Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

The Day HR Got Real – My Worst Day on the Job

I love Louisiana and, in particular, Baton Rouge. I love LSU even though our governor, Bobby Jindal, seems dead set on stripping all its funding and turning it into a Diesel Driving Academy with a football team. I gripe about mosquitoes the size of handbags and how I can’t walk outside my door in the summer without my hairdo going full-on Kotter in two seconds, but the music, the art, THE FOOD, and the culture all make up for that, especially our culture of collaboration. People here help each other and look out for one another.


In that spirit, here are two blogs from other Baton Rouge HR gals that I’d like you to check out today in addition to mine. These ladies have helped me and taught me things. They have made me laugh on bad days and been happy with me on good ones. Their blogs are interesting and funny and educational. You’ll love ‘em. They’ve collaborated with me here on the #BRHRCarnival. Today we’ve talked about our worst day in HR. I think a counter-post about our best day will probably happen too. Mine revolves around turkeys, so there’s a teaser.

HR Schoolhouse by Robin Schooling and HR Tact by Christine Assaf

Also in the spirit of collaboration, Robin Schooling is attending the National SHRM Conference in Chicago soon. A kickball game has been organized with prominent social media personalities playing to raise money for Share Our Strength: No Kid Hungry. Robin will be representing Louisiana and we want her to raise lots of money! If you’d care to, please check out the link and sponsor her.

no kid hungry

Now, onto the blog. Thanks for sticking with me through the housekeeping!

The Worst Ever, No Good, Very Bad, Horrible, Awful Birthday

My worst moment in HR was Friday, June 20, 2008 around 3 p.m. How do I remember the exact date and time nearly 5 years later? For starters, I have an awesome memory. Also it was just a SUPERBLY terrible day — that just so happened to be my 29th birthday. The first one. The real one.

I had started work at this company on a Monday, and you can see here that my first day was pretty bad. The whole week was like that. In the past, I had done some HR assisting and payroll at a small organization with less than 300 employees. When we first took payroll in-house and I began doing it, it was a difficult transition that often took me a few days to process. After a few years I had made the process so efficient that I had streamlined myself right out of a job.

I started this new job with Huge Corporation X on a Monday. I didn’t get a computer till Tuesday. On Wednesday, I was given a huge stack of folders, each containing info for a field office around the nation and told to pay around 900 people with vastly different pay structures…some hourly, some exempt salary, some non-exempt salary, some with shift differentials, and some who were paid per project/visit. I did the best I could and had minimal help from others to make sure I wasn’t paying anyone millions of dollars, but for the most part – I was thrown to the wolves.


On Friday, my birthday, the results of my wolf-toss would become clear. I was told that for an organization with around 15K employees, half of whom were paid one week and half the next and so on and so on, that payroll was never perfect and Fridays were more like working in a call-center where people would call to complain about their checks. Sometimes they would speak to their actual payroll processor, but we were also required to help others that we did not personally pay. Sometimes they had legit concerns and a visit or their OT had been left off. Sometimes they were just new and didn’t know how to read their statement. With all these pay structures, it wasn’t hard to sympathize with that.

This one lady, though, she was different. I can’t remember her name, so I’ll call her Susie. She was a branch manager in South Carolina. She was one of my 900 people. When I got to work that morning, I had a voicemail from Susie. Being an hour ahead of us, she’d already been in the office and was astounded and PISSED that her check had only been for $87. I called her back and tried to work out what happened but, not fully understanding the system, I mostly just sat there while she yelled at me. I told her I would move Heaven and Earth to try and help her. I got my boss — even she couldn’t figure out what had happened.

bigstock_Angry_Woman_in_Comic_Book_Styl_25804979Then more calls came in from other branch managers in South Carolina, and I noticed a few other people taking calls and looking at me. My 900 people were largely paid incorrectly (mostly little errors, but a few biggies, like Susie) and that was due to a lack of training. Susie and these branch managers, though, no one could figure out where I had gone wrong. She called repeatedly throughout the day alternately yelling and crying that her mortgage payment would be automatically withdrawn from her bank account in 2 days and she couldn’t believe this was happening. I was devastated and she was WELL BEYOND devastated. Eventually I discovered the problem. Susie was salary, non-exempt, and did not fill out her timesheet correctly. Huge Corporation X required all salaried employees to do a timesheet and automatically fill in 40 hours. Non-exempt employees, hourly or salary, filled it in exactly and were paid for overtime. Susie had received her overtime only.

When I told Susie this, she protested that she was not a salaried employee. She insisted she was hourly. Turns out the company had made her salary that same week and not told her, so she filled out an hourly timesheet that was overlooked by the computer because she was now a salaried employee. Not my fault, but that doesn’t matter to the woman in South Carolina weeping about her mortgage and utility bill. My heart was broken. We cut her a check and overnighted it and everything was ok but still, I felt her stress. I was going through some financial troubles of my own at the time and I sympathized with her and felt so guilty, even after I found out this wasn’t my fault.

The first week at a new job is mentally EXHAUSTING in the same way that driving a long distance is exhausting. Sure, you’re just sitting there, not digging ditches, but you’re tired when it’s over. You’re on alert and can’t relax, ever. Plus this place sucked. Plus I was super-PMS-ing and turning 29. I know it’s cliché but 29 and being a payroll specialist and having people screaming at me was NOT part of my life plan back when I was so bright-eyed and fresh-faced at a boarding school for gifted kids and going to be the world’s first supermodel/astronaut/vibrator-tester. My life was not supposed to turn out this way! We got Susie all squared away and then it all just hit me, all at once.

So then, I start to cry. Just little tears at the corners of my eyes, lump in my throat, biting my tongue to distract myself and not lose my shit completely. I’m doing ok. I WOULD HAVE BEEN TOTALLY FINE, but then the super sweet girl across from me notices and “Awwww…what’s wrong?” and I’m all “I’m fine. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’m ok.” and thinking to myself that this is like when you’re nauseated…don’t make me open my mouth or I’m gonna lose all control. She goes and gets a supervisor. By the way, the ENTIRE DEPARTMENT was female. What do girls do when someone is crying? Huddle and focus and make it a million times worse, that’s what. I became an ugly, tear-stained, snotty and blubbery mess. “Everyone’s been *hiccup* screaming at me all day and *sniff* I don’t know what *sob* I did wrong and *hiccup* it’s my *hiccup* birthday and *sob* I just need *sniff* a minute. I’ll be ok.”


giftedBy this time it was 3:30 and they let me go and clocked me out at 5. Thanks Huge Corporation X. Twenty something dollars totally makes up for a day of abuse that will haunt me forever. When I showed back up on Monday (my next mistake), everyone was all “We didn’t think you’d be back.” and I was all, “Me either.” and they had no idea how serious I was with that response. It was one of those moments when you summon all your personal strength and courage and persistence and apply it in the completely wrong direction.

I was, by no means, in charge of anything on the day HR became real for me. I didn’t even work in HR; I was in payroll. This wasn’t me firing someone or announcing layoffs. This wasn’t about giving bad news or any other ways in which HR can be terrible. This was when I learned that HR was a big deal — because when it’s done so blatantly wrong, it can really destroy a company’s image and an employee’s self-esteem. I learned on that day that EVERYTHING Huge Corporation X did was the total opposite from what I wanted to do in my career. The interviews, the hiring, orientations, training, everything was so glossy and pretty and sparkly on the outside and it was a box full of crap on the inside.

