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The HR Specialist Forum

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What can we do? One of our employees is not at all productive, but his manager refuses to terminate him. That's because the employee has a terminal illness. The manager speaks to the employee about his poor performance and not following instructions, but that is far as it goes. At what point should HR intervene and press for termination?—Marilyn
We have to lay off several employees. Some have only been with us a couple of years, but one has worked here for 13 years. We want to treat them right by providing severance pay, but I don't know how much is appropriate. Those of you who have been in this situation, how much severance did you offer?—Jason, Ga.

I have a manager who isn’t breaking any policies, but bends the rules regarding his own work schedule. Our managers are required to work 38 hours a week, but do have the flexibility to set their own schedules. This particular manager works his 38 hours, but does so in a four-day workweek instead of a five-day workweek. I’m getting concerning phones calls from his staff. I’m also worried that this sends a mixed message to employees and other managers. Please advise.—Yvonne, Fla.

We're reviewing tons of applications for the few positions we're seeking to fill. What's the best practice for notifying applicants who aren't hired? How do other employers do it?—Sylvia, NYC
I have been doing HR for several years for smaller companies, but don’t have an HR certification. I'm now looking to further my career in HR and have started researching what it will take to make myself more valuable to larger corporations. Some employers mention certification, but others emphasize having a degree in HR. Which is more valuable: SHRM’s PHR certification or a degree? Maybe I should pursue both?—Gienah
We have an office cubicle workplace. Some of our employees like to listen to music during the day. Naturally, not everyone likes everyone else’s taste in music. I don’t want to referee these silly fights. I want a policy that says “If you are listening to music, use headphones.” Does anyone have a policy I can copy?—Laura, Boston
Like everyone else, we’ve been battered by the recession. We’ve started to turn things around, but our employees are pretty beat up by a tough business environment and a couple of layoffs we’ve had to do. Morale is poor. The general feeling is that we’re paddling like mad just to stay in the same place. Any ideas for inexpensive but meaningful ways to show staff that we appreciate their hard work and sacrifice during hard times?—Steve T., North Carolina
Our company has a MySpace page, to which all employees were invited to join. Soon after, one of our employees posted on his own MySpace page a derogatory comment about a co-worker. Naturally, that comment showed up on our MySpace page, and now the co-worker wants us to do something about it. But what? I'm at a loss about how or whether we can do anything. Suggestions?--Anonymous
One of our employees has come to me with a request that makes me nervous. She wants to invite co-workers to attend Bible study sessions on our company’s premises. The gatherings would take place before working hours in a staff picnic area on our grounds. We don’t have any kind of policy addressing this. Are there any legal or other issues I should consider before I decide what to do?—SJM, Fla.

We may have to terminate an employee who has been with us for more than 10 years and has worked with people throughout the organization. When he goes, people are going to notice. Due to the nature of the situation, I don't want to issue a detailed explanation to the rest of the staff. Can I just go with "_ _ _ _ is no longer with the company," or will that just whip the rumor mill into overdrive? Are there any realistic alternatives?—Noreen, S.F.
I'm a one-person HR department, but I know a lot about payroll from an earlier job. Our finance supervisor just quit, so now I'm doing that job too. The sole remaining finance employee got a raise to reflect his increased workload, but I haven't received any extra pay. How should I approach my boss to address this disparity?—B.G., Fla.

I'm going for SHRM's PHR certification, and want to know what to expect, and how others have approached the process. I've completed the SHRM Learning System and purchased a number of resource materials that look good. But I'd love to get feedback from people who have actually been through certification. I'm especially interested in getting comfortable with how the questions are asked. Any suggestions or tips? Better yet, success stories?—Chris
Can anyone share with me a general checklist of the steps we must take and what needs to happen when we terminate an employee?—Mary Jo, Wisconsin
"The recent Forum post about interview questions got me thinking about the question/statement I usually start interviews with: 'So, tell me about yourself.' It seems like a good icebreaker, but I've heard it can trigger some legal problems (learning too much information). Do others use it, or it too cliche?" -- Michelle, California
Now that warm weather has arrived, it seems abundantly clear that some of our employees are, shall we say, hygienically challenged. Any suggestions on what to say or how to handle an employee who has body odor?—Darlene, Pennsylvania
I need some help coming up with good interview questions. We’re hiring and—because the economy is so slow—we’re getting tons of applicants for every job we post. Many are equally well-qualified, so we have the luxury of looking for people with the intangible qualities we seek: initiative, collaborative skills, entrepreneurial spirit, pride in a job well done. I use the standard “Tell me about a time when you…” questions, but I’d like some fresh questions that really get at what kind of person the applicant is. What questions have you asked that revealed stellar personal traits?—Theresa, Chicagoland
One of the managers at our small firm constantly chooses on a whim which company policies apply to her people. She lets the departments she manages have privileges no other department in the company has. For example, they get great latitude when filling out time sheets (which has led to what I consider Fair Labor Standards Act violations). As the HR rep, I hear complaints all the time about this inequitable policy flexibility. What should I do? I’m worried about morale, but also about legal liability. — Louise, Pennsylvania
One of our employees would like us to designate a room as a playroom for kids. Employees could bring in their kids in case of some emergency—say, on a day that the babysitter doesn't show up. It sounds good in theory, but I'm concerned about insurance, bothering other employees and, especially, parent productivity. Any suggestions for making this work? — Gary, AZ
As the weather turns, many of our employees want to leave early on Fridays. I am wondering, does anyone have a seasonal flexible schedule plan that they use and would recommend? Can you share what your policy says?—Erika, MA
I’m studying for a bachelor’s degree in business administration. I’ve been considering an HR career once I graduate. Beyond my biz ad requirements, what kinds of courses should I take in my junior and senior years to help me qualify for an HR position?—E.B. in New York
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