Tag Archives: hr

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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…

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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:

http://www.smartrecruiters.com/blog/5-tips-for-getting-new-employee-orientation-right/

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

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.

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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!!

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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:  http://www.seyfarth.com/W.Douglass, 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. :)