Been & Going

[HorroR Stories] Help! I Work for a Racist Bastard!

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hrs newDear Madame HR,

I just found out my boss made offensive and racist comments. I find his behavior disgusting and I don’t want to work for him anymore, however, I am under contract and don’t have a lot of options right now. What do I do?


This is Mme HR’s fantasy land where a professional basketball player would write to her and ask her advice. Go with me people. But I think that all of us, at one point in our career, have hit that point where we are exposed to some dirty naughty bits that don’t sit right and we have to make a decision. Do we live with it or do we go? And if we go, storm out in a cloud of moral outrage, where do we go?

You’d have to be living in a cave to not have heard about Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the NBA team the LA Clippers. Allegedly, Mr. Sterling (which incidentally is not his real last name, he changed it to Sterling from something that ended in –witz) told his mixed race girlfriend to get rid of all the pictures of black people on her Instagram and not to bring them to Clipper games. Even perennial LA local hero and smiley-pie Magic Johnson is not welcome at Clipper games. Supposedly, or allegedly, or whatever.

buildingAnd if you are from LA, or live in LA, or want to live in LA than you know not to rent in one of Sterling’s apartment buildings! Ha! Ba-dum-dum. Cuzlook, when this story broke there wasn’t anyone out there saying: “That doesn’t sound like something Donald Sterling would say.” Sterling has been sued for sexual harassment more times than our other favorite (not) NBA boss, Isaiah Thomas. He’s a slumlord and I guess a bit of a maverick, but I suppose working your way up from being the son of a grocer in Boyle Heights to being a billionaire whose last name is Sterling doesn’t happen by accident.

Maybe I’m cynical, 12 years in HR does tend to take a toll on you in the whole faith in humanity department. So when I say that if you think you can quit your job because the CEO is a racist evil asshole and you are going to go out there and find a new job where the CEO isn’t a racist evil asshole you are dreaming, does that make me cynical? And maybe it’s not racist, maybe it’s sexist or money grubbingist, or some other ist, but look, like I said before, these guys don’t get where they are by accident.

I remember having a conversation with one of the CFOs I worked with. He was truly in a moral dilemma because when he had gone on a business trip with the CEO he witnessed the CEO soliciting a prostitute. The married CEO. Because I’m a pragmatist, I couldn’t really help him beyond the commiseration in the moral outrage department. He’s the CEO, he likes call girls. Is he a good CEO? (In this case, no). Is the company succeeding? (In this case, no). So what are you going to do? What can you live with? Can you still look at yourself in the mirror? The CFO left, by the way, but more I think because the company was tanking than the CEO’s adultery.

So what should the Clippers do? They don’t have a lot of options. They can stop playing, great, but they really only hurt protestthemselves as they are in the midst of round 1 of the playoffs. They can ask to be traded, but that can’t really happen until the season is over. They can protest, make symbolic gestures like the one they made on Sunday where they dropped their uniform jackets in the middle of the court and wore their practice jersey’s inside out. I think ultimately, as the worker bee in this scenario, all they can do is keep working. Yes, it’s demotivating and crappy as hell, but what are you going to do? Jeff van Gundy, analyst for ABC and all around white guy blowhard kept lamenting over and over that they should “do something.”  One of his suggestions was to sit in silence on the bench for 15 minutes. Um…ok… they could just sit there while the game is starting? The other team, would be like, “hey guys,” bounce, bounce, bounce, “wanna play?”

We can’t all work for Mother Theresa. Wait, is she hiring? This is the world we live in. CEOs are evil (mostly), rich people are evil (sometimes) and it sucks. Here’s how I handle it because I’ve had to swallow my share of shit over the years. I focus on my co-workers, my teammates, and my customers, the other employees. I show up for them, I work for them, I hope that I contribute something for them. So Clippers, play for each other and play for your fans, focus on that. Hopefully Sterling will get his, but let’s keep it real, how do you punish a billionaire asshole? Take him to court? He would LOVE for you to take him to court. He cut his teeth in this world as a personal injury lawyer. Fine him? Ok, but it’s probably chump change to him. Embarrass him? Again, good luck, his reputation is already pretty bad (see personal injury lawyer above).

That’s what really sucks, because there isn’t something you can do to this guy to truly give him what he deserves. Let’s hope that God’s got that covered on the other side. So, you just gotta keep doing what you gotta do, you feel me? It’ll be ok, don’t hold yourself accountable for his disgustingness. Milk ain’t free.

Extra hugs,


[HorroR Stories] Don’t Get Mad About the Madness

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My company has banned March Madness pools, brackets, etc. company wide. I’m wondering your thoughts on this?

Banned? I love the word banned. I love when grown adults walk around telling other grown adults “You are banned from doing that! Stop it!” I think that ALWAYS goes well. Really, I’ve never, in my 15 year career, ever seen that not work. Never.

You don’t believe me, do you? Well, you shouldn’t. Because it does go wrong. Oh, baby does it go wrong.

But, come on, we all know by now that anytime you ban something that someone really wants to do, they’re going to do it anyway, they’re just going to hide it from you. So I’m guessing that there are all sorts of secret March Madness pools whipping around your company right now. Those that banned it look kinda dumb, kinda like they don’t have any authority, don’t have any leverage, and don’t have a clue. I hate to say it, but kinda like Obama right now in this whole Ukraine situation, but that’s a different post.

Conventional wisdom and every single HR bulletin and newsletter sent out this time of year warns at the productivity loss that March Madness brings. And things like “The Hopper,” cell phones, iPads, etc. make it worse. But, come on guys, it’s like trying to stop the flood, or Putin, or Wal-Mart from selling cigarettes, sometimes you just gotta let it happen and then clean up the mess.

In my dream company I would advise managers not to beat ‘em but to join ‘em. And I’m not just saying that because the first 2 days of March Madness are as holy in my household as the first 2 days of Passover, or Lent, or Christmas, or whatever, which is to say, we take the days off, sit on our couch, eat chicken fingers and scream at the TV. Just like Passover, except the chicken fingers are breaded with matzo. Weird.