A transparent box inside a Tiffany box...that's the ideal.

A transparent box inside a Tiffany box…that’s the ideal.

HR is not about the bows on the package. It’s a transparent box. You might not like everything in the package at any job, but it’s clear and it’s straightforward and it’s not a pile of shit hidden in a Tiffany box, you know?

I called my mom that afternoon from the grocery store and told her how I had screwed over the entire state of South Carolina and countless others. It was kinda funny by that point, since I knew it wasn’t my fault. I’ll never forget. She asked, “Well, what are you gonna do the rest of the day?” and I answered, “I’m going to buy a frozen pizza, a key lime pie, go home, fall into a food coma, watch TV and go to bed.” That was exactly what I did and it was awesome. Not a huge birthday spectacular, but definitely the most memorable birthday of my whole life.

Would you like to share your HR horror stories in the comments? I’d love to read them and so would the others from #BRHRCarnival. Check out their blogs and them come back here and wallow in the comments!

Have a great weekend! Zumba on Monday at 7:30 — think happy thoughts for me! – HRGF

I’m a Big Ol’ Liar – Orientation Guest Post Instead

I know, I know.  I said “the Plan” would be coming out today BUT…


a) The weekend got away from me and I haven’t written it yet.

b) My guest post was published!  I want to tweet about that and get that some notice first.  SmartRecruiters, and in particular Lexie Forman Ortiz (@LexieFO), took a chance letting me write for them AT ALL, let alone about a topic that isn’t about recruiting.  The least I can do is plug that as much as possible.


Here’s the link to the SmartRecruiters blog:

Please enjoy.  ”The Plan” will be revealed later in the week.  Cross my heart!

Change Doesn’t Take Time – It Takes Change

My life has been through some great changes recently and I think it’s got me hooked on the whole concept of change now.  I’m jonesing for more change.

A Brief Recap

joanIn May 2011, I was in pain.  I had 2 ruptured discs in my neck and ended up having major surgery.  That summer kinda sucked.

In May 2012, I was in a different kind of pain.  I was severely depressed and having panic attacks and afraid to tell anyone about it.  My family, friends and coworkers knew I’d suffered depression for years but it had gotten markedly worse in April/May and I didn’t want anyone to know that part.  I thought they’d be worried that I’d do something awful and irreparable, even though nothing like that EVER crossed my mind.  I was in pain though and suffered largely in silence.  Last summer definitely could’ve been better.

slothNow it’s May 2013 and life is AMAZING.  I’ve made great progress in school and I can see the finish line, somewhere.  I have a new-ish and fantastic job that is a PERFECT fit for me.  I love the people I work with, I get to wear sweatpants/no pants about 80% of the time, and still be bossy and a perfectionist.  My family and friends are doing well.  My $$$ is doing well.  My depression is under control.  I have quit smoking for a while now.  Life is good.  Change is good.

What Happened?

welcomeDid it take a year for all this change to happen?  No, it’s taken 4 months and 13 days.  How do I know that?  Because I started this blog on January 4th.  Unemployed at the time, I wanted something to occupy my time and learning more about HR seemed a good start since that was my field and I was basically faking it…or that’s how I felt.  Since then, this blog has been received warmly among people who clearly AREN’T faking it.  I’ve been invited to do guest posts for other blogs (will change link to my post once it’s published) and awesome people have assisted with mine.  I’ve met lots of new people, become more involved in my local HR and business scene, and “met” thousands more on Facebook and Twitter.  HR Rock Stars.  I have met some in real life, others I know I will one day, and some have become great confidantes, advisers and friends.  Remember when I said HR was a big ol’ clique?  Still true.  But when I said they were friendly and welcoming, I had no idea what an understatement that was.

The Change Process

How did I accomplish this?  Did it happen naturally and without any effort from me?  Absolutely not. I butted in.  I interjected in Twitter conversations I found interesting, I commented on blogs, I asked total strangers for advice and opinions, and totally crashed that party.  Was it always comfy for me?  No.  I am still intimidated by these rock stars since I have no degree (yet) and I’m only informally studying HR.  Why should the talent acquisition chief from Expedia ever talk to me?  Guess what?  He did.  He does.  You’re not reading this, but just in case…hi Jer!  (Honestly, when I reached out to him on LinkedIn, I thought he was someone else, but whatever.  He’s cool.  There’s a pic of him wearing a cape on my FB timeline, so he’s clearly odd, which is EXACTLY the type of people I like to be on my FB.) There were a few moments of awkwardness with some people but for the most part, it wasn’t too bad.  Stepping out of my comfort zone, not into a neutral gray area of I-don’t-give-a-damn-ness, but into active discomfort has achieved great results.

Now What?

Is my life perfect right now?  No.  I am still woefully overweight and out of shape…not beating myself up over this, though, cause I did quit smoking, so yea.  I want to add more value to my company, so I’m trying to learn accounting and more HR this summer.  I’m not quite done with school yet so there’s still some work to be done there.  My dad and I are talking, but there’s an elephant in the room we haven’t addressed.  I’m not going to link to it, but regular readers will know what that is.  I haven’t spent enough time with my local friends or talking to my distant ones (my real, non-HR people).  My apartment is a disaster.  I need to floss more.  You know, the usual.  It’s time for some more change.

People say change takes time.  No, it doesn’t.  It takes change.  Real, actionable, quantifiable CHANGE.  I look at my life right now and where I was 4 months and 13 days ago and it could not be more different.  So that’s my new project — the next three and a half-ish months.


I have a few weeks now before summer school starts.  Then 2 months of school and another few weeks of freedom.  On Labor Day, I want to look back and say, “I remember that day…sitting on my boss’s sofa at the ass crack of dawn because she accidentally scheduled herself a flight so early not even Superman would put up with that BS, blogging while her daughter slept, about to get her ready for school — and look how much my life has improved since then.”  Rolling over and watching Buffy till I fall asleep right now, though tempting and guaranteed to be awesome, is not going to bring about the change I’m seeking. That’s the old path; I already know where that leads.  I’m on a new path now.

I didn’t have a plan 4 months and 13 days ago and I still accomplished a lot…with some luck, some great friends/family, and some innovative interrupting, if you will, on my part.  This time I do have a plan and I am looking forward to BIG RESULTS and BIG ACCOUNTABILITY from you guys!  So what’s the plan?  What are my goals between now and Labor Day – and how do I intend to achieve them?  Ahh.  Check back on Tuesday and all will be revealed.



Have a great weekend everyone!!  I’m starting my plan immediately!! – HRGF

ERISA Part 2: The Return – With Guest Andrew Douglass

My wonderful friend Jeremy Bordelon was kind enough to answer some basic ERISA questions for me a while back.  You might say he gave me just enough rope to hang myself.  He really freaked me out about how much of this I don’t know — and don’t understand even when it’s being explained to me.  I feel like, should I ever become some kind of HR bigwig at a huge firm, I’m going to inevitably be led away in handcuffs to ERISA jail.  What’s worse, rather than some evil mastermind, I’m going to come across as one of those idiots on TV who didn’t even realize they were pregnant.  I’ll be screaming, “But I didn’t know!” while they throw me in a cop car.  Ugh.

