October 2009 Archives

Jan. 12: Feed Your Talent Pipeline Using Twitter, Facebook, and Other Social Media

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 30, 2009In: Seminars, Past

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If you're using Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn® to search for talented job candidates, you're not alone. According to Workforce Management, companies like digital advertising agency Organic are incorporating social media as part of their recruiting strategies. And with nearly 7.1 million people now using Twitter (Nielsen NetView), smart employers are utilizing blogs in their talent acquisition efforts.  employment law seminars

But feeding the talent pipeline online can result in costly litigation if a job applicant claims you've invaded her privacy.

Learn how to reap the benefits of online recruiting while minimizing legal risks by participating in the interactive audio conference, 2009 Recruiting: Feed Your Talent Pipeline Using Twitter, Facebook, and Other Social Media. In just 90 minutes, you'll get straight answers to such questions as:

  • Is Twitter the best place to find job applicants who "live" online? What's the best way to use Twitter for effective recruiting?
  • How can I use corporate branding on the Internet to attract potential job candidates?
  • How can I use Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn® to get our branding messages out more quickly?
  • What's the best way to use Twitter to build a "following" among active and passive job candidates?
  • What are the potential legal issues that could arise when using Twitter? How can I avoid posting "tweets" that could be construed as harassing or discriminatory?
  • What type of information should I avoid on social networking sites when searching for talent?
  • How do I handle information found online that I would NEVER ask about in an interview?
  • How can I use a wiki without incurring legal trouble, such as releasing sensitive company and/or employee information?
  • What are the legal risks if one of my employees posts content on a company-run blog or social networking site?
  • What action should I take if employees post our company logo on their private social networking sites for blogs?
  • How can my organization protect itself from potential litigation surrounding employee usage of social media tools?
  • How far can I go when keeping tabs on an employee's blogs, instant messages, and social networking sites?

I'll be presenting this audio conference on January 12, 2009. To register, visit the H.R. Hero website.

Proof that Looks Really Do Matter … at Least for Resumes

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 30, 2009In: Just for Fun

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When it comes to resumes, I’m not the only one who believes that looks really do matter.  Admittedly, I am more particular than most when it comes to the appearance of documents.  But typeface is one aesthetic upon which I do not stand alone.  Previously, I expressed how strongly I feel about choosing the right font when creating a resume. One of the worst of all fonts for such a serious document is the inappropriately goofy Comic Sans.  The video below is proof that I am not the only one who thinks that Comic Sans should be reserved for the Sunday funnies.  Happy Friday!


Comic Sans from Sam and Anita on Vimeo.

Quit Monkeying Around: Court Rules Monkey Is Not a Service Animal

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 26, 2009In: Disabilities (ADA)

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Service animals provide assistance to persons with disabilities in a number of ways. Last week, I wrote about the seeming confusion surrounding “non-standard” service animals, like a boa constrictor and a “seeing-eye horse.”  The U.S. DOJ published proposed revisions in an attempt to clarify what animals do and do not qualify as service animals for purposes of the ADA.  The proposed regulations relating to service animals (PDF) would exclude the boa constrictor (and other snakes and reptiles), as well as rabbits, farm animals, ferrets, and wild animals, including monkeys born in captivity. Explaining the perceived need for the changes, the DOJ stated:

At the time the regulation was promulgated, the Department believed that leaving the species selection up to the discretion of the individual with a disability was the best course of action. Due to the proliferation of animal types that have been used as ‘‘service animals,’’ including wild animals, the Department believes that this area needs established parameters. Therefore, the Department is proposing to eliminate certain species from coverage under the ADA even if the other elements of the definition are satisfied.

The proposed regulations would also exclude animals that do not provide assistance but that provide emotional support, comfort or companionship. But, as reported by the ABA Journal, the regulations may have come a bit too late.  The apparent popularity of these “non-standard service animals” is widespread.

After some 4,500 people flooded the DOJ with comments about the proposal, the Obama administration delayed implementation until its new civil rights team was on board. At this point, the revised ADA regulations are expected by the end of the year.

And, today, the ABA Journal offers an interesting update to the story.  A federal judge has ruled that Richard, a monkey belonging to a Missouri woman, does not qualify as a service animal entitled to the benefits offered by ADA.  The ADA does not require businesses to permit Richard access with his owner, says the court.

Richard’s owner claimed that Richard was the key to controlling her anxiety and agoraphobia and sued when the County Health Department and Wal-Mart (among others), refused to permit her to bring Richard along while she patronized local businesses.

In the Court’s opinion (below), it identified the benefits the plaintiff claimed to receive from the monkey’s companionship.  The plaintiff claimed that Richard:

blocks people from getting too close in public places, “tolerat[es] ... a position for hours” so Plaintiff can focus without anxiety, brings Plaintiff to full awareness by performing tasks such as holding her hand or touching her face, sits on her lap for “as long as it takes to relieve the emotional overload,” gets his toothbrush to encourage her to get out of bed, brings the remote control to the TV or the cell phone if Plaintiff is not “functioning normally,” turns her turn signal in the car when she reaches her street to inform her it’s time to turn, the monkey can open the car door allegedly as an “escape strategy,” uses a “direct look with an open mouth” or a “gentle push” to alert strangers to stay away, and hugs Plaintiff to bring her anxiety level down.

