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THE BEST OF INC. 2013

Top 9 HR Fails of 2013

Your Human Resources Department is supposed to protect you and help you make people your top priority. These HR departments failed in their jobs.

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You hire an HR department to keep you from making stupid decisions regarding employees, right?

Well, there are some companies that need to do a little bit better job with the the Human part of Human Resources. Here are the top HR Fails of 2013.

9. Publishing a picture of your paycheck? You're fired!

Lacoste fired employee Wade Good after he published a picture of his paycheck on Instagram. Their HR department forgot that talking about pay is a fundamental right of your employees. And today's employees? They talk on the internet. Lacoste appeared to be concerned that he revealed confidential information, although the only thing confidential about it was information that belonged to Good. Federal law allows employees to discuss their salary with their coworkers, so as long as Good had at least one coworker as a follower on his Instagram account, the discussion was protected speech.

8. Intern lawsuits.

Many HR departments have been violating the law regarding interns for years, and 2013 was the year they finally got busted--in a big way. Fox Search Light lost a case in which interns said they were illegally unpaid. (The suit is currently under appeal.) Publishing Giant Conde Nast announced it was ending its internship program in 2014, in response to lawsuits from former interns who claimed Conde Nast paid them less than minimum wage. For all the HR departments in a panic because of these new lawsuits, they should have gotten their heads out of the sand a long time ago. The rules for interns aren't new. If someone works for you, and you're a for profit company, you have to pay them unless you meet a list of very strict exceptions.

7. Abercrombie & Fitch look policy: No muslims or fat people.

Apparently, only cool people should shop at Abercrombie & Fitch according to CEO Mike Jeffries. Cool means not fat, at least according to a 2006 interview that resurfaced this year thanks to the eternal memory of the Internet. This is not an HR fail, as HR reports into the CEO, not the other way around, but it sets the stage as to why HR thought it was appropriate to fire and not hire Muslim women whose religious beliefs included wearing a head scarf, or hijab--they must not think it's cool enough.  It violated their look policy, they said. Policies cannot supersede federal  law on religious discrimination. To A&F's credit, they changed the policy in 2013, but only after lawsuits.

6. AOL/Patch layoffs with a surprise firing. 

AOL laid off a bunch of people the best way you can when it's a large group--telling everyone at once rather than dragging it out painfully. So why the HR fail? Because someone else got fired on the spot and in public and individually. CEO Tim Armstrong reportedly lost it and fired Creative Director Abel Lenz for taking pictures during a sensitive meeting. HR should have known what was going down and someone should have been responsible for telling Lenz, who normally took pictures during meetings, that there would be no photography in this meeting. Layoffs are serious business and they should have page long checklists to make sure every "i" is dotted and "t" is crossed in order to prevent exactly this type of CEO meltdown.

5. HMV firings are live tweeted.

Just like the AOL layoffs, someone in HR left a very important things off the layoff checklist: Either change social media passwords or make the company "tweeter" part of the layoff team. "We're tweeting live from HR where we're all being fired! Exciting!!" is not something you want appearing on your company Twitter feed. Your social media person should never be surprised by anything negative. Especially not anything negative that affects his job, or that of his coworkers.

4. Hooters forces bald waitress out

Waitress Sandra Lupo had a brain tumor removed, which meant her head lacked hair. Rather than allowing her to work with a hat (as, she claims, she was promised prior to the surgery), her manager said she had to wear a wig. Since Hooter's claims their restaurant sells not only food but "sexuality" they argue that a waitress's appearance is critical to the restaurant's mission. She's suing the restaurant for disability discrimination, which Employment Attorney Jon Hyman says is, actually, a long shot: "Just because Hooters acted insensitively, however, does not mean that it acted illegally. Because Ms. Lupo's tumor was benign and she doesn't appear to have ongoing problems, it may not be counted as a disability." Regardless, this is another firing the HR department should have put a stop to. It lacks compassion and it makes the restaurant look bad.

3. Lady Gaga ignores federal overtime laws.

Turns out that being rich and famous doesn't exempt you from having to pay the little people time and a half for overtime. Former Lady Gaga assistant Jennifer O'Neill sued, claiming she was not paid overtime for her 24/7 job. Lady Gaga (real name Stefani Germanotta ) settled out of court rather than face a judge and jury who would surely find her liable for violating federal overtime laws.

2. Time Warner grants paid paternity leave but--not to biological fathers.

Josh Levs, a reporter for CNN filed suit with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) because, he states Time Warner allows paid leave for biological and adoptive mothers, but only provides paid leave for adoptive fathers. No laws require companies to give paid leave to anyone, male or female for the birth or adoption of a child, but they are required to give up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, under FMLA. I'm not sure what the courts will ultimately say about this (my non-legal opinion is that it's probably a legal policy), but it sure is an example of a backwards thinking HR department.

1. Yahoo cancels telecommuting and gives everyone a rating.

Marissa Mayer's changes at Yahoo have hit the news several times in 2013. In February, the telecommuting ban got lots of bad press, and then in November, they announced that employees would be forced into a bell curve for annual performance ratings. The latter makes sense when you have management that has trouble identifying poor performers, but is not a favorite of employees and often brings problems.

IMAGE: Peter Dazeley/Getty
Last updated: Dec 3, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.
@RealEvilHRLady




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