Category Archives: employee policies

Most Read Stories on HREOnline™ Last Week

Here’s what our readers found most interesting on HREOnline™ last week:

 Time to Re-Engage: Top businesses for HR practices — according to an exclusive recalibration of Fortune‘s “Most Admired Companies” list — are taking employee engagement very seriously in this economy.

Pinpointing Leadership Qualities: Susan Meisinger’s latest column on the way social networking is changing the way HR leaders think of legal risks or recruiting opportunities. It also should make them think about the way they select high-potential candidates for leadership-development programs.

Modifying Preconceived Notions: A study suggests millennials are happier with their bosses than many workplace observers thought; happier than baby boomers or Gen Xers. There could be many reasons for the phenomenon, experts say.

Ensuring Parity: The most significant points about complying with the Mental Health Parity Act and an update on the COBRA benefits — as modified by the economic-stimulus act — are summarized in this month’s Legal Clinic.

HR Costs Rebounding? A new report on human-capital effectiveness finds HR costs for organizations are rebounding to pre-recession levels. But does that mean the war for talent is back on? 

Vegas Casino Workers Still Subjected to Smoke

If you ever want to go back in time, consider a trip to Las Vegas, where casinos remain as smoke-filled as they were in the days when you could still smoke on airplanes and in doctor’s offices. That’s because, despite the fact that Nevada—like many states—has a ban on smoking in public places, the state’s powerful casino industry has won an exception for casinos with more than 15 slot machines, i.e., every casino on the Strip.

 Now, a group of blackjack dealers and croupiers have filed a class action lawsuit against the Wynn Las Vegas  to try and force that casino-resort to install clean-air technology that will at least reduce the amount of cigarette smoke swirling about the place and into casino employees’ lungs. That’s right, they’re not even trying to seek a smoke-free workplace—they’re simply asking their employer to do a little more to reduce the fumes.

 Given that Nevada has the nation’s highest unemployment rate and that the casino industry has been absolutely hammered by the Great Recession, it’s understandable that casino employees and other state residents might be willing to give the industry a break when it comes to indoor smoking. But it’s pretty sad that blackjack dealers, cocktail waitresses and others are being forced to choose between losing their livelihoods and suffering the deadly effects of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke. At the very least, the casino industry should think about the high healthcare costs and missed work days these workers are incurring, not to mention all the non-smoking gamblers they’re scaring away. As activists with Smoke-Free gaming, an organization of casino employees who want the industry to ban smoking, have said: “What Happens in Vegas … Stays in Your Lungs.”

Sam Zell’s Tribune Co: The HR Factor

A really disturbing front-page story on the NY Times the other day profiled some of the goings-on at Chicago-based Tribune Co., the storied media giant that was taken over by real-estate mogul Sam Zell back in 2007. As the story notes, it’s all been downhill—WAY downhill—for the once-proud Tribune Co. ever since. Zell chose to make the purchase (piling enormous debt onto the company in the process) right before the newspaper market cratered.

The company filed for bankruptcy protection less than a year after Zell bought it, yet he and his management team were still able to persuade the bankruptcy judge overseeing the case to sign off on more than $50 million worth of bonuses for top managers earlier this year.

Possible financial shenanigans aside, the story’s big revelation (based on interviews with numerous former Tribune employees) is the allegedly depraved corporate culture that Zell and his people have allowed to flourish at the company.

Two former Tribune execs told NYT writer David Carr that Randy Michaels, one of Zell’s hand-picked minions to run the company (who has a history of sexual-harassment claims filed against him at his former employer), met them in a bar soon after joining the company and is accused of offering a female bartender $100 to show him her breasts. (Michaels has denied doing this).

Michaels and his lieutenants at one point allegedly stood on a balcony overlooking a work area and made loud remarks about the sexual attributes of various employees, within hearing distance of everyone. There’s plenty more, of course.

But for me, what really takes the cake is this little gem, from a rewritten version of the company’s employee handbook that was apparently one of the new team’s first priorities, according to the story:  

“Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use,” the new handbook warned. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.” It then added, “This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.”

