In this episode of the Recruitment Hackers podcast, Suzanne Lucas, better known as “the evil HR lady” talks about lots of different things HR professionals are interested in, but don’t really like to ask about. From termination policies in different states, to the benefits of “forced vacation,” Suzanne goes into a wide variety of controversial topics!
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Max: Hello everybody and welcome back to the recruitment hackers podcast. I'm your host, Max Armbruster. And today on the show, I'd like to welcome somebody who's dialing in from Switzerland. Suzanne Lucas, who is the owner, and chief writer of a little place called evilhrlady.org.
Max: evilhrlady.org, go check it out. Welcome to the show Suzanne.
Suzanne: Thanks so much for having me.
Max: Thanks for joining. So, where do I begin? How long have you been evil for?
Suzanne: Well that's kind of like a bad pickup line. I have been the evil HR lady since 2006, which it doesn't seem that long ago until you do a math in your head and then you go Oh boy! It's been a long time.
Max: I love the website it does have that 2006 vibe a little bit, you know it's got these, you know when we were all building our own websites too and and just the format, it looks just a little bit like going back in time I must say, but it has an edge because of it. In fact, I've always thought the best websites are the ones from that era, like, in terms of layout, nothing has ever been drudge or the eBay for evolved and so on. Even though I'm in the business of changing interfaces but for those who are listening and not on their computer. What can they expect if they go on to the evil HR lady, what audience are you attracting to your website?
Suzanne: My audience is a lot of HR professionals and then, a lot of people that are trying to figure out how to handle situations at work. So it skews strongly towards the HR professional but there is a good contingent of non HR people as well that are just either interested in the topic, or they are literally coming to find an answer to their question.
Max: Right and I see there is plenty of ways to kill time here there is a big red button that says show me a random post, you click on that and then you can go right into some serious topics. The one I got was enforceable severance clauses, so serious questions for HR folks.
Suzanne: Okay, so maybe that's not the most exciting as post. But that's the type of thing that you know you don't know about unless you've been through it, and a lot of people need that kind of information and I hope to be able to provide it.
Max: And from your background, obviously, you got into this space because you were a practitioner at some point, and you're a consultant on Labor and Employment Law. How long have you been in Switzerland? Is your background more focused on US law or do you also cover international markets?
Suzanne: My focus is the United States that's my main focus. Of course, I've been in Switzerland for almost 12 years now and came for two years and a little bit longer. But, you know, I have my finger on the global market but I'm certainly not an expert in like Swiss employment law. I feel confident in saying, I'm an expert in US employment law, but I'm not really an expert in Swiss law or anything. My audience skews heavily towards the US. And that's where my focus is I do intend to return to the US someday, about 10 years ago.
Max: Yeah. And when it comes to employment law. I mean I guess the US has a reputation for being one of those markets where it's relatively deregulated compared to Europe, but when it comes to employment law, it may be actually the opposite. My perception, purely from talent acquisition is that it is more litigious than Europe. Is that in agreement with your views?
Suzanne: I mean I think that American culture is far more litigious than European culture in everything. Like my Swiss neighbors would never think of suing anybody for anything, you just don't do that, that's just not something that you do, that's not what comes to your mind. Whereas in US culture is very heavy on the law suing in the court, attitude, so that's a very very different cultural thing. US employment is different from a lot of the world because we have almost always what's called outwell employment, which means that I can quit and you can fire me and nobody's required to give notice on either side. And that's something that's very very unusual, especially in the Europe. I mean that's just, that's not something here, in Switzerland and nobody is that out well employment you know you've got a minimum. But after you have a probationary period but then after probationary period, they have to give you three months’ notice before they can terminate you, whereas in the US your boss can walk in today and say, Thanks so much, Max but today's your last day.
Max: So, by that formula, employment would be easier in the US. Are there some ways in which employment is harder in the US?
Suzanne: You know, I am a huge fan of the outwell employment, and when I say out well, keep in mind that you can't terminate someone for an illegal reason. So I can't walk in and say, Max, you're a white male you're fired. That I can't do. I can fire you but I can't fire you because of your race, your gender or your religion any of those types of things.
Max: I thought that you could make an exception for a white male, but okay.
Suzanne: You can, lots of people think that you can but you cannot.