Anyway, why not embrace March Madness? I have found that competition is one of the best way to build cohesiveness in companies. So why not create brackets, have departments compete against each other, set up some TV’s in the break rooms? Sometimes you have to let employees feel like they are getting away with something. It builds loyalty, usually. I mean sure, it could also go horribly awry, but that’s life, right?

As with anything when dealing with employees, focus on the outcomes, the production, the performance. “Hey Jan, finish that report and then we can go watch the end of the VCU game for a few minutes.” It’s a bonding experience. It brings you all closer together. Hold hands, scream at the TV, wish for the death of the receptionist who chose her brackets based on mascots and is currently beating everyone else. But wish for her death together.

And for those companies who are terrified of the word “gambling,” and therefore “ban” anything that comes close, don’t approve or sanction bracket pools that have a buy-in. For the company wide competition just buy pizza for the winner. That’s not gambling, right? And then verbally tell everyone to keep their personal bracket pools at home, or in the lunchroom, during lunch hours.

I’m in la-la land, I know. Brackets are banned where I work currently as well. Sigh. But these are my thoughts, for which you asked. So good luck in your clandestine bracket pool. Hopefully you didn’t pick Duke. Horror- 032614-mercer

[HorroR Stories] Teamwork Sucks! Hurray Teamwork!

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Hello my lovelies! Did you miss me? Yes, I know, I’ve been remiss of late in my pledge to help you navigate the perils of the workplace. What can I say but my current workplace has been a little more perilous than usual and as such, demanding a lot of Mme HR’s attention. Trust me, I’d rather be spending my time with you, my friends, but since you aren’t paying me yet, I’m gonna have to keep slogging away in the salt mines.

When I haven’t been slaving away and solving the myriad of problems my dumb managers seem to throw my way (and I mean “dumb” in the bestest most respectful way so I don’t want any moms out there chastising me for using the word “dumb”), I’ve been watching the early Olympics coverage. And, as a former serious fan of figure skating but not so much anymore, I can’t help but watch this new “team” figure skating thing that’s been going on. Mostly because it’s the only thing that’s been on, but that’s immaterial. “Team” figure skating? What the heck is this crap?

JohnnyBut before I start talking about that, can I take a small moment and say how much I really really want Johnny Weir to be my new best friend? He, teamed up with Tara Lipinski, has been doing the daytime commentary for the “team” figure skating competition in the most fabulous and fantastic way. His jewelry alone deserves it’s own medal. And the best part is that he’s a great commentator! While silly Tara says stupid things like “Oh, I could never do that!” when asked what a “twizzle” is, Johnny actually answers the question in an informative way while still imparting how freaking difficult it is: “It’s like a spin with movement, which is incredibly difficult to execute.” (Not a direct quote, but close enough). And he’s doing it all while wearing a wonderful gold necklace and matching earrings. I never thought I could accept a figure skating commentator who wasn’t Scott Hamilton, but I have to say Johnny has won me over, not just for the fabulousness but he is actually good at the commentating thing too.  So lay off Johnny Weir, America, he’s not single-handedly responsible for making Russia change their homophobic ways.

Ok, now back to teamwork. You may or may not know that this is the first time they’ve had a “team” figure skating event at the Olympics. It’s got me thinking, in this very individualized sport, that’s it’s like the people who came up with this idea were sitting around thinking, “how do we get medals for everybody?” “Team figure skating! Hurray!” Look at the Russian team, for example, they started out with a strong performance from sentimental favorite and old guy Evgeni Plushenko. He never would have gotten a medal in this Olympics by himself, but now he’s going to get a gold (as of the writing of this). Hurray teamwork!Evengi

And then there are the Americans. They are middling in the men’s individual and pairs, occasionally good on women’s individual and fantastic in ice dance. Right now they are sitting at Bronze, purely because the ice dancing pair Meryl Davis and Charlie White (who, by the way, has the cutest moppiest hair you’ll ever see in figure skating) scored the highest score that has ever been scored in ice dancing. So, their loser teammates who have been falling all over the ice will now get a bronze medal. Hurray teamwork!

falling2So there you go, right? That’s why we mangers love to spout about teamwork because it is kind of a “medals for everybody” kind of thing. The superstars balance out the bozos so that all of us just look good-enough. And there’s nothing better than good-enough, right? In an interesting moment, Tara and Johnny were talking about the idea that no one wants to waste their best performance for the “team” event. In Tara’s opinion, and if you look at what happened to her at the Olympics, it’s all about when you peak. And what if, quelle horreur, you peak during the “team” competition? Even if your team got the gold, would that be good enough if you don’t medal at all in the individual? I challenge that it won’t, unless you’re the old Russian guy who has a bad back and probably won’t even skate in the individual event.falling

It makes me think, as we are in the midst of performance review season, are our superstars also good team players? Do they sacrifice some of their individual performance for the team? Would they be better as individual contributors? Is it even right to include both in the review? I don’t know, probably not. Before I was a manager I was a superstar individual contributor and I hated working with a team. Now that I am a manager, I need my team. I know they have strengths and weaknesses but hopefully we can find some sort of yin yang thing with that. Maybe when managers spout about teamwork we are just serving ourselves? Maybe. But I’m OK with that, meryl and charliebut not so much with this “team” figure skating thing.

[HorroR Stories] Don’t BS About Your BS Degree

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Dear Madame HR,

I never finished my degree. I got really close, but due to all sorts of reasons, I never finished the last few classes and never officially graduated. However, when I apply for jobs, I have on my resume that I have my Bachelor’s Degree. This hasn’t caught up to me yet, do you think I can get away with this forever?

Little White Lie

Dear Liar,

I will answer your question with a couple of stories.

Story #1:

At one of the companies I worked for we were hiring an HR Director to oversee all HR and Training for our organization. The candidate we found was perfect for the job and we were excited to have him join. We offered, he accepted, and the onboarding process began. This, for the company I worked for, included a background check. Mr. New HR Guy put on his resume and on his application that he had his BA from (unnamed CA state school). The background checking company could not verify his education. When we asked him about it, he admitted that he hadn’t officially graduated yet; it was a technicality he was fighting with the school over but didn’t think it was a big deal.

