Category Archives: security

Best to Shy Away from Ukraine Relocations or Trips

This report Friday from the BBC about the escalating crisis in the Ukraine certainly underscores alerts and cautions released days and weeks earlier about not doing business there right now. Though business travel doesn’t fall completely under the purview of human resources, this earlier alert  — which contains a link to this article — from the Incident Management Group Inc. is 177725008 -- ukraineworth a look. Relocation and expatriate considerations are tied in to this as well.

According to the alert, you’d better not only keep your employees and executive leaders out of the Ukraine and Moldova for the time being, you’d better keep a keen eye on Eastern Europe in general if your organization does business there.

The ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russian prime minister in February, resulting in the annexation of the Crimea and continued Russian provocations, the alert says, “have caused alarm and unease in many countries in the region [and] many corporate travel managers are concerned that the security situation could deteriorate … .”

Some analysts, the IMG article says, “believe that Russian aggression could go even further [a prescient warning indeed], fearing that Russian forces massed along Ukraine’s eastern border could be preparing for an invasion.”

It goes on to offer this perspective for businesses doing business there:

Employee travel security in Eastern Europe is normally not a large safety concern. Ukraine and Moldova are at an elevated risk, but most of the countries in the region are roughly comparable to other EU nations in terms of security. For example, the countries of Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Baltic States are generally pretty safe. Visitors should be concerned about the potential for scams and petty theft, but violent crime directed against visitors is generally uncommon.

However, an escalation of Russian aggression could have negative implications for employee travel security [throughout] Eastern Europe. For example, increased tensions could lead to more cyber attacks on Western organizations based in the region. These attacks could be carried out by the Russian government or by rogue pro-Russian elements. One such organization, dubbed ‘Cyber Berkut,’ has already claimed credit for an attack against NATO’s website, and may seek out other pro-Western targets.

Additionally, an escalation of tensions could lead to a Russian energy embargo. After all, much of Europe is dependent on Russian oil and gas. An embargo could lead to shortages and civil disorder in the region, especially if such an embargo took place in winter when demand for natural gas is at its highest. Furthermore, an energy crisis could affect the operations of companies doing business in the region, especially those that rely on fuel to conduct their day-to-day operations.”

From the looks of things geopolitically, there’s no settling down going on, now or anytime soon. This report last Monday from ABC News notes 15 more Russian officials have been added to the European Union’s list of sanctions protesting Moscow’s meddling in the Ukraine — bringing the total number of EU sanctions to 48.

Best advice? According to IMG, get with a professional security consultant if you haven’t already and make sure your organization is developing or updating an evacuation plan. And if an employee or relocatee doesn’t have to be there, by all means don’t send him or her.

 

Twitter It!

Service-Dog ‘Fakers': Could It Happen at Work?

464734925 -- guide dogsThis was certainly intriguing: a release from KCRA in Sacramento, Calif., about a hearing before the California State Senate examining what appears to be a real problem out there: people masquerading their dogs as guide dogs for the disabled so they can bring them along to wherever they’re going.

I guess they would miss them that much, which says something about the kind of person who would conjure up such a scheme. Worse yet, what kind of person would actually then “play act” a disability, namely blindness?

“This is a big issue in California,” Phyllis Cheng, the executive director of the Fair Employment and Housing department, says in testimony. In fact, here is the entire senate-hearing report:

Here, too, is the Fox 45 news report on the problem:

So I’m wondering, could this become a problem in the workplace? I asked two employment attorneys — Keisha-Ann Gray at Proskauer (HREOnline‘s “Legal Clinic” columnist) and James McDonald, managing partner of the Irvine, Calif., office of Fisher & Phillips — for their takes on this.

They tell me that, although there is no hard-and-fast rule under the Americans with Disabilities Act requiring employers to allow guide dogs to accompany disabled employees, every employer with 15 or more employees is required to try and make a reasonable accommodation if the request is made, unless that accommodation would cause an undue hardship to the business or present a direct threat to health and safety.

Could this kind of cheating actually lead to workplace “dog parks” though? Well, maybe not dog parks, but both say yes, they could see this kind of problem occurring at work. Such widespread scheming is definitely humanely possible, they say. “I know of people personally who claim their pets are service animals and they put a little vest on the animal so they can go in restaurants, etc.,” McDonald says.

Neither attorney gave much credence to this getting out of hand, necessarily, in corporate America. Thinking realistically, if you consider the fact that employees bringing dogs to work would then have to care for them for the entire day (and we’re talking food, exercise and potty breaks), “that might mitigate this a little bit,” McDonald says.

