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Employee viewing pornographic websites

We have discovered that our CIO is surfing pornographic websites throughout the day. Moreover, we know that his activity level on these sites increases prior to his going on company business trips. How should we handle this?

Each company should have an Internet, e-mail and computer policies to assure proper usage of the company's resources. These policies usually include the company's position on usage of these resources, the right of the company to monitor e-mail and Internet usage and what happens if an employee violates the policy. Some companies go a step further and include a statement that prohibits employees from viewing pornography while at work. If this policy is included in your employee handbook, review the policy and take appropriate action.

All is not lost if your company does not have a written policy that addresses this issue. Ask to meet with the CIO and inform him that you are aware he is using company resources to view pornographic websites. Tell him that his actions are not appropriate and issue a written warning stating what will happen if he does not discontinue his behavior. Draft up an Internet, e-mail and computer usage policy and have it reviewed by counsel. Be sure to distribute the policy to all employees and include it in your employee handbook.


Workplace relationships

Is there a standard protocol that human resource practitioners should follow when dealing with employees having relationships with each other? In addition, if an HR manager dates another employee within the same company is any disclosure typically required to senior management? Is there any standard wording for an employee manual with regard to this topic?

There is no standard protocol when it comes to dating in the workplace. Some companies have policies that discourage employees from dating one another while other companies do not have a problem with employees dating in the workplace.

If an HR Manager is dating another employee within the same company he or she should disclose the relationship. If the employee is dating their direct report or they are responsible for his/her performance reviews, promotions, work assignments, or pay raises, responsibilities will need to be transferred to another party. Of course if this person is the only HR Manager in the company, this can be problematic. The employer may have no choice but to ask the HR Manager to transfer to another position or resign.

Policies on dating in the workplace vary from employer to employer, so there is no standard wording for employee manuals.


Supervisor sharing confidences

An employee at our firm recently assumed a supervisory position and started taking a different staff member to lunch each week to try and build rapport. This has sometimes resulted in shared confidences, and the supervisor recently told two of her staff members she understands they are not happy and that she, too, is looking for other opportunities. When I was told of this conversation I did not react. Now, as an HR manager, I do not know what I should say or do about this information.

It sounds as though the supervisor is fairly new at management. Consider using this as an opportunity to strengthen her management skills. First ask the supervisor if what you have heard is true. If she acknowledges this actually occurred, remind her that she is now a member of the management team and that this requires a shift in her thinking. If her team members are unhappy, it is her responsibility to work with her manager to resolve the issues. You might also suggest that she speak with her manager about her own situation so that steps can be taken to improve her work environment.

If she states this never occurred, let her know that if she or members of her team have a problem, you will gladly facilitate a meeting with her manager to resolve any issues that may be impacting morale.


Terminating a problem employee

I need help with how to handle terminating a key employee in our company. This individual has behavior issues and we are afraid this person may cause a scene. What is the best location, time of day, and day of the week to terminate this employee? Any other suggestions?

Terminating an employee is always a difficult and potentially challenging task. Terminating an employee with known behavioral and/or psychological problems requires even more thought, with a well-thought out action strategy. The initial preparation step should always involve a multidisciplinary team from your company: Human Resources, an attorney, the employee's manager, the EAP professional, and a representative from security or the risk management department. We always advise employers to be conservative since you are also responsible for the well-being and safety of other employees who could be affected by a termination gone astray.

There are two primary choices on how to terminate the employee in question: 1) Onsite on a predetermined day; or 2) Via the phone when the person is at home, hopefully supported by family members. Terminations via the phone are never elegant nor desired as the best practice. However, if an individual runs a much higher risk of acting-out at the worksite, endangering him or herself, or placing others at risk, then a phone termination conducted by the employee's manager makes sense. It also helps to preserve the dignity of this vulnerable individual. IT staff can just as easily deactivate entry cards and intranet access remotely. In this situation, the employee will have to talk with family members, gain support from others and calm down; eventually he or she might be given the choice to meet with HR to review the termination package and to pick up personal belongings.

If this proposed phone intervention does not match the company's culture, or faces multiple objections, then it will be essential to terminate the employee at the end of a work day with security present. Under no circumstances should an employee who reacts with volatile behavior or self-injurious threats be sent home alone following the termination. You must make every attempt to provide safety until a family member can share responsibility. Have your EAP counselor available to help in the process.