We disagreed and rescinded our offer (which we could do because the offer had been contingent on the background check). You might be thinking to yourself, “What’s the big deal? It was just a technicality!” But here was our thought process:

  1. Essentially, by putting on a job application that he has a degree and then signing that job application when he doesn’t have a degree, he is committing fraud. And some companies might not care too much but I argue that most would. Fraud is fraud after all. Ironically I don’t care as much about the resume as the application. This, by the way, is why most companies make you fill out an application even though you gave them a resume. Resumes are just pieces of paper after all, but applications in general have this whole paragraph at the bottom about how everything is true, blah, blah, blah. And if you are signing swearing to that fact, then it should be true, blah, blah, blah.
  2. He’s applying for a job as an HR Director and should know better, goddammit.
  3. This experience with him told us more than any interview question ever could. Did we want someone as un-savvy as this as our HR Director? Shouldn’t your HR Director know how “these things” tend to work and shouldn’t he have approached it in a better way? Yes! Yes, he should have.

Story #2:

At the same company we were hiring an HR Coordinator. Yes, we had a lot of turnover in our HR Department. I would like to go on the record as saying this had nothing to do with me. The unit within HR that I was managing was doing just fine. We found a great candidate, let’s call her Fran, and offered her the job. In the meantime, one of our current employees came to us, she had heard that we had offered Fran a job and she wanted to tell us that she knew Fran at (unnamed CA state school), from where Fran claimed she had her BA, and I quote: “That girl did not graduate. If she told you she did she’s lying. And, she stole a bunch of money from her sorority and we all hate her.”

Now, Mme HR was pretty annoyed by this employee—sticking her nose in our business and stuff. How did she know Fran? How did she know we were hiring Fran? Well, either way we were doing a background check so we’d have our evidence soon enough. I was morally incensed on behalf of poor Fran who unbeknownst to her was already the victim of gossip at the hands of my ungrateful employees.

Our background checking firm came back to us and said the clearinghouse could not verify Fran’s education. Little known fact for you non-HR types, most big universities outsource their verifications to “clearinghouses” to take some of the burden off of their Registrar’s office. They basically send a data dump to these places and let them handle all the verification requests. It’s not perfect. In the past when we couldn’t verify through them, we would ask the employee for a copy of their diploma and be done with it. Fran produced a copy of her (unnamed CA state school) diploma forthwith. We should have been satisfied, right?

Well, now the bug was in my ear, I couldn’t shake it. So, I told my Recruiting Manager to call (unnamed CA state school) and see if we could verify directly with them. The (unnamed CA state school) Registrar’s office asked us to email the copy of the diploma. She called us five minutes later. “It’s a fake,” she said. “Really?” we said. “How can you tell?” “Well, first of all, in that year she claims to have graduated Arnold Schwarzenegger signed every diploma as the governor of CA at the time. (Let’s take a moment to revel in either the total awesomeness or perhaps total douchebaggery of having Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature on your diploma. Does that count as an autograph?) He didn’t sign this. Second, she claims to have her degree in Media Marketing. We don’t offer a degree in Media Marketing.”

Sorry Fran, and really, screw you Fran. I was ready to stick up for you, ready to take a stand and shut down all the wayward crazy gossip that damages the very fabric of our organization. But no! Now, as I pull the dagger from my back, I know how your sorority sisters felt. Offer rescinded.

Ok, so what is the point of this story, why did I tell you?

You want to implement your liar, liar, pants on fire strategy it seems “forever” so I thought I would give you some tips on ways to mitigate your risks.

  1. If you are going to take this as far as purchasing a fake diploma, than I advise you to contract with someone who knows what the heck they are doing. Important things: who would sign the diploma? What degrees does the school actually offer? After that happened, we double checked with the Registrar’s office directly every time the clearinghouse couldn’t find someone and yet produced a diploma. And guess what? In every case it was a fake. Other faux pas we found: diplomas that should be in Latin but aren’t, Deans that do not or never existed, phony majors, the list goes on and on.
  2. Don’t apply for a job at the FBI, or a bank, or in another highly regulated industry. I would guess that if, at the time, I had been working for a tech start up, or some other loosey-goosey “informal” industry, we wouldn’t have been so bulldoggish about it.
  3. Does the position actually require a degree? If not, then tell the truth. In Fran’s case, the position “preferred” a degree, but honestly we couldn’t really require it. However, because she lied, the issue changes from “do we need someone with a BA degree to be an HR Coordinator?” to “she’s a stupid stinky liar and we hate her and can’t hire her.” <sobbing>.

Ok, do I think you will get away with this forever? Maybe, I supposed it depends on how many jobs you apply for, how long you stay at jobs, and what industry or level these jobs are. Please, don’t apply for a job as a Sonogram Tech and go out and buy a Sonogram Tech diploma from Louie Fishy Pants out in the back alley. In fact, don’t buy anything from him, especially not that Good Guy Doll. But I hope you see my point, right? Right? Please nod your head.

And I could get all morally indignant and lecture you about lying and committing fraud, etc., etc. I could, but if you are already going to the step of faking a diploma then me being all high and mighty probably won’t help. You could finish your degree :-). There’s an unpopular suggestion for you. I don’t know what else you want me to say because I won’t say it’s OK. I am usually not a big fan of committing fraud, just saying. Finish your degree or stop lying about it.

Good luck out there,

Professor Madame HR


Ho Ho Ho-rroR Stories Ho-liday Survival Guide

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Ho! Ho! Ho my friends! Merry/Happy whatever-the-heck you like to celebrate this time of year. I’m in HR so I don’t care what you celebrate, I just have to accommodate it. Personally, during this time of year I like to celebrate the joy I feel at how freaking cold the rest of the country is and how I can sit on my veranda (yes, veranda) and sip some sort of jovial celebratory beverage and laugh and laugh and laugh. Karmically I realize I’m probably setting myself up for some sort of epic natural disaster and yes, I realize that Typhoon Yolanda (Yolanda?) has made weather no longer funny, but give me something. I’m in HR and year end sucks for us. We have Open Enrollment for the ingrates (or as some call them “employees”), payroll year end, holiday parties, holiday staffing issues. The fuzzy-holiday sweater/sock/earring expectations are staggering, just staggering, I tell you.

