Massachusetts has enacted a new law making it harder for employers to learn whether job applicants have criminal records. On August 6, Governor Deval Patrick signed the new Criminal Offender Records Information Act (CORI), which goes into effect in stages. The law makes Massachusetts the only state to prohibit most employers from asking about criminal records on job applications. Because with the unemployment rate as high as it's been in 20 years, this is what we want the state to focus on. Riiiiight.
All Massachusetts employers should now review their forms and procedures, and most will need to make changes to its application and recordkeeping processes. Here are five things you need to know:
You can’t ask applicants about criminal history (at first). Until now, Massachusetts had fairly complicated rules on what you could and couldn’t ask applicants about any criminal past. The new law simplifies this: You can’t ask at all on the initial job application. The only exceptions are the rare circumstances where an employer legally can’t hire a convict, or where a convict would be presumptively disqualified by law. This restriction starts November 4, so you have less than two months to change your applications.
But you can ask after the initial job application. The thinking here is that applicants with criminal histories won’t be automatically rejected without the employer first considering their qualifications. So you can still ask applicants if they had run-ins with the law — just not on that initial application, which is where most employers do it now. Of course, the new law makes it harder to verify what they tell you, because ...
More criminal records will be sealed earlier. Under the new law, misdemeanor convictions will be sealed after only five years (after conviction or release from prison), and felony convictions after ten. (This provision doesn’t go into affect until May 4, 2012.) There are a few exceptions, like certain sex crimes, murder, and manslaughter, as well as subsequent convictions. So while the new law doesn’t allow applicants to lie about older convictions, employers are prevented from learning about them. Oh, wait. The old law already allowed criminals to lie about sealed convictions. If an ex-con has a sealed record, the law allows him or her to answer "no record" when applying for a job. Nice ...
And it will be harder to perform CORI checks. Before doing a criminal-record check, an employer needs to verify the applicant’s identity and get his or her written authorization. If the employer then rejects the applicant based on the CORI results, it must first present the applicant with a copy of the results. If an employer conducts more than four CORI checks a year, it must develop a written CORI policy. Call your employment counsel for help with this policy if you think you’ll be doing multiple CORI checks.
There are also new recordkeeping requirements. An employer has to keep applicants’ written authorizations for CORI checks for a year afterward. On the other hand, employers can’t keep the results of CORI checks beyond seven years after either the date the applicant was rejected or the date the employee terminates. And there are serious penalties for employers who improperly share the results with third parties. Under most circumstances, an employer cannot share these results at all.
Do your job applications comply? If they look like most applications, they probably don't. You better start thinking about revising your employment application, as well as setting up a CORI policy (if you need one). You've got two months.
Think this is a good rule? Does the benefit of maybe preventing snap judgments by employers outweigh the impropriety of having the state censor otherwise-public information? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
On Sundays, The New York Times runs a business-section column called "Corner Office," which features well-written and well-edited interviews with executives. This past Sunday, Adam Bryant interviewed former Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune. The piece, entitled "Remember to Share the Stage," featured several real-life examples of the kind of management that Gruntled Employees seeks to cultivate. I don't know anything about Bethune beyond what appeared in this piece, and I can't say that I've ever thought of Continental Airlines as a model company, but the advice is solid.
When asked about his most important leadership lessons, Bethune gave a response that is straight out of our philosophy here:
I was a mechanic in the Navy. And mechanics in the Navy are like mechanics in airlines. You may have more stripes than I do, but you don’t know how to fix the airplane. You want me to fix it? You know how much faster I could fix the airplane when I wanted to, than when I didn’t want to? So I’ve always felt that if you treat me with respect, I’ll do more for you.
Seems simple, doesn't it? And yet, many managers and executives and HR pros have difficulty remembering this.
Bethune explained the value of trusting his employees:
The really good people want autonomy — you let me do it, and I’ll do it. So I told the people I recruited: “You come in here and you’ve got to keep me informed, but you’re the guy, and you’ll make these decisions. It won’t be me second-guessing you. But everybody’s going to win together. We’re part of a team, but you’re going to run your part.” That’s all they want. They want a chance to do it.
And he recognized the value of open and truthful communications with his people:
And we never lied. You don’t lie to your own doctor. You don’t lie to your own attorney, and you don’t lie to your employees.
Respecting your employees, giving them autonomy and accountability, and being open and honest with them. A manager can learn a lot by flipping through the Sunday paper.