The bottom line to keep in mind, says Gray, is that this is the very type of situation that could get you in legal trouble if not handled properly. Faking questions aside, “once the employer is aware they have someone who can perform essential functions of the job, but would need help to perform the job based on a disability,” that employer must engage in a reasonable-accommodation dialogue.

And although “reasonable” does mean it does not create undue hardship or safety hazards, proving that a particular dog might bite or “seems irritable” could get dicey.

I’m thinking trying to nail someone for faking a disability or service-dog credentials could get dicey, too.

Best advice, from Gray: “If you’re thinking of denying a person a request for a reasonable accommodation, for whatever reason, get counsel involved.”

Twitter It!

Watching Them … Watching You … Watching Them

CC000736Steve Lovell says that when an HR staffer walks into a potentially difficult meeting with an employee, they should be wearing something extra: a camera.

Lovell is president of Vievu, which sells “wearable cameras” to police departments and security firms throughout the world. Its latest product is a wearable Wi-Fi camera that’s designed to be worn on a belt, lapel, pocket or other places that bulkier cameras won’t fit. The company also says it’s waterproof and bump resistant, should you have need of such features.

Why would HR need this?

“Companies get accused of wrongful terminations on a daily basis,” Lovell said in an email interview. “With video recording interactions between HR personnel and employees, the long chain of events can settle any false claims for wrongful termination or hostile work environment complaints. This is a valid usage whether a company is hiring, firing or just a simple employee performance evaluation.”

But why, I asked Lovell, would an HR staffer need a wearable video camera for these important meetings–why not just use a regular video camera?

He replied that the camera is unique in that it provides “egocentric video” — that is, video shot from the perspective of a person. Additionally, Lovell said, employees will immediately know when they’re being recorded — a green lens is displayed when the camera-wearer activates the device. “It is a proven fact that when someone knows they are being recorded, their behavior is improved,” he said. “This alone can offset conflict and is a benefit our law enforcement customers experience daily.”

Will Vievu crack the HR market? I have no idea. But Lovell’s last point — that people behave better when they know they’re under surveillance — is amply confirmed by Mark McGraw’s recent news story, which finds that surveilled employees are not only better behaved but more productive. None of this is, of course, good news for folks concerned about privacy — but then again, it’s a brave new world, isn’t it?

Twitter It!

HR and Risk Management

How often do you collaborate with your risk-management counterparts at your organization? You should be doing so on a regular basis, according to Lowers Risk Group, a consulting firm with about 1,000 global clients. We’ve covered the issue of risk and human capital before, including this byline and this cover story. Now, a new whitepaper from Lowers highlights what it believes are key trends “driving the expanding role of human resources in enterprise risk management.”

Vince Pascarella, who has an SPHR and is vice president of Lowers Risk Group, has this to say:

Executives tend to rank human capital very high in terms of the potential impact on business results — often ahead of financial risks — but few believethey are managing human capital risk effectively. Most risks begin and end with people, so it’s not surprising to find that human resources is increasingly being called to the table to help mitigate risk.”

The whitepaper is free but requires registration, so I’ll summarize some of the key points and then you can decide whether to delve deeper. First, it cites a Deloitte report that finds a number of trends are leading to a greater focus on human capital risk management: “Black swans,” or low-probability events that have far-reaching impact (including the Euro crisis, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the tsunami in Japan, the Middle East uprisings) and “people risks” such as fraud, theft and security breaches that end up making headlines. The view of what constitutes human capital risks is expanding, the whitepaper notes, and now includes four “manageable areas of HCM”:

1. regulatory compliance

2. position risk level

3. management risk tolerance levels, and

4. onboarding issues “that may allow individuals to fall through the cracks.”

This new awareness of risk is, according to the whitepaper, leading HR to collaborate more closely with their risk-management brethren and create a “risk mindset” for day-to-day HR activities. HR must also “make the most of its existing data” to help identify potential risks.

Twitter It!

Mulling (Some Testy) Background-Check Testimony

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is still wading through testimony gathered Friday during its briefing to determine what impact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on criminal-background checks is having or may have on the employment of black and Hispanic workers.

At this point, there doesn’t seem to be a precise timetable for an ensuing report and/or recommendation from the civil rights commission, or specific plan for the guidance, which the EEOC issued on April 25. But safe to say, one overriding theme of the Dec. 7 testimony — taken from 17 different individuals, representing employer groups, advocacy organizations, screening groups and providers, and employment sectors across the country — came in loud and clear: Businesses need to continue screening for criminal histories and they need some clarifications on portions of the guidance or they will remain, as one testified, “between a rock and a hard place.”