Probably not the bra, but the rest, I assume, will be remarkably similar to this.

Probably not the bra, but the rest, I assume, will be remarkably similar to this.

That’s where my new friend Andrew Douglass comes in.  He is also an ERISA attorney and offered to answer more questions for me.  Jeremy gave me just enough info in Part 1 to have more questions and now I’ve been somewhat reassured by Andrew in Part 2.  Read on for ERISA Part 2: The Return…if you dare.

My attorney friend, Jeremy Bordelon, answered a few questions in my first post.  I know ERISA started out as a way to benefit employees, but it sounds like a nightmare now.  How did anyone ever think this was a good thing?

The enactment of ERISA was, in large part, a response to tragic events during the 1960s when employer bankruptcies wiped out pension plans, retiree medical coverage, and other benefits without any recourse for the affected employees.   In 1974, Congress responded by creating, for the first time, a comprehensive framework to provide greater protections to employees and more certainty to employers in sponsoring their benefit plans.   Of course, there are still tensions between employers and employees with respect to their benefit plans, but I think ERISA has generally been very successful in its stated aims.


The 5 points he made about denial of health and disability claims – those seem completely punitive and unreasonable.  If my bone cancer treatment is denied and I lose my leg, then find out it wasn’t supposed to be denied, there is NO RECOURSE?!  Has ERISA been hijacked by insurance lobbyists?  How did this come to be this way?

In my view, ERISA has not been hijacked by insurance lobbyists or any other special interest groups.  Instead, I think ERISA has matured significantly since its enactment in 1974.  For example, a recent development in the last few years is the Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Amara v. CIGNA, in which the Court allowed employees to pursue equitable remedies against their employers if they could prove they were provided misleading information about their benefit plans.  The Amara decision will be huge in the coming years in situations similar to the one you posited in your hypothetical  example.  Well that’s a relief!!


The “ERISA test” about highly compensated employees – can you explain to me how that’s an issue to begin with?  If employees have an opportunity to contribute and be matched up to 6% of their salaries, for example, and everyone does…obviously the CEO is going to have a higher 6% than the receptionist.  I’m obviously misunderstanding something here because that seems too obvious to be a problem.

One of the goals of ERISA is to ensure that broad-based retirement plans do not discriminate in favor of highly-compensated employees.  In tandem with various testing provisions in the tax code, ERISA generally requires a retirement plan to have minimum “coverage” (i.e., the categories of eligible employees cannot be skewed in favor of highly-compensated employees) and to provide non-discriminatory benefits.   In response to your hypothetical, a uniform contribution for all employees (when expressed as a percentage of compensation) is generally non-discriminatory.  This is the case even if, as you noted, a highly-compensated employee ends up with a higher contribution when expressed as a dollar amount.

I asked Jeremy what else I should know to have a reasonable understanding of ERISA and he responded with the truly terrifying (from an HR perspective) tale of Krohn v. Huron Memorial HospitalHow would you answer that question?  What other finer points should I know?

It takes many years to fully understand ERISA’s detailed statutory scheme.  I’ve been working in the employee benefits world for 18 years, and I’m still learning new things.  My recommendation is to talk with as many people in the benefits world as possible.  Make a point to sit down with an actuary, benefit plan auditor, investment advisor, or other benefits professional as often as possible.  You’ll be amazed at how your understanding of ERISA will increase! 

My chief takeaway from all this -- all kidding aside -- hire a lawyer.  Always.

My chief takeaway from all this — all kidding aside — hire a lawyer. Always.

Anything else you’d like to add re: ERISA?

There are tons of free resources available to HR professionals that explain the requirements under ERISA, the tax code, and other laws that apply to employee benefit plans.  For example, the DOL and IRS have both, in recent years, expanded their websites and outreach programs to provide information geared to both employees and employers regarding benefit plans.

andrewW. Andrew Douglass has been practicing law in employee benefits and executive compensation matters for 13 years.  Prior to becoming an attorney, he worked as a pension actuary for a large public accounting firm.  There can be no doubt, now though, that he is an ERISA nerd through and through.  His words, not mine.  His favorite TV show of all time is The Wonder Years. Excellent choice!  “I’ve always related to Kevin Arnold and the ups and downs that came with growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.   That said, there was no way I was cool enough as a kid to have Winnie Cooper as a girlfriend!”  When he goes to a non-buffet Chinese restaurant, he orders off the “secret” menu because he’s cool like that…or actually, spicy, like that.

His official bio can be found at:, or you can reach him on Twitter: @theERISAguy.  See?  ERISA nerd.  I believe I shall keep him on speed dial for when I need bail money in ERISA jail. :)

Losing a Job Before the Interview – Facebook No No’s

Hola all!  While I was out for finals week, other people were kind and generous enough to surprise me with offers of guest posts!  I LOVE THAT.  It’s like the Tooth Fairy for grown-ups!  In case any of you are wondering, I definitely accept guest posts.  Email me or contact me on Twitter if you have some ideas.  In the meantime, enjoy this excellent post about cleaning up your Facebook during a job search from Jeri Johansen, PHR.

Hope you’re all having a great week!  I am! – HRGF


facebook popularityFacebook.  People either love it or hate it.  One thing’s for sure, its popularity can’t be beat – Facebook has now surpassed Google as the most visited site in the U.S. with over a billion users.  It didn’t take long for employers to understand that a lot of information can be learned about prospective employees from their Facebook page.   While those pictures of you doing a keg stand provide a great memory of a great party, recruiters are not usually amused by this activity.

Effective January 1st, 2013, new state laws make it illegal for some employers to demand access to their worker’s Facebook accounts, although that does not mean they won’t try to view them.  It’s hard to believe that employers had been taking it upon themselves to demand employees’ social media passwords!  This tactic just screams Title VII violation.  Just think of the type of information an employer could possibly learn from your social media page: gender, race, religion, sexual orientation; the list goes on and on.

mehWhether or not hiring managers should use social media for employment screening, recent surveys show that about 37% do check Facebook before making a hiring decision.  Below is some information to help you clean up your Facebook page before embarking on your post-graduate or post-layoff career search.


Facebook Privacy settings

Take the time to set up your privacy settings so that only “friends” can view your timeline.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you restrict a lurker’s access to your information, it makes it all the more difficult to not only find you, but to dig up dirt on you.



Quite possibly the biggest indicator of a person’s “social media maturity” is their photo section. Would you be interested in going into business with someone whose first impression of themselves is a picture of them chugging a 40-ounce beer and making an explicit hand gesture? Yeah, neither would your future employer.








Status Updates

What you choose to share about yourself on a widespread social platform like Facebook says more about yourself than what you actually say. Constantly complaining about your life, putting other people down or stating controversial opinions with disregard to others’ feelings are all sure-fire ways to have strangers judge your personality before actually getting to know you. You had a bad day at work? Posting about it on Facebook makes it seem like you hate your job and could concern employers that you would bad mouth them as well.  

job status

Proper Grammar & Spelling

Not being an English major is no excuse for improper grammar or spelling errors.  Profanity is another huge turnoff for employers, with 61% saying that they view the use of profanity on social media sites negatively.  Maybe you have great things to say but you can lose your credibility if your spelling or grammar is off.   Let’s review the following post:  “Im so exsited for there company to schedule my inter-view”.   Although you may mean well, this post could be viewed by the interviewer who may become “not so ecxsited” to schedule your interview.