These allegations are helpful in understanding why the court rejected the plaintiff’s claim.  As comforting as Richard’s assistance may be, none of the tasks he performs apparently help his owner perform a major life activity that she would not otherwise be able to perform but, as her doctor testified, primarily sits with Plaintiff and provides her with comfort.

Fed. Register Service Animals

10 Posts Employers Should Read this Week

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 23, 2009In: Newsworthy

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Here are a 10 of the most important and interesting employment-related posts from the web this week.  TGIF!


I am a big fan of audiobooks and podcasts for convenient learning.  Mission to Learn blog has a great post listing "10 Killer Content Sources for Your iPod Learning Mix"  with several excellent resources for those who want to learn on the go. 


Ogeltree Deakins' employment-law blog, Employment Law Matters has a timely summary of an important case from the 3d Circuit in the post, Replacing employee with younger, less experienced person is not always age discrimination.


Brian Hall, at Employer Law Report, provides an update on another important case, Pietrylo v. Hillstone Restaurant Group.  I reported on Pietrylo when the jury came back with a verdict against an employer who terminated two employees because of their MySpace page.  As Brian reports, the verdict was upheld by the federal district court in New Jersey.


David Yamada, at Minding the Workplace blog, reports on a survey, which found that a majority of workers in the U.S. think that their bosses are dishonest.


The WSJ reports that E-Mail No Longer Rules.  Instead, Twitter and Facebook (and other hopefuls) have taken over.  Recently, I read that the alleged decline of e-mail is an inevitable result of the Gen Y / Millennial infiltration.


Philip Miles at Lawffice Space updates us on the two new EEOC ADA notices issued by the EEOC, one on Swine Flu and one on the upcoming Town Halls for proposed ADAAA regulations.


An article at ComputerWeekly.com recommends that employers have dress-code policies for avatars.  Avatars are 2- or 3-dimensional objects that usually resemble humans, and used as a visual representation of the user.  This is an angle that I'd never heard previously but probably has some legitimacy for those organizations with staff who use avatars.


At The Word on Employment Law, John Phillips discusses the now infamous "Balloon Boy Hoax" and concludes (rightly), that Zero Tolerance Polices Are Worth Zero.


Epstein Becker's Trade Secrets & Noncompete Blog keeps readers up to date on the events in Georgia, as its state Legislature Proposes Dramatic Changes to Restrictive Covenant Laws.


Jon Hyman, at the Ohio Employment Law Blog, discusses the recently released Litigation Trends Survey and Highlights report, published by Fulbright & Jaworski, as it relates to what we can expect in the world of employment litigation in 2010.

EEOC Published Flu Pandemic Guidelines

Posted by Teresa A. CheekOn October 23, 2009In: Disabilities (ADA)

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Wondering what it is okay to say and do with regard to employees who have, or might have, the flu? The EEOC has stepped up with information to clarify with information about flu-related issues based on the principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. The World Heath Organization posts periodic updates on the status of the H1N1 pandemic, which has been in phase 6 (sustained community-level transmission of the virus is taking place in more than one region of the world) since June 2009. Delaware is one of the states that the United States Center for Disease Control currently considers to be experiencing a “widespread” H1N1 flu outbreak.

The EEOC has provided a questionnaire that employers may use to determine the likelihood that employees will be absent during a flu outbreak:


Directions: Answer “yes” to the whole question without specifying the factor that applies to you. Simply check “yes” or “no” at the bottom of the page.

In the event of a pandemic, would you be unable to come to work because of any one of the following reasons:

If schools or day-care centers were closed, you would need to care for a child;

If other services were unavailable, you would need to care for other dependents;

If public transport were sporadic or unavailable, you would be unable to travel to work; and/or;

If you or a member of your household fall into one of the categories identified by the CDC as being at high risk for serious complications from the pandemic influenza virus, you would be advised by public health authorities not to come to work (e.g., pregnant women; persons with compromised immune systems due to cancer, HIV, history of organ transplant or other medical conditions; persons less than 65 years of age with underlying chronic conditions; or persons over 65).

Answer:  Yes______  No_______


The EEOC also explains that employers may send employees home who appear to have flu symptoms, may ask employees if they are experiencing flu symptoms (fever, chills, cough, sore throat), may take employees’ temperatures if the flu is deemed “widespread” by state or local authorities or the CDC (although some people with flu do not run a fever), may encourage employees to telecommute, may require employees to adopt infection control practices like hand washing and proper coughing and sneezing practices, may require employees to wear personal protective equipment designed to reduce infection transmission (i.e., gloves, face masks, disposable gowns), and may ask employees why they were absent from work.

Employers may not require employees to get flu vaccines, ask whether employees have health conditions that may make them more vulnerable to flu or complications from flu, or treat employees or applicants differently because they have a disability (such as HIV) that could make them more vulnerable to flu or complications from flu.