Read the entire piece here.
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Speaking of open and honest communication: I've been away from Gruntled Employees for a little while, but now I'm back. I appreciate your patience and your continued support.
What do you think of Gordon Bethune's management lessons? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
The economic recovery is not going to be led by the President or by Congress. The recovery will be led by employers. By entrepreneurs who take the risks needed to innovate and grow and prosper. Right now, too many people are complaining about the banks and the tight credit market and the roller-coaster stock market. Too many employers have thrown in the towel, and have laid off half a million workers since Election Day in a desperate attempt to cut costs.
Employers, like almost everyone else, have focused too much on how to weather the recession and not enough on how to manage the recovery. Because the recovery will come. How are you going to get back to being an employer of choice when you laid off thousands of workers just months before?
It's time for employers to take a stand. Here's how to start:
Run a help-wanted ad. Not just a small classified ad in minuscule agate type. Instead, take out a display ad in your local paper — but not in the help-wanted section. Instead, choose Metro. Or Sports. Or even the weather page. (You should be able to negotiate a good price. The economy, you know.)
Put your company logo in it, large and in color. And write this:
We need motivated, professional workers to help our company grow in the upcoming economic recovery. Please apply in July, sending your résumé and cover letter to the address below. You can spend part of the next three months researching our company and making your submission perfect and unique. We can't wait to meet you!
Then watch as your company becomes one of the leaders of the recovery. People will talk. You might even find a need to hire sooner.
First a note: It's a standard trick in the blogosphere that you can cover up your inexcusable failure to post for ... well ... a while (what do you mean I missed November?) by doing a handy site redesign. Thus the new site design. In truth, the standard TypePad theme that this blog wore for more than a year was getting a little threadbare. It was time for something a little cleaner and more ... gruntled. (OK, no more ellipses.) That said, you can expect some tweaking over the next few weeks. As always, I appreciate your feedback. And if you're reading this by email or RSS reader, click here to see the new design.
Now the real post:
We're hiring another lawyer at Shepherd Law Group right now, so we've been conducting interviews and meeting a lot of potential new associates. Which means shaking a lot of hands. Some shake well, and some shake less well. Turns out there's a skill to it. Maybe even a science.
As reported in BusinessWeek recently, a firm handshake is a sign of "social dominance." Psychologist Gordon Gallup found that men with firm handshakes were more likely to behave aggressively. They were also more likely to have broad shoulders and narrow hips, and they were 10% more promiscuous. (Unclear whether that was because of the shoulder-hip thing, the aggressiveness thing, or the handshake thing.)
Gallup's study found no correlation between women's handshakes and either their "behavioral competitiveness" or body type.
Gallup hails from the State University of New York at Albany, which you probably call "SUNY Albany" but which apparently prefers "UAlbany" as its "officially designated informal name," because nobody told them that you can't officially designate an informal anything. In the money quote from the university's press release, Gallup makes a connection between handshakes and our evolution from tree-climbing monkeys:
Unique to the evolutionary history of humans and all primates were complex adaptations to life in the trees. As a result, handgrip strength was featured prominently in patterns of brachiating, or moving through the canopy, as well as in minimizing the chances of falling.
Coincidentally, and more relevantly to the workplace, The Boston Globe recently reviewed a new book by Tonya Reiman called The Power of Body Language. Apparently, the book has a lot say about handshakes. I haven't read it yet, but see this from Vivianne Rodrigues's review:
The handshake is one of the most critical opportunities to establish rapport and might be as crucial for job applicants as a strong résumé, Reiman said.
Her book lists no less than 12 "wrong" ways to shake hands including the submissive handshake, the overly affectionate, the sweaty, the forward lean, but none as dreaded and as dreadful as the limp handshake.
"The limp handshake feels like you're holding a lump of room-temperature chicken," she said.
The way that will work with any person in any situation, according to Reiman, is to go toward the person, lean slightly forward, look them in the eye, extend the right hand, and simultaneously introduce yourself. The whole handshake should not last more than two to three seconds.
Sounds about right. So my question for you HR pros and managers: are your employees shaking hands properly, or they falling out of the trees (so to speak)?
My wife and I went out to dinner Friday night at a new restaurant in Boston called KO Prime. Its temporary website describes it as "a modern, creative interpretation of a traditional steakhouse with an energetic, sexy and chic atmosphere." As intimidating as that sounded, we thought we'd give it a try.