This is my blog and I have a job already, so profanity is ok.


Your “likes” on Facebook can be extremely telling.  While you may well be a fan of “Tattoos by Deviants”, it may come off as unappealing to some more conservative employers.

While changing or updating your Facebook profile is a good practice for job searching, it’s important to remember that nothing you post on the internet is ever completely hidden.  I can still find pictures of myself that I posted during my “only cool people post self-timer shots of them alone in the bathroom” phase in high school.  If in 10 years from now you think you could be embarrassed by the stuff on your social media page, don’t post it!  You don’t want a profile picture or status update to be the determining factor between you and a competing candidate!

jeriJeri Johansen, PHR is an HR Blogger, Manager of Human Resources at, and Chair of the 2014 Northern Ohio Human Resource Conference (  She has never been skydiving but claims she would do it, if given the opportunity.  Her favorite vacation is cruising around the Caribbean. specializes in employment screening and background checks. You can follow on Facebook and Twitter also.

A Novel Approach to Intern Recruiting from MasterCard

I hate cash.  I really do.  I almost never use it and when I do, I always wonder if those bills were used for some type of nefarious purposes before they reached my hands.  Snorting coke, tipping a stripper, handled by someone who works at the CDC and didn’t properly clean the Ebola off themselves…who knows?  It’s gross.

SONY DSCWhat’s more, it’s inconvenient.  A few years back a friend and I went to a concert at the New Orleans Arena and parked across the street at the Superdome.  They gave us our ticket and we parked, went inside, and enjoyed the show without purchasing any beverages or food cause we had already eaten.  We never looked in our wallets.  It didn’t dawn on us until we were in the throes of the parking line that we’d now have to pay cash to be let out of the Superdome or be held hostage and delay hundreds of cars behind us.  We scrambled through our purses, the seats of her car, and the floorboards — and came up $1 short.  In her wallet, she had another $1 bill that she didn’t want to part with because a friend at her job had folded it into a perfect origami flower that she kept as a good luck charm.  We had no choice though, and had to unfold that masterpiece to get out of the garage.  I guess it was lucky we had it, but that seems like a poor reason to waste a good luck charm.


That’s right. Grandpa was a balla’ yo!

My family also tells a funny story about my grandfather returning from a vacation in the Netherlands.  He took a cab home from the airport and did not realize until the driveway that he had not changed over any of his money yet.  I think he was able to pay the fare with a credit card but had nothing but Euros to tip this poor cabbie in Shreveport, Louisiana.  This isn’t DC or NYC where you can change that on any street corner.  This would have inconvenienced that cabbie quite a bit to accept a tip in Euros.  Instead, (and luckily) grandpa remembered that he kept an emergency $20 bill in a hidden compartment on the gas cap of his beloved faux-wood-paneled Buick Roadmaster station wagon/land yacht.  The cabbie waited in the driveway while grandpa had to get into the garage and fish out a $20 bill that had been in the gas cap for God knows how long and probably smelled of petrol enough to give the cabbie a headache.  See?  Cash is gross and inconvenient.

That’s why, when I read an article on Ryan Estis’ blog about MasterCard Worldwide and saw they were holding an internship contest around the idea of a cashless society, my eyes lit up IMMEDIATELY.   College students in the US, Canada, Italy, Turkey, China and Singapore will be developing ideas that might be implemented and lessen the need for gnarly paper money and stupid little coins.  Some people gripe about Big Brother.  Whatever.  I say bring it on!!  I can’t wait till I can pay for stuff with my retinas – and I bet these kids are going to have some GREAT IDEAS!

Add my bank balance and we have a deal.

Add my bank balance and we have a deal.

In the spirit of learning more about this global internship contest and how a huge corporation like MasterCard Worldwide runs their internships, I reached out.  Cut to – my teeny little blog here got an interview with Jen Cowan in HR at MasterCard!


Here’s our chat.  Jen’s responses about #internswanted are in BOLD.

How did you select the 6 countries?  Are those where the major MasterCard offices are located or were there other considerations? The six countries were not selected as much as they were the first to express interest in recruiting interns through this innovative social campaign method.

What do you prioritize in selecting interns?  Creativity?  Grades?  What is in the mind of the selection committee or individual during this process?   Overall, we like to see a well-rounded applicant. Our requirements are 3.0 GPA or higher, leadership experience, volunteer experience and demonstration of a work/life balance.  All of these characteristics fall within MasterCard’s vision, mission and values.

Internships will be held in areas of emerging payments, technology, marketing, issuer management and product management.  Apart from their major, how do you decide which team to place someone with?  The interviewing process gives us the opportunity to learn more about the students and what their interests are. From there, the students interview with the team to see if there is good fit.

We’ve all heard HR horror stories of interns being tasked with not much more than fetching coffee and dry-cleaning.  This sounds like a much more immersive process.  What is a typical day like in the life of a MasterCard intern?  We provide our interns with real life work experience.  Our interns will work on real projects.  At the end of the day, they can see how their efforts helped MasterCard as a whole.

Obviously the interns benefit from putting this experience on their resume and learning new skills and technologies in the corporate workforce.  What does MasterCard receive in turn from the interns?  The internship program provides us the opportunity to look at potential full time applicants.  We use this program as a 10 week job interview to see if the intern would be a good fit for their group and MasterCard.


This is the 3rd year that #internswanted has taken place, but the first year it’s gone global.  Why now?  Do you think including Millenials in Asia and Europe will give different viewpoints about the need for cashless societies?  We have seen such success with the campaign in Canada that we wanted to expand into other areas. This provides the opportunity to consider different parts of the business and different skillsets.

Are there any plans to expand to South America, Africa or Australia in the coming years? Yes, these would be locations to consider in the coming years.

Is there anything that was done in the first years that’s been changed or deleted?  Lessons learned from those programs that will make year 3 the best yet?  In the past, we asked a very broad question for the applicants to answer for the creative submission. This year, we are asking a very specific question.  From this, we should see some very exciting and creative submissions.

This process has been described as a 10 week job interview.  There are approximately 5 winners in each country, right?  Of those 30, how many do you estimate will be offered full-time employment with MasterCard upon graduation? If you come in and work hard, there are potential opportunities for full-time employment for post-graduation.  Depending on business need, we will be able to determine our full-time offers. Stefan from Canada is a great example.  He went through the program and is now a full-time employee.

Universally important.

Universally important.

What does an intern need to do to really shine and guarantee a job offer during those 10 weeks? To stand out at MasterCard, ask lots of questions, network, be well prepared, thought-provoking and punctual.

The application process includes a cover letter, resume’ and a creative/problem-solving element.  “Applicants are asked to submit an idea for a product, system, app or techniques that can help people go cashless in the future. Successful candidates will validate their application through social media using #internswanted— the more likes and retweets, the better the chances for success.”  Once selected, does the intern get to work on their idea at all or will they solely be working on other projects?  At this time, the interns will be working on business specific needs that have already been identified.

