button Vol. 7
No. 6

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FedEx Ground
Versus UPS:
Two Worldviews

line Workplace Diversity:
Does It Work?

line Health Care and

line The Shrinking

line Top HR Issues
For 2005

line USERRA Update
line Briefs

Braun Consulting News
News on Personnel, Labor Relations and Benefits

See our Archive Pages for Back Issues of Braun Consulting News!

Human Resources and labor relations Briefs

Checkmark Graphic Background Checks: Necessary but potentially flawed

With the potential for damage that can be done to employers, both full time and part time applicants should be checked with a valid background check.

It is just as important for temporary employees as it is for permanent. The added expense can seem prohibitive, but the repercussions of not doing a check can be even more expensive.

The NYSE fined Schwab $250,000 for failing to "promptly notify the NYSE that it had hired 55 full-time and temporary workers with criminal records", and Merrill Lynch was fined $300,000 for hiring 23 employees with criminal convictions.

However, it should be noted that there could be flaws in background checks that may lead to unfair rejection of otherwise qualified candidates or applicants. These flaws can either be in the form of vital information being omitted or in false and damaging information that is incorrect being erroneously provided.

Shawn Bushway, a criminologist at the University of Maryland gathered the criminal records of 120 current parolees in Virginia and submitted their names to an online employee-screening company. Sixty-four of the names came back displaying no criminal record at all. That's a more than 50% error rate.

On the other end of the spectrum is the example of Kenneth Schustereit who spent 51 days in county jail when he was 18 for a misdemeanor theft charge. He had tried to take a pile of what he thought was scrap metal from a machine shop's parking lot. Thirty years later he had been turned down for a series of jobs and investigated the reasons for his rejections.

He found that a background check of his criminal record sold to employers by ChoicePoint data brokers erroneously reported that his misdemeanor was a felony. It also stated that he spent seven years in prison when he spent 51 days in county jail. The difference between a seven year felony charge and a 51 day county jail misdemeanor is a significant misrepresentation that cost him several jobs.

ChoicePoint blamed the Texas Department of Public Safety, where it said the incorrect felony information originated. The Texas DPS did admit to misidentifying Schustereit's offense, but not for turning his 60-day sentence into seven years. The department said ChoicePoint was responsible for that error.

Schustereit thinks the mistake is indicative of the sloppy work that data brokers do.

"It was incumbent on both the Texas DPS and ChoicePoint to find out if Kenneth Dale was different from Kenneth Don before ruining someone's life," he said.

There are no standards for assuring the accuracy of data, and incorrect or misleading information can lead to lost jobs and public embarrassment.

A 2004 report by the National Association of State Public Interest Research Groups found that 79 percent of credit reports might contain some type of error, and criminal records may be just as inaccurate.

Misinformation can occur for a number of reasons -- clerks mis-key information, criminal charges get dropped but not updated in files, or arrested suspects provide authorities with the name and Social Security number of someone else. To compound the problem, if data does get corrected in one database, there is no way to ensure that it's corrected in other databases.

Authorities recommend that companies counting on criminal background checks for hiring decisions conduct fingerprint matches instead of name matches, even though they are more expensive and take more time. Based on just a name it is possible for the wrong information to be provided from agencies and data brokers.

For example, often sex-offender registries do not have anything other than name in many cases, so companies should ask additional questions to help them confirm that they have the correct person when there is a possibility for confusion.

Background checks are a necessary and critical part of employment screening and hiring.

However, they can be false, inaccurate, misleading, or even completely wrong. So it is incumbent upon the employer to be aware of these facts and not just blindly assume they are true and make potentially bad decisions based on wrong information.

(Note: some information for this article was provided in part by wired.com.)

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Checkmark Graphic Office Romance On The Rise Again

The newest survey by Vault Inc. indicates that the number of office romances is on the rise again.

According to the new survey 58% admit to workplace romance this year, up from 46% two years ago.

The survey was drawn from the responses of 610 employees representing a variety of industries across the U.S., and is identical to a survey they conducted two years ago.

The survey found that while office romances are increasing, people are still wary about advertising them, since only 19% of participants chose to be completely open about their relationships. Some revealed their situations to a select few; 22.5% were open about it only with certain close friends.

Survey respondents were asked if there was currently an office romance happening between two co-workers at their companies and the majority, 43%, said yes; 38% said they did not know whether an office romance was taking place, and 19% said there was no workplace dating at their companies.

The results concerning the number of companies that have an "office romance policy" fall in line with an article we wrote in our own newsletter last year. The Vault survey this year indicates that, "most respondents were either unaware of any company policy regarding workplace dating (44%), or replied that there is no policy governing office romances (39%). Of those who stated that a policy exists (17%), it usually involved managers not being permitted to date subordinates."