We showed up around eight o'clock without reservations. Although it was busy, the hostess was friendly and accommodating and sat us immediately. A busboy greeted us right away and quickly delivered water and bread. Then our waiter, Josh, introduced himself and asked if we'd been there before. Everyone was friendly and pleasant, but not in an in-your-face way.
Now if you don't already know it, Boston is a baseball town. The Red Sox have the best record in the majors and are on their way to their first division title since 1995. KO Prime's bar is separated from the dining room by a frosted-glass wall, but from where I was sitting, I could just see part of the bar's television. The Sox-Orioles game was on (with the sound off). I happened to look up as the benches cleared, and like any true Sox fan, I needed to know what was happening. With a sheepish apology to my wife, I got up and hurried over to the bar.
Everyone in the bar was staring at the screen, trying to figure out what was happening without the benefit of audio. (As I later learned, Baltimore pitcher Daniel Cabrera, agitated after Coco Crisp caused him to balk in a run, threw behind Dustin Pedroia, clearing the benches. No punches were thrown, Cabrera was tossed after throwing a complete nutty, and the game resumed.) This took at least five minutes to sort out. I said to the guy standing next to me that my wife was probably tiring of my having left her alone at the table. (Understandably.)
Turns out the guy was Phil Gerster, the restaurant manager. Without missing a beat, he called over to the bartender and asked for a glass of Champagne, then hand-delivered it to my wife (who was amused and mollified).
We chatted with Phil for a few minutes, and learned that he had been working in restaurants his whole life, starting out as a dishwasher. When we mentioned that everyone had been providing us excellent service, Phil gave us his management theory (I'm paraphrasing here):
It's all about the service. It doesn't matter if you have the best food in the world. If the people serving you are jerks, that's what you're going to remember. And you're not going to come back.
And Phil is absolutely right. Our food was great. But what will bring us back in the future — and more importantly, what will lead us to tell others about it (and to write this post), was the friendly, thoughtful service we received. In addition to Phil's marriage-salvaging Champagne, we had:
You've heard the marketing expression "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." It applies to the workplace, too. While your company's product or service is the steak, your employees are the sizzle that will keep people coming back. Keep that in mind when you're hiring employees.
So it's Sunday and it's hot and I'm taking the family to the local pool. But I need my caffeine fix, and I'm trying to figure out the mechanics of sneaking a triple venti latte into the pool area without getting caught. I decide it's worth the risk, so we stop at the nearby Starbucks en route to the pool.
While I'm waiting for the barista to make my order, I notice a small table with a little sign and a pad of employment applications. As an employment lawyer, I'm always interested to see how businesses go about hiring new employees. I'm curious, especially with national employers, to see how many violations of state law (in my case, Massachusetts) the application has. I counted just two.
Now don't get me wrong. My purpose here is not to call out Starbucks, which is by all accounts a first-rate employer. Every state has slightly different employment laws, and a company that operates in multiple states has to pay attention to all of them. It's an enormous pain to have a different application for every state a company does business in. Many multistate employers try to synthesize the laws of their different states, and often include footnotes with state-required language. (Starbucks included language for California, Maryland, and — yes — Massachusetts. Just not all of it.)
But here's what the application does right. More than right. Better than just about every other application form I've ever read.
After asking all the usual job-application questions, it asks the following:
Now the first and third questions are pretty basic. They probably get a lot of lame answers, which help weed out the barista pretenders.
But the second question and the fourth question are brilliant, and should be emulated by all employers.
Starbucks is all about two things: coffee and customer service. To attract the best employees, Starbucks looks to hire people who get coffee and get customer service. Judging from the top-quality service I get every day at the Starbucks near my office (the School Street store in Boston) — where Gregg, Meg, Theresa, Roger, and the other "partners" (as the company calls all its employees) make an extra effort to remember my name and my order — it seems to be working.
What questions can your company put on its job applications to make sure you attract employees who get what your company is all about?
(As for the minor Massachusetts statutory problems: give me a call, Starbucks, and I'll tell you what they are. On the house.)
A growing number of employers are making employees sign agreements that require any disputes to be heard by an arbitrator instead of a court. (Usually the agreements say "any and all" disputes, even though once you say any, you've got all covered. Lawyers: "Why use one (1) word when you can use three (3)?" But I digress.)