I’m sure a lot of ideas the students have are creative, but not ultimately feasible.  Do you encourage “out of the box” ideas or is MasterCard more focused on practicality? The #internswanted campaign provides us the opportunity to find those diamonds in the rough that are out of the box thinkers. The more creative the better.

What is the best advice you can give to an applicant to be successful in applying for this internship?  Think BIG and think outside the box. You have the opportunity to show MasterCard why you should be one of our summer interns.  Take the all the time you need to put your submission together. Be creative and have fun! If you have questions, reach out to the LinkedIn group for questions. We are here to help!

What is the best advice you can give to a winner to be successful during the internship? For any intern, I suggest being open-minded. Be open to feedback, ask a lot of questions and network as much as you can. You never know who may be looking for a full-time hire.


This sounds like a fun program and I’m sure the winners will be glad to participate.  I was so thrilled to get to do this interview and it was very kind of them to answer my questions.  I am incredibly grateful.

There is more information at MasterCard’s website.  Even if you don’t plan to enter, the videos are cute.  I recommend them highly.

The US deadline for entry was April 7th.  The other countries will be accepting applications soon.  If you know a student in one of these other countries, I would encourage them to apply!  It will be great on a resume, it sounds like they’ll learn a lot, and if they can help the world go cashless then godspeed!!

Many thanks to @MasterCardNews, @CashCowan and @MasterCardBecca for their assistance and to @RyanEstis for that original blog post!

jen cowan

Jen Cowan is MasterCard’s Campus Program Manager tasked with identifying top innovators for their College Programs. In addition to campus recruitment, Jen is helping to shape the social media platform for HR and recruiting.  In her spare time, she is an avid tweeter, non-profit social media consultant, shopper and Food Network Groupie.

ERISA Lesson (Pt 1) with Guest Jeremy Bordelon – Teaching Tuesday

ERISA Lesson

The following is an email exchange between my attorney buddy, Jeremy Bordelon, and myself.  He tells me we’ve barely scratched the surface of ERISA here.  Maybe he’ll grace me with a Part 2 sometime in the next few weeks.  My words are in bold.  Everything else is Jeremy.

I have done a lot of benefits administration in my day, but I don’t know much about benefits LAW.  I am SUPER weak on this topic. I could barely come up with any questions, so add anything you want!

Thank you!


Employee Retirement Income Security Act – Became Law in 1974 – Has to do with protecting employee pensions and tax effects of other benefits plans.

Well, it’s that, but it’s more than that.  In the beginning of ERISA, when it was thought of as a “good thing” for employees, employers and benefits administrators were looking for any exception they could come up with to get out from under ERISA.  The courts responded by ruling that nearly everything that had anything to do with an employee benefit was preempted by ERISA.  So now nearly every benefit an employee gets from any private employer is governed by ERISA.  Health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, and of course pensions.  Now, many employees wish they could get out from under the “protections” of ERISA, but employees are stuck with it.

pensions eggs

Since employee pensions are largely becoming extinct, what does this have to do with other retirement options?

ERISA has a lot of rules regulating what happens when a pension plan shuts down.  As the concept of a traditional “defined benefit plan” dies out, ERISA tells everyone how to wrap things up properly.  As 401(k)s and other types of “defined contribution” plans have become more prevalent, ERISA provides guidance for how those need to be run as well.

Since ERISA is often substituted for “all laws regarding benefits” it includes amendments that created COBRA and HIPAA.  I will probably address those in the blog at a later time.  What other significant impacts does ERISA have on health plans?

The main impact that ERISA has on health plans is the limitation on remedies for the participants.  As the guy who helps people get their benefits when they’ve been denied, it’s certainly the main impact on my clients!  When I represent people who have had a benefit claim denied, I have to explain to them what ERISA means for them, and it’s mostly bad news.  That list of bad news includes:

1)  It may take a year or more to exhaust all your appeals with the administrator, and you must complete that process before being allowed to go to court to pursue your benefits.

2)  If your appeals are exhausted and you do have to file suit to pursue your benefits, you will not have the right to a jury trial.

3)  You will not be able to seek any extra damages for a “bad faith” denial of your claim.

4)  No matter what the administrator said or did, no matter how well-supported your claim was, you cannot seek any extra damages whatsoever.  It does not matter if you lose your leg because a health claim was denied.  It does not matter if you lose your house because your disability benefits claim was denied.  No matter what, the administrator will not have to pay more than they should have paid on your claim in the first place (aside from paying, perhaps, part of your attorney’s fees, and maybe some interest on past-due benefits).

5)  In most cases, the administrator gets the benefit of the doubt, and a denial of your claim will only be overturned if it is ruled to be “arbitrary and capricious.”  This means that if the administrator has any evidence at all supporting its decision, you will lose.  A recent survey of benefits litigation found that claimants get benefits denials overturned in court only about 30% of the time.

no money

Usually, the only good thing I have to tell people when I explain what ERISA means to them is this – it’s cheap to litigate in this area.  This, too, bears an element of bad news, though.  The main reason that it’s cheap to litigate in this area is that there isn’t much discovery allowed.  As an attorney, I usually can’t get the court’s permission to do things like take depositions, serve discovery requests, or introduce extra medical evidence in support of my client’s claim.  Bad for the case, good for the expense bill my client has to pay at the end.

I’ve heard people saying things like “We have to make sure this passes the ERISA test” with regards to discrimination.  Is this the part about highly compensated employees setting aside and receiving a proportional amount of salary/match to other employees?  Or are they referring to some other discrimination test?

That could be what they’re referring to.  ERISA does have rules about equality between highly compensated employees and everyone else.  On a day-to-day basis, that would probably be what you heard people talking about.  There is another anti-discrimination provision in ERISA, though.  It states that employers can’t take adverse actions against employees for attempting to exercise their rights under an ERISA pension or welfare benefits plan.  The same section of ERISA provides for whistleblower protections, too.

What else should I know to have a reasonable understanding about this?

Well, on the employer side, there are a few things HR folks need to know.  In addition to making sure people are enrolled properly, making sure premiums are paid properly, and making sure claims are forwarded to third-party administrators properly, the HR pro’s biggest and most important job is providing information.  For failure to provide plan documents on request, the plan administrator (usually the employer) could be subjected to penalties of up to $110 per day.  These penalties do not go against any third-party administrators, only the “plan administrator” itself.  If the Department of Labor is asking for information, the penalty for a late response could be up to $1,100 per day.

img_fines pay fines

HR pros can also run into problems just answering (or not answering) employee questions.  Plan fiduciaries (employers as plan administrators, insurers as claims administrators) have an obligation to convey complete and accurate information material to the participant’s (or beneficiary’s) circumstances.  This includes answering questions the participant didn’t think to ask.  For failure to do so, participants can’t currently get money damages in court, but that may change.  (DOL guidance suggests money damages should be available, but currently the courts aren’t following that guidance).  “Equitable remedies” (non-money damages) available for these errors can be substantial, though, including a complete re-write of the Plan to comply with the faulty information given.

