our HR manager is out of control

A reader writes:

I am a manager for a public library. Our HR manager has convinced our director that it’s in our district’s best interest to post and interview for every single position and change in hours that ever happens, even if this means people are re-interviewing for their own jobs multiple times. For example, we want to move someone from a .3 FTE to a .5 FTE in the new budget year. She will be doing the exact same job, but she will be working 20 hours a week rather than 12. I know that person wants the hours, and rather than just adjusting her schedule, she will now have to reapply for her own job, because we are technically “removing” the .3 FTE and “adding” the .5 FTE position. Ugh.

The director is going along with this for fear that we will get sued by disgruntled employees for not allowing other staff (and sometimes the public) “the opportunity” to apply for that job, even though no one else is going to be hired for this position… the original person is doing the job, she’s doing it well, and we want to add hours to her schedule. We have 400 employees, so this practice leads to a lot of fake internal job postings, people applying for positions that aren’t really open, staff feeling like we are trying to get rid of them, and a huge amount of time wasted in these interviews. The rest of the managers have protested this and asked for case law showing the reasoning behind it, but the HR manager just says “it’s complicated” and tells us to look at “the EEOC.”

Now, I understand that a guiding principle of public service is that everyone has an equal right to apply for and be considered for a position, and that nepotism is unacceptable, but wow, this is taking it to an extreme. What can we do? I think this is a huge waste of taxpayer dollars.

Your HR manager should be fired.

That might sound extreme, but she clearly has zero understanding of the law, zero understanding of her role (which is to help your organization function as effectively as possible, not to put up fake obstacles in its way), and zero instinct about how to operate effectively. Moreover, when challenged, she resorts to vagueness (“it’s complicated”) and BS (“look at the EEOC”).

And this is BS. It’s a perversion of practices intended to guard against allegations of discrimination. As you said yourself, you’re simply increasing people’s hours, not hiring for entirely new roles. She’s forcing candidates and employees to go through the charade of interviews that will never pay off for anyone, harming employee morale by making good employees think their jobs are in jeopardy, and wasting time that should be spent on real work. She’s basically functioning as the exact opposite of what her role should be. She’s like the anti-HR.

But perhaps most importantly, your HR director should not be running the show when it comes to hiring. Other managers should be overruling her. Someone above this woman needs to step in and put a stop to this (as well as to her continued employment there).

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Oh man. Alison could do a whole month on HR in public libraries. She’s absolutely right here, by the way.

    1. Jessica*

      Another public library manager here, and another vote for Alison doing a series on HR in public libraries, or at least the public sector.

        1. The Editor*

          I work with an HR manager who came from the public sector. Everything is “we’ll get sued!!!” And I mean everything.

          Today is our Cinco de Mayo celebration at work, and we actually had the conversation about how we needed to make sure that all employees had access to the chips and salsa or we could face a discrimination suit!

          I get the whole CYA thing, but really? This is the attitude that killed the coolest toys at the playground.

            1. The Editor*

              Mostly customer service because they are on the phones and couldn’t get away. The HR manager wanted us to have a special bowl of chips and salsa that we could bring around to them throughout the day to make sure they were fairly treated.

              And this is just a recent and benign example. I could write a book on some of the things I hear. And I would if it wouldn’t throw me into a deep and irreversible depression.

                1. Josh S*

                  Watch out everyone! Alison is in a firin’ mood today!

                  Someone let her underlings know to keep their heads down!

                2. Nev*

                  I almost felt physical pleasure from reading your answer/analysis of OP’s case. Couldn’t agree more with it and doubt that many people could put in words a reply more succinct and nailing it as yours.

                  Btw, the library director seems quite dysfunctional as well relying on such a BS advice .

              1. Tami*

                So, what if someone does not have the ability to each chips and salsa due to having GERD, or bad teeth, or no teeth, or because the chips are fried in lard and it is against their religious beliefs to consume pork? Or what if someone is allergic to tomatoes or onions? What about other ethnic celebrations? We don’t want to discriminate against other ethnicities. Are you sure you are covering all of your bases? This Cinco de Mayo celebration is fraught with legal pitfalls. I am alarmed that you would even consider such a thing.

                1. The Editor*

                  I am just begging that my HR Manager doesn’t read what you wrote…. You have no idea how seriously she would take all of that.

                  I wish I were kidding….

                2. Maggie*

                  Oh man, I am allergic to tomatoes believe it or not and am constantly getting left out of pizza lunches. I had no idea that if I were in the public sector I could SUE for pizza discrimination!

              2. Laura L*

                It’s certainly silly for HR to get involved with that, but it seems like a nice gesture that the people who couldn’t get away from their desks would appreciate. At least, I would, if I were in their position.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s absolutely a nice gesture, just not one that HR should be getting involved with. That’s an HR person with not enough to do.

                2. The Editor*

                  If it were a matter of sharing, I’d totally understand and agree. It’s not. It literally is about someone suing us because they were not provided equal access to the chips and salsa.

                3. Laura L*

                  Gah! I can not believe the HR manager is worried about being sued for that. It’s literally incomprehensible to me.