My gift to you, my favorite readers—you guys are the best!—is twofold:

  1. A short(ish) post! Yay! <Sound of champagne corks popping>
  2. An HR holiday primer! Yay! <No champagne corks popping>

So a quick Q&A:

Everyone that I’ve ever met or been related to that knows I’m in HR (We’ll call them ETIEMOBRTTKIIHR for short): Does my company have to give me paid holidays off?

Me: No.


Me: Yes.

ETIEMOBRTTKIIHR: Not even federal holidays?

Me: No.

ETIEMOBRTTKIIHR: What if my company is closed for a holiday, do they have to pay me?

Me: No. (Unless you are exempt, then it might).


Is that legal? Ah, my favorite question. I’m going to get it tattooed on my ass. On the right cheek. On the left, I’m going to tattoo “So?” I was going to tattoo “It Depends,” but thank God my ass isn’t that big. Anyways, yes, Virginia, it depends. So what does it depend on? Well, your company policy. Your company can decide whether or not their employees receive paid holiday days off and it can define what and when those days are. The only sticky part is that once they define it they have to stick with it. So read your employee handbook for criminy sakes (or, if your company provides an electronic version, search for the word “holiday” and just read that section).

Here are the salient things you want to know:

  1. Does your company have paid holidays?
  2. If your company closes for holidays, does it pay you?
  3. What are those days?
  4. Who is eligible for paid holidays? (Many companies only give them to Full-time employees).
  5. How does your company handle a situation when you have to work on a holiday? (Some companies will pay you time and a half, some will give you a “float” day you can take at another time, some just pay it as if it were a regular day that you are scheduled to work).

The important thing to note is that in general there are no federal or state requirements regarding holidays, how/if you are paid for holidays, or how/if you are paid if you work on a holiday, they just expect your company to follow the policy they’ve established.

Ok, sounds generally simple, so what is the thing you aren’t telling me?

Title VII bitchez! Woo-hoo Civil Rights Act of 1964! It provides you all sorts of things that you are “civilly” entitled to, like, you know—fair treatment, freedom from harassment, equal employment opportunity, etc., etc. Why am I bringing it up? Because if your employer has more than 15 employees then it also requires them to accommodate any time off you need for religious observances (aka Holidays! aka some Holidays! Religious holidays—not Arbor Day, just saying). (Side note—can Christmas even still be considered a religious holiday? Discuss). Hooray loophole! However, they don’t have to pay you for that day off. Boo loophole! But you can probably use vacation time or personal time or some other sort of paid time off that you have accrued, unless you are part-time.

The good news is that most executives like taking holidays off too, so most companies provide and pay for holidays. Plus, that must be a tough recruiting job: “We’d like to offer you the job.” “Great, what holidays do I get off?” “None.” “Hmm…”

So this is a great example of why your company has all those policies, because a lot of times what’s legal and what isn’t has to do with whether or not the company is following their policy. And I suppose too, whether or not the policy is legal to begin with, but we’ll just assume it is. <Sound of me riding away on a horse…>

Something else to think about: holiday “hours” do not count toward overtime. Some companies will pay the OT anyway, to encourage their employee to work every day until they DIE, but they don’t legally have to.

And something else: How your company pays you for holidays if you are on leave of absence again depends on their policy. Most don’t, but it’s worth asking your HR department.

And one more thing: People always ask me about how companies/managers decide how to schedule for holidays. I think this falls under the category or common complaint where people with families tend to get preferential treatment when it comes to time off during the holidays. I can’t really help you here either. I would hope that your company and your manager would be consistent and fair. But you know what they say about hope.

And one (Last) thing, I promise…

As we approach the end of the year, even Madame HR gets a little introspective. This year I’ve been thinking a lot about how companies are treating their employees this holiday season. There has been a lot of stuff in the news and on my Facebook page lately about retail companies and their treatment of employees which seems to manifest itself around the holiday frenzy of shopping that some people like to call Thanksgiving. One of the worst offenders is a company that employs 1% of the population of the United States. 1%—and I know not all of those employees are working in the trenches, but just think of the scale that even a little bit of mistreatment touches.

I’m in HR and a lot of times my job involves a delicate balancing act between what the employee inside me is screaming is right and what the manager inside me is screaming is right for the business. So, because I can’t always reconcile that in my professional life, and trust me I try my goddamn darndest, in my personal life I like to make note, patronize and associate with companies that treat their employees well. Because I know I’m a sarcastic bitch most of the time, but I honestly feel that sometimes the only time I’m really successful at my job is when I’m compassionate and putting the needs of others before mine. And because I’m not always successful at that, I’m going to try harder next year.

And all that being said, heck if there is a $100 plasma screen tv out there for sale, I suppose I just might have to line up like the rest of America. I mean, come on, we’re all sorry they have to work, but $100?

[HorroR Stories] (Big) Boys Don’t Cry- But if They Do They Can Sue!

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Here is another entry in Madame HR’s series that applies Mme Hr’s HR brain to real life or ripped from the headlines situations.

ESPN and even, yes, even NPR has been talking lately about the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal. Jonathan Martin, an 2nd year offensive lineman, abruptly left the team last week citing harassing behavior from his fellow teammates that had devolved to the point he couldn’t take it anymore. Below, in green, are key points reported in the news about the case, followed by Mme Hr’s thoughts in black.

Jonathan Martin never told the coach or any member of the team staff or management the real reason he left the team. His agent later informed the team about the behavior of Mr. Incognito.