For example, consider the case of Krohn v. Huron Memorial Hospital.  Mrs. Krohn was a nurse who worked at the hospital.  She was in a coma after a car accident.  When her husband asks about short term and long term disability benefits, he’s told by HR that the Krohns would be better to stick with the benefits offered by their auto insurer than to file applications for the employee disability benefits plans.  The HR person was under the partially mistaken understanding that 1) auto insurance usually pays more than STD, and 2) that you can’t get both at once.  Based on this advice, Mrs. Krohn did not apply for STD or LTD.  What she should have done was apply for LTD.  Even if she couldn’t receive both benefits at the same time, she would at least have a live claim.  Instead, Mrs. Krohn returns to hospital HR four years later, when her auto insurance benefits are exhausted, asking if she can now file a claim for LTD benefits.  The third-party carrier refuses to consider such a late claim.  Mrs. Krohn has no way under ERISA to force them to do so (she’s long since missed the deadline to apply under the strict terms of the plan).  Instead, she sues the hospital for providing inaccurate or incomplete info about the plan.

The court held that the hospital had a duty to make sure that the Krohns understood everything they needed to know about her benefits, even if the Krohns didn’t know the right questions to ask.  The “duty to inform is a constant thread in the relationship between beneficiary and trustee; it entails not only a negative duty not to misinform, but also an affirmative duty to inform when the trustee knows that silence might be harmful.”  Because of the bad advice Mrs. Krohn got from HR, the hospital wound up having to pay 20+ years of LTD benefits itself, because the third-party insurer was covered by the fact that the claim was not filed on time.


I expect that cases like Krohn would probably keep HR people awake at night.  I mean, to a certain extent, the courts expect you to be mind-readers.  You’re supposed to know what information plan participants need, even when they don’t really know themselves, or else your company could be on the hook for benefits you thought were insured by a third party.  Don’t get me wrong – for every case like Mrs. Krohn’s, there are probably a dozen others where the employee gets nothing.  But I don’t think any responsible HR professional wants that to happen, either.  Talk to your employees and do your best to keep them informed about the terms of their benefit plans.  Hopefully issues like these can be avoided entirely.


*GULP*  This is the part of HR that makes me get overwhelmed and want a nap.  I just like helping people.  Ugh.  This whole employment law bit is both incredibly boring and scary.  I just know I’m gonna get arrested for something one day.  :)   More study needed!!

Jeremy Bordelon

Jeremy Bordelon has worked at the Chattanooga, Tennessee law firm of Eric Buchanan & Associates ( since 2004.  He’s worked his way up from paralegal to junior partner (so far).  While working for the firm, Jeremy earned his Bachelor’s degree in Legal Assistant Studies from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  He then earned his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 2009, magna cum laude.  Jeremy is admitted to practice before all State and Federal courts in Tennessee, as well as the United States Courts of Appeals for the 6th and 11th Circuits.  He has successfully handled hundreds of social security disability, private disability insurance and ERISA long-term disability benefits cases.  Prior to law school, Jeremy served eight years in the U.S. Navy as an enlisted Cryptologic Technician, achieving the rank of Petty Officer First Class.

In his spare time, he enjoys road cycling, woodworking, and sailing with his lovely wife.  He likes his steaks medium rare, and he’s never seen LOST or The Wire!  His fave character on The West Wing, though, is Josh Lyman so that’s an acceptable substitution.

Teaching Tuesdays: A Lesson in FMLA with Hilary Bancroft

Hello All -

Welcome to my first Teaching Tuesday!  Today I’ll be getting a lesson in FMLA from Hilary Bancroft.  I’m very excited Hilary volunteered to be my first guest teacher.  She really knows her stuff.  On to the lesson!


This is what I know (or what I think I know) so far –  Hilary’s changes/additions will be in BLUE so you all can see where I was weak and need more study.  I’m not ashamed.  That’s the whole purpose of this blog – learning together!

Employers are only required to provide FMLA if they have 50 or more employees working within a 75 mile radius of their office.  Very small companies do not have to comply because it would cause a hardship.

Employees are considered eligible for FMLA once they have been with their employer for one full year, provided they have worked at least 1250 hours during that year.

An eligible employee can receive FMLA due to: a serious illness or injury of their own, a serious illness or injury to a spouse, parent or child that requires them to be a caregiver, to receive proper pre-natal care if something like bed rest is required, after the birth of a child, or after the employee takes a child into their home through foster care or adoption.

care for the elderly

Most conditions have to be signed off by a doctor to determine if they are serious enough to warrant taking leave.  Other than pregnancy or adoption, an employee cannot “choose” how much time they want off.  They can only have as much as the doctor recommends.  For example, after my neck surgery a while back, the doctor recommended 4 weeks off.  I could not have decided to take more in order to have a long vacation and call it FMLA, right?  

Often companies have a specialized medical certification they have the doctor complete and the doctor has to specify clearly how much time is needed, the reason for the time, and the expected duration of the condition. Often within my organization we will only do a 6 month approval maximum even if it is a permanent condition as the condition can often change and this allows us to get updated medical information on a regular basis from the doctor. The law does not specify how frequently information can be requested from the doctor on the condition, but I’ve usually heard the minimum approval should be for a month unless the doctor specifies it is a two week condition.

Once an employee is determined to be eligible for FMLA, they can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and still be entitled to all their benefits during this time.  At the end of their FMLA, they are guaranteed their old job back or a similar one with the same pay and benefits.  Their benefits are not free while they are out; the employer can recoup the cost of various premiums when the employee returns to work or they can pay separately while they are out.


Leave is extended up to 26 weeks if caring for a military service member who was injured on active duty, I think.  I have never encountered this situation AT ALL so I’m REALLY unfamiliar here.

Military leave has a lot of different requirements and can even be extended to include things like military services, time to spend with the member in the military while they are on a leave for a week or two, etc.

For most FMLA purposes, caring for a son or daughter means a minor child under the age of 18.  FMLA is given to adult children if they are disabled and unable to provide self-care. Because of technicalities in this arena, I think most people would want to consult an employment attorney to be sure they are complying legally.

With my company in particular, we did extend FML to apply to a household member so employees whose child still lives with them at home are also covered under FML. This is at the discretion of the company.

A few questions I have:


Does the law specify about paternity leave?  Can a man use FMLA after his wife has a baby or if they adopt – or does the law specify that it’s only available to a woman after she gives birth?

The law does make it clear that both fathers and mothers have the same rights under FML to take unpaid leave to bond with the baby. The leave must be taken within 1 year of the birth of the baby (so hypothetically a mother could take the first 12 weeks off and then the father could take the next 12 weeks off or they could take it together). It is also offered in the circumstances of adoption to both adopted parents. It must be taken within 1 year of the adoption date of the child.  This type of leave can be taken on a continuous or reduced leave basis, if the reduced leave is approved by the employer. For example, an employee could take the 12 weeks by taking Mondays and Fridays off for 30 weeks or taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off for 30 weeks. This is subject to approval by the employer. The only guaranteed approved leave is if it is taken continuously. Leave for bonding with a child cannot be taken intermittently, it must be a set schedule.


Is it the responsibility of the employer to OFFER FMLA or is it the responsibility of the employee to ask?  I know most people are presented with this info upon their orientation as a new hire and beyond that, HR can’t read minds.  HR can’t know if an employee’s parent has developed Alzheimer’s unless the employee brings that to their attention, yes?