EEOC Town Hall Listening Session re: ADAAA in Philadelphia Oct. 30

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 22, 2009In: Disabilities (ADA), Locally Speaking

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The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), was amended in September 2008 by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which took effect on January 1, 2009. The ADAAA emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis. In other words, the Amendments Act expanded who qualifies as “disabled” for the purposes of the ADA’s protections. The new law makes it easier for an individual to establish that he or she has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.

The ADA’s basic definition of "disability"—an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment—remains the same under the new law. But those definitional terms are now subject to revised interpretations. A summary of the key revisions are set forth in the document linked below.

EEOC must revise its ADA regulations to comply with the new law. To accomplish these revisions, EEOC approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), containing a detailed analysis of the proposed changes, in September. There is a 60-day period following the publication of the NPRM when the Commission receives public comments on the proposed changes. Those comments are considers when drafting the final regulations.

As part of this public-comment period, EEOC will host four full-day “Town Hall Listening Sessions” across the county in October and November. Those in the Philadelphia area will have the opportunity to participate in one such session on Friday, October 30, 2009. Attendees will have the chance to provide their direct input on the proposed regulations.


The Format

The Listening Session will be held at the Liberty Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.   Throughout the day, individuals will be able to comment on the proposed regulations in five-minute increments. Some of the time slots will be pre-assigned and others will be available on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the event. Details, including the event address and registration details,are provided in the document below.

Those who take advantage of this opportunity will have the attention of a panel of key players. The panel will be presided over by EEOC’s Acting Chair and Vice Chair, Stuart J. Ishimaru and Christine Griffin, and Commissioner Constance S. Barker, as well as DOJ’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Samuel Bagenstos, Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Mazen Baswari, and Chief of the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division, John Wodatch.

Notice of EEOC Town Hall Listening Session re: ADAAA in Philadelphia

Employers Should Be Aware of the Results of Social-Media Survey

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 22, 2009In: Social Media in the Workplace

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There are more than 300 million Americans are Facebook users. Facebook users who are looking for work are having their profiles searched by the 45% of employers who are hiring as part of their background-search process. The rapid adoption of social media has created a number of potential issues for the employees whose non-working lives are suddenly part of the employment relationship. Employers must keep up with the changing dynamic of the recruiting process, while maintaining the proper balance between too much and not enough information about their employees and potential hires.

Pew Internet & American Life Project’s newest survey, Twitter and Status Updating, highlights the demographic data behind these new challenges.

Social-media users have gotten younger.

In May 2008, the median age for users of Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook was 32.25 years. That number climbed to 38.75 years old since then. Here are the specifics by site:

  • The average Twitter user is 31. That number did not change from 2008.
  • The average MySpace user has gotten younger—26 as opposed to 27 in 2008.
  • The average LinkedIn user is now 39, down from 40.
  • Most interestingly, though, is the continued “graying” of Facebook. The median age is up to 26 from 33.

Let’s Talk About Me. Approximately 19% of all Internet users report that they use Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves or see updates about others. This is an 8% increase from last year.

Twitter Distillation. There is no disputing that Twitter is catching on. The number of unique users per month went from 2 million in December 2008 to more than 17 million in May 2009. But what’s everyone tweeting about, exactly? Those numbers are what’s most surprising.

  • Harvard Business School researches determined that the top 10% “of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets.”
  • Most Twitter users post just once a day.
  • 1 in 5 Twitter users have never posted.

Twitter Diversity.

According to the Pew survey, Twitter users represent a fairly diverse slice of American society. The only significant demographic difference is age. During the past 9 months, Twitter users in the 18-44 group increased from 19% to 37%. Users age 45 and older have been more reluctant to jump aboard the Twitter train.

  • Men and women tweet almost equally. 17% of all adult males and 21% of females who are online are also Twitter users.
  • 19% of white (non-Hispanic), 26% of African-American, and 18% of Hispanic adult Internet users tweet.
  • Education level seems to have a similarly low impact. 18% of adult Internet users with less than a high school degree tweet, compared to 21% of those with a college degree.

Table for Two, Please--Me and My Seeing-Eye Horse

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 20, 2009In: Disabilities (ADA)

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I love animals. There’s no denying it. But, despite my passion for the Wild Kingdom, the stories of “unusual” service animals have me a bit perplexed. Over the last year or so, I’ve seen several stories in the news about individuals who claim that their pets should be considered service animals, thereby enabling them to take the animals places pets normally would not be allowed.

For example, last spring, there was the story of a Texas woman and her “seeing-eye horse.” The woman, Tabitha Darling, is legally blind and accompanied her owner to places like the grocery store. ABC News also reported on individuals who used parrots, ferrets, and monkeys to help with psychological disorders.

And, yesterday, I read a story about a man living near Seattle, WA, who says that his nearly 5-foot-long boa constrictor classifies as a service animal because it can help him stop a seizure before it stops. Redrock the boa, says its owner, Daniel Greene, 46, alerts him to pending seizures by giving him a “hug.”