This is a tough one for the Dolphins to defend. If you’ve ever sat through any sort of anti-harassment training, and let me tell you from personal experience you haven’t lived until you have, a company has the responsibility to provide a safe and harassment-free workplace. Saying they “didn’t know” probably won’t be good enough. And let’s keep it real, I saw the TMZ video of Incognito storming around a bar half naked screaming the “N” word over and over. This guy isn’t exactly what we in the biz call “subtle”. Somebody knew what was going on. And again, we HR types like to say that we ALL have responsibility to stop, report, you know, etc., etc., etc. Cris Carter on ESPN made a similar statement in less corporate-cover-your-ass speak: “where were his teammates when he needed them?”

The team initially denied there was any improper behavior. Then Martin’s agent provided them recordings of voicemails of Incognito saying “Hey, wassup, you half [bleep] piece of [bleep]…I’m gonna slap your real mother across the face. [Bleep] you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”

I will confess that when I first heard the story “Miami Dolphins player leaves the team, is staying with his family, complaining that other team members were harassing him,” I thought to myself, “oh, poor baby, are the big bad football bad men being mean to you?” Literally, I think I thought the words “suck it up” and “this is football for criminy sakes, grow some balls you millennial babykins!” Which I suppose is the same reaction the team had to Martin’s departure. And wow, boy do we have egg on our faces now! This is why, dear reader, if you ever receive a claim of harassment from anyone your response is always: “we will investigate!” and not: “Suck it up loser!” The team should have never, never, never, never, never taken a stand without investigating first. Me, as a random fan and occasional blowhard can think whatever the heck I want, but the team, the “employer” in this instance must take any and all claims seriously and must investigate.

Incognito was chosen last year for his first pro-bowl and received the team’s “Good Guy” award for cooperating with local media. He also stars in a stadium video played before every home game encouraging fans to be good sports.


Most players, when asked, insist that Mr. Incognito is a “nice guy” that he just likes to “joke around a lot.”

Oftentimes, harassment, whether it is similar to Mr. Martin’s claims, sexual, or something else, boils down to this. “It was a joke, everyone else thought it was funny.” Ok, ha, ha, ha. It’s funny because this is another one of those situations where the reality of the world and the reality of what we want the world to be are far apart.

We all have the right to a harassment free workplace. Fact. However, I would imagine that most of us are dealing with, or have dealt with, a situation that makes us uncomfortable at work. And that’s life, right? In the moment that “N” word joke might seem funny to you, but leave that group, go home, repeat to your wife and she hits you over the head with a frying pan. I’ve counseled managers that have sent inappropriate jokes to hundreds of people, but it only takes one. And is that harassment, legally? Maybe, read my last post on harassment for more details. It depends on severity, frequency and all sorts of human factors that are hard to quantify.

A panel of ex-players and coaches on ESPN was talking about this and the sentiment was very much that hazing is ok but bullying is not. When I asked out loud and hypothetically what the difference was, my husband, Monsieur HR, very kindly answered (since no one else was in the room), “hazing has a time limit.” Are we saying that it is ok to call someone a “half-[bleep]” and threaten to kill them if they are a rookie? Yes! Yes, we are saying that. Look, I know that hazing is an age-old rite of passage in many hallowed institutions out there—fraternities, the military, the NFL. And, sure, I guess it builds camaraderie and weeds out the pussies and all that but to me it just sounds like an excuse.  And I’m not talking from a legal vs. non legal place here, I’m pretty sure the law would call it all bullying, I’m talking about more from a moral point of view. And no one hates getting all moral than me, but think about it.

Keyshawn Johnson, former NFL player and current ESPN analyst, described with a glint in his eye how first year guys have to “carry some extra equipment, pay for a few meals, might get tied to a goalpost.” It all boils down to: “well I had to do that when I was a rookie so I was sure going to make other rookies do it!” it’s like there was this one guy fifty years ago, let’s call him Dale, who was a real dick and he made all the rookies carry his helmet and it just got passed down from there. But, really, don’t we all love to have an excuse to be mean to each other that doesn’t actually make us look like we’re bad people? I mean, I went in to HR, what did you do? KIDDING—ha, ha, did you see what I did there? I’m just kidding <quiet sob>.

But here’s my point. All these former NFL players on TV are saying that Mr. Martin just should have punched him in the face. As an HR Manager this makes me sad, but as an American fan of football, I can’t help but sort of agree with them. So despite the fact that I think all of us agree that harassment is wrong, apparently so is complaining about it. I heard of an anonymous survey of Dolphins players that was done and they said they would rather have Mr. Incognito back in the locker room rather than Mr. Martin.

OK, back to the law. Was this severe? Seems like it. Was it pervasive? Again, I’m going to say yes. There you go, hostile work environment. Somebody is getting sued! And the Dolphins seemed to have missed all of their opportunities to blame someone else, but they’ll probably try. Mr. Incognito will be working at Home Depot by the Super Bowl.

Incognito has had a troubled past. He has led the NFL in unnecessary roughness penalties in the past 4 years and was released by the St. Louis Rams after problems with his coach. In 2009 he was voted the dirtiest player in the league by his peers.

And that, my friends, is why you do background checks.

The venerable James Brown said: “Sometimes guy’s engage in juvenile actions, sophomoric for sure, but team leaders can usually tell if there’s a player who’s reached their limit and it’s getting overboard, those team leaders will step in.”

Oftentimes companies expect their managers and supervisors to be their first line of defense in these situations. This is why, in states like California, we make them sit through hours of anti-harassment training. Why didn’t those leaders step in here? Who knows? Who’s to blame? Now they are saying that team officials wanted Mr. Incognito to “toughen up” Mr. Martin. Ultimately the team must be held responsible. They should have known, probably did, and should have stopped it. Because despite what society might think or want, the law says harassment is illegal. Whether it was hazing or bullying, either way, the team should have stopped it. I’m sure that the league will handle this in the same deft and transparent manner in which they’ve handled the concussion scandal.

In the Dolphins’ stadium program sold on Halloween, Incognito said Martin was the teammate easiest to scare.

Job well done, Mr. Incognito.

And yes, his real name is Incognito. Richard Dominick Incognito, Jr. Somewhere in New Jersey there is another one.

Change is Evil! Hooray for Change!