If an employee specifies to their employer that they have a serious health condition that they need to take time for, it is the employer’s responsibility to advise them of the FML benefit. If the employee does not mention a medical condition, the need to care for someone with a serious health condition, or express the need to take time off for these things, the employer cannot know that they should offer FML to them. We also offer information regarding Family Medical Leave and how to apply in our Employee Handbook to ensure that all employees have access to the information if they seek it out as well. We also typically recommend that if the employee mentions anything medically related, that the manager encourage them to have a conversation with HR and advise the employee they do not have to provide any information to management regarding their condition.

At least in the state of Louisiana, FMLA differs from pregnancy leave.  Pregnancy leave is available immediately upon hire and can last for up to 16 weeks/4 months.  Is this the law everywhere?

This is not the law everywhere; there are many different FML laws in various states. For example, California has paid disability leave as well as CA specific family medical leave. Oregon has similar laws. You should always check with your state government website to see if your state does have state-specific requirements that are more strict than the federal policy.


Anything else important that I should know?

I can’t think of anything, but with FML there’s more that I learn every day and new litigation taking place that changes the requirements! When in doubt, if you’re denying an FML condition, I would recommend consulting with your company’s lawyer just to be safe.  

Thank you so much, Hilary, for all this wonderful information and for taking the time to chat with me!  I really appreciate it!  My first guest teacher, everyone!


Hilary Bancroft graduated from Providence College.  She majored in Marketing and minored in Finance. She started in an HR Development Program at a Fortune 100 company in 2010 as a way to get her foot in the door and ended up loving it. She spent her first year learning most of the HR basics such as Worker’s Compensation, termination, new hire orientations, and her “best friend”, Family Medical Leave. She lives and works in Boston and is always looking for new connections in the HR world to hear about best/different HR practices.  She can be reached on Twitter at @HRHilary or her LinkedIn Profile at  She prefers cake to pie and is not at all adventurous when it comes to pizza toppings.  Hilary is currently buried beneath two and a half feet of snow but assures me she’s fine and drinking lots of cocoa. 

Ok gang – did we miss anything?  Get anything wrong?  Let us know in the comments!

“Duck Dynasty” or The Pros and Cons of HR in a Family Business with Guest Blogger Terri Kaye Beregi

Hi everyone!  I’m chatting today with my friend, and first guest blogger, Terri Kaye Beregi.  She and I used to work together at a family business and we both have a lot of experience in that unique realm.  Terri’s words are in BLUE.

First off…do you watch “Duck Dynasty” at all?  I’ve seen it a few times with my Dad and that’s what got me thinking about this post.  I know they do a lot specifically for the camera, but the safety violations ALONE on that show make me cringe.  They rode a canoe or something on an assembly line?  I can’t really remember but all I could think was, “It’s a good thing this is fake because if someone really did that and lost a hand or whatever, the paperwork would end that business.”

We LOVE “Duck Dynasty!”  Phil for President!  LOL


Secondly, you and I have both worked at multiple family businesses over the years.  All of these companies are relatively small, right?  Both of mine were between 200 – 300 employees…and I’m not counting the skating rink when I was 15 because I was just the birthday party hostess, not HR.  Is that the same for you?

I’ve been all over the spectrum in size, attitude and degrees of respectability with regards to HR in the family business.  Of course there is our mutual experience and currently the company I work for holds 230 employees and 5 multi state locations. 


Everything is more personal.  You get to really know a lot of the employees and are able to help them in ways that you definitely couldn’t in a large corporate setting.  I’ve advised people on domestic violence intervention, low-cost prescription drug assistance, getting a passport…you name it.  By advised, I mean I Googled a few things, made some calls, and put the employee in touch with someone else, but I’m able to take 5 minutes out of my day to do that for people because I actually interact with them.  To some people I’m still the mean HR lady because that will never change, but to some of them…I’m their hero.

Agreed.  Statistically speaking we all know the benefits of making an employee feel invested in their company. This is one of the great examples where HR can be directly involved in that.  This is what I call the ‘touchy feely’ part, and it is way easier to get involved in this side of HR in a family setting as opposed to a corporate structure.  It allows HR to be really hands on in areas of assistance that may or may not deal with true HR items such as benefits and compensation.  Our family member bosses appreciate the effort to help the after school worker that lives 2 doors down from them complete financial aid paperwork and maybe, just maybe, that kid will go to school for something relevant to the company and remain a productive member of your business’s work force.  Win win!

Flexibility is always good.

Flexibility is always good.

More flexibility.  The owners are largely around more and you get to know them better and they understand a little more that you need to get to soccer practice on time, etc.

This is a huge benefit, especially to the family oriented, the college student or the caretaker of a sick parent.  As a mom of 3 this is extremely key to my life personally and I’ve seen it work for so many others in a family owned business where it would never be a possibility in the corporate world.  Again, invested employees are better employees and by working with someone’s situation both the business and the employee benefit.  If Jill isn’t stressed out all the time about getting little Johnny off the bus because the babysitter quit again, she’s going to be way more productive even if she has to leave at 2 instead of 5. Personally, I was once in a position that I had long since outgrown professionally but turned down more impressive job offers because the flexibility wasn’t there.  Yeah, it’s THAT big of a deal.   

Faster decision-making.  Things don’t have to go up an endless corporate ladder to be implemented.  You have an idea, you track down an owner, schedule a meeting and make a decision.  You don’t need 17 signatures and a committee to make it happen.

If there is one key person in charge, sure this could be the case.  However, more often I’ve seen this be a road block because there is only one person in charge or two people in charge who you can never get in the same room.  What I would like to interject here is maybe the ‘ask forgiveness not permission’ benefit.  I pretty much live by this in my current position because I can never get the top dogs to sit down for 5 minutes together to OK or veto something I need to do.  So, I go with my best option.  They will either love it or hate it but chances are I won’t lose my job over it.  In a corporate world, you’re more likely to be punished for making decisions on your own because the board meeting is 2 months away. 

open door

Open-door policies.  Most family companies are very good to their employees because they see the day-to-day work they’re doing and how their sweat is building a future for this family business.  They try to keep employees happy, so if you have a question or concern about something and your manager doesn’t adequately resolve it, you are free to go above their head.

Where this is most definitely a benefit to the employee, it could create HR nightmares.  When Manager Marty was enforcing a die-hard no cell phone policy when he disciplined Emily Employee she took it straight to President Paul.  President Paul buys Emily’s excuse/reason and assures her she shouldn’t worry about it and all is forgiven.  What she did not tell him is that she was driving the forklift unloading a pallet of bricks while talking on the cell phone and speeding!  What we’ve created now is a misinformed President, an undermined manager, and a smug employee who feels she got away with something and WILL do it again.  And who has to clean it up?  You, the HR Hero!

This is very true, especially with poor communication between Marty and Paul.  Ideally Paul would confer with Marty before telling Emily anything.  USUALLY the transparency and closeness of owners makes an open-door policy a good thing.  Not always.