Terminated employee seeks reinstatement

I own a small, seasonal landscape company and one of my employees had difficulty following directions. When approached she changed her behavior most of the time. However, one time she walked off the job after not agreeing with a client. I warned her if she did it again she would be terminated. She did it again and she was terminated. She apologized but I stood my ground about the termination and told her I might consider "forgiving her" in the future. I meant personally, not professionally. Now, five months after being fired, she has left a message on my answering machine saying she is ready to come back to work full-time as our season starts up again. I do not want to hire her back, but she lives in a condominium complex that my company has a contract with, and I do not want to jeopardize the contract. What is the best way to handle this?

This is a rather simple ethical issue and our suggestion is simple as well. Your employee was terminated after receiving fair warning of possible consequences. You obviously do not want her back for very specific performance reasons that are clear in your own mind. You are cognizant of the contract with the former employee's condominium, and her employment history is confidential information. We believe you have no choice: she cannot be rehired at this point in time. Sometimes in business we all face situations where ongoing revenue streams can be compromised or lost in the service of ethical decision-making. This is one of those situations. Make a note in the employee's personnel folder documenting your thinking, consult with a trusted colleague or attorney, and then move on. In all likelihood one condo member will not jeopardize your contract with the association so long as you have done an exemplary job.


Executive approval of company policies

Our company recently changed the lunch policy. Previously, full-time, 40-hr./wk. non-exempt employees received an hour paid lunch and were expected to work 35 hours. Now, the same employees are expected to work a 40-hour work week but are given an additional 2 1/2 hours (unpaid) per week for lunch. Since the policy has been implemented, morale has been down. I suggested to the company president that we allow employees to be away from the office for up to 2 hours at a time for occasional doctor's appointments and the like without affecting their paid time allowance. He agreed and told me to clear it with the CFO. The CFO said no to the policy, then later offered the very same plan to his own staff, not the whole company. I will be meeting with both the president and CFO and have two questions: 1) Should the CFO have given me a heads-up before sending an e-mail only to his staff about my plan?; and 2) Does the company now need to make this a policy for all non-exempt employees?

Yes, there is no question that a world-class CFO leader should have discussed this with HR prior to e-mailing his staff. He not only compromised your reputation in the company, but engaged in unfair practices that will ultimately impact the morale of all employees. The President and the CFO require a briefing from you that does not embarrass the CFO, but spells out potential consequences of a two-tiered policy. Allow the CFO to save face by talking with him first, clearly letting him know that you plan on discussing the issue confidentially at a senior level. He may elect to recognize his error, correct it on his own, and thus avoid an embarrassing discussion in the presence of the president and others. Wipe the slate clean and initiate a new round of policy discussions among the senior team. It is your responsibility to lead this discussion, outlining pros and cons of various options for the company. People make mistakes. Give the CFO a chance to apologize and join in during the new round of discussions.


Resolving supervisor-employee tension

There is tension between two of my staff members. One is a supervisor, the other her employee. The supervisor believes her employee is insubordinate and not interested in doing extra tasks. The employee believes they simply do not get along and that she is indeed interested in taking on new tasks. While I am aware that they do not get along, they do perform their assigned duties. How should I deal with the tension created between these two and relieve it without involving the rest of the supervisor's staff?

My recommendation is that you first speak with each of them individually. During this discussion highlight the many positives of their performance, also stating that the performance level comes at higher cost than is necessary. Tell each of them very directly that you cannot force them to like one another or to work without tension, but that you would like to suggest some solutions. As a "coach" you have the option to elicit their input for creative solutions as well as to offer some specific directions of your own. For example, you can ask them if they would be open to an outside, third party mediator who could facilitate a discussion on personality differences, etc. If both are willing, then this is often an effective method. It may be that all attempts to resolve conflicts and personality clashes do not succeed, yet assigned duties are consistently fulfilled more than adequately. At that point, you should do nothing more. Let them ultimately take responsibility for change. Eventually they may tire of daily tension and seek some viable changes on their own ... or come back to you for help and guidance.


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