Max: It means I am protected too, yes.
Suzanne: You are protected too and if you're over 40, then you have another layer of protection.
Suzanne: But I know. 40 is not officially old in the US employment law. Yeah, right.
Max: So when you're on the wrong side of 40, go to the US you are protected there.
Suzanne: Although in Switzerland, when you're over 40, then they have to give you six months notice before they terminate you.
Max: It's lovely.
Suzanne: Because you come to Switzerland. Anyway. So the nice thing about this and people don't realize this so much but the easier it is to fire the more likely people are willing to hire. And so, you know, if you're in, say, Germany where it's almost impossible to terminate anybody.
Suzanne: You're going to be so so so cautious about hiring, and you're going to use temps and contractors, as much as you possibly can.
Suzanne: Because once you hire someone if they are not, you know, completely you know i don't know burning down your office building. You're stuck with them until they retire. And so people are very very hesitant to make hiring decisions in in those cultures where it's very difficult to terminate, whereas in the US, because I know that I can get rid of you tomorrow, if I want to. I'm much more willing to give you a try and I think that's a real advantage and employment even though, when someone gets terminated for no fault of their own it's a really big bummer. But the fact is is a lot of those jobs wouldn't exist if.
Max: So it's more of a red market. Yeah, does the sacrifice, you have to make you create a more competitive market so that there are more opportunities, but maybe we're getting too specific detail but it's in California i think that i mean in many states I guess there's also a state level protection, where you cannot Fire at will, or rather there. Isn't there some sort of compensation for tenured employees people who've been on the payroll for a long time?
Suzanne: There is not Montana, the only state that doesn't have outlaw employment. Now there are protections. California is especially bonkers and very employee friendly. I say bonkers because I would never want to be an HR practitioner in California.
Max: Too much paperwork.
Suzanne: It's a lot of paperwork and there's a lot more restrictions, ultimately it's still an at will state but there's a lot of things that are gonna come down on you more. Like California says, specifically that terminating somebody because their salary is higher than other employees is illegal. So if I'm doing a layoff and I just want to get rid of my high dollar people. I can't do that. Now, I can eliminate their whole department or whatever but I can't just say, you know, here I have two accountants one's earning $10,000 more than the other, so I'm going to choose the highly paid one. I have to be able to give another reason. Now I can still terminate that person but I have to have another reason, and the reasoning behind this was actually not salary protection but age protection because who tends to earn the more money is older people. And so, by saying you can't fire people just because they're the highest earner.
Max: White males also.
Suzanne: Well, there you go.
Max: All the white males, yeah.
Suzanne: Then you're protecting your, your older workers. It's kind of bonkers as I said, you know when I was working as a labor and employment law consultant for a big pharmaceutical company, we had, you know, we had sales people in all 50 states of course, and we have three attorneys that handled that, and one handled 24 states, one handled 25 states, and the third handled, California, you know, that's just how California is, it's just so complex.
Max: The complexity that I was alluding to when I said the hidden cost of employing in America, is the lawsuits around the Equal Employment Opportunity law. And for me on the tech side, you know, in the US you have a few more layers of data that you need to collect about everybody that you interview, and it just it's always, you know, an awkward moment for employers in most of the rest of the world including in Asia to be asking people if they're obviously you know a US veteran or what their ethnic origins are because that's not how it's done in other parts of the world.
Suzanne: Yeah, that's something that frequently bothers job applicants too. They'll be like, why, why are you asking me this and like they don't want to ask it any more than you want to answer it, it's just required to for our reporting to be able to say, this is what we did.
Max: Okay, so do you advise people who are moving into the US for the first time making their first hires there, you to be ready on this front or is this is this more of a nice to have. Because, I mean, I guess if it's a small business, keeping track of everybody's profile is maybe a little bit easier than when you're a big corporation.
