they find themselves at a disadvantage because they lack necessary time to respond to assertions made by labor unions.” (That release says the rules will make it easier for unions in America to take over a workforce in as little as five days.)

Meanwhile, here, in their entirety, are the concerns of the National Association of Manufacturers, as sent out Monday the 23rd, one week from “D-day”:

NLRB’s Ambush Elections Would Do Serious and Lasting Harm to Manufacturing Economy

Misguided Rule Threatens Workplace Relations

Washington, D.C., April 23, 2012 – National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Vice President of Policy and Government Relations Aric Newhouse issued a statement in support of S.J. Res. 36, a joint resolution disapproving the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) rule relating to “ambush elections” for unionization.

“On April 30, the NLRB is set to overhaul 75 years of established labor policy with new union election rules that are both unnecessary and misguided. These changes, coupled with additional NLRB proposals that threaten workplace relations, undermine manufacturers’ efforts to create jobs and grow the economy.

Moreover, ‘ambush elections’ are bad news for employees as well. If the NLRB significantly shortens the time before a union election, workers will be less likely to get all the facts essential to making such an important decision. It is critical that this rule is eliminated before it does serious and lasting harm to the American workplace.” You can read the NAM’s key vote letter here.

What say I? I guess the usual: Make sure your house is in order. Make sure you read everything you can and consult with your attorneys. Make sure your employees don’t have good and obvious reasons to organize; i.e., make sure they’re engaged, committed and as happy as can be … or at least make sure you know why they’re not.

Mark B. Goodwin, a Washington- and Richmond, Va.-based member of LeClairRyan’s labor and employment practice team, says it better in this posting, warning that non-union businesses should be training or retraining their managers and supervisors on tactics and strategies aimed at maintaining their non-union status.

“They also need to be preparing their materials, putting them in the can, if you will, so that they are ready if there is a quick election,” says Goodwin. “With the lackluster economy, employers have been trying to keep their costs for prevention programs very low. That is understandable. But given the changes afoot today, businesses need to allocate more time and resources to staying union-free. Otherwise, they run the risk of being penny wise and pound foolish.”

And oh yes, one last suggestion from yours truly: Hang onto your hats.

All Eyes on EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance

To mix a couple metaphors, the fallout from today’s updated enforcement guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — specific to employers’ use of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — has just left the gate.

The EEOC voted 4-1 today to approve the guidance document and also issued a question-and-answer document about it. Both documents can be found here.

“We had excellent testimony from two public meetings and hundreds of written comments submitted by a diverse group of commenters to inform our deliberations concerning the new guidance,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien in announcing the vote. “The new guidance clarifies and updates the EEOC’s long-standing policy concerning the use of arrest and conviction records in employment, which will assist job seekers, employees, employers and many other agency stakeholders.”

The guidance appears to have many supporters, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. In a letter to the EEOC prior to the vote, the Conference, joined by 54 other organizations, said that “due in part to racial profiling and discriminatory sentencing schemes, racial and ethnic disparities persist at all stages of the criminal justice system. … These inequities in the criminal justice system only magnify the discriminatory barriers already experienced by minorities and low-income individuals living in the United States.” (The link includes the full letter if you scroll down.)

I’m still waiting for a flood of legal alerts about today’s decision to balance out the applause and kudos. I’m sure they’ll be coming. In the meantime, advice issued Thursday by White Plains, N.Y.-based employment law firm Jackson Lewis gets to the heart of what employers might expect and should be doing in light of the new guidance.

“It is expected that the EEOC’s new guidance will substantially modify existing EEOC guidance on criminal background checks, which has been in existence since 1987,” the Jackson Lewis post reads. “Employers seeking to avoid Title VII litigation risks anticipated from the new guidelines may have to reconsider and refine their use of criminal background checks in making employment decisions, and individuals posing increased risk to co-workers, customers and the public, and to employers, may be hired or retained.

“Employers should review and modify, as necessary, their current criminal background-check practices once the new guidance is made known,” it reads.

That’s today, folks. Let the reviewing begin.





Study: Self-Promoters Six Times More Likely to Derail

Came across this release from PDI Ninth House that, though somewhat intuitive, did seem off the beaten path from most research I come across looking at what makes workers tick.

