This is part two of my rant against the unfair assumptions against us HR folks. Here why you really need us:
I was out of my home office at another site for three days. When I returned, I found out that the GM of our home division transferred one manager and hired a former colleague to fill the newly vacated position. I was totally unaware these moves were taking place. By the time I learned of the new hire, the deal was done. Unfortunately, there was an assistant manager in the department who was given no consideration for the position. There was no posting or other recruiting. The new manager was under 40 years of age. The assistant manager who had been passed over was over 40 years of age. It took two years, but she got her settlement.
An employee with a severe illness was covered under a self-funded group health plan that carried stop-loss insurance. The carrier for the stop-loss insurance was the same carrier the company had for the long-term disability (LTD) insurance. The LTD department contacted HR to find out if this employee would be filing an LTD claim. They knew of his situation, because the carrier was now paying his medical bills. HR learned upon inquiry that the employee had been out of work for several months, but was still receiving a full paycheck! He was not transferred to short-term disability status and was not collecting the STD benefits the company was paying for and the employee was entitled to. He was not later converted to LTD status, in order to collect the LTD payments that the employee was entitled to under the plan the company paid for. He was never put on FMLA status. Naturally, the general manager who allowed this employee to be absent from work due to serious medical condition and continue to receive a regular paycheck without informing HR of his status had no intention of converting him to COBRA status under the terms of the company’s policies. But under these policies, an employee who is not actively at work (paycheck not withstanding) and not on leave status or COBRA status is not a covered person. The manager who tried to protect his employee from the clutches of the evil HR lady who would have (gasp) put him on leave and required him to receive STD benefits and later LTD benefits, then would have (shudder), forced him onto COBRA, thus protecting his status as a covered person and maintaining coverage for himself and his family at a time when he needed it most. Ignorance of the need for and nuances of the policies and coverage provisions nearly caused this general manager to inadvertently render his special employee ineligible for his medical benefits.
An employee had a disagreement with her supervisor and walked off the job, normally cause for automatic termination. But the next day, before the start of her shift, the employee went to HR and complains that her mean and nasty supervisor told her to go home, and that he doesn’t like women. She went on to say how this mean and nasty supervisor is always picking on the females in her department, even requiring her to do twice as much work as one of the male employees. HR advised the employee to return to work at the start of the shift, and the matter would be investigated. While the matter was being investigated, HR received a written change notice from the supervisor indicating the employee had walked off the job and not returned. The supervisor would later admit to the EEOC investigator that, while HR was investigating her claims of gender discrimination, he had prevented the employee from clocking in at the start of her shift, brought her to his office, and fired her. That her original discrimination claims proved to have no merit was no longer relevant. She prevailed on a retaliation claim.
In all of these cases, managers acted on their own will and whims and engaged in personnel transactions without consulting, or even informing HR. In fact, in these cases, HR was very deliberately left out of the picture until well after the fact. In each case, the manager felt he was doing what was in the best interest of himself, his department, or his favored employee. However, in each case, the manager’s intentions backfired with unintended consequences. Two lawsuits had to be settled out of court and one employee was saved from losing coverage by the interventions of HR and the plan’s broker. Also, another employee benefited, a pregnant hispanic female who went on disability leave for childbirth and received full pay, in order to be consistent with the benefits received by the white male employee who received the favored treatment by the general manager.
Here’s how these cases could have been handled differently.
Case 1: Post the vacant position for Customer Service Manager. Interview the assistant manager, if she applies for the position. Interview other internal and external candidates. Write your business reasons for selecting one candidate over the others, including the incumbent assistant manager. You may still a get claim from a disgruntled employee who felt entitled to the promotion, but at least you’ll have a documented case for your actions.
Case 2: Follow your policies and procedures for a disabled employee. File for the appropriate benefits and update his employment status as appropriate. If you think requiring the employee to leave on the reduced pay afforded by the disability benefits, bonus him. Make the business case for why the employee deserves additional compensation, based on his previous performance, and give him a bonus check. The extra cash plus the disability pay benefits should be sufficient. As for COBRA, don’t charge him for the premiums, or pay the premiums on his behalf to the TPA. You’ve taken care of your special employee, he has not been “thrown out to the cold”, which is what we evil HR people seem to do, and his benefits and employment status have been protected. Meanwhile, you have not set a precedent that will allow every employee who goes on STD to get a full paycheck.
Case 3: Don’t terminate any employee without HR present, or at least given advance warning. Allow the investigation to proceed. Let HR help you terminate the employee with less risk, if she doesn’t quit on her own first.
HR is not there to get in the managers’ way, and certainly not to harm employees with arbitrary and inhumane enforcement of policies. HR is there to protect the company from rogue managers and supervisors who act on their own will and whim and put the company at serious legal risk at worst, or cause deeper morale issues at best. None of the managers in these cases intended to maliciously abuse his power or do harm to his organization, but they DID do harm, out of ignorance of the potential consequences of their actions.
This is why you need HR.