Ask the HR Pro: Is This Policy Illegal, or Just Plain Stupid?

Welcome to a new feature here at TLNT — “Ask the HR Pro.”

Each week, we’ll take a workplace or HR-related question sent to us by a TLNT.com reader, and ask members of our TLNT LinkedIn group to weigh in about it.

What do you think? Do you agree with the responses here, or do you have a different point-of-view? Let us know by posting your response here on the TLNT Linkedin group. And, feel free to send questions to me directly here at john@tlnt.com, 

QUESTION: I’m a manager at a company who’s HR department has consistently disappointed. The latest? I noticed some changes to the company handbook that could impact some of my employees. When I asked HR about either announcing when the handbook is updated, or announcing this one particular change, they let me know:

  • The company changes the handbook often, but will not update about policy changes.
  • Employees are ultimately responsible for being up-to-date with the handbook, despite unannounced changes.
  • Managers are advised not to announce changes to their team, when they notice them.

How can employees be responsible for major unannounced changes, when realistically, it’ not possible to have them check the handbook every hour? What do you think?

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Here are some of the responses we received from managers, executives, and HR professionals:

  • “I am not sure if this is illegal or not, but it is sure as hell stupid. HR (using the term loosely) people like this is why the “I Hate HR” movement exists. Why the hell would you not announce changes to handbooks? I can understand not reprinting them for every change, but not announcing the change in some sort of public way and advising managers NOT to inform employees of the change….sheer stupidity. I am open to hearing questions as why you would not do that. People like this just make HR look bad. “ –– From John Jorgensen, SPHR and State Director at Illinois State Council of SHRM, in the greater Chicago area.
  • “How do you spell lawsuit for wrongful dismissal?” —From Tom Lunney, at US Veterans Resources in Cincinnati.
  • “All I could think when reading your post was YIKES! Classic case of what were they thinking (or not). What a sneaky, backhanded way to function. Can’t believe they instruct managers not to communicate to their team…So glad I have not worked in this sort of environment. And as an HR pro I would not act this way to begin with. I am a firm believer of collaboration, teamwork, etc. and that can’t be achieved with their sort of attitude. I feel badly for the writer of the email and the rest of the affected staff.” – From an HR Executive in Washington, D.C.
  • “These are the kinds of employers that surely would have fascinated Darwin, for they are so ridiculously terrible that they should cease to exist, and yet it isn’t very difficult to find examples of employers with reprehensible employment practices. I do believe that the vast majority of employers try to do right by their employees, but employers are made up of humans and humans make mistakes. There is, of course, a huge difference between a deliberate “mistake” like this employer is making and an honest mistake which is corrected immediately upon the employer being made aware of the problem.” – Steven Rothberg, CEO and founder at www.collegerecruiter.com in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
  • “I had two immediate thoughts: 1) Please, God, don’t let that be us (because you never know); and 2) how quickly can that “HR” person be counseled on integrity and even better, encouraged to find employment elsewhere? I do have concerns over the advice to actively avoid notification of changes. (It’s) unethical, ill-advised and just plain wrong.” – An HR manager and SPHR from Richmond, Virginia.
  • “Illegal or not, I am sure there are plenty of attorneys chopping at the bit to find out where this company is located. We typically update the handbook annually and require all employees to acknowledge receipt of handbook (a recommendation from attorneys from the ‘darkside.’)” –– Catherine Koop, HR Manager  and SPHR from Cincinnati.             
  • “Wow. I agree this is sad and just so wrong. Who would work in this type of environment – as HR or ops management? If asked to deliver that message as an HR pro or manager, I’d find a new team to join.” – Caryn Sarvich, Human Resources Manager and SPHR in Indianapolis.

 Got a question for “Ask the HR Pro?” Send them to john@tlnt.com, or post them on our Linkedin TLNT group.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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1 Comment on “Ask the HR Pro: Is This Policy Illegal, or Just Plain Stupid?

  1. That policy philosophy makes all the sense of “double secret probation” from Animal House. The concept was ridiculous then and this one is ridiculous now. It is certainly stupid, but it is also potentially illegal. Some new laws require notification to employees of changes in the law. If this is not being done by posters it should be done through the handbook and policies.

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