Suzanne: Well, I mean, the reporting requirements really depends on your business and your business size and if you have any dealings with the US government, and more companies than you would think work with the US government. For instance, my brother is a real estate appraiser he works for a small company, maybe 20 people altogether. They only do property in, you know, Southern Utah, but sometimes that property is government property, which means that they that are a government contractor, which means that they're subject to some of these reporting requirements. So, even though you would think, Okay this is a tiny business and they're not like Lockheed Martin or whatever selling jets to the US military or whatever you know they're appraising land but sometimes when that land is owned by the federal government then they become this government contractor. So, you know, there are these regulations but not everybody is subject to them. And some of the things are ridiculous like you have to be able to report on, you know, the race of all your applicants but what if I don't tell you my race, then you have to guess which is so ridiculous. You know, if we meet face to face, you see me face to face, I am as white as white can be, and with red hair, although the red hair is fair.
Max: I couldn't tell.
Suzanne: But if we don't meet face to face, then you're gonna be making a judgement based on the stereotypes of my name and my accent. You know, that's.
Max: I mean I'm really good at that. But I'm not gonna do it on the air.
Suzanne: I'm guessing you're probably gonna get me right because you can't see me. But, you know, that's something that I find bizarre. But we're not the only country that does that. The UK has this completely. Huge recommended list of questions that you ask for demographics, like, How were your parents married when you were 14. What's your parents income level, what's your sexual orientation. Have you ever been on welfare and people see these questions and they freak out and they're like, what does my parents income, why does it matter if my parents were divorced, then why at 14, I could be wrong about the age but it's like a specific age. And they're trying to gather this demographic data, and their goal is to be able to do these long term studies where they can look at upward mobility and it's got a nice goal to it because if I if I can say look you know I was super poor and I was on welfare when I was a child, and now I'm, you know, a marketing manager and I'm making 80,000 pounds a year or whatever. Look at me I've really come up in the world. But when people get these huge questionnaires, they're like what in the heck, and the first time I saw when I was like this is wrong and so I start googling and I'm like, Oh, well here's the government office that gives you a form I'm like okay this is real.
Max: Yeah. That reminds me, I think I had a similar form to come in as a tourist visa for India-is my parents, my parents marital history religion, just making sure I was not from Pakistan, no matter what. So that was, that was that experience but, yeah, I think it must be reassuring actually for somebody who is not based in the US and hearing you say that this employment. What's a call outwill determine at will, protects them means that, you know, we can start hiring tomorrow, start hiring in the US tomorrow, there's not going to be that much paperwork and, you know you're not if you make a mistake, you can still mend your ways later on.
Suzanne: Absolutely. It's a really great boon for businesses, and in a roundabout way it's good for employees too because there's just more jobs. I mean, even now, are the unemployment rate in the US. As of, like yesterday was like 6.7%.
Suzanne: Which, for most of the world that's super low in non pandemic time. For US it's quite high, because of the pandemic but for the rest of the world that's, you know, incredibly low like if you look at like Portugal and Spain, they're always hovering between 20 and 25%. They also have incredibly strong protections for employees, so nobody wants to hire.
Max: Yeah. 6.5 is remarkable. I just googled vacation on your website. It's a subject which is dear to my heart because we've had in my company or culture where we've said, We want you to take a vacation, but we also don't really have time to monitor it so take as much as you want. And we've realized that they don't take any.
Suzanne: That's correct.
Max: So, can you advise me on me and anybody who is in the same predicament as I am, on what should we do in terms of forcing people to take a vacation. How can I impose vacation on people, which is, I can assure you a very weird thing coming out of my mouth but It is coming in, I'm saying it earnestly. I do want people to take a vacation, but it took me a while to get there.
Suzanne: Yeah, well you do and there are lots and lots of reasons for it and this is something that was a big culture shock moving from the US to Switzerland because, by law, everyone gets at least four weeks of vacation here whereas in the US, there's no required minimum vacation, you can have zero if you want. Most places offer vacation but definitely not four weeks. And a lot of people the higher up the food chain you are, you're likely to have six weeks of vacation. And there's a big cultural shift there. But I'll tell you why you should enforce vacation. There are really nice warm fuzzy things. When your people have a vacation, then they're rested they have time off and they have time to recuperate and everybody needs a break and that you already know. But vacation also reduces fraud. And one of the US banking regulations it's, I guess it's not technically a regulation it's strongly recommended. And every bank I'm aware of actually does this, is that every employee has to take at least one week off completely with no contact. No phone contacts, no email checking, no access to any system. And the reason for this is fraud because if you're running a fraud thing. You really need to take care of it. And so, if you go away for a week and you can't even check your email or your voice mail, or log in at all, someone else has to do your job. And as a result, you uncover fraud, and you prevent fraud and it's even better if you do two weeks and you may say, we're not banking, we don't need that. If you would be surprised at the number of people that embezzle from companies, and here's the other thing about the embezzlement. They're not like you know in the movies or whatever where it's someone takes the job with the plan of taking over. It's usually someone that gets behind on their credit card bill or something and they just front themselves $200. And then they pay it back, you know. And then next time it's $300 and they pay it back and then the next time it's 500 but they don't have the money to pay it back. And it's
Max: It's because they gambled! they gambled it all off.