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Madame HR helps us all cope with the changeover to Been & Going. New logo! Ack!

In HR you are often expected, by those who can’t be bothered, to be the “agent of change” for an organization. And here we are, my loyal friends, you may have noticed that HorroR Stories no longer appears on Fierce and Nerdy, but here, on Been & Going. That sounds like change. I’m terrified. No, wait, this isn’t terrifying, this is fantastic, I am optimistic about this change. All will be good! All will be well. I will light the way, dear readers, as you make this journey with me. I will shepherd you, my poor lost shivering flock as we embark on this new adventure together.

As “Who Moved My Cheese?” taught us about ten years ago, change is hard and unsettling and stressful, and well, sucky. But it’s also good, right? Good! Yay change! I mean, from an organizational standpoint, that’s how we grow and be successful. If we don’t adapt we will die sayeth the Lord Darwin and he was right.

To help us all cope with the stress of this recent change, I consulted one of my co-workers who happens to head up what we like to call Training and Development here at my current organization. She trains people on how to deal with change all the time. She instructed me that there are three phases of change.

Phase 1: Shock/Numbness. When we received word that Fierce and Nerdy was no longer a community blog, I was shocked. “You’re kidding!” I thought to myself. “Well surely this is a mistake.”  My colleague indicated that many feel angry during this stage. “How dare Ernessa focus on her own professional goals and her growing family, I have HR advice to give. The public needs me!” might have been what I said, if I had felt angry, which I didn’t! <if you could see me right now you would see that I am giving you all a thumbs up sign!>

When she does her Change Management training, my colleague asks her groups why they think people resist change. People say lots of things; I’ll let you ruminate to yourself for a moment. I think it all boils down to change is, well, evil. Yes, evil and we should all fight evil all the time right? I mean that is our duty as citizens of this world, to fight evil in every incarnation that we see it—wait, no, that’s the wrong answer! I was tricking you!  Yes, that’s it, one big goof. I imagine everyone has their own reasons to resist change, just because mine happen to align with certain super heroes out there, well, draw your own conclusions.

Phase 2: Sorrow. In this phase, my colleague says, communication is helpful. People need to talk about their feelings regarding change, whether positive or negative. I am sad to no longer be a part of Fierce and Nerdy <quiet sobbing>. Most people, she says, tend to feel negatively about change. So, let’s talk people, how do you feel about this change? What scares you?

Phase 3: Resolution. Here is where we begin to see change in action and realize it ain’t so bad. I like this new Been & Going (dot) com. I love that changy picture thing on the homepage! And look, I recognize some of these other bloggers- California Seething, Amy Robinson, Jeff Rogers! Ok, if Ryan Dixon is somehow involved than I know everything will be ok. Is Ryan Dixon involved? Call him now!

So, ok, good news, I’ve bought into this change. Problem solved. I don’t even need to hear about some of the challenges change brings. But for those of you who care, here they are:

  1. Change is stressful
  2. Change is a never ending situation
  3. Change brings insecurity out of individuals.

On a side note, I have to ask you all, did you miss me? I mean, you did right? All of you have been out there just floundering without the sage advice of little ol’ me. I know you have, just please say so in the comments. Please…love me?

For those of you who are still struggling, here is another numbered list for you. Enjoy:

Tips on Adapting to Change

  1. Control your attitude
  2. Change is never ending- expect that it will happen
  3. Overcome your negative feelings
  4. Reframe unproductive thoughts and beliefs (forgive me for a sec, but what the eff does this mean?)
  5. Arrange encouraging consequences to keep yourself motivated (another side note, this is why I hate anything that calls itself “development” in the corporate world. You get shit like this. I mean, inspirational stuff like this, but still, shit like this. I feel inspired and cynical at the same time)
  6. Continue doing your job
  7. READ BEEN & GOING EVERY FREAKING DAY! Or every other day. You feel me.

And yes, hello, we are back. Thanks for reading!

Good luck out there,

Madame HR

Questions Madame HR? Submit them via the handy contact form to the right, or email me here. All questions and stories will be kept confidential!

Please Leave Fido at Home

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I want to bring my dog to work, but my HR Department won’t let me. Why are they so mean?

-Dog lover

Yo Dog,

Thanks Google—thanks for creating all these fun and friendly workplaces with all sorts of crazy perks like laundry machines and free food. Oh, and thanks too for telling the whole freaking world about them. I have a secret for you—shhhh! Don’t tell anyone—but you know why Google feeds all their employees a free dinner? Because it means that they’ll never go home, they’ll never leave the sparkling utopia of the Google “campus” (don’t even get me started on how much I hate it when companies call their buildings campuses) and trudge home to, I don’t know, see their kids, hug their wives, live a life that has nothing to do with Google, play with their dog. But wait, it’s brilliant, in that whole list, what was the one thing you actually wanted to do? See your kids? That’s exhausting! Hug your wife? She’s a hopeless nag! Who’s the family member you miss the most? Who’s the only one that lovey-dove-loves you no matter how many times you step on his tail or forget to give him water? (Note to my husband (Monsieur HR):I still contend that wasn’t my fault). So here’s the best part! Now you can bring him to work with you! It’s great, just you and him against the workday. Now you never have to go home, you can spend every waking moment of your life playing ping pong in the employee lounge, getting your clothes dry cleaned over and over, and playing with your dog. Oh, and working! Yes, don’t forget the working!

Disclaimer: I have no idea if Google, in fact, allows their employees to bring their dogs to work. I’m just assuming they do. And if they don’t, I’m blaming the irrationally high standard they have set in workplace tomfoolery as the reason other companies allow it.

Has the concept of work-life balance become so smudged in today’s day and age that we think this sounds like a good idea? Allow me to cite the example of my dog, who I like to call HR Dog. Now I lovey-dove-love HR Dog. He’s just the sweety-weetiest little (he weighs 90 lbs) thing in the whole wide world. When I ask him to sit so that I may hug him (I ask his permission), and he decides to do me that favor, and looks up at me with his big brown eyes and I put my arms around him, well I don’t have to say it’s just a little moment of joy in my life. In that very specific moment he is the perfect dog. You know when he wouldn’t be the perfect dog? If I brought him to work with me.

