By Elliot H. Clark
This year, we’ve had a plethora of public stories that have involved HR-related topics. HR has a hard enough job dealing with everyday stuff like, umm, I don’t know hiring and retaining employees, making sure everyone is paid correctly, and managing a culture of respect and diversity. But add in these flashpoint issues and they precipitate crises. I’ve seen a few examples of HR winners and losers in the news lately, and many of them involve getting rid of problem employees. It reminds me how one of my first mentors told me: “Hire slowly and fire quickly if a problem arises.” I think that is by and large true. I know I am likely going to irritate both the right and the left below, but I’m here for HR, not political parties.
Winner: El Rancho Unified School District
A teacher named Greg Salcido went on an expletive-filled rant about the U.S. military, referring to them as feckless, untalented, and “dumbsh#ts.” He was terminated on March 21st. This became a somewhat right and left issue, but in truth, it was not. This was about respecting others in the workplace. Salcido’s outburst was triggered by a young man wearing a United States Marine Corps sweatshirt. The student was the son of a U.S. Marine. Targeting people in a hurtful way should never be tolerated.
Loser: The White House
Rob Porter allegedly beat his wife and a former girlfriend. Technically, unless it’s in your employee handbook, HR may not be able to terminate someone for off-site behavior. Most companies should have in their handbook that conviction of any violent crime is grounds for termination. In this case, he was terminated for failing to pass background clearance. While I am not interested in the politics, they lose because of the awful way it was handled, including the communication between the FBI and White House staff about the allegations. This is serious stuff and should not be handled haphazardly.
Winner: Broward County Sheriff’s Department
It actually sickens me to call the Sheriff’s department a winner because they did everything wrong before the rampage that killed 17 students. I am also not sure that the security staff was properly trained or screened, either. If the Sheriff’s department had taken action one of the 39 times they interacted with the troubled young man who committed this heinous act, perhaps it could have been averted. So why do I think they deserve any credit? They promptly fired the school resource officer Scot Peterson, who hid in bushes outside the school. I understand that someone may freeze in fear when faced with an active shooter, but unfortunately, that is not the job this guy signed up for. He should have been promptly fired.
Losers: The HR leaders of Miramax, Weinstein Company, Fox News, NBC, et al.
Sweeping problems under the carpet is not the job of HR; managing a culture of respect is. If HR was a reality show, this group would be on the cast of HR: The Biggest Losers. Hard to fathom how any of this could have happened, but it is clear it was systemic and culturally acceptable to harass female employees. And, even worse, the fact that public outrage not internal outrage fueled change, makes HR and the executive management of all of these companies complicit.
Public outrage has wrought change. The time for the #MeToo movement was long overdue in the media and entertainment industries as well as others. I worry far less about the potential treatment of my 27-year-old daughter and my two-year-old granddaughter in the workplace. (My granddaughter is the most beautiful two-year-old—ever—so I have reason to be alarmed.)
This is a small sample of the HR stories in the national headlines. These HR issues have weighed on me all year long as one bad headline after another has arisen. We can take solace in a few of the outcomes, but it HR’s noble mission in partnership with executive leadership to protect the civility, fairness, safety, and respectfulness of the modern workplace. The headlines in the paragraphs above can be controversial, but my last sentence should never be seen as anything other than true.
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