When it comes to legal situations around social media and the workplace, the best defense is a good offense. You may not be asking these exact questions today, but someday you might. Keep reading to learn how to avoid legal traps as an employer, and how to formulate a stronger social media policy as an HR professional.
Q: “My employee is making comments about me on his/her personal Facebook account. What can I do?”
A: Perhaps nothing has emboldened people more than the rise of social media. Comments one wouldn’t dare make in person can now be expressed quickly and frequently behind the perceived safety of the internet.
But as inappropriate or insulting as a post may be, employers do not always have the right to take action against an employee for social media behavior. The National Labor Relations Act enforces the right of employees to engage in “protected concerted activity.” This law allows employees, with or without a union, to act together to improve their pay and working conditions.
Q: “What exactly qualifies as protected concerted activity?”
A: According to the National Labor Relations Board, an employee simply griping about their job is not concerted activity. Whatever an employee says or posts on social media must have “some relation to group action, or seek to initiate, induce or prepare for group action or bring a group complaint to the attention of management.”
However, the NLRB decides what actions deserve protection, and because every situation is different, the law is intentionally vague. Sometimes comments made on social media are interpreted as protected concerted activity because they are supported by other coworkers or simply directed at management.
In one case, an employee of a New York catering company was fired for profane Facebook comments directed at his boss and his boss’s family. Still, the NLRB found this employee protected, since the comments were made during a work break, expressed the employee’s concern about management and ended with an all caps call to join the union. The NLRB ordered reinstatement and back pay for the employee.
Less extreme examples of concerted activity include talking with coworkers about wages and benefits, circulating a petition for better hours, participating in refusal to work in unsafe conditions or joining with coworkers to address issues directly with an employer, government agency or media outlet.
The law does not protect spreading maliciously false information, or bashing an employer’s products or services without linking back to a labor controversy. However, the still-vague terms have caught many employers in legal traps.
Q: “So employers can never terminate employees for online behavior?”
A: Not exactly. Off duty conduct laws vary state to state, but employers do have the right to regulate online activity. For example, an employer can discipline employees for online behavior during work hours. However, they must be consistent in enforcing this policy. Discipline must be enforced for all online activity during work hours, not just when negative comments about the company are made.
Employers should intervene when an employee acts disloyally online as well. Complaining about a manager or pay rate on Twitter isn’t considered disloyal, but if an employee claims online that the hospital where they work is unsafe, this is considered disloyal. However, if employees address legitimate safety concerns with an employer or government agency, this activity is protected.
Q: “What other ways can I prevent legal situations around social media in the workplace?”
A: Employers must welcome feedback. Many attacks on social media happen out of pent up frustration. If frustration can be expressed early on when everyone is still rational, the extreme cases can be avoided.
Consistent communication about social media policy is also essential. Along with routine education and training, it is important for company handbooks to have compliant social media policy in order for interceding action to take place fairly and consistently. Any employer action in response to employee behavior on social media must be in line with previous action and easily traceable to a clear handbook policy.
For some employers, “onboarding” is defined as that first paperwork meeting with a new hire — shaking hands, filling out tax forms and practicing signatures. For others, onboardingis simply any learning that takes place from day one on the job. Either way, both interpretations of onboarding are necessary parts of the hiring process, as employees work to acclimate to a new employer.
Even after you’ve sealed the deal, there is still a small gap of critical time between job acceptance and an employee’s first day. Usually a few weeks are given for employees to transition out of their current job and take a breath before their new one begins. But a lot can happen during that gap. Job offers are often used to bargain in other interviews or leverage a promotion with a current employer.
Some employers combat this risk by starting the onboarding process earlier. “If we can get them in the door faster and have them start completing insurance forms, they’ll be less likely to quit!” But research shows retention comes less from eager paperwork meetings and more from relationship and exceptional hospitality.
Guarding the Gap
Creative initiatives to welcome and engage new hires, from the time of offer acceptance to day one, are called preboarding. While ultimately beneficial for employers and a company’s bottom line, preboarding is most effective when genuinely focused on the employee.
Whether it’s that first meeting or the first few weeks of work, employees begin learning everything about their new employer during onboarding.
Preboarding offers an extra-mile opportunity for the employer to learn about the employee.
Taking time and honest interest in a new hire demonstrates the value a company places on its people. This helps new hires make the jump to a new workplace and feel at home faster (while inadvertently encouraging their best work).
Attention to hospitality details may seem like a waste of time, but ignoring preboarding can prove costly. Consistent communication with new hires before their first day prevents ambivalence and makes employees less likely to continue communication with other potential employers. Lack of engagement before starting work allows new hires to feel that nothing is yet final and continue pursuing other offers.