These stories raise all sorts of questions about public and employment-related accommodations. Surely, a horse in the freezer section at the local Acme would cause some commotion. If the store manager asked Ms. Darling to remove the horse from the store, would Ms. Darling be obligated to comply? Or would the Americans With Disabilities Act require that the horse be permitted to stay? The ADA provides that service animals can go anywhere their owners can go. But the question, of course, is “who decides what qualifies as a ‘service animal’ for purposes of disability discrimination? Good question.

For purposes of public access, the ADA defines a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability, regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.”

One limit, albeit a small one, is a “service animal” that barks, growls (or hisses?) at others, or otherwise acts out of control. In that case, businesses and employers may exclude the animal, provided that the animal’s behavior posses a threat to the health or safety of others. An animal that is “scary” to the business or employer cannot be excluded without any actual display of vicious behavior.

The EEOC does not define “service animal” under the employment provisions of the ADA. Employers must consider allowing an employee with a disability to use a service animal at work unless doing so would result in undue hardship. And, because the term “service animal” is not defined in this context, employers may have to consider allowing an employee to bring in an animal that does not meet the public-access definition, such as a therapy animal.

A “therapy animal,” on the other hand, is not defined by the ADA or other federal law. Some states have laws defining a therapy animal. Generally, a therapy animal provides people with animal contact but is not limited to working with individuals with disabilities. Therapy animals are considered “pets,” which are excluded from the definition of service animal.

As always, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has great resources for this difficult question, including the article below, titled Service Animals In the Workplace, which was updated in March of 2009, which JAN makes available for republication as one of its countless services. 


The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything

Posted by Adria B. MartinelliOn October 20, 2009In: Women In (and Out of) the Workplace

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Maria Shriver is doing more than violating her state’s ban on cell phone use while driving these days. Perhaps her ambitious project is in part what compels her need to multi-task in the car (but please invest in a hands-free device, Maria, so the press can focus on your other admirable pursuits!).

As reported on Sloan’s Work and Family Network Blog, this week you will likely hear quite a bit in the media about a report being published by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress called A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything. The goal of this undertaking has been to provide an in-depth look at the status of women in America from a number of different perspectives and across a wide range of sectors - healthcare, higher education, law, public service, policy, etc.male female red blue

The report notes that while women constitute 57% of new college graduates, and while women have made great strides in the workplace, they still contribute twice the number of hours to dependent care and domestic tasks as men do. This disconnect means that—like it or not—employers will need to take steps to allow accommodate work-family issues to allow women (and other caregivers) to succeed in the workplace. It’s not just altruism that mandates this, it’s the employer’s bottom line.

Although there is proposed legislation to address some of the concerns (including paid sick leave), currently such measures are left largely to the employer. Although the report is ambitious and contains admirable goals, now is a tough time to pursue them. As we’ve discussed here before, the current attitude (although misguided) among many employers is that employees are lucky to have jobs and the last thing they feel compelled to discuss is “work-life” issues that may allow their employees to better juggle their demands outside of work. Nevertheless, as women continue to grow in number and rank in the workplace, this issue is here to stay.

Oct. 29: Terminating Employees Webinar

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 20, 2009In: Seminars, Past

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No matter how you say it, terminations–whether they involve a single employee or a large-scale layoff – are probably one of the least favorite parts of your job. Along with the emotional stress they cause, terminations can also pose enormous legal risks. Make one mistake in the firing process, even an innocent one, and your company may quickly embroil itself in a costly lawsuit.

There are so many different ways to get it wrong:

  • You say something to a departing employee in the heat of the moment that is prime lawsuit fodder later on.
  • You discover after the firing that the ex-employee’s supervisor has always written glowing performance appraisals for that worker–and the documentation now suggests retaliation.
  • You go the extra mile by offering severance payments with waivers to employees being laid off–but a common wording error later renders those waivers unenforceable.
  • You make an error calculating a terminated employee’s final paycheck, or you withhold funds from departing workers that you’re not lawfully allowed to deduct.

Join Maribeth L. Minella on October 29 for this 90-minute webinar presented by Business & Legal Resources to learn:

  • The most common termination-related mistakes employers make–and how to avoid repeating them
  • Why you must prepare for the possibility of termination even before you hire an employee
  • The specific policies and practices you need in place to lawsuit-proof your company before you terminate another employee
  • What you should always say–and what you must never say–when letting an employee go
  • How to review your severance agreements to make sure they’re binding, and what risky language to avoid
  • The crucial post-termination steps you should take to stay out of legal trouble
  • What to do when an employee fired for cause later asks you for a job reference
  • The unique risks involved in group layoffs, as well as terminations involving older workers
  • What you can – and cannot – deduct from a terminated worker’s last paycheck

To learn more or register for this webinar, please visit the event’s webpage at BLR’s website.