According to the company’s Pulse on Leaders studies, using data collected by PDI Ninth House and analyzed by University of Minnesota researchers, business leaders who rated their skills significantly higher than ratings provided by their bosses are more than six times more likely to derail than those who display signs of being more “in touch” with their actual work performance.

In one study, U. of M. researchers looked at 360-degree ratings of more than 39,000 global leaders and compared the leaders’ ratings of their own performance with those given by their direct managers. Those considered to be in touch with their self-assessments — meaning their ratings closely matched those of their direct managers — were at little risk of derailment, while strong self-promoters were more than six times (629 percent) as likely to derail as the in-touch group.

(Perhaps what raised my eyebrows the most was the dramatic difference between the two groups. I don’t think I’ve ever seen behavioral research showing a 629 percent difference between two sides of anything before.)

In another study, 14,000 U.S. business leaders were asked to rank their employees on 135 behaviors representing 24 core competencies. Those leaders considered by their direct managers to be most likely to derail flunked the following:

  • Demonstrates awareness of own strengths and weaknesses
  • Creates an environment where people work their best
  • Expresses disagreement tactfully and sensitively
  • Has the confidence and trust of others
  • Develops effective working relationship with higher management
  • Develops effective relationships with peers

” … as both studies show, success depends on a realistic view of one’s own strengths and weaknesses,” says Lou Quast, vice president and executive consultant at PDI Ninth House, and associate chair of the U. of M.’s department of Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development at the College of Education and Human Development.

“Managers [or HR professionals] noting shortfalls in any of these specific behaviors should take the initiative to intervene: coach early and often,” he says.

(One thing I think I can safely say about HR professionals themselves: I don’t think very many of the ones I’ve met stand much of a chance of derailment due to self-promotion. Almost to a person, they are some of the most self-critical and self-aware folks I’ve ever met. I realize this parting thought probably has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but … just thought I’d share.)

A Memorable Farewell

If you’ve been with a company long enough, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve lived through a CEO transition.

In 2011, roughly 1,178 CEOs left their posts, according to outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which tracks this sort of thing. In 2010, 1,234 CEOs said farewell.

No doubt some of the departures were due to the CEO’s inability to effectively lead. For others, it simply may have been time to truly retire. But whatever the reasons, some companies clearly do a better job of handling this kind of event than others.

Last June, Amsterdam-headquartered AkzoNobel—which Glidden Paints and a host of other coatings and specialty chemical products—announced that Ton Büchner would replace Hans Wijers sometime in 2012. Well, apparently the transition officially took place this week.

For most companies, a simple memo to employees might be enough. But not AkzoNobel. If you have roughly eight minutes to spare, check out this humorous (their word) and humanizing  (my word) farewell video starring some of AN’s employees. I’d put it in the category of a nice way of handling it.

To Catch a Thief

Guess it’s time for me to stop asking colleagues to “come by my office.”

According to Tom Phillipson, risk manager for Zurich-based Swiss Re Corporate Solutions and one of the presenters at this week’s Risk and Insurance Management Society Conference and Expo in Philadelphia, that particular phrase is one of many that could set off employer alarms.

Phillipson, speaking earlier today at a session titled “Fighting Crime in the Workplace,” noted that there wasn’t a whole lot new in the world of crime detection and prevention, with the exception of linguistic software that can scan emails to identify employees who might be up to no good. “It’s the only real innovation that’s come in the last few years.”

Phillipson advised attendees to check out a February 2012 Economist article that provides a good overview on how the software works:

To find employees with the opportunity to steal, the software looks for what snoops call ‘out of band’ events: messages such as ‘call my mobile’ or ‘come by my office’ suggest a desire to talk without being overheard. E-mails between an employee and an outsider that contain the words ‘beer,’ ‘Facebook’ or ‘evening’ can suggest a personal relationship.

Several vendors are mentioned in the piece, including a unit of Ernst & Young, Fast Tracking Technologies and NICE Actimize.

I followed up the RIMS session with a quick phone call to one of the sources quoted in the Economist article, Alton Sizemore, a former fraud detective at the FBI who now serves as director of investigations with Forensic/Strategic Solutions, an anti-fraud consultancy based in Birmingham, Ala.