Employers may use up some time on the front end, but preboarding also saves time on day one. Since a new employee has already become familiar with the team, culture and business operations in the weeks after acceptance, day one can be a work day rather than a day of introductions and tours.
So how is it done? Is it really just muffin baskets and welcome emails? Sometimes!
Different ideas work better for different companies, but these small things can help new hires feel welcomed, valued and excited to stick around:
Before an employee’s first day, schedule a tour followed by a lunch with immediate team members or their managers. This helps the employee to feel more confident on their first day instead of walking in blind.
Send the employee a questionnaire after acceptance to outline things they like and dislike. When figuring out where to go/what to cater during a welcome lunch, the employee’s favorite place can be chosen without putting them on the spot. This questionnaire can be used throughout an employee’s time, as a way to intentionally thank them for good work. (Employers can also post employee questionnaires for everyone to see, fostering intentional relationships between coworkers.)
Pay attention in interviews and follow up with specifics. If a new hire mentions their family in the interview, send a gift basket including treats for their kids. If they just moved to the area, gift them with favorite local goods and a list of restaurant recommendations from their coworkers.
Keep checking in. Consistent emailing shows an employer is available. Sending a schedule of the first week, creating their email account and telling them when their desk is set up lets a new hire know you’re anticipating their arrival and keeps them in the loop.
Some companies offer “show up bonuses” on an employee’s first day or at the end of their first month. Of course this isn’t feasible for every company, but this bold gesture is an unexpected way to show appreciation.
Follow through. Hospitality attempts can seem insincere if new employees are left to fend for themselves after day one. In the initial learning stage at a new job, consistent check-ins are necessary to ensure confident acclimation specific to each new hire. This care and attention will not go unnoticed and can help ensure best fit for both employees and employer.
You may not be able to give your employees a million bucks, but you can make them feel like it! These small gestures help to guard that gap of critical time, and keep your employees excited about their new position with you.
Want to spend less time with the HR hassle and more time with your people? We want that for you too. Contact us today and see how Servant HR can give you the freedom to focus on what’s most important.
Halloween is just around the corner, and yet… few things spook employees more than those looming, end-of-year reviews.
A recent survey of 1,000 full-time employees found that one in four have called in sick because they were anxious to face an appraisal. Almost 75% felt “in the dark” about how their managers viewed their performance leading up to review, and 62% felt blindsided afterward. In the aftermath, 15% have cursed, 15% have cried and 28% have started looking for other jobs.
If employees are ghosting, impending performance reviews should spook employers as well. But the review process doesn’t have to be so scary! Here are three tips for making performance reviews more of a treat than a trick:
1. Start Early
Feedback should be established as routine upon hire. Performance reviews don’t have to be once a year, doomsday meetings—they can be monthly or weekly touchpoints that start as early as an employee’s first day. Early reviews are a chance to develop trust and relationship between manager and employee and to get employees comfortable with talking about their performance.
Consistent communication and feedback from the start helps employees understand the purpose of appraisals and develop confidence in the review process.
The first tip makes this second tip a lot easier. If relationship is not established, it’s common for managers in performance reviews to talk… a lot. However, a performance review is most effective as a discussion, not a lecture. Lectures can make employees feel like they’re just being yelled at, but intentional, back-and-forth conversation allows employees to experience trust and respect from their manager. Managers encourage this kind of conversation simply by asking questions. Good performance reviews offer space for employees to consider their goals, preferences, set-backs, achievements and failures. Rather than listing off highs and lows, employees are best motivated by analyzing individual potential and growth. A review should prioritize gaining insight into the performance of both employee and employer, which means feedback about management should be prompted as well.
3. Be Positive
Healthy organizations don’t sweep issues under rugs. Problems are dealt with right away and any necessary critique or discipline happens in real time—not months later at a performance review. Honest confrontation and consistent communication should be practiced daily in order to ensure positive performance reviews. Spending the majority of time on the positive aspects of an employee’s performance is almost always more effective than spending the majority of time on the negative. Don’t neglect areas that need improvement, but no employee’s performance is completely negative—make sure that is not being reflected in the review. Acknowledge failures by asking questions, exploring options and landing conversations on upbeats. People are best motivated when specific actions are recognized and appreciated. Providing direct encouragement and ways for improvement keeps performance reviews constructive and cultivates healthy work relationships.
