Better Bone Up on Whistleblower Policies!

Consider this a wake-up call to get on top of your state and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration checklists as they apply to whistleblowing, and where you’re fuzzy, start cramming NOW.

This story from the Society for Human Resource Management (subscription site) suggests there are lots of problems out there in states and territories that run their own occupational-safety programs when it comes to how whistleblowers are being responded to and treated.

Here’s the entire rundown — from the U.S. Department of Labor — of the State Occupational Safety and Health Plans’ Federal Annual Monitoring and Evaluation (FAME) Reports, so you can find your own state’s status and all the whislteblowing references therein.

Problems highlighted in the SHRM piece include failing to interview workers subject to alleged retaliation and their supervisors, the existence of state laws that could discourage complaints, shoddy record-keeping and poor case-file management.

More specifically, Arizona’s OS program lacks a consistent policy or practice of informing complainants of their right to file with the federal OSHA concurrently, Hawaii’s OSHA lacks a separate whistleblower-retaliation-investigation department, and California and Nevada are leaving files incomplete and often devoid of interviews with retaliation complainants.

Granted, this story points to state agencies in dire need of cleaning up their acts, but I have no doubt that workers filing whistleblower-retaliation complaints who don’t get the treatment they deserve under the law, will go after the offending employer as well.



Boomers Get Social in Job Search

The social networking sphere is supposed to be the domain of the young, right?

It’s fair to say that Generations Y and Z have led the way in making new verbs like “Facebook me” and “tweeting” a part of our everyday language. But, there’s no shortage of data showing that older generations—particularly baby boomers—have begun to plug into the social network as well.

And, boomers are doing much more than posting pictures and sharing mundane details of their daily routines, according to a recent poll conducted by Millennial Branding, a Boston-based research and consulting firm, and

The survey of 5,268 job seekers actually found that more baby boomers (29 percent) report using social networks as part of their job search than members of both Generation X (27 percent) and Generation Y (23 percent).

If that statistic surprises you, you’re not alone.

“I was very surprised, for the obvious reasons,” says Dan Schawbel, founder and managing partner of Millennial Branding. “It’s interesting. A lot of people would suspect that it would be a very small number of boomers using social networking.”

A key contributing factor, says Schawbel, could be the large numbers of older job seekers using LinkedIn, the well-known networking site for people in professional occupations.

“For boomers, [LinkedIn] is just easier for them to use. All their connections are using it.”

Indeed, studies put the average LinkedIn user age in the mid-40s, with a mean salary in the six-figure range, he says. “So [many of these users] hold, or are looking for, executive- and director-level jobs.”

So, while most large companies already use social networking for recruiting purposes, this knowledge may help HR professionals make more efficient use of their time when recruiting for the types of top positions typically filled by boomer-age candidates, says Schawbel.

The reality is, if you’re an employer, you have to use all the top social networks. You can’t avoid Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. But this finding shows you that you may use most of your time on LinkedIn for executive recruiting. Recruiters have less and less time these days. So this report tells them where they should spend their time and how.”

Gender Bias’ Unlikely Source

Given all the news reports that women lag behind men in the worlds of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, one would think that the women who have made strides in those fields would be more likely to hire other qualified women to continue their legacy.

But a new study out of Yale finds that “female professors were just as biased against women students as their male colleagues, and biology professors just as biased as physics professors — even though more than half of biology majors are women, whereas men far outnumber women in physics,” according to the New York Times.

“I think we were all just a little bit surprised at how powerful the results were — that not only do the faculty in biology, chemistry and physics express these biases quite clearly, but the significance and strength of the results was really quite striking,” said Jo Handelsman, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale.

Dr. Handelsman was the senior author of an article reporting the findings, published online on Monday by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Discussions of gender bias in science and mathematics have long been complicated by a host of factors — including whether women receive preferential treatment through affirmative action or whether innate differences indeed exist between men and women, the paper reports:

To avoid such complications, the Yale researchers sought to design the simplest study possible. They contacted professors in the biology, chemistry and physics departments at six major research universities — three private and three public, unnamed in the study — and asked them to evaluate, as part of a study, an application from a recent graduate seeking a position as a laboratory manager.

All of the professors received the same one-page summary, which portrayed the applicant as promising but not stellar. But in half of the descriptions, the mythical applicant was named John and in half the applicant was named Jennifer.