October Is For: Work-Life Balance & Workplace Politics

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 19, 2009In: Policies, Women, Wellness, & Work-Life Balance

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Workplace Prof Blog reports that, last week, Congress designated October as National Work and Family Life Month.  The primary force behind the measure was the Alliance for Work-Life Progress, and the purpose was to encourage employers and employees to seek flexible work environments to better balance the needs of work and families.

October is also Workplace Politics Awareness Month.  So, how can we put these two noble causes together? 

How about by creating an “official” work-life policy.  An often-heard complaint is the lack of transparency in part-time or remote-work policies. Many organizations, especially in professional-services fields, negotiate reduced-hour schedules on a case-by-case basis. This often results in unequal application of the policy.  The uncertainty also causes some employees to avoid the discussion altogether. In other words, those “in the know” is more likely to request a flex or reduced-hours schedule than someone outside the loop, only because the employee in the know feels more confident that they’ll get an answer they’re expecting.

To prevent unfairly preferential treatment of those with access to the key information holders (i.e., the “favorites”), create a policy on flex schedules for circulation to all employees.

Use Facebook, Get Arrested. Use Twitter, Get Fired.

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 16, 2009In: Social Media in the Workplace

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Social networking is a phenomenon that has taken over with shocking speed. The growth in popularity of sites like Facebook and microblogging application, Twitter, has exploded.  (Facebook reported that it has 300 million users as of last month!)  The problem with anything that grows so fast, though, is the growing pains that come with it. 

For social media, there is a clear gap between the law and the technology, as employers battle to come to terms with social-media use in the workplace and companies worry about trademark violation and improper disclosures made by employees whose online voices have the potential of reaching an unlimited number of listeners.

In short, there are numerous ways that a Facebook posting or Twitter tweet can land you in hot water.  Here are a few that social-media devotees should consider before their next online excursion.

Use Facebook, Get Arrested

I bet you didn't think that Facebook could land you in jail, right? Well, here's a story about a woman who was arrested for "poking" a friend on Facebook. [When you "poke" a friend's page, the friend is notified on his or her home page. You can poke friends to say "hello."  If you poke a user who normally does not have access to your profile, they will be able to temporarily see your Basic Info, Work Info, and Education Info.]  In this case, Shannon D. Jackson, 25, of Hendersonville, TN, was arrested for poking a Facebook friend because the woman who was poked (the "pokee"?) had filed a legal order of protection against Jackson (the "poker"?).  The order prohibited Jackson from any kind of communication, apparently including online poking.

Use Twitter, Get Fired

Another way to get in trouble online (although not arrested, necessarily), is to tweet negatively about your employer, particularly your boss. A quick Twitter search turned up lots of great examples, making me think that employers should consider doing the same to see just what exactly their employees are saying about them--and from work, no less!  Here's just one of the many:


(For more salacious tweets showing less than stellar judgment by tweeting workers, see this post on ResumeBear.com).

Other Posts About Social Media and the Workplace:

Employers Make Headlines With Facebook and Twitter Policies

Jury Verdict Against Employer Who Accessed Employee's MySpace Page

Hopeful New Lawyers Will Be Subject to a Social-Media Review

You Think I'm Annoying? Whatever!

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 16, 2009In: Just for Fun

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If the word "whatever" is an expression in your vocabulary, you may want to reconsider. Or continue to use it and risk being the office pest. Nearly 50% of respondents in a recent poll reported that "Whatever," when used as an expression of exasperation, is the single most annoying word used in conversation.  The phrase, "you know," was reported by roughly 25% of respondents as being, like, totally annoying, you know? clay smiley face

Almost one year ago, we reported on the top 10 most irritating phrases that drove office mates crazy.  At the top of the list was "At the end of the day."  Apparently, the annoying factor has been lessened since then because, although the phrase made this poll, it was ranked as most annoying by just 7% of respondents.

The lesson to be learned?  At the end of the day, just try to be aware of the little things that you can do to avoid making your coworkers lose their cool or whatever, you know?

Related Posts:

ALL-CAPS EMAILS and Other Workplace Annoyances

What Irks Your Employees?  Do You Really Want to Know?

What Can Employers Learn From Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize?

Posted by William W. BowserOn October 13, 2009In: Employee Engagement

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What Can Employers Learn From Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize?

Last week’s announcement that President Barack Obama would receive the Nobel Peace Prize ignited a firestorm of criticism in this country and across the world. Many felt that Obama had not yet achieved sufficient tangible results to warrant receiving the award. Maybe so.

But in rushing to condemn the Nobel Committee, they may be missing the message that Committee was trying to send. It is clear that the it was trying to reward behavior that it saw as positive and to encourage such behavior in the future. Employers do this every day – in pay raises and performance evaluations. But many go much further. Why? Because positive reinforcement works.

How should you go about rewarding and recognizing the employees? Here are five tips:

First, take the time to figure out what type of recognition best motivates each of your employees. Some employees like public recognition, while others value informal pats on the back, personal gifts, or social activities.

Second, make the recognition timely. Just as inappropriate behavior should be corrected immediately, excellent behavior should be rewarded promptly. Don't delay in recognizing employees' achievements.