EVERYTHING is more personal.  The gossip increases tenfold, and so does the office politics. In a corporate environment when you hear Ted in accounting is getting a divorce because of his gambling addiction, you don’t care to listen to that or repeat it because you have no idea who Ted is and gambling addiction and divorce are sad.  At a smaller, family run company, everyone knows everyone and often, everything.  If you’re having a bad day and get a little terse with Sheila in the next office, you can apologize immediately but you can bet your life she’s already told 3 people, it will get to your supervisor, and she’ll hold that grudge for 2 weeks.

Most definitely true!  Even in a 230 person establishment, news…good or bad spreads like wildfire.  Once, it beat me across the parking lot! :)

Different HR ideas.  At a family business, the family has the final say and that’s that, whether you agree with it or not.  For example, I think that when an employee is caught stealing, they should be fired.  This is a clear violation of policies, it ruins morale because people will know he was caught and NOT FIRED if that’s the case, and stealing is illegal.  If the owner decides to be charitable and keep _____ around and just “keep a closer eye on him” then you just have to suck it up and deal with it.

In my earlier HR years I struggled with this immensely.  I mean, your employer hired you as a resident ‘expert’ in the field of HR.  Not that you are the ‘end all be all’ of course, but in this organization among this group of people you are expected to be the most knowledgeable in this field.  They realized they were to a point where HR was important enough to hire someone to handle it so they should be on board with this method of thinking, right? Wrong! And sometimes that’s hard to swallow.  I’ve learned to come to the meetings prepared and give them the most informed opinion why something should or should not be done.  Then, most importantly, I’ve learned that they may or may not take my advice and I’m ok with that (for the most part).  At the end of the day, their name is on the sign and the paychecks.  I had to come to a hard realization that even though I knew what I was talking about and had HR law to back me up, ultimately they had the deciding vote because it’s their money and their potential lawsuit to risk.

I will also say that this gets better with age and practical experience.  Even though I was the highest HR authority in an organization at 23 years old – to the 73-year-old President – I was still a baby, wet behind the ears even with a 4 year degree and a few years of practical work experience under my belt.  I could hold my own in a meeting but the moment someone mentioned how young I was even in casual water cooler conversation, I think I lost some credibility.  Like with anything else, you become more respected and trusted the longer you’ve worked in a particular field.  Now, still the youngest of Department Heads in my organization, I have many more years of practical experiences to back my opinion and I typically meet less resistance.


It’s a word you’ll hear a lot.

Resistance to change.  Their payroll, inventory, or accounting software is way out of date.  You know of a much better one that would help speed things up so much.  They won’t do it.  The reasons run the gamut from “too expensive”, “too risky”, “what we have is working”, etc…but the bottom line is, they won’t do it.

Policies, equipment, procedures need to evolve.  But it’s a hard thing to get accomplished for the reasons you list above.  What I’ve found is that they will eventually come around if they see examples of the benefits of doing such…or if they get pissed off enough about something!  Employees clocking each other in?  Get a biometric time-keeping system (finger/hand scanner). Too expensive?  Show them the 10 hours of overtime on Jim’s timesheet when we know for a fact he left early at least 3 days last week.  One department’s color printer is out and they are walking clear across the parking lot all day long to use another one.   Can we get them a new $$$ printer? No.  Note the amount of time it takes Denise and Michelle to do this and show the owners just how much time is wasted in productivity.  They could recoup that $$$ printer cost in no time.  It just takes a little bit more effort and probably a lot more time to prove your point here in a personal, family setting than in an impersonal, $ driven corporate setting.  But the benefits of making a move are hard to deny in black and white.  Oh, and you have to pick your battles.  Note: You WILL NOT win them all! 

Little to no room for advancement.  You aren’t family and you never will be.  You won’t be made partner, ever.  If you’re the highest person in your department right now, congrats.  You’ve summited Everest.  It’s all downhill from here.

HR is usually the last department an organization thinks they need.  Let’s face it…HR is largely viewed as a necessary evil.  All this department does is put out money on things like benefits, payroll, safety equipment and the Christmas party for goodness sakes!   At first, it’s a handful of people, they either are all family or friends of the family.  No major HR problems and payroll is a breeze.  10 years down the road they have 100+ employees, unsafe work practices all over the place, and the employees want benefits and a 401k!  They need help and hire you.  For a long time you will probably be the only person in the HR department.  You’ll be both the VP of HR and the grunt.  (I love this line!  So true! – HRGF)  Maybe eventually you’ll get to hire some help.  Yay!  But Dominique’s right, there is nowhere else for you to go.  If one is lucky enough to get on board with owners who see that the position evolves and see that you’ve done a lot with the department, monetarily you will surely benefit the longer you are with the company.  But your position is what it is and you will not ever be the deciding vote in an owners meeting.  The family will.     

Slower decision-making.  Yes, it’s great that we don’t need 17 people to sign off and form a committee before we implement this policy but if the owner is the only one who can OK this and he’s out of town for 2 weeks, it sits for 2 weeks.  If she doesn’t prioritize HR and puts you last on her to-do-list every day, then finding her and getting her signature can take a while.  If she just wants to mull it over for a while and takes forever to make a decision, then forever we wait.

Insert ‘ask forgiveness not permission’ statement here!  In a family business you will wait for answers on items that you deem to be extremely important, mainly because the family members probably won’t view them as important.  Also, because HR is not the ‘production’ side of things so it usually takes a back seat to how many widgets they can produce in one day.  Shocker….we are not always viewed as the most important piece of the puzzle!  (I will not go off into a rant of how without HR there would be no people to make the widgets, thus no widgets to sell, therefore no money to earn and no business to speak of!) 

At one point in time, when I was in a particular unsatisfying position with a family company, I had thought family business was not for me.  It was too ‘willy-nilly’ in regards to policies and how they were interpreted for different people and circumstances.  I needed a black-and-white-no-grey-area corporation so that I could successfully function in an HR capacity.  I was wrong.  That particular family, although wonderful people, had made it hard for me to do my job effectively because of how they viewed HR and its role in a corporation.  When I spoke with the family company that I’m with now, I finally realized what was key: how an employer viewed HR’s role as a whole within the company structure.

Do I make less money in a family business than I would in a corporate setting? Definitely.  Do I run into all the cons listed above? Sure.  But I also reap all the benefits listed as well. The family owned company that I work with today allows me flexibility as an employee, values my opinion as an HR director and I’m allowed the authority to do what needs to be done in any given situation.  I know that working with a family organization is definitely not for everyone.  Many people could not deal with the idiosyncrasies involved.  However at least in my own situation, at the end of the day, it’s a good place to be.   

Thank you so much for chatting with me and being my first guest blogger, TKB!  I loved everything you added.  Working at a family business can be frustrating but it is also incredibly rewarding!


terri kaye

Terri Kaye Beregi graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University with a degree in Business Management with a Concentration in HR.  She has been an HR Manager in the Baton Rouge area for over ten years and is currently HR Director of a multi-million dollar family business.  She is also a semi-professional photographer.  Her terrific work can be seen at  She has a wonderful husband and three gorgeous children: Elizabeth, 9, Jackson, 6, and Tate, 4 months.  She’s a dog person and does not enjoy ANY flavors of Pop Tarts.  (I’m sorry, you guys.  I have to get a better screening process.  I didn’t find out that Pop Tart thing till this was finished, I swear.)

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