Trust and relationship is at the core of effective reviewing. If done early and often, performance reviews don’t have to be daunting, vague meetings that hang over the holidays. Asking good questions and seeking the best for employees develops respect—enabling managers to humbly accept feedback and constructively analyze ways for employee improvement.
Since 2006, the #MeToo sexual harassment movement has been asking American workplaces some tough questions.
Increased exposure and media coverage have prompted all the right things—98% of organizations have sexual harassment policies in place, and according to the Los Angeles Times, requests for harassment training offered by corporate HR resources have multiplied 8 times since January 2017.
So, update policy and increase training. Easy enough.
However, ongoing headlines regarding sexual harassment at corporations such as Fox News and Uber, prove the still broad gap between good-intentioned rules and workplace reality.
Cultures of Harassment
Defining terms and outlining reporting protocol is fundamental, but too often sexual harassment has deeper roots in an organizational culture. “The way things are,” can serve important cultural functions, making paper policies irrelevant—even laughable.
Strong lines can be drawn from organizational cultures to the larger historical narrative—a male-centric one, with many women still at pay disadvantages, despite education or qualification. This history can serve to legitimize cultures of sexual harassment, as female targets are often blamed for exaggeration and sensitivity. The non-essential nature of low status positions, combined with need for a good recommendation, means a quiet resignation is often considered the best solution.
The Opposite Effect
But of course, not all corporations wield power through a culture of harassment. Still, headlines keep coming, revealing the wide reach of corporate sexual harassment—so what else is wrong?
Two 1998 Supreme Court cases determined that to avoid liability in a sexual harassment case, a company must be able to provide proof of training. However, quality of training is more difficult to measure.
Research shows typical policy language and training techniques make employees uncomfortable and defensive, often actually reinforcing gender stereotypes.
Ineffective and unprofessional, these techniques do little to meet the ultimate goal: preventing sexual harassment in the first place.
Sexual harassment policies and trainings are essential, but not enough. Practicing the following as values, rather than checking them off as tasks, may lead to higher engagement and mutual respect within a company.
1. Care for your culture. Routinely ask yourself uncomfortable questions. Are women in the lowest positions in every department? How accessible am I to my employees? What is my relationship like with my Human Resources professionals? Caring for your culture means not only calling out clear offenses, but habitually seeking to ensure equal opportunity, respect and civility between all workplace members. Give credit where credit is due. Encourage reporting through both words and actions. Robert Eckstein, lead trainer at the University of New Hampshire research group for sexual violence prevention, says sexual harassment training should be a regular work conversation topic. “We’re talking about generations of people getting away with abusing power,” Eckstein quoted for the New York Times. “Thinking you can change that in a one-hour session is absurd. You’re not going to just order some bagels and hope it goes away.
2. Educate bystanders. In effort to encourage sexual harassment reporting, many policies unknowingly place sole responsibility on the target. Unfortunately, reporting can put targets in a vulnerable position. If harassment is reported, targets may be viewed with skepticism, disbelief or suffer from isolation. However, unreported harassment is likely to continue and spread. It’s important for policies and trainings to include specific actions bystanders can take to disrupt, distract and confront harassing behavior. It’s also important for bystanders to care well for targets through validating experiences, reinforcing that targets are not to blame and offering witness in an HR report.
Relieving responsibility from the target puts responsibility on the whole culture, creating a healthier work environment for all employees.
3. Give attention to language. While you may wonder if people are awake during training or if anyone is reading the sexual harassment policy, the language used here shapes workplace culture. Typical policies tend to be all business, but a sexual harassment policy done well should be personal and emotional. If protocol is thoughtfully curated in an effort to truly care for employees, training becomes less about HR box checking and more about serving your people. It’s important to consider possible perceptions of your language as well. People react strongly to labels and quickly reject any categorizations they believe do not apply to them. It is unlikely one would admit to being a “harasser,” but one might admit to “predatory behavior.” Similarly, using the word “target” instead of “victim,” is less exploitive and more empowering. These small changes in language counter the portrayal of men as powerful and women as vulnerable, enabling women to feel confident and credible in the workplace. Actively opposing male/female stereotypes also serves to legitimize all types of harassment, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Building relationships and supporting employees is a critical part of preventing and recovering from an incident of sexual harassment. Need help? Interested in outsourcing a human resources team? Contact us!
Every year, Servant HR client Edge Mentoring, brings renowned speakers to the heart of Indianapolis for the half-day EDGE|X leadership conference. The conference audience is people leading in all arenas—workplace, community and home—and this year’s EDGE|X conference theme is “People Centered Leadership.”