Third, tailor the level of the recognition to the performance. An employee who performs well on one day should not be recognized in the same way as the employee who has performed at an exceptional level all year. This can lead to bad feelings on the part of those who have worked the hardest but receive the same reward.

Fourth, encourage your supervisors to seek out and reward good behavior. Give them concrete examples of the kinds of behavior you are trying to encourage and ways that it can be recognized.

Fifth, remember that a heart felt thank you given face to face can be just as powerful as a written memo, a plaque, or a party. As my mom always says, “It’s the thought that counts."

In sum, recognition, individually tailored and timely offered, is a powerful motivator for employees to achieve excellent performance. If you don't take your employees for granted, they won't take their jobs for granted.

Powerful Presentations: Links to Free Graphics

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 12, 2009In: Internet Resources, Resources, Seminars, Past

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I give a lot of presentations. And I take them seriously. Which may explain why my slides often get noticed as being "different" than many of the other presentations my clients see. I subscribe to the style of presenting advocated by Cliff Atkinson, known as Beyond Bullet PointsNancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds are two other visionaries in the field of visual communication who lead by example. In short, the principle theory behind my slide design is to present only one idea per slide and to present it with images instead of words.

And, while I could go on for many posts about the topic of effective presenting skills but I'll save that for another day.  Instead, I'll refrain from the evangelical sermon and, instead, offer a tiny bit of practical help.

One of the bigger stumbling blocks involved in this type of presenting is where to get the graphics you'll use instead of words on your slides.  There really are an unlimited number of ways to create images for this purpose. 


Of course, you can simply purchase them from stock photo sites.  I use Shutterstock to buy images and buy a one-month subscription to save on the cost. 

You also can surf the web to find images.  Google Images works great for this and so does Bing's image search. But beware of "borrowing" images--just because they're available online does not mean that they're publicly available.  You must determine if you're lawfully able to use the pictures that you find. Dave Paradi recently listed 10 excellent government sites that offer bunches of beautiful photographs for free!

One seriously underestimated tool is PowerPoint.  I use it constantly to create my own images--everything from simple stick-figure drawings to more substantial 3d graphics.  If you don't believe that this is possible for mere mortals (i.e., non-designers), just have a look at the wonderfully instructive blog, Slides that Stick for some excellent tutorials.  You may be amazed!

One of the greatest resources, though, is right at your fingertips--or, even better, they are your fingertips!  Pick up a pen and start drawing. Don't be "fancy"--really, it's best if you just avoid even attempting anything that will look even close to "artistic."  Just stick with the basics.  You'd be surprised at how well you can communicate using those same skills that you picked up as a toddler.  Need inspiration? Check out Dan Roam, who just won the World's Best Presentation Contest at Slideshare.net--using, you guessed it, simple marker drawings! 

More than Half of Employees Can’t Access Facebook or Twitter at Work

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 12, 2009In: Social Media in the Workplace

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In September, Facebook reported that it’s user population had reached an astounding 300 million worldwide.  But employers are withstanding peer pressure, apparently.  A new survey by Robert Half Technology found that 54 percent of employers polled reported that they “do not allow employees to visit social networking sites for any reason while at work.”

An additional 19 percent said that their organization allows the use of social networking sites for business purposes only, while some 26 percent said their workers could use such sites for personal use while on the job.

“Using social networking sites may divert employees’ attention away from more pressing priorities, so it’s understandable that some companies limit access,” said Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, in a press release about the study. “For some professions, however, these sites can be leveraged as effective business tools, which may be why about one in five companies allows their use for work-related purposes.”

So how do these numbers figure into the reality that many companies are learning that social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and wikis also can be used to engage employees in discussions, foster conversations between teams, and share knowledge that previously was accessible only to a limited number of users.  And don’t forget the potential sales implications of social media. Dell Inc. recently reported revenues of $1 million from its Twitter accounts.

While there can be great benefits to using social media in the workplace, there are also substantial risks if you don’t have a clear policy in place. When you sit down to begin drafting your social media policy, you should consider whether you will permit employees to access sites like Facebook and Twitter during working hours. Consider the issue honestly, considering the many advantages that many of these sites can give your organization while still maintaining a realistic perspective about the time-wasting that inevitably occurs when employees are tweeting and posting at work.

Delaware Code Now Available as an iPhone App

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 12, 2009In: Delaware Specific, Resources, Tech Tips

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Have you ever wanted to carry the entire Delaware code in your pocket? Have there been times you’d wished you’d had Title 19, Delaware’s labor statutes available when you’re not at your computer or near a law library?  Well, if you are the owner of an Apple iPhone, now you can.  The entire Delaware code is now available as an app via the iTunes store for just $19.95.  That’s insanely inexpensive compared to the price of the multi-volume book set you’d have to buy to get the Code in print.  The app gives users access to the full Code in a searchable format, making it easy to find that obscure cite in a flash.

Of course, law firms have been very reluctant to the adaptation of the iPhone, so many lawyers who have iPhones also have to lug around a Blackberry to check their work e-mails.  Still, a Blackberry is substantially less bulky than a couple of shelves worth of hard-bound legal books. Oh, what will technology give us lawyers next?