Here’s HR Dog’s day at my office:

8:30 am- hide under Mme HR’s desk, pay particular attention to where she likes to put her feet so I can lie exactly there. Oh, and rub up against her black pants a few times to leave optimum amount of dog hair behind.

10:00 am- manager comes into Mme HR’s office with a question. Bark loudly and incessantly from under the desk. The important part here is to not actually get up off the floor or come out, just to make it absolutely impossible for them to have a conversation. Repeat every time someone comes into the office, whether or not I’ve seen them before or know them.

10:30 am- Break time! Go with Mme HR outside to run around with other doggies in the little doggie area. Make sure to poo so Mme HR has to pick it up getting some on her pantsuit and making her hands smell like poo.

10:45 am- follow Mme HR as she goes to restroom. Follow her into the restroom. Follow her into the stall. Bark at anyone (from the stall) that comes in.

12:00 pm- Lunch! Follow Mme HR to lunchroom. Growl at anyone who tries to pet me. Sit at her feet watching her eat. Growl and/or bark at everyone who tries to sit next to or talk to Mme HR.

2:30 pm- Follow Mme HR to important meeting. When she doesn’t let me into the conference room, sit outside the floor to ceiling window and stare at her during the entire meeting. Oh, and bark at everyone who comes in and out of the meeting. Or who walks by. Or who breathes nearby. Or who answers the phone. Or who does ANYTHING!!!

3:45 pm- Break! Take a random mad dash through traffic while Mme HR pleads with me to come back to her and sit for hugs. As if. Have you seen all this traffic?

5:45 pm- Dinner! Free food! <See Lunch>

7:00 pm- curl up into corner of office and sleep while Mme HR finally gets all the work done she hasn’t been able to do today because I’ve just been so damn adorable.

9:30 pm- Mme HR joins me on the floor for sleep. Who wants to go home and deal with all those annoying kids (she doesn’t have any) or that nagging Monsieur HR (just kidding! You know I love you honey! And yes, I gave the dang dog water, quit nagging)

Ok, so I guess by now you are thinking that I’m just as mean and evil as your HR Department. I mean only someone whose heart is two sizes too small would be against bringing their dog to work. I guess my little story above did not inspire you. I suppose you think your dog is just the mostest bestest behaved dog in the world and would just be an angel all day to everyone. Maybe you’re right. Maybe your dog would be an asset to the work environment, a paragon of poochitude. He would lift everyone’s spirits with his sweet slobbery kisses. The whole company would become more productive under his watchful doggie eye, assembly lines will move faster, admin assistants will type faster, programmers will write code with a song in their heart and a twinkle in their eye. Soon there will be a painting of him in the lobby, an honorary seat for him on the Board.

So great, you have a fan-freaking-tastic dog. I’m jealous. But here you go, it’s not your dog I’m worried about. It’s the pit bull aspirationally named Peaches that Janie in Accounting just rescued from the Shaky Scared Pit Bull Love and Hugs Rescue who thinks it’s a good idea to bring him into an unfamiliar place with lots of unfamiliar people doing even more unfamiliar things. She thinks he will be just fine. He just wants love! That’s why he ripped off Johnny in Marketing’s face. It’s how he expresses love.

And don’t get me started about Bobbi in Legal and all of her animal hair allergies. The woman practically walks around in a face mask as it is. And what about clients or customers that come in to your office? Who knows how they feel about our four legged friends. Not to mention they have now become targets for Peaches to rip off their faces.

So you see, you are being unfair to your HR Department by calling them mean. Just look at all the crap they have to put up with on this just so you can bring your damn dog to work. This is your job, get over it. Jobs by and large suck, they aren’t as good as our houses. Leave the good things at home so you’ll enjoy it more. Get over it. Cut them a break and go home and hug your wife, toss a ball to your kids, read a story to your perfect dog. HR Dog and I are just going to be over there, in the corner, growling at you.

Good luck out there,

Madame HR (and Dog)

This post originally appeared on Fierce and Nerdy April, 2013.

Questions Madame HR? Submit them via the handy contact form to the right, or email me here. All questions and stories will be kept confidential!

Mo’ Problems Getting Mo’ Money

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Any tips on how I can get a raise? The 2% they’ve been giving me every year is not enough. I was looking on and it says I should be making thousands more than I am. How do I get them to pay me what I’m worth?

–Deserve More

Dear More,

You’ve been getting 2% every year? Wow, lucky you! Since the economy exploded a few years ago, I think it would be difficult to find many people out there who have been getting steady increases every year. I think most who are employed are grateful to have a job and most who aren’t employed just really hate you right now.

Here’s a universal truth for you: EVERY employee thinks they are underpaid. Every single one. Those oil company CEOs you hear about on the news making 90 ba-zillion dollars? They want 95 ba-zillion dollars. It’s a fact of life. The difference between what an employee thinks they’re worth and what an employer thinks a job is worth is usually pretty wide.

From the employee’s perspective- you are thinking about your cost of living, that new Lamborghini Aventador that looks super sexy in lime green, the fact that a freaking box of Peanut Butter Cheerios costs about five bucks, and have you seen the price of gas? Aventadors get about 2 miles to the gallon, those babies ain’t cheap. Add in the fact that, according to you, you do an awesome job, you are on time every day (mostly), get all of your work done, you are the epitome of the good employee. So yes, you deserve a raise, goddammit. And not one of those Cost of Living trifles, a real, honest to goodness raise. Something that, when you get your next paycheck, you’ll actually notice it’s higher. You know, one of those fancy types of raises.