Though he doesn’t consider himself an expert in the area of linguistics software, Sizemore says he could certainly see a positive advantage to using such technology. Though it’s hardly proof of wrongdoing, he points out, “You might be able to pick up an indication that someone might be up to something and that it might make sense to do a further review.”

That said, Sizemore suggests employers ought to tread carefully. Among other things, he explains, that means making sure your processes fully factor in privacy considerations.

The software obviously isn’t for everyone. Phillipson notes that a scan of a 10,000-employee organization costs about $45,000, and the Economist article mentioned mostly financial firms as clients. But I also recall a time when only a handful of companies tracked the Web browsing activity of employees.  So I suppose you never know.

NLRB’s Poster Rule Struck Down in South Carolina

Not sure exactly what round we’re in, but without a doubt — in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce  vs. National Labor Relations Board poster-posting fracas — the Chamber can chalk up a win in this round.

In arguments heard before the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, the court ruled Friday that the NLRB lacked the authority to issue its rule requiring employers to tack posters to their walls notifying employees of their rights to form unions or to join or assist in organized-labor efforts.

Here is a complete account of the South Carolina decision by Allen Smith, with the Society for Human Resource Mangement. It notes that the “court agreed with the plaintiff, the Chamber of Commerce, that the final rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act because the board lacks the authority to issue the rule under Section 6 of the [National Labor Relations Act].”

For a brief rundown of where this battle began and how it’s proceeded thus far — including the numerous deadline reschedulings by the NLRB (the last and existing one being April 30), based on responses to the rule and requests for more information — here are a few blog posts from me that might help tell the story: one from March 6, another from Jan. 9 and still another from Oct. 21 of last year.

Meanwhile, as I’ve been writing this, it appears the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has granted an injunction to delay the posting notice rule, for “an undetermined amount of time in order to adjudicate the matter.” In the release below, the National Association of Manufacturers vows to press on and continue fighting for “the appeal of the flawed ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals.”

Injunction on NLRB’s Overreach a Positive Step for Manufacturers

NAM Will Continue Aggressive Pursuit of Appeal to Overturn Harmful Posting Notice Rule

Washington, D.C., April 17, 2012 – National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons issued the following statement after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit granted an injunction to delay the effective date of the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) posting notice requirement. The posting notice rule was slated to be effective on April 30, but it has been stayed for an undetermined amount of time in order to adjudicate the matter.

“The facts in this case and the law have always been on the side of manufacturers, and we believe that granting an injunction is the appropriate course of action for the Court. The ‘posting requirement’ is an unprecedented attempt by the Board to assert power and authority it does not possess.

In the interests of the 12 million people working in manufacturing in the U.S., the NAM will aggressively pursue the appeal of the flawed ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals to protect our manufacturing economy from regulatory overreach. The decision last week by the South Carolina District Court correctly reined in the NLRB’s egregious overreach in its authority, and today’s injunction is a positive step in overturning this harmful rule.”

I’d say, based on this latest injunction, the NLRB has just lost two rounds in a row. (The board has not returned my request for a response at this time, but I will update this if and when it does.)

Diversity Disclosures

Goldman Sachs and MetLife will publicly disclose information about the racial and gender breakdowns of their staffs in response to a request by New York City’s public pension funds, according to a story posted on the New York Times website:

According to the story, the disclosures could lead to changes that would benefit shareholders of those companies, as well as their current and future employees, said the city’s comptroller, John C. Liu. The public pension funds, whose assets exceed $118 billion, have large stakes in Goldman and MetLife.

“Studies have shown the benefits of a diverse work force on company performance and long-term shareowner value, and many companies say they are making serious efforts to recruit, retain and promote women and minorities,” said Mr. Liu, who is a trustee of the pension funds. “But without quantitative disclosure, shareholders have no way to evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts.”

According to the story, spokesmen for both Goldman Sachs and MetLife say they  have been making strides in the area of diversity in recent years:

Jake Siewert, the chief spokesman for Goldman Sachs, the big investment bank based in Lower Manhattan, said in a statement: “We believe that Goldman has made significant strides on improving the diversity of our work force, and we are committed to doing even better going forward. Transparency will help external stakeholders make their own judgments about how well we are doing on that commitment.”