In case you’re not yet an iPhone user, you can always search the Delaware Code for free online, made available on the State of Delaware’s website.

What Employers Don’t Want to See When They Search Your Online Profile

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 9, 2009In: Social Media in the Workplace

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45% of employers now report to using social media to screen job candidates, according to a survey of more than 2,000 HR professionals commissioned by CareerBuilder.com.  11% reported that they expected to incorporate online tactics in their hiring practices in the next year. 

35% of those currently using social media reported that they’d rejected a candidate based on what they’d found in their online search.  And what exactly is it that turns off employers and causes them to reject a candidate?  Here’s what the biggest “no-nos” are, with the percent of employers who reported having turned a candidate based on each:

  • 53% provocative pictures or info
  • 44% drinking or drugs
  • 35% bad-mouthed previous employers, co-workers, or clients
  • 29% showed poor communication skills
  • 26% made discriminatory comments
  • 24% lied about qualifications
  • 20% shared confidential information from previous employer
  • 14% sent a message using an emoticon such as a smiley face
  • 16% used text language such as “GR8”

Employers who are performing or who are considering performing online searches of potential employees should review these items as possible criteria.  Which of these items should be considered?  Which are not relevant?  These are two questions employers should answer before engaging in their Internet searches.

U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Go Digital

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 7, 2009In: Internet Resources, Resources, Tech Tips, U.S. Supreme Court Decisions

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The U.S. Supreme Court has taken another step towards “digital enlightenment.” The Court’s website now includes links to pdf files containing the United States Reports, volumes 502 and later.  The U.S. Reports contain the final and official version of the Court’s decisions, typically three to five volumes per Term. Each volume is between 800 and 1,200 pages long, making each pdf file very large.  Large, but packed with valuable information, including, according the Court’s site:

In addition to all of the opinions issued during a particular period, a volume may contain a roster of Justices and Court officers during that period; an allotment of Justices by Federal Circuit; announcements of Justices' investitures and retirements; memorial proceedings for deceased Justices; a cumulative table of cases reported; orders in cases decided in summary fashion; reprints of amendments to the Supreme Court's Rules and the various sets of Federal Rules of Procedure; a topical index; and a statistical table summarizing case activity for the past three Court Terms.

For those who are familiar with Adobe’s Acrobat can create a tremendous resource for themselves by saving these files locally and creating an electronic index for super-quick searches later.  This appears to be yet another mile marker in the road to more easily accessible legal references.

Order Up: Now Serving One Jerk at Work, “Iron Chef” Style

Posted by Molly DiBiancaOn October 5, 2009In: Jerks at Work

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Jerks at work are a problem. This proposition is not debatable. Just how pervasive the problem is may be subject to some debate. Some say that jerks are everywhere. Others say the jerk population has been reduced (or maybe just quieted) by the economy. Either way, there has been a lot of press about jerk. There's also been an increasing acceptance of the proposition that jerks at work are bad for business.

So I was taken by surprise last night while watching The Next Iron Chef on Food Network. I'm not a major fan of Iron Chef, necessarily, but my husband, a professional chef and restaurateur, likes any show involving chefs, cooking, and competition, so we tuned in. In The Next Iron Chef, contestants battle for the title of Iron Chef. (If you're unfamiliar with the show, it started in Japan, where it became a cult favorite. It was followed by Iron Chef America, which is filmed in the U.S. with Iron Chefs Mario Batali, Morimoto, Cat Cora, Bobby Flay, and the most recent addition, Michael Symon.)

During last night's episode, the first in the newest competition, 10 contestants had to prepare two dishes using an "exotic" ingredient that they'd been assigned. (By "exotic," I mean unlaid eggs, fallopian tube still intact, rooster cockscombs, and similarly appetizing fare.) Of course, this was done under outrageous time restraints in a kitchen in which they'd never worked, with equipment that seemed to fail more often than it worked, etc. Suffice it to say, the conditions were more than difficult.

When the buzzer rang and the host announced, "Knives down!" I nearly clapped I was so proud of the chefs! That pride quickly faded when the chefs were required to critique each others' dishes.

What a terrible way to start the show. For the contestants and for viewers. We could have been riding high, celebrating their first big victory but, instead, had to watch several contests be petty and spiteful, ridiculing other chefs' dishes without regard to professionalism or reciprocity.

But it got worse during the next phase, when the contestants were judged one by one by the show's judges. The panel included two women and one man. Both women gave feedback that was insightful, intelligent, and knowledgeable. The man, on the other hand, just dished out a bunch of garbage. The jerky judge in question, Jeffrey Steingarten, was snarky, contrary, and negative to the point of disgust. It was just unbearable to watch.

I finally asked my husband, "Why do they even have this guy on the show?" To which my husband replied, "Because he's a famous food writer?" Oh, really? Who cares?

