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by Jim Rendon (Authur  Archive)

Published April 22. 2010 / AAA

an interview with Michelle Reinglass

THINGS Human Resources Won't Say

“You’re not paranoid—we are watching you.”

Companies want to make sure you’re working most of the time, not sending joke e-mails to your buddies. Half of organizations in the ePolicy Institute survey banned the use of personal e-mail on the job, and more than one in four reported firing employees for misusing the Internet. In many companies, HR works with the information-technology department and the legal team to develop policies for electronic communication. These policies aren’t a secret. Edwards says she makes a big effort to walk new employees through computer -use and e-mail policies, and they must sign forms saying they’re aware of them.

Many companies employ software that sifts through e-mail looking for curse words or sexually explicit language. IT monitors Web usage and can see every site an employee
visits. In fact, anything you do via the company’s server—most activity on an office computer, including personal e- mail—is subject to review by your boss. Firings over these issues are on the rise, says Flynn. In 2009, 26 percent of companies reported terminating employees for violations of e-mail policy, up from 14 percent in 2001. “Employees should act as if the boss was looking over their shoulder,” says California employment mediator Michelle Reinglass.

“Read the fine print.”

When you take a job, you may be agreeing to more than you know. In the fine print of employment agreements, employee handbooks and job applications, many companies include a mandatory arbitration clause—meaning that you agree to give up your right to take any dispute to court, even if the employer has broken the law. Instead, the case goes to an arbitrator, who decides it privately, and “the grounds for appeal are extremely limited,” says Donna Lenhoff, an attorney with the National Employment Lawyers Association. Lenhoff estimates that more than 30 million Americans are bound by arbitration clauses at work.

Employers—particularly those in financial services, health care and pharmaceuticals—often favor arbitration because it keeps costs down and cases out of the headlines, says Manesh Rath, a partner at the law firm Keller & Heckman. But, says Lenhoff, arbitration seldom works out well for employees. A recent study found that arbitrators decided in favor of employees just 30 percent of the time, and when the individual arbitrator had worked previously on a case with the employer, the employee won only 12 percent of the time. Reinglass says employees can often fare better in court. “Someone on a jury might relate to your experience in a way that an arbitrator may not,” she says.

“We know more about you than you think.”

These days companies do a lot more than look over a pile of résumés and call a few references before hiring a new employee. They bring in outside firms to dig into an applicant’s background and verify education and employment histories, and they will often even search criminal records and credit reports. According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 53 percent of companies have conducted credit checks on their employees.

Another survey, conducted in 2007 by HR Focus magazine, found that 86 percent of firms performed criminal background checks during the hiring process, and it has been estimated that nearly two-thirds of companies test job applicants for drug use. But not everyone thinks such measures are extreme. If anything, employers don’t dig deeply enough, says Rath: “An employee with a problem with a previous employer or criminal record will try to hide it.”

“We love tests.”

Job seekers today have so much experience packaging themselves, with tailored résumés and rehearsed answers, that companies turn to tests to find out more about what makes them tick. A 2009 survey by research firm IOMA
found that 26 percent of companies conducted personality, psychological or integrity tests on applicants. Job seekers may also be asked to take a test to quantify their creativity. What’s more, insurance companies are pushing businesses to screen for traits like risk-taking, a quality the underwriter would not appreciate in, say, an applicant for
a forklift -driver position.

But testing does have its problems. Rucci says that the most important indicator of future success on the job is past performance. Counter to that, HR managers sometimes distance themselves from the hiring process by relying on tests rather than performance appraisals. “There was a time when someone would say, This is the best-qualified candidate, based on their record,” says Maltby. “Now it’s tests, and no one takes responsibility for the decision.”


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