Suzanne: Or whatever, it starts out, generally accidentally not I mean, obviously, you embezzle on purpose but you know they don't intend to a lot of these people, and having this vacation time this mandatory vacation, actually prevents that fraud and catches that fraud. So from you as a managerial perspective you trust your employees they're awesome, but vacation actually prevents fraud.
Max: I mean even if they're not, you know, dealing with a financial transactions. If they really have to switch off, it forces your system to be ready to function without them, which is continuity one on one. You know what would happen if I get hit by a bus.
Suzanne: This is also true. This is also true because you've got to do that cross training, you've got to be able to have someone be able to step in and handle you because you may get hit by a bus I mean, fingers crossed, nobody's getting hit by a bus but I mean it happens. And what happens when the guy that gets hit by the bus is the only one with the passwords to your system. That's what you know that's something that you really can't have happen and so there's just so many good reasons, besides the ones that we always think of like you know everyone needs rest and relaxation but everyone does need rest and relaxation, absolutely do.
Max: To change the topic and thinking back about 2020, which is the time when everybody left the office, and it was bye, bye everything work from home doesn't matter where you live. Everybody can work from anywhere I have some friends who were working in the US that were Europeans and that they basically moved over to Europe and said well I'm still drawing my salary into the US and US dollars but I'll be working in Europe for the time being until dot dot dot. Have you noticed in your practice, these, these shifts and a lot of your customers are permanently moving towards work from home, and kind of higher from anywhere, or is everybody still thinking of going back to the way things were?
Suzanne: You know, I think everyone in everyone. Almost everyone is leaning towards a little bit more of this flexibility model people really like the opportunity to work from home. Now I say that, but there are definitely people that hate working from home and don't like it. And there are definitely jobs that can be done from home but they're much better when you're in a better collaborative environment.
Max: Hmm hmm
Suzanne: But there are some things that you have to think through before you make this a permanent thing and a lot of this depends on your employment law. Nobody really has a problem with I'm going to go, you know, back to my home country for a month to help my mother who had hip surgery, and during that time I'm going to keep working. You know, just remotely. Nobody has a problem with that, you know, tax authorities are going to come after you or whatever. But if you say, I'm going to move to my home country. Then suddenly, it's a different deal. And then your business needs to register in this other country you're subject to that country's employment laws.
Max: Your tax
Suzanne: Your tax withholdings and things like that. And, even within the United States. There are 50 different states and different states have different laws as well and you'll need to start registering in those states if people aren't coming into the office at all anymore. And so that can really limit what you do, certainly people do it, talked with a guy who has like 11 employees and they're in seven countries. But, you know, you can do it, you absolutely can. But there are things to consider on it, it's not as easy, you know, if you want to chair globalization, this would be a way to do it and be like hey let's make it easier for people to work everywhere.
Max: Yeah. I think it's there, yes there's some work to be done on filing and registering in a new country, but by offering that freedom for a lot of the white-collar jobs is there and where I intend to take advantage of the global talent pool for sure, personally.
Suzanne: Yeah, absolutely a great thing. I mean, look at us. I'm sitting in Switzerland, you're sitting in Hong Kong. And we're having a conversation like we would if we were in the same room.
Max: It's a miracle. Yeah, and, and last year I hired somebody in the US, and all I did is I sent him a contract and I started sending him money. And then he did work, and it was just that simple. But I walked into it, you know, with a lot of fear in my heart, because I'm European originally and I just thought it'd be way more complicated than that. But turns.
Suzanne: And if you probably didn't hire him as an employee you probably hired him as an independent contractor.