About 30 percent of the professors, 127 in all, responded. (They were asked not to discuss the study with colleagues, limiting the chance that they would compare notes and realize its purpose.)

On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being highest, professors gave John an average score of 4 for competence and Jennifer 3.3. John was also seen more favorably as someone they might hire for their laboratories or would be willing to mentor.

The average starting salary offered to Jennifer was $26,508. To John it was $30,328.

So, while bias may be a difficult thing to see with the naked eye, we can at least use science to quantify its deleterious effect on a (albeit hypothetical) woman’s starting salary: $3,820.

A Call to Reform the FLSA

Women at the top of the labor market–lawyers, high-priced consultants, etc–and at the bottom–retail clerks, hotel maids, etc–have it rough, but for entirely different reasons, writes Susan J. Lambert, a University of Chicago professor, in an opinion piece in today’s New York Times.

Professional women in challenging careers are expected to put in punishingly long hours that make it difficult for them to spend time with their families, she writes. But women holding low-paying hourly positions are struggling to work enough hours to support their families, writes Lambert:

Sales associates and restaurant servers might be scheduled for 7 hours one week and 32 the next. Hotel housekeepers might work Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday one week, and then Sunday, Thursday and Saturday the following week. Schedules are often posted just a few days in advance. And women in hourly jobs are likely to have less input than men in determining their work schedules, according to national surveys.”

Meanwhile, women holding professional jobs are typically salaried, with fixed benefits costs–asking them to put in more hours usually does not impact their employers’ bottom lines, unlike their hourly counterparts, she writes, who cost their employers more when they work more hours. Indeed, the onset of the Patient Protection Act may make it even tougher for hourly workers to get in more paid time.

What to do? Lambert advocates reforming the Fair Labor Standards Act to require overtime pay for professionals and guarantee minimum weekly hours for hourly workers. It’s tough to see this sort of proposal being passed into law at this time, especially given the current lousy economy. But there has to be a better way.

Speak Into the Camera …

Video interviewing is taking the nation’s recruiters by storm. About 63 percent of HR managers say their company conducts job interviews via video, which is a big jump from just 14 percent who said their companies did this one year ago. That’s according to a new OfficeTeam survey of 500 HR managers at U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.  Fifty three percent of the managers said their companies conduct job interviews using video technology “very often,” according to the survey, and 13 percent expect their organizations to make more-frequent use of video to meet job candidates within the next three years.

One reason for the growth in video-based interviewing could be the sheer number of vendors that specialize in this arena: HireVue,, ooVoo and Montage are just some of the vendors that offer products designed to make it easier for hiring managers to interview prospective employees via a webcam and high-speed internet connection. It’s a great way to get a feel for manager- and executive-level candidates without going to the trouble and expense of flying them in and putting them up for the night. However, as I noted in a story I wrote on video-based interviews a couple years ago, the process can be hard on some job candidates, particularly those who may not feel comfortable talking to a screen for what’s typically (especially these days) a very important and often-stressful moment in their lives. As Karen Friedman, a communications consultant I interviewed for the story, said, “You’re dealing with people you can see and hear but you’re not in the same room and there’s just not the same energy.”

OfficeTeam seems to recognize this, offering a series of tips for jobseekers that include the admonition to “treat the like a real interview. Approach the meeting with all the seriousness and preparation you would give to an in-person interview. This includes having questions ready and following up with a thank-you note.”

NLRB Goes Against Costco in First Social-Media Ruling

All eyes have been on the reports and memos emanating from the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel concerning social-media use and policies in the workplace, but this legal alert from Ballard Spahr points to the fact that the board’s Sept. 7 decision in Costco Wholesale Corp. is its first-ever official ruling in this area.

And employers should take heed and be careful and cautious in its wake, the alert says.

In its ruling, the NLRB invalidated Costco’s electronic posting rule that prohibited employees from making statements that “damage the company … or damage any person’s reputation.” The board found the policy overly broad, concluding that it could reasonably be interpreted to “chill” employee exercise of the right to engage in protected, concerted (union) activity.

The alert says the board applied much of the legal reasoning outlined in the three prior general counsel reports to reach this first-ever social-media-policy decision. (Here is my most recent blog post outlining those earlier general counsel reports.)

Although the ruling is extensive and thorough (see my link above), Ballard Spahr’s alert claims it, “like the reports … uses case law developed outside the social-media context in the form of more traditional workplace rules and applies those principles to electronic forms of communication.”