This theme hits close to home for us in HR, as a good human resources team focuses first on humans! Naturally then, a healthy HR team plays a strong role in organizational leadership development.
While often viewed as a heads-down operation, HR should perhaps be the most people-centered in its vision and approach toward company development. Meeting this expectation requires HR professionals to step up to leadership themselves—consistently offering strategic opportunities for internal growth.
As advocates for employees, it is necessary for HR to prioritize investment in their company’s people. Investment looks like a variety of things, from relationship building to internal promotions, but perhaps the most popular way HR promotes leadership development is corporate training.
Less Training, More Practice
The 70:20:10 principle claims 70% of learning happens from on-the-job experience, 20% from bosses and mentors and 10% from formal training. However, “traditional HR” tends to focus majority of energy on the 10% formal training—seminars dedicated to bagels, leadership styles and self-reflection.
Despite being imbalanced, research also shows too much introspection actually amplifies our blind spots—the exact opposite of the intended effect. Richard Pascale, acclaimed Fortune 500 adviser and faculty member at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says in his book Delivering Results, “Adults are more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking, than to think their way into a new way of acting.”
Insight vs. Outsight
A more strategic opportunity for leadership development is offering experience. The term “outsight,” coined by UK organizational behavior professor Herminia Ibarra, is defined as “the fresh, external perspective that comes from doing new and different things and interacting with new and different people.”
Directly opposite of formal training guiding you to personality insights, outsight involves trusting the 70:20:10, evaluating job experiences first and trying out employees in different spaces. Spending time with this 70% demonstrates HR as people-centered leaders.
This approach is certainly more difficult. The relational work combined with the risk of assigning jobs different from what employees have done in the past, makes a self-reflection seminar sound pretty good.
However, research shows strategic views of work are developed best through “experience in an internal project outside of usual responsibilities.”
To put it simply, people become better leaders by practicing leadership.
For HR, the job here is understanding the work employees have done forever, and then designing cross functional projects that challenge their comfort levels and offer exposure to senior leadership. Essentially, giving people places to practice.
The Role of HR
Whether outsourcing with a PEO, or housing an internal department, the separation from a company puts human resources in a powerful and unique position. As a kind of third party, HR is able to maintain an objective position when evaluating the needs of an organization.
HR also has access to cross-cutting relationships through its work with every level in a company. Encouraging diverse and externally focused networks for both the work table and the executive table, keeps ideas fresh and lets employees know they are valued by their employer.
This doesn’t mean including random employees in all high-level meetings. But, it does mean assigning side projects and activities to help cultivate new relationships and skills. (After all of that, then we can do the self-reflecting!)
The responsibility of HR is to care for a company as a whole. HR professionals steward their function well by cultivating the best possible relationships and opportunities for both employer and employee. This requires an entirely people-centered approach to leadership, and this approach in return, creates people-centered leaders.
But don’t just take it from us! To learn more about people-centered leadership and how you can cultivate these leaders in your organization, register for the Edge|X conference on Friday, October 5th. We’ll see you there!
Tis the season of the office holiday party. Sounds like, fun right? But there are risks. One act of bad behavior can turn into a legal mess. As the office holiday party season kicks off, here are some tips on how both employers and employees can avoid liability while still enjoying some holiday cheer.
Tip 1: Don’t serve alcohol
Having an alcohol-free event is the best way to minimize risk for employers. Court records are filled with examples of people sexually harassing co-workers or making inappropriate comments at parties where alcohol is involved.
And even if the party goes off without an issue, perhaps the biggest concern is that an employee will drive home under the influence and hurt or even kill someone. As the host, your company may be found liable because alcohol was served at the party.
Tip 2: Managers should lead by example
Emphasize to management that they must lead by example. When it comes to behavior at an office party – people will follow examples – good or bad.
Tip 3: Hold the party at an offsite location
If problems do arise, it is better that they occur away from the business premises. Depending on the state, liability will generally be on the restaurant or event venue rather than the company. However, it is not unusual for an employer to be named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit if an intoxicated employee leaves any company-sponsored event and injures himself or herself or another person as a result. See tip number 1.
Tip 4: Invite spouses, significant others or families
Aside from excessive drinking, the next most common issue is sexual harassment. Employees are still bound by workplace policies, even at after-hours parties. A family-friendly environment will limit this kind of risk.
Tip 5: Arrange alternative transportation
After reading Tip 1 above, if you still decide to serve alcohol, anticipate the need for alternative transportation for all employees and guests. Make special transportation arrangements in advance of the party. Encourage all employees and guests to make use of the alternative transportation if they consume any alcohol.