HR Intel – HR is the First Line of Defense in the War Against Workplace Violence and More…

A round up of workplace developments and legal trends to help keep HR ahead of the curve

HR Intel PictureLast week’s mass murder at a Southern California office holiday party represents one of the worst workplace violence incidents in US history. Only the Ft. Hood shooting and the 1987 downing of a USAir passenger jet qualify as more severe. Given the severity and nature of the incident, the San Bernardino shooting (as it will come to be known) has far-reaching implications for employers, HR professionals and business owners everywhere. It could very well be a pivotal moment in workplace security.

For some perspective, we turn to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2014, there were “only” 137 workplace fires, with a total of 53 fatalities due to fire or explosion. However, in the same year, there were 421 workplace homicides, a number that typically hovers between 400 and 500 annually and is persistently higher than the number of fatalities due to fire or explosion. While most employers have some kind of fire drill and/or building evacuation protocol, not nearly as many train for mass shootings, which present a growing problem.

Most importantly, industry experts encourage employers to focus on prevention and training to address violent incidents. Prevention may take the form of a zero-tolerance workplace violence prevention policy, or even creating a crisis management team to lead in times of peril. Training may include providing education to supervisors and managers in advance, up to and including “active shooter” drills.

Knowledge of the law can help as well. It goes without saying that employers should properly vet their employees and do thorough background checks, but the law can help protect businesses and their…ahem “human resources” from current employees as well. For example, some states allow employers to prohibit employees from storing guns in their vehicles in the parking lot, whereas other states do not allow for such restrictions.

Ultimately, whether the San Bernardino shooting is perceived as a terrorist attack or an incident of workplace violence, HR professionals and business owners are well-positioned to make a difference.  The takeaway is that the HR community must continue to be vigilant, must lead in times of crisis and must equip employees with the knowledge, the training and the ability to handle these incidents professionally.

Parental leave as a recruiting tool?

In the single most awkward transition in the history of blogs, we move to parental leave and its expanding use as a recruiting tool for Silicon Valley tech firms and (increasingly) banking firms. For example, Netflix recently expanded its cushy parental leave policy to its part-time staff, but limited them to “only” four months of paid parental leave. Break out the violins!

Other tech firms like Apple, Adobe, Facebook, Google and Yahoo! provide enhanced parental leave benefits to employees as a draw to recruits and (shockingly) to attract millennials who are into their childbearing years. Yahoo CEO Marisa Mayer may have missed the memo when she elected to take only two weeks of maternity leave back in September, as other Yahoo employees can take either eight or 16 weeks of leave if they are a new father or mother, respectively.

Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, encouraged an expansion of parental leave for Facebook employees (up to four months for full-time employees) right in time for his own paternity leave, which he elected to limit to two months.  Bloomberg, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs all have generous parental leave policies in place as well, indicating that the trend is not limited to Silicon Valley or tech companies.

This trend runs concurrent with the expanding rights of same-sex married couples and is driven, in part, by the lack of a federal law or program that provides for paid parental leave, paid sick leave or paid pregnancy disability leave. The federal law vacuum has created uncertainty at the state and municipal levels, but by all means, employers can elect to provide benefits greater than what the law requires as a means to attract the top talent in their industries.

When you want something done right, do it yourself

Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to do some recruiting recently. The electric car entrepreneur tweeted about job openings for electrical and software engineers and indicated that he, personally, would handle some of the interviews. Musk even appeared on comedy-hit The Big Bang Theory in a cameo, and recruited the lovable Howard Wolowitz to potentially work for Tesla as – you guessed it – an engineer. Probably not a coincidence.

Legal briefing

Did you know that an employee using a company-provided smartphone can prevent an employer from accessing the contents of the phone by citing the 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination?

In SEC v. Huang, a federal district court in Pennsylvania ruled that because the employer-provided smartphone required passcode access, an employee who used the phone could not be compelled to disclose the passcode to either his employer or to the SEC.  This makes sense as there is no (legal) practical way to compel a person to reveal something of this nature, but it presents a potential area of difficulty for employers who equip their employees with smartphones but who may need access to the data stored on the phone at a later date.

However, given that a passcode is considered “testimonial” in nature and a fingerprint is considered “physical” evidence, employers can get around this potential restriction by enabling fingerprint ID access on all employer-provided smartphones. This would go a long way toward conducting an internal investigation into a crime or misconduct that involved the phone. That does not mean employers should always demand a fingerprint from their employees if they seek access to a company-owned device, but getting a fingerprint from a reluctant employee is far easier than compelling an individual to reveal his or her passcode.

How is this song relevant to HR?

In the last edition of HR Intel, we asked you how “Ready or Not” by the Fugees is relevant to HR. Ready or Not is very much an anthem for refugees and the descendants of refugees who have made their way to the United States, each of whom would trigger the immigration/I-9 process for employers looking to hire them. The song is intended to be both a triumphant celebration of refugees who have gone on to become contributors to American society, as well as a memorial for refugees who didn’t make it here safely, the latter of which is eerily poignant today.

President Obama has indicated in the past that “Ready or Not” is his favorite song, perhaps indicating a soft spot for those who would risk life and limb for a shot at the American dream – something with which we can all identify.

We leave you with “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers.

Tell us how you think this song is related to HR in the comments section below.


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