From the employer’s perspective- they have thought a lot about what you are worth to them. They probably have a whole person in the HR Department who just sits around figuring out what people should get paid. What a company decides to pay employees is like any marketplace. It’s like buying a Lamborghini Aventador, let’s say. You want a lime green one but you don’t want to pay too much for it. Turns out, everyone else wants the lime green one, so to procure your snazzy new supercar, you might get in to a bidding war, or you might have to pay full price at the dealership. But who knows, maybe you’ll find one cheap on Craigslist. Companies are the same way, they want the best employees to fill their positions and they don’t want to pay too much for them. They do research, invest in trusted salary surveys, create salary grades, and do all sorts of boring things that lead them to only giving you 2% a year. There are all sorts of math, charts, theories, and power point presentations behind that 2%. You’d be amazed.

So, you want tips? Here are some tips:

Do research. is evil, and I’m not just saying that cuz I’m a mean old HR hag who sucks the joy out of life and wants to make sure no one in the world makes the salary they deserve. While some of that may be true, everyone should understand that the data on is not always good data. Compensation data collection is a bit of a science that involves benchmarking job duties, factoring in things like experience, industry, geography, trends, etc. A lot of comp professionals think that data still includes information from the tech boom (wasn’t that like, 100 years ago now? I find this dubious, but I still hear that theory a lot).

It’s kind of like when you are watching Pawn Stars (theoretically) and some dude is trying to sell the storm trooper helmet he made from scratch out of marshmallow fluff. The big guy behind the counter asks: “How much do you want for it?” Nerd with sticky fingers says: “I’ve seen them on the internet for $1,000” Big guys comes back with: “Yeah, but is anyone buying them for a $1,000?” So there you go, is like a storm trooper helmet made of marshmallow fluff, everyone thinks they’re worth something, but no one’s willing to pay for them. Or, in simpler less abstract terms, something (or someone) is only worth what someone (or some company) is willing to pay for it (or them). Yes, that was my less abstract explanation, sue me. Wait! Don’t sue me.

So how do you do research? If you belong to a professional organization, you might want to start there. Or, one thing I’ve done in the past is look at Monster or Careerbuilder, or yes, even Craigslist. Sometimes companies will list the salary range they are looking for in their job ads. Find a job that sounds like what you do and see what others are willing to pay right now, in your geographic area. And here’s a good side benefit, maybe you’ll find a better paying job somewhere else!

Other salary data out there: check the websites of staffing agencies. Robert Half, Accountemps, etc. all post salary guides which are usually free. Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( publishes salary data. The key here is to make sure you are looking at a position that has similar duties to your position and is in a similar geographic or metropolitan location, titles don’t count.

Market yourself.

Remember how I said that compensation is a marketplace? Figure out what you know or what you have done that makes you worth more. Maybe you’ve gotten a certification (or maybe you should). Maybe you saved the company millions of dollars when you managed that software implementation. Make a list. Focus on ways that you have added value to your department and the organization. Be persuasive. Don’t be coy.

Specialize/Find a Niche.

Look for areas in your job and/or your company where you can specialize. Look for underserved areas, or maybe complex areas. Think of it this way: if you are a receptionist, it doesn’t really matter what industry you work in or where you live. It’s not too difficult for your company to find a receptionist to do that job. However, let’s say you are a computer programmer who just happens to know the particular programming language that your company uses that is very rare and specific to the industry. In this case, there are few people who can do that job, and they probably get a premium for their knowledge. Not to say anything bad about being a receptionist, but it’s kind of like being a silver Honda Civic, they’re reliable but everywhere. However, if you are the programmer in this example, you are the lime green Lamborghini, you may be ugly as sin but you’re rare and super cool. And rare and super cool can equal money in the bank.


The most successful way I have ever seen to get a raise that is higher than the yearly merit-cost of living-token 2%, is to find another job that wants to pay you more and then threaten to quit. It’s a sad fact that most companies will only give you a raise if you leave. It sucks, but it’s true. Hiring and training your replacement is more costly, and more annoying than paying you more. But, here’s a warning that applies to any advice I’ve ever given you: I’m speaking in generalities. I’ve also seen this backfire on people, so don’t make the threat unless you mean it. However, I think it’s healthy to stay in touch with the marketplace, send your resume out occasionally. Something may come of it, something may not.


You’ll remember that, my dear loyal readers, Mme HR likes to listen to NPR. A month or so ago they were doing a story about how women don’t really know how to negotiate. It was an interesting story, but here was the takeaway for me: I never flat out ask for what I want. I feel like I have mastered the dance, the ploys and manipulations were I talk and ask and suggest about every point in the circle without ever hitting the bulls eye. And when the bulls eye finally gets hit, it is usually someone else’s idea, and I’m freaking exhausted. After listening to this radio story, and processing it through the Rube Goldberg machine that is my mind, I decided to start asking for what I wanted. No more dancing around the real subject, no more prevarication, no more games. Just be direct. And you know what? So far, it’s working. I’m not a 100%, but my first success: I was dealing with a particularly vexing problem that I knew a solution for, and I had come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they would say no to my suggestion, so I was dropping hints and asking for things that were close to what I wanted, but not exactly what I wanted. Then, I just decided to ask for it directly. And I got it. And I was right. I couldn’t stop smiling that day—my best day at work in a long, long time. And, it was so much faster than the usual song and dance.

In the spirit of being direct, I’ll get to the point. You want a raise? Ask for one. What’s the worst that can happen? Even if they say no, you’ve planted some seeds, you’ve kicked open a door that will stay ajar for the next time you want to talk about it. Keep asking. Oh, and shoot for the moon. You want to make $60K a year? Ask for $75K. This is another thing I’ve learned the hard way. I guess that’s why it’s a negotiation, right? Be brave. Don’t come up with the reasons it’s a bad idea before you even ask, don’t hand them the excuses. Let them come up with the reasons it’s a bad idea.

So there you have it, good luck! I wish I could say with any confidence whether or not any of these tips will actually work. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! Maybe you’ll get a raise! Maybe you’ll get a new job! Maybe you’ll get fired! (No, wait, probably not that). Maybe you’ll just get that 2% again, but you were going to get that anyway. So either way, you are that much closer to that Lamborghini! Lime green, really?

Good luck out there,


This post originally appeared on Fierce and Nerdy April, 2013.

Questions Madame HR? Submit them via the handy contact form to the right, or email me here. All questions and stories will be kept confidential!