Frans Hijkoop, executive vice president for human resources at MetLife, said: “A diverse and inclusive work force has been an ongoing focus for MetLife, and we have made steady progress over the years. At the same time, we are continuing to make additional strides to promote diversity.”

What effect, if any, will such disclosures have on how transparent other organizations become in the future? Only time will tell, of course, but this announcement certainly points in the right direction for all fans of transparency today.


Force Feeding

In the highly watched case of Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court of San Diego County, the Supreme Court of California handed down its decision (PDF) this afternoon, ruling — bottom line — that employers must provide meal breaks, but don’t have to force their workers to take them:

On the most contentious of these, the nature of an employer’s duty to provide meal periods, we conclude an employer’s obligation is to relieve its employee of all duty, with the employee thereafter at liberty to use the meal period for whatever purpose he or she desires, but the employer need not ensure that no work is done.

Steven Katz, an employment attorney with Reed Smith, says the opinion is “a clear victory for common sense.”

In deciding that California law requires employers to give employees the opportunity to take a meal break, but does not force employees to take a meal break that they do not want to take, the Court declared the law to be precisely what employees and employers have always thought: it is the employee’s choice to take a meal break, not something forced on employees by the government. Employers no longer have to say “no” to employees who prefer, for example, to work through lunch and leave early to attend their child’s school play.

He says it frees employers from “the specter of frivolous lawsuits,” and is “truly a win-win for employees and employers. The only clear losers today are the lawyers who make money off of waging class-action lawsuits.”

Sarah Goldstein, an employment partner at Kaufman Dolowich Voluck & Gonzo, notes there are other issues reviewed by the court and that there “will very likely still be some growing pains as the courts deal with various scenarios, implementation strategies and hiccups in the aftermath of Brinker. ”

Employers should plan how they will train managers, employees and payroll staff, so that policies are ready to roll out when the decision is ultimately rendered. Also, as employers begin to conduct year-end policy and practice reviews for 2012 updates, they should review existing meal and rest period policies and practices and begin to consider what changes, if any, will need to be made pending the possible outcomes of this decision.


What Does ‘Big Data’ Really Mean?

As hazy smoke from a forest fire burning in northeast Florida settled over St. Petersburg this morning, I sat down with Josh Bersin at his Bersin IMPACT 2012 conference to get clear on the trend of “Big Data” and what it actually means for HR leaders. Big Data, a term popularized fairly recently by consultants such as McKinsey & Co., refers to the massive amounts of data (terrabytes’ and zettabytes’ worth) being generated by the information systems, social networks and consumer databases of today’s world — data that, with the right tools and expertise — can be harnessed to provide incredibly valuable insights into what’s actually going on inside our organizations, not to mention the world outside.

In an HR context, Big Data can mean correlating workforce data with a company’s business-transaction data to determine whether, say, the company’s selection and training program for its salespeople is actually working. One large insurance company Bersin works with has — thanks to the insights from Big Data — discovered that its traditional measurements of what makes a good salesperson were actually dead wrong, he said.

“By talking about Big Data, we’re trying to get HR people to think differently about analytics,” said Bersin. “There are millions of things you can measure in HR, but not many of them can actually help you transform your company. But if you can correlate this HR data with what’s going on in the business side, you can find magic.”

Most people in HR don’t have backgrounds in data analysis, said Bersin. A recent survey by Bersin & Associates of its member companies (most of them large and relatively sophisticated organizations) found that only 6 percent of the HR leaders considered themselves experts in analyzing data. Yet by partnering with people within the organization who do — statisticians from the business side, or even HR staffers with degrees in research-intensive fields like industrial/organizational psychology — and by taking advantage of new, off-the-shelf data-mining tools from SAP, Oracle and Mercer, they can get started on the path to combining workforce and business data to potentially stunning effect. Bersin cited the example of a foodservice company that was able to use data in this fashion to determine why some of its on-site service teams were successful while others weren’t — and to actually predict which teams would be successful.

And whether individual HR leaders decide to move ahead on mastering Big Data or not, says Bersin, venture capitalists are already focusing on it. “I get asked all the time now by VC firms and vendors about how all this applies to HR,” he says. “I think it’s going to be huge.”