In the words of the USCCR, in its announcement about the Friday briefing, “the commission has initiated this investigation to determine whether the new EEOC guidance policy or other prohibitions or limitations on the use of criminal background checks results in lower job opportunities and reduced employment overall among minorities, including non-offenders.”

In other words, the commision’s concern — as raised over the past year by one of its commissioners, Peter Kirsanow — is that, for employers to either remove or not rely so heavily on the criminal-conviction question in a job application, as the EEOC has recommended, they might be creating a hiring system that, in turn, encourages discrimination of black and Hispanic males due to the sheer larger incarcertaion rates for these minorities.

As Rich Mellor — vice president of loss prevention for the Washington-based National Retail Federation and one of those testifying — told me in a follow-up phone call, “without that confirmation that an applicant does not have a criminal background,” an employer might be prone to try that much harder to hire a non-minority.

Even with such a confirmation, or disclosure of a criminal record and the chance to explain, minority job applicants are often hobbled by still-pervasive racial bias in hiring, according to testimony from Glenn E. Martin, vice president of development and public affairs for The Fortune Society, based in New York. He cited a Princeton University study of the low-wage labor market in New York that showed black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison.

“Moreover,” Martin testified, “the positive outcomes for black applicants, when presenting evidence of a criminal record, were reduced by 57 percent.”

Mellor, in his testimony, raised an additional red flag about the transparency of this crucial criminal-background conversation. The EEOC guidelines, he said, “were enacted without giving retailers or other employers a chance for input,” according to an NRF release issued just after the briefing. “Hearings,” it says, quoting Mellor, “were held only with a ‘select group of predetermined stakeholders’ and actual text of the guidelines was released only the same morning that they were approved and implemented by the EEOC.”

The EEOC gave me this response today to the NRF’s release:

The NRF and other business groups communicated their views to the EEOC, and we considered them during the development of the guidance. Representatives of employers, individuals with criminal records, and other federal agencies testified at public EEOC meetings in November 2008 and July 2011.  The [EEOC] also received and reviewed approximately 300 written comments from members of the general public and stakeholder groups that responded to topics discussed during the July 2011 meeting.

The stakeholders that provided statements to express their interests and concerns include prominent organizations such as the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Society for Human Resource Management, the American Insurance Association, the National Association of Professional Background Screeners, the NAACP, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, and the D.C. Prisoners’ Project, among others. Additionally, throughout the process of drafting the guidance, individual commissioners and staff met with representatives from various stakeholder groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, SHRM, HR Policy Association, College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, the National Employment Law Project and the Equal Employment Advisory Council to obtain more focused feedback on discrete and complex issues.

Many of those organizations listed above had people testifying Friday before the USCCR as well, in addition to employment lawyers Jackson Lewis and Duane Morris, screening provider EmployeeScreenIQ, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and many more.

Duane Morris’ Jonathan Segal, who testified Friday on behalf of SHRM, told the commissioners that some state and federal laws require employers to conduct background checks for positions such as daycare providers and firefighters. EEOC guidance, he said, puts employers in the tenuous position of “losing their state license if they don’t comply with a state law mandating criminal background checks and risking a class-action lawsuit if they go forward with criminal background checks and base hiring on the results.”

In addition, he said, the guidance’s interpretation of disparate impact appears to make employers “vulnerable to an EEOC investigation any time they take an adverse employment action against individuals of certain races or national origins based on criminal background checks regardless of whether they have conducted a valid individualized assessment — seemingly making criminal convictions a new protected status.”

Rest assured I will be following this and will report developments as I catch wind of them. Pretty packed with pressing issues for employers, I’d say.

 

Twitter 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.

Twitter It!

What a Little Workplace Sleuthing Might Uncover

I learned a few things about going undercover in the workplace today when I came across this article by a business consultant named Eric Egeland.

For one, undercover assessments aren’t exactly management tactics I’ve read, edited or written much about in my years here. Several years back, we ran a story on top managers hitting the front line or manufacturing floor incognito to ferret out internal problems, but I don’t recall learning about the extent to which workplace sleuthing is such a marketable service.