I'll never tune in to another program that has Mr. Steingarten as a judge. He's apparently a world-class writer with a pedigree that outshines those of even the most prestigious and acclaimed in the industry.  But maybe he should consider sticking to what he does so well--writing--and leave the TV stuff to the pros. Every comment was more angry and hostile than the last, leaving me with a taste so bitter that it ruined the entire experience. He takes the title of food critic a bit too literally, in my opinion. 

Lighten up, Mr. Steingarten!  Celebrate food once in a while!  Didn't you get into the food world to celebrate the magic and glory that such wondrous cookery can produce? Certainly you don't eat for a living because you hate the sight of food!  Try to remember the beauty and majesty of it the next time you're given such a unique opportunity to taste the creations of 10 of the country's greatest chefs.  It can't really be as bad as you make it--even if you did think the cockscomb (prepared by Philly hometown favorite, Jose Garces), was too rubbery.

Next time, I hope the producers can find someone to serve as judge who falls more on the sweet side, rather than the tart, as Mr. Steingarten is so apt to do.

In short, I hope Food Network wises up and tosses the jerk from their workplace. Jerks have a way for ruining one's appetite.

Not So Funny Business: What Employers Can Learn from the David Letterman Affairs?

Posted by William W. BowserOn October 2, 2009In: Harassment

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Last night’s shocking revelations by David Letterman about an extortion plot threatening to expose his affairs with subordinates reveal to the larger public something human resources professionals have known for years: Romantic workplace relationships can lead to trouble, legal and otherwise. As a result, you should review your policies and practices to ensure that a failed romance ends with only a broken heart, not an empty bank account.

Workplace romance 3d man in love with heart

The typical scenario unfolds like this: A supervisor begins to date a subordinate. They go out, have a good time, and continue to see each other socially. The two employees interact every day at work, and as the relationship grows, some of their romantic behavior seeps into the workplace. They are frequently together behind closed doors, e-mails are exchanged regularly, other employees take notice and begin talking about their questionable conduct, and the office suffers decreased efficiency and productivity.

When two employees having a romantic relationship are in the position of supervisor and subordinate, others become resentful and charges of favoritism arise. The couple may have sexual contact at work or elsewhere, sometimes with embarrassing consequences.
After a few months, one of the employees decides things aren't working out and breaks it off, much to the other's chagrin. The supervisor then unsuccessfully attempts to pick up their business relationship where it left off before the affair or to retaliate against the subordinate.

Things get out of hand, and the subordinate files a sexual harassment claim.
Sexual harassment claims can be extremely expensive, even if you eventually prevail. They're also divisive and sabotage productivity. For an individual employee — victim or accused — a sexual harassment claim can be "professional suicide." Since as many as a third of all consensual romantic relationships begin at the workplace and many end badly, what's a beleaguered employer to do?


When romance sours

Most employees instinctively know when to draw the line on behavior that could be viewed as sexual harassment toward people they know only casually at work. The line gets blurry for some, however, when the questionable behavior was at one time consensual.
Your obligation to stop harassment in that situation is clear. You have no responsibility to seek out a dating couple daily and inquire about the status of their relationship to determine if it's still consensual. But the minute one of them indicates he or she wants the other to stop the contact and makes that known to the company, your duty to stop what has arguably become sexual harassment begins and the liability meter starts ticking. Just because the victim consented to the same or similar conduct at one time, that doesn't absolve your company from liability. The troublesome aspect is, you often may not fully appreciate the fact that the relationship has now become sexual harassment.

Other concerns include the sexual favoritism claims that frequently follow on the heels of a workplace affair. Those claims involve a type of sex discrimination that stems from one employee being treated unfavorably because he or she isn't in a personal relationship with the supervisor. The employee who's involved with the supervisor receives favorable treatment to the detriment of other employees in the department.

Continue reading "Not So Funny Business: What Employers Can Learn from the David Letterman Affairs?" »

Journalist Fired for Asking One Tough Question Too Many

Posted by Adria B. MartinelliOn October 1, 2009In: Social Media in the Workplace

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The Washington Post reported on a Congressional Quarterly editor, Brian Nutting, who questioned his employer in a very confrontational email on the recent layoffs of 44 staff members.

Not only did he send the email to his bosses, presumably the decisionmakers, but he also copied “the Newsroom” – which presumably included a whole lot of people. One of the recipients leaked the memo to FishBowlDC, which published it in full.keyboard with sos key

The company said that Nutting's email had embarrassed it, and fired him for “insubordination.” In the Post article, he claimed that he was a Luddite, and did not anticipate his memo would ever go beyond the newsroom.

The lesson to be learned here, as articulated by Heather Armstrong of dooce.com (whose termination after her blogging on work-related topics coined the term “dooced”), "BE YE NOT STUPID."

Do not address matters of a controversial or potentially embarrassing nature to your employer on a social networking site, blog, or to a large number of recipients, any one of whom could launch the information into the public domain with the click of a button. This type of missive need only be sent to the individuals who need to address it. Better yet, this would be a good instance to go the old-fashioned route and HAND DELIVER the note.

 For more on the topic of e-mail etiquette, see:

ALL-CAPS EMAILS and Other Workplace Annoyances