Max: Yeah, but in California I was told that doesn't make a difference.
Suzanne: It does make a difference.
Max: I was told by the person I hired, so I guess that's why.
Suzanne: We can talk later. But, yeah, it's pretty easy and that's what you know I most of my clients actually all of my clients but one are in the US I have one client in Paris. But I work as an independent contractor, which allows them to hire me when I am sitting over here.
Max: So yeah they don't have to worry about where you file your taxes and so on.
Suzanne: Right, I take care of all of that. Right.
Max: Great. When you started your blog in 2006, you pick the word evil HR lady. Can you take us back to that moment in time when HR was evil, what did you mean by that. Did you mean that this is, this is how people perceive HR, because HR is always getting in the way that that sort of that old notion of. I have to go through HR it means I did something bad.
Suzanne: I wouldn't say an old notion.
Max: You think it's still alive.
Suzanne: It's still alive. I mean think about it, if your boss calls you in, and you walk in and sitting there in his office is the HR manager. How is that meeting going to go? You already know it's gonna be a bad meeting. Nobody calls HR in to say, Gosh, Max You're doing a great job I just really wanted to give you feedback clients love you your employees love you I just think you're great. They're not calling the HR manager in for that. HR shows up when there's a problem. And, you know, one of my favorite definitions of good HR comes from my friend Kate Bishop she's an employment attorney and an HR consultant and she says, Good HR is like the CIA. When we do a good job. You never know we were there. You only know when we mess up. And that's, you know, really true we're like this secret operation that goes on behind the scenes and when HR is functioning properly you don't think about HR at all. It's just like, what is that I don't know who that lady is. But when things go badly, then you're aware of them. So people still have this really negative attitude towards HR, and you being in the recruitment space should know this, that recruiters have a terrible reputation. Everybody blames the recruiter for everything that goes wrong in the hiring process. Some of it is the recruiters fault, some of it is the hiring manager’s fault and some of it is that you were just a terrible candidate, but nevertheless who gets the blame the recruiter. What, are we done for the day?
Max: I've heard some bad things about recruiters but you know I mean, at least recruiters are have something to celebrate right. This quarter win that they hired somebody. So there's a lot of upside there. It sounds like HR is a little bit more bitter where you're just, you know, you'll never be celebrated if nothing happens. But you'll be there when there's drama. And so, you must need a particular psychological build, to be able to do well in those conditions right to, you have to be able to have a very even calm temper.
Suzanne: It would be a good plan. Does everybody have that? No they don't. Do we all have cats? Yes we do.
Max: Did you all study psychology? And then no, a good chunk.
Suzanne: My degrees are actually in political science so that's a
Max: Not too far, not too far from psychology.
Suzanne: You know, you deal with bureaucrats that's a charm.
Max: Yeah. Great. Well, I've already given the name of your website. Is there a better way to get ahold of you than to visit evilhrlady.org.
Suzanne: There's so many ways to get ahold of me, there's my website, evilhrlady.org, I have a Facebook group called evil HR lady that right now we have about 6000 members and we discuss all things HR, and we share all the best HR memes. So, anybody is welcome to join that if you're smart enough to be able to answer our entry questions which are, why do you want to be here and if you just write yes I'm going to reject you. So you have to be able to at least put a sentence together. And that's a good way to reach me, I'm on Twitter at real evil HR lady, and I'm on LinkedIn every day.
Max: I guess I still don't know if you're evil or not but I'm still very thankful for
Suzanne: I am good and Holy.
Max: Holy? Okay, so there's the two sides of the coin there. Thank you, Suzanne It was a pleasure to have you on the, on our show. And we'll see you online.
Max: Looking forward to those blog posts.
Max: That was Suzanne Lucas, also known as the Evil HR lady. That's not the title I gave her. She gave it to herself. If you want to get an idea for the kind of articles that she writes, you can find articles labeled or titled how to get your boss fired or I'm in trouble for working too hard. Or President Biden's Fire on the Spot Policy is a Bad Idea for your Business.
Another social commentary and commentary on HR practices. The main lesson I got from this exchange was that it's important to make sure your staff takes holidays. And the best way to ensure that is to start tracking it and enforcing it with, or without regulatory mandate. It is the best thing to do in order to keep the same workplace.
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