The thinking behind mandatory arbitration is that it is faster and cheaper. The unspoken thinking behind it, especially for large employers, is that any given arbitrator is more likely to have future cases with the employer than with the particular employee, and the arbitrator wants the large employer to use him or her again in the future. I don't buy that, because it suggests that arbitrators will subvert a case to curry favor with a large employer. I believe most arbitrators are ethical, and would never do that.
But arbitration is not good for employers. (By the way, I'm only talking about employment arbitration — not labor arbitration involving unions, which is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.) And there are three reasons why:
Mandatory arbitration of employment might sound like a good idea to employers. It's not. If you want to save money on employment disputes, consider mediation — a much more valuable ADR (alternative dispute resolution) technique.
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A bit of language trivia: The expression "a whole nother" (used above referring to the fish kettle) is an example of tmesis. It's like they have a name for everything.
Robert Weisman of The Boston Globe had a nice piece called "The business of lift outs," describing some of the problems companies face when they "lift out" a team of workers intact from another company. Rob describes lift outs thus:
The practice of scooping up talented groups of workers, once relatively rare and frowned upon as poaching, has become far more common and respectable. Headhunters have given it a more upscale name — "lift outs" — and companies in a range of sectors, from finance and technology, to healthcare and professional services, have embraced it as the quickest way to gain a foothold in a new market or region.
Although the term hasn't really gone mainstream yet, the phenomenon is quite common. At our firm, we deal with lift outs (or, if we're representing the former employer, "employee raiding") all the time. Rob called me to talk about some of the problems the company doing the lifting might face, and we chatted about litigation and corporate-culture problems:
But lift outs don't always go smoothly. Litigation is a popular option for jilted employers, especially at technology and life sciences companies where noncompete and nonsolicitation contracts are commonplace. Whether such contracts can be enforced hinges on many factors, including the type of new jobs the team is assuming, how employees were approached by the team leader, whether they seek to capitalize on customer relationships developed on the payroll of their former companies, and the judge or jurisdiction handling a lawsuit.
Even in the absence of legal challenges, lift outs can backfire. "People at a law firm can resent it if they're getting ready to become partner and new people are brought in above them," said Jay Shepherd, a Boston employment lawyer. "And while the team might work well together, they may not fit in well with the culture of the new firm."
The noncompete lawsuits that often result from lift outs are the more obvious and overtly expensive side effect. But the lifting company should not underestimate the integration problems that often arise when a clique of people — often receiving some special treatment — are suddenly thrust together with employees who've been around a lot longer. It might seem junior high schoolish, but the costs of the new kids not getting along with the old ones could end up being more severe than the expense of noncompete litigation.
Think hard before you lift out.
How many of you managers, HR pros, and others responsible for hiring are using MySpace as part of your hiring process? And if you aren't, why not?
Crib sheet for those of us over 30: The MySpace phenomenon has changed the way many people under 30 interact and express themselves. Membership is free and it takes just a few minutes to set up a homepage. Members then adorn their pages with photos, music, artwork, really bad poetry, and solicitations for new "friendships." It seems to be an innovative launchpad for musicians to generate some buzz for their garage bands, and it's an easy way for twentysomethings to meet other twentysomethings who share their interests.
More and more, employers are checking out the MySpace pages of prospective employees as part of their selection process. (See here for a Boston Globe article last March by the always-excellent Diane Lewis on the subject, and here for another great one in the Wall Street Journal by Vauhini Vara.) And why wouldn't you? The pages are public — at least within the MySpace community, to which entry is free and easy. This is not the same as a background or credit or criminal-records check; the only information on a person's MySpace page is whatever he or she chose to put there for the world to see.
And what will you find?
If I'm thinking of hiring someone, I'd like to know what they (publicly) think of their current job. It may be my company they're complaining about next.
Is it an invasion of their privacy, particularly if they don't expect us to look at their pages? No. If they put the information out in the public domain, they expect it to be read. And they can't control who's going to read it, unless they "privatize" their pages. At best, it shows poor judgment.
One word of caution: you might find information on their page that causes you to learn something about them that might be appropriate for them to share socially but not professionally. Examples include their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs, or their eating disorders or other mental issues. Do not use this information in your hiring decision, or you could be facing a discrimination lawsuit.
And a lot of bad publicity on the prospect's MySpace page.