Corporate Provocateur

Six HR Policies to Terminate in 2011


I've been an HR person since Ronald Reagan's first term in the White House. Back then, as my field was morphing from Personnel (aka the administrative policy police) to Human Resources, young HR types like me had hopes that the silliest and most insulting of the then-ubiquitous personnel policies would soon find their way into the dustbin of oblivion. Sadly, many of them still exist. Can it really be that hard to jettison the ridiculous rules in our company handbooks every year or so, the same way we send our out-of-fashion clothes off to the Salvation Army? Here are my picks for the HR policies most in need of expiration, before another year goes by.

1) Doctor's Note Policy

I don't know about you, but the last time I tried to get a doctor's appointment (for a wicked sore throat), it took six business days. So why do organizations still require employees to provide a doctor's note after missing work for two days? Don't most adults know what flu symptoms look and feel like and how to treat them at home without a medical professional's involvement? If you have something contagious, no physician will want you in her waiting room, anyway. This policy may have made sense in the Mad Men era, but it's goofy now. People have sick days; let them use 'em or lose 'em.

2) W-2 Salary Verification Policy

Requiring prospective employees to supply a W-2 as proof of last year's income is a colossal insult. If you don't trust people to merit what they're asking in salary, why would you consider them? An employer that resorts to verifying what some other organization paid you in a completely different job is sadly lacking in its ability to gauge the job market. I advise job-seekers to run away from companies that trust you enough to hire you but need written proof that some other outfit paid you whatever it paid you. Next time you get this request, say, "That's fine. I'll bring in my W-2 tomorrow, and then you can show me what you've paid each of the last three people who held this job."

3) Burdensome Travel Policy

If you're considering joining an organization and you don't have time to read the entire handbook, ask for just the travel policy. Travel policies serve as windows on the corporate soul. They make it clear what a company thinks about its road-weary traveling employees. Policies that require multiple stops on cross-country flights or force you to fly at weird times on sketchy airlines to save a buck tell you all you need to know about the work environment. It's reasonable to require folks to fly economy on major airlines and book their flights as early as they can. With air travel at its most annoying point in decades, companies should refrain from making it any harder for your team members to fly than the airlines and the TSA already do.

4) Comp Time Policy (Absence Of)

Comp time is the paid time off that salaried people get when they've worked a bunch of extra hours on company business. I'd be very suspicious of any business that doesn't have a comp time policy, including the place where my friend William worked last year. One day they said to him, "We don't have comp time, but since you worked in the lab until midnight last night, you can take an extra half hour on your lunch break today, as long as you don't leave the building." Truly evolved employers don't need comp time policies, because they simply pay their salaried people a standard pay rate and they don't keep track of hours worked at all. Otherwise, a basic comp time policy serves as the next best thing.

5) Love Contracts

A decade ago, when sexual harassment of underlings by overlings was all over the news, love contracts came into being. Employers oblige their workers to declare in these idiotic documents the amorous relationships between themselves and the people with whom they work directly. That way, if one of the folks in the mix claims sexual harassment occurred, the company can pull out the love contract and remind somebody that somebody used to be into somebody and signed a paper to that effect, even if somebody forgot. Of course, it would be a lot more sensible simply to ask people in decision-making positions to certify that they're not involved with any employee they're supervising, but that would deprive nosy Catberts of the opportunity to know who's dallying with whom. What's next—the X-Rated Dream contract, wherein Amanda confesses the string of spicy nocturnal scripts featuring Jorge from Accounting that have been disturbing (or perhaps electrifying) her sleep? Give me strength.

6) Dress Code Policy

Here's a dress code policy to replace the one you have now: "We wear (business casual attire/standard business attire/strictly zebra Spandex) in our office, and when in doubt, we err on the side of caution. Please use your good judgment when dressing for work and ask your manager if you have any questions about the appropriateness of an article of clothing you're considering wearing to work." Overzealous HR people like to write dress code policies that drill down to the level of skirt lengths, a fool's errand if there ever was one. Employers write dress code policies in hopes that they'll save managers from the dreaded face-to-face conversation that begins, "About that outfit you're wearing...." But people being people, those conversations are sometimes going to be necessary, no matter how fussy our policies. Imagine what would happen if we forthrightly took the opportunity to discuss inappropriate clothing only on those rare occasions when someone shows up in a "Tight Butts Drive Me Nuts" T-shirt, 86ed the insultingly detailed dress-code policies, and treated our employees like adults?

Liz_ryan_2
Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.

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