Wow—management actually went ahead and redefined harassment. Brilliant! So the obvious question is: Where was HR when this new handbook was approved and distributed to employees? How could any HR leader possibly sign off on this?

For a quick answer, I checked the archives of our People section and discovered that Luis E. Lewin served as Tribune’s senior VP of corporate human resources from 2000 to 2008. In other words, Lewin (who’s currently the CHRO at Purdue University) left Tribune right as Zell and his team were in the midst of making their changes at the company.

I don’t know Mr. Lewin or the actual circumstances of his departure, but I’d really like to think that it was because he would not be part of a management team that apparently had so little respect for the employees who worked there. I’d also like to think that most HR leaders would, upon failing to convince a CEO that their policies were similarly misguided, do the right thing and tender their resignation.

Times may be tough, but principles are priceless.

Don’t Be Late

According to the good folks at the Associated Press, at least one African nation’s government (Nigeria) is taking a stand against an internationally known productivity thief: tardiness.

As part of a push to end tardiness, a number of federal offices in the nation’s capital Abuja locked out hundreds of tardy workers Tuesday. The move is part of an ongoing government effort to end chronic late arrivals among employees in Africa’s most populous nation.

The offices opened their doors an hour later to let the late employees in.

While it makes sense to discourage tardiness at the workplace, we’re not so sure that locking employees out for an hour will do anything to boost productivity rates.

Vacations are Good for You

OK, a bit of soft news, but worth sharing: This recent release from the University of the Rockies suggests week-long vacations aren’t long enough for optimal benefits to occur — for both employee and employer.

The study — conducted at the Colorado Springs, Colo., graduate school that specializes in master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology — maintains the benefits of vacation length peak at about 10 days, which supports previous research findings that 10 to 14 days of vacation may be the optimal length.

What are the benefits to taking, or granting, a vacation of optimal length, you ask? According to this release, an increase in job satisfaction, a reduction of and protection against job stress and burnout, and an increase in professional well-being (which, of course, boosts employee engagement and morale and, in turn, boosts customer service, your employer brand, the list goes on).

I’ll be interested to see if anyone cares to comment on this, but it’ll have to wait awhile. I leave Thursday for vacation. I’ll be gone 10 days.

Supreme Court Rules on Texting at Work

The U.S. Supreme Court has just unanimously ruled that a California police chief was within his constitutional rights when he viewed sexually explicit text messages sent by an officer’s work pager to two different women.

According to the LA Times, Sgt. Jeff Quon sued the police department after learning that thousands of messages he separately sent to his wife and a girlfriend had been viewed by his police chief in Ontario, Calif. He previously won his case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but lost today because:

In this case, the high court said the police chief’s reading of the officer’s text messages was a search, but it was also reasonable.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy agreed the police chief’s actions amounted to a search, but it was reasonable, he said, because it had “a legitimate work-related purpose.” He wanted to see whether officers were using their text pagers for police work or for personal matters. “Because it was not excessive in scope, the search was reasonable,” Kennedy said.

While it’s true that many, if not most, employers tell employees that they should have no expectation of privacy when using company-owned communication devices, an Associated Press report on the ruling reports that Kennedy also offered some advice to employees on the topic:

Kennedy said that it is true that many employers accept or tolerate personal communications on company time and equipment. But he suggested that employees who want to avoid the potential embarrassment of having those communications revealed might “want to purchase and pay for their own” cell phones and other devices.

Ultimately, one wonders if this ruling will prompt HR departments across the country to revise, with stronger language, their employees’ handbooks on the use of company-owned telecommunications devices and the accompanying lack of an expectation of privacy.

Or maybe they should just send out a text message to everyone with a company cell phone.

Three Tips

Very active in the online world herself, Sue Marks, CEO of Pinstripe, a Brookfield, Wisc.-based recruitment-process outsourcer, offers her own three pithy tips for any executives who want to create social-media policies for employees.

During her session at the Social Media Plus conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday, she said:

* Don’t say anything stupid.

* Be nice.

* Don’t give out any company secrets.

Simple and succinct. And even better, employees will actually read the memo — as opposed to the two pages of legalese your corporate counsel may want to use instead.