“Much to the chagrin of many in the business community,” the alert states, “Costco does not develop any social media-specific guidance or appear to recognize the very different potential impact on an employer’s operations of a disparaging statement made on the Internet as opposed to one made at the workplace water cooler.”

It’s final warning gets to the heart of my reason for sharing:

In light of the decision, employers can expect the board to be critical of social-media policies that contain broad prohibitions on actions or statements about workplace concerns that do not include examples of the postings the employer may permissibly target. Such examples include defamatory or sexually harassing comments, or the disclosure of an employer’s trade secrets.”


Website’s Demise Raises Social-Recruiting Questions

Here’s another wrinkle in the quest toward that perfect marriage between social media and recruiting. Consider it a sign that we still have a long way to go.

Seems an executive recruiter by the name of Tal Newhart, owner of, was recently forced to terminate his candidate-profiling service,, because the HR departments and independent recruiters using it weren’t doing so in the way he had envisioned.

“We were informed the Comparator was being used to ‘prevent the hiring of members,’ ” he says in this release. “I can certainly see that.”

The online service, with customers in the United States and Europe, analyzed a job applicant’s self-reporting on large social networks to predict a candidate’s hirability and anticipated job performance. Newhart says ScreeningInterviews will continue using the Comparator technology in its retained assignments and as part of its interviewing services, “but it’s dead as a stand-alone recruiting support service.”

“Too bad,” he says, “since it was a robust performance and retention predictor. I guess too good.”

The problem, in a nutshell, Newhart told me when I called him about this, comes down to the difference between using such a service in a positive way, i.e., the way it was constructed to be used — “to match corporate cultures with candidates” — or using it a negative way, “to screen out candidates.”

Essentially, members of “a large social-media site were being informed by the network that they were being denied positions because of what was being found on,” he told me. HR leaders, hiring managers and recruiters “were using it to knock people out, not make the match culturally.” (He declined to name or confirm the site, despite the product’s name.)

This hurdle aside, Newhart says, there will be a “place in the future for companies to come in [to such a site] and create a full profile, based on all of their cultural aspects, business goals, philosophies, etc. etc. [and then correlate that] with a job candidate’s social-media presence” to see if there is a match there, if that person will do well there, succeed there, stay there.

That will take a new way of looking at such a service by HR professionals and recruiters, he says. It will require a more positive approach, rather than looking at this type of tool as simply good at finding questionable behavior, beliefs or politics on someone’s Facebook page so they can rule them out based on that.

In the same token, says Newhart, “job seekers need to understand the majority of companies are using social self-reporting, and what you say and show about yourself online is being used to evaluate who you are. … What people don’t understand is that [sharing anything on a social-media site] is self-reporting, and it’s very difficult to ‘game.’ ”

In this news analysis I wrote earlier this year, Don Kluemper, a professor of management who specializes in human resources at Northern Illinois University’s College of Business, provided first-ever academic proof, through his research, that Facebook can yield valuable personality and job-performance information — not just clues as to whether someone parties too hard or has alarming alliances. He did indicate then that the eventual practice was far from perfect.

Just as cognitive-ability tests were first doubted, but then thoroughly tested and vetted for any adverse-impact, “so, too,” said Kluemper, “would social-media profiles as job predictors need to be studied [and vetted] … .”

Newhart would take that a step further:

In the future we’ll see job/candidate matching engines that combine and optimize the individual company and candidate matrices. The result will be dramatically shorter unemployment periods. The underlying technology exists today. It will just be very complicated to get the cloud-based pieces to play together. When done, though, the social impact will be enormous. But for now, just look closely at a candidate’s self-reporting. Everything is right there.”


Turning Weakness into Strength

The ability to recognize one’s own faults is in itself considered a positive personal attribute.

Many bosses, however, seem to lack the self-awareness and/or introspective powers necessary to look inside themselves, identify shortcomings and start working to overcome them.

Or at least some of their employees think that’s the case.

A recent poll of 2,700 North American workers, conducted by leadership consulting and research firm Healthy Companies International, found that more than one-third (37 percent) of employees said their managers “lack openness around personal strengths and weaknesses.”

Leaders are largely judged on – and rewarded for — results, which leads to a sharper focus on the strengths that lead to achievement rather than the weaknesses that may somehow diminish them, says Stephen Parker, president of Arlington, Va.-based Healthy Companies International.