In our last newsletter our article "Update On Romance In The Workplace" in the summer of 2004, we stated that: "Surveys indicate that 69 percent to 84 percent of all companies opt for the "no policy" option at the workplace. Only 12 percent of respondents to an American Management Association survey published in 2003 reported that their company had an active policy, most only concerned with relationships with subordinates."

According to Vault, "Most employees surveyed seemed to agree that office romances were not a big deal; for example, most respondents (59%), if acting in a management capacity, would only interfere with the relationship if work were being compromised."

One other interesting note: 22% of respondents reported having met their spouse or significant other on the job.

Though on the rise and seemingly accepted by most employees we might raise a note of caution regarding all the euphoria surrounding romance in the workplace.

In the conclusion of our "Reminiscing About Workplace Romance" article of our Summer 2003 Newsletter we stated something that bears repeating here:

"While agreeing that workplace romance is pervasive and inevitable in the workplace, we must point out that the bottom line for most employers is keeping the organization and people in that organization functioning smoothly and efficiently. Like all other aspects of an effective workplace, preparedness and training will have the potential to pay high rewards in these cases... primarily by warding off a disaster." "Office romance is the place that a few dollars in of planning for the realities of life will save you millions in court ordered remedy."

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Checkmark Graphic Are HR Departments Socialist?

An interesting article was published by workforce.com that raised some unusual points, and apparently lots of heated feedback regarding them.

The article was a reprinted article by John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University, and it was titled "Is Your Human Resources Department Unwittingly a "Socialist" Institution?"

His main topics regarding this issue were these:

graphic Human resources as the advocate of the weak vs. the top performer
graphic Human resources as supporters of equal pay vs. differential pay
graphic Human resources focused on seniority vs. relevant and recent performance
graphic Equal treatment of departments and managers vs. resources based on results
graphic Human resources as consensus decision-makers vs. innovators
graphic Human resources as the protector of people and jobs vs.
      being a champion of profit
graphic A bias toward people over capital investments, no matter what the ROI

We have included a link (above) to the article in case you were interested to read more.

His conclusions stated the following: "The war between capitalism and socialism is over, and capitalism won because it's a superior approach. Now is the time to pass that message along to the numerous junior psychologists, former teachers and social workers in human resources that just haven't heard the message yet. Incidentally, these are also the individuals that fight the use of technology, ROI and metrics in human resources because they feel that they 'dehumanize' people in the people function."

And further: "If your goal is to increase your company's people productivity through the effective use of human resources tools and strategies, it's time to change the DNA of human resources. It's time to change human resources so that it focuses on top performers and ensures that it spends most of its time and budget on high-ROI activities. In brief, it's time for human resources to become a profit center."

It seems the workforce.com received quite a large number of animated responses regarding this article. We appreciate their continued contributions of interesting and probing articles about Human Resources issues.

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Checkmark Graphic Company Portals Coming Of Age

The term "Portal" is often used interchangeably with corporate intranet. However newer and more evolved portals used by companies are a significant improvement over intranets.

Intranets often offer the same general information to all employees and are a "one size fits all" type solution to dispensing information. The more advanced portals are tailored to individual employees and can offer a real-time information flow that goes in both directions.

For example some newer portals offer internal company communications, employee's personnel records, access to training programs, job-performance rankings, benefits updates and personalized plug-ins to search engines.

Over the last year there has been a surge in corporate spending on employee portals and intranet systems as HR executives are seeing that portals can be a vital strategic piece of their human capital management systems.

Portals seem to be part of the evolution of employee "self-service" technology, and there are a growing number of impressive examples of companies saving significant amounts of money by using them.

However, coming up with hard numbers to produce a high enough return on investment to satisfy the demands of CEO's is still a challenge. Yet, trying to stop the momentum of this technology is like stepping in front of a freight train.

It is only a matter of time until this technology dramatically changes the face of HR functions in the workplace.

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Checkmark Graphic The Bush Administration And OSHA

There is no doubt about it - since George Bush took office his administration has made OSHA more "business-friendly." He has done this by running OSHA with a smaller staff to develop new standards, less reliance on the views of organized labor, and an expanded role for businesses.

Bush's supporters and his critics agree there has been a major shift in the "regulatory climate" since he took office, but they disagree over whether that shift represents a harmful reversal of federal protections to benefit business profits, or a useful cutting of the fat of costly governmental rules.

In the past four years OSHA has eliminated nearly five times as many pending standards as it has completed. John Henshaw, the head of the agency, has said that the Clinton administration had left too much unfinished regulatory work at the agency and that OSHA was converting its agenda from a "wish list" to a "to-do list."

In the first year after Bush took office OSHA eliminated 18 of the 44 incomplete rules left by the Clinton administration, and by the end of 2003 six more were gone. Henshaw commented "every one of the items had some merit, no one is disputing that - but there is only so much you can do."

John Graham, the deputy budget director for information and regulatory affairs that oversees federal regulations, said OSHA has shown "an intensely practical, down-to-earth approach to worker health and safety, not inclined toward grandiose, unrealistic ventures."

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