According to Egeland, president of Capacity Consulting Inc., it’s often a lot less sexy and a lot longer-term than what you’d see on TV’s Undercover Boss. “Actually, it’s a lot like surveillance,” he writes. “You watch and listen to a whole lot of nothing for what seems like forever and then, suddenly, you witness something big.” Such as? you might ask. Consider this excerpt:

Over the years we have learned about various seedy activities performed by employees. We have seen employees engage in immoral behavior while requiring subordinates to watch guard. We have seen the most respected member of a management team threaten and assault the employees of an entire department as part of their natural “management style.” We have seen groups of employees in one department band together to undermine another department. We have seen employees purposely provide poor service to customers they didn’t like and brag with a sense of accomplishment after chasing them away. Extreme? Yes, but more common than you think.

On the less dramatic, but just as damaging side are the bookkeepers who really don’t know how to keep the books, employees who get angry about the boss’ new car and retaliate by lowering their productivity, and the snoops who go through the boss’ desk and computer when alone and then brag about it. The part that should surprise and shock you the most is that the overwhelming majority of these examples involve the longest-term and most trusted employees.

Why the long-term employees versus the new employees? The new ones can certainly pull some doozies, but they can’t get away with such nonsense for long. They haven’t been there long enough to have the support and/or fear of the other employees. They do something wrong and the current employees sell them out.

Fascinating … at least to this workplace-snooping novice. Far less dramatic but equally important are the work-process inefficiencies, or the safety and data-breach issues, Egeland says. “We always find improvement opportunities that increase the bottom line,” he writes, “and that is the true value of the undercover assignment whether it’s real life or television.”

Twitter It!

A Different Way of Looking at Corporate Misconduct

Not sure how helpful this is, but this recently published guide to lessons learned from cases of corporate misconduct is so uniquely packaged it caught my eye.

Called The Unlucky 13: Lessons Learned from Companies Caught in the Act, the small and free downloadable publication offers tiny little synopses of small and large cases — some I’d heard of — from the likes of Xerox, Ford, Siemens, Tyco, Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Mattel, Google, Verizon and more.

Most of the write-ups start with the monetary damage involved, followed by one or two graphs about what happened, followed by one or two bullet-pointed corporate “takeaways.”

Like the $50-to-$100-million case from November 2010 involving a former Ford employee who pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets by downloading design documents unrelated to his job onto an external hard drive. Reminders there: Don’t ever give employees access to information unrelated to their jobs and eliminate their abilities to connect any sort of media-storage devices to the network.

Or the $20 million disability discrimination settlement by Verizon, underscoring the need for employers to have attendance policies in place that take into account the need for paid or unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities.

My personal favorite: a smaller case involving a $22,500 discrimination settlement paid by Happy Days Children’s Wear Inc. for — of all things, considering the business — firing a female employee because she was pregnant.

If you really want the full scoop in any of these cases, you’ll have to do your own digging. The guide is hardly comprehensive. But you might find some of the reminders helpful.

Perhaps the best advice around corporate misconduct comes from HREOnlinecolumnist Susan Meisinger in her column this week: If you, as an HR leader, detect unethical practices or behavior that set a cultural tone you — hard as you try — can’t change … “Go. And go as quickly as you can.”

Twitter It!

Fired Worker Bombs Bank in China

News of a tragic tale of workplace retaliation came to us from China where a bank worker bombed the facility after being fired for stealing money, according to Newser.

Yang Xianwen threw a gasoline bomb inside the Tianzhu County Rural Credit Cooperative Union bank in Northwestern China, according to government officials cited in the story.

More than 40 people were hurt in the blast and some even had to jump out of a five-story window to escape.

Twitter It!

Emergency Plan Saves Workers and Customers from Deadly Southern Tornado

Amid the violent storm that ripped through the South this weekend, employees at a Lowe’s store in Sanford, N.C. said the company’s emergency-preparedness plan saved their lives.

In accordance with the plan, more than 100 employees and customers were herded into a windowless room toward the back of the store and remained safe even as a tornado ripped off the steel roof.

Instead of news reports about a deadly scene, Yahoo! news is hailing Michael Hollowell a hero, for his actions in leading the group.

“It can’t help but have saved lives,” Sanford police Capt. J.R. Weeks told the AP.

When it appeared imminent that the tornado may hit the building, Hollowell and his assistants urged everyone to cram shoulder-to-shoulder in the back room, which has joined concrete walls and no heavy inventory stacked high on shelves, according to the AP story.

“It was so tight that you couldn’t move with everybody in the hallway,” said Hollowell. “We got as close as we could.”

Twitter It!