“Also, the more senior a leader becomes, the less authentic feedback he or she is likely to get,” he adds.

But, while managers may find fewer and fewer equals to provide honest appraisals as they climb the ranks , HR leaders can step in to fill that gap, says Parker.

HR should model a personal development process that speaks directly to [leaders’] strengths and weaknesses. It’s also crucial that reward systems include the use of 360-degree feedback, and that leaders be held accountable for developing and executing robust development plans for themselves and members of their teams. Effective reward systems balance the focus between short-term financial and operational goals with leadership behaviors that support a healthy culture and encourage lifelong learning for both leaders and their teams.”

HR should also ensure that strong leadership development programs are in place for future managers and executives as well, continues Parker.

“In addition to offering a key competitive advantage in terms of attracting and retaining talent, high-potential programs are critical to sustaining organizational capability. They also offer the opportunity to develop a basic leadership skill from the very beginning: The ability to both give and receive constructive feedback. Mastering this skill will not only propel the individual, but the company as well. Viewed this way, understanding and appreciating the balance between one’s strengths and weaknesses becomes a clear competitive advantage.”

Why Are We Failing Community Colleges?

Regardless of your political affiliation (or lack thereof), I think most of us who watched it can agree that former President Bill Clinton’s speech at the recent Democratic national convention was effective and memorable. In his speech, Clinton noted that despite the nation’s persistently high unemployment rate, about 3 million jobs remain unfilled due to a scarcity of qualified technical talent.

It’s an astounding number. Even more astounding is the fact that community colleges–of which a huge number of employers have come to rely on to train the next generation of technical talent–are being left to scrape and scramble for funding to try and fill those jobs.

Workforce Training in a Recovering Economy, a new report released by the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama, includes a survey of 49 state community college directors. Forty-five of them said business leaders in their communities see the schools as primary workforce training providers–up from 34 respondents in a similar survey conducted last year.

And yet, the report notes, funding sources intended to support training programs at these colleges–such as the Workforce Investment Act–have been exhausted, while state funding remains under threat because of the poor economy. As a result, many of these colleges are struggling to provide the sort of technology-rich training courses that most closely correlate with employers’ needs.

Lack of funding isn’t the only problem. The report finds that 31 of the college directors say a significant shortage of faculty in high-cost technical areas exists in their states. So, combine these challenges with the fact that community colleges are experiencing record enrollment rates–in some cases, having to turn students away–as unemployed workers try to upgrade their skills by going back to school, and it’s easy to see why the report concludes on this somber note:

With exhausted training funds and continuing state budget cuts, the ability of community colleges to serve workers in need of retraining, and to build the workforce of the future, is, without doubt, constrained.”

I can’t help but think there’s a role for HR leaders here. What about lobbying state and federal sources for greater support for these institutions? Perhaps arranging for talented technical staff at your organizations to get involved with teaching a course or two at the local community college to compensate for the shortage of qualified faculty? And, what about biting the bullet and convincing your organization’s leadership to pony up a bit of cash to support these schools’ mission? After all, that mission most likely includes helping to train your future workers.

Largest Whistleblower Award in U.S. History

The largest whistleblower award in U.S. history has just been handed out, and it’s larger than the GDP of some developing nations: $104 million.

Courtesy of CNNMoney, we have learned that former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld’s tips to the Internal Revenue Service regarding his employer’s tax-evasion schemes helped net the tax collection agency more than $5 billion in back taxes from the 35,000 Americans who have participated in an amnesty program to repatriate their assets after illegally offshoring them with the bank’s help.

By law, whistleblowers are eligible to receive up to 30 percent of what is recovered, which is how the $104 million figure was arrived at.

“The IRS believes that the whistleblower statute provides a valuable tool to combat tax non-compliance, and this award reflects our commitment to the law,” the agency said in a statement.

The IRS Whistleblower Office was established in 2007, according to the CNN report, though Birkenfeld’s lawyers said his was the first “major reward” it had granted.

But the $104 million check is not the only thing Birkenfeld received from his participation in the case: He was also handed a 40-month prison term in 2009 for his part in UBS’s tax-evasion program after providing information on it.

He has since been released to home confinement and is seeking a presidential pardon, the story notes.

Even if that presidential pardon never comes, Birkenfeld has $104 million reasons to be glad he blew the whistle in the first place. Now let’s all just hope he pays the taxes on his big award.