              3. Nyxalinth*

                Well, I’ve been on the phones, and I can tell you, sure we’d be disappointed, and possibly feel slighted, since we’re on the front lines taking all the crap slung at the company if there wasn’t any for us, but a lawsuit? That’s just silly!

                1. doreen*

                  Sure it is. And the lawsuit against my employer by an employee who sued because a meeting was held on his religious holiday was silly, too. Mind you, he wasn’t expected to attend the meeting and he was permitted to take the day off. He claimed it was discriminatory for the meeting not to be rescheduled even though there were no adverse affects on him. But silly as it was, it cost the agency to defend the lawsuit.

              4. Elizabeth West*

                Oh for…..CHEEEEEEEEEZZZ!!!!

                I was the receptionist at Exjob. I was always on the phone when we had potlucks. No one freaked when I took a second to run get a plate of food. I just waited until my backup got there and gave it to him, then took it back so he could go. Why can’t customer service take turns and run get a little plate of chips/salsa? Or the HR manager could make them a plate and bring it to them him/herself if it’s such a problem.


          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I once had a board member tell me that we shouldn’t describe the organization as “fast-paced” because it would discriminate against disabled people who couldn’t move quickly. I ignored her.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            This really, really irks me. Just because something is the most risk-free, safest course of action doesn’t mean that it’s the best. Fear of lawsuits needs to be balanced against other competing interests — legal interests are not the only ones in play, and HR people who act as if they are have totally lost sight of what they’re there for.

            Companies and managers who have crappy HR people who are governed by lawsuit fear, even when it’s unreasonable, need to clarify their expectations, push back more, or find other HR people.

            1. Natalie*

              This is pretty much the reason insurance and related people operate as “risk management” not “risk prevention”. Risk prevention is impossible.

          3. DC*

            Only in this instance, “coolest toys” = best employees, who will just leave and work elsewhere.

          4. JT*

            A couple questions to people who say “We’ll get sued.” First, has it happened like that in similar instances here or in other organizations.

            Second, even if it does, how much does that cost versus how much are we losing by being afraid of everything. Risking some lawsuits when an organization is fundamentally doing the right thing should be viewed as a cost of doing business. Not something to be avoided no matter what.

  2. The Right Side*

    I’d love to know who is above her and if the outrage has been brought to that level – if so, what are they saying? Because it is apparent that someone thinks she’s right, otherwise they would’ve put a stop to this long ago.

    PS – I’d call her bluff on the EEOC BS. “Don’t worry about how complicated it is. I truly want to know. PLEASE tell me what the hell you are talking about.” ;-)

    1. The Other Dawn*

      “I’d call her bluff on the EEOC BS. “Don’t worry about how complicated it is. ”

      I would TOTALLY do that! I’ve done that in the past and it’s SO much fun. :)

  3. Interviewer*

    You mention it’s a public library – is there a higher power in HR outside of the library system, maybe at the Metro or district level that she respects, or answers to, than can “train” this person in how/when to post openings? Or at the very least, someone that you can call to confirm that she’s gone rogue here, and no other department handles their “openings” this way?

  4. A.Passerby*

    I’m not the OP (nor am I from the States in fact), but I always enjoy reading your answers to some of the most outrageous workplace issues we encounter!

    I don’t think it’s nice, though, if we march in to her superior’s office and say Ms.HRM ought to be sacked. My tack would be to arrange for a meeting to discuss how A) Going back to the status quo poses no harm to meritocratic principles in hiring and B) How the new system in fact generates more harm (listed above) and a massive loss in productivity and time that could be better used to serve the public.

    Question is: How can we further raise the issue of Ms HRM’s incompetence, or even that she should perhaps consider another line of work?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Right, you don’t march in and demand that she be fired. Instead, you lay out the facts about her performance problems — that she misunderstands the law, that she’s an obstruction rather than a help, that she digs in when challenged, that she’s more of a hindrance than a help, etc. You can be more or less forceful depending on your relationship with the person you’re talking to.

      Frankly, if you have good standing and a good relationship with the person you’re talking to, you can also say that you don’t think she’s the right fit for the job.

  5. Anonymous*

    I am in HR for a County Office of Ed, and I agree that the HRM in the post is mishandling the change in positions. Rather than removing the .3 FTE and adding the .5 FTE, the Employee’s position could easily be “Reclassified”. In no way would I consider the change to warrant a NEW position!!

  6. Kimmiejo*

    Yes, this HR Manager is probably too extreme. But for the sake of argument I’ll point out that there are a few reasons why an organization may need to do things this way. With 400 employees, I would assume that there are many people performing the same job. How did you select the one whose hours you want to increase? Are there others who want their hours to be increased but have not received the opportunity? If you were to analyze the data is there a higher number of young white employees getting their hours increased over older minority employees? Posting these changes gives everyone the opportunity to try to get their hours increased. It also forces managers to equally review all candidates applying and then have follow up conversations to tell the people who weren’t selected what they need to do to improve in order to get more hours. Yes, there are other ways to accomplish these same goals that are less administrative. However, there could have been an EEOC charge that the OP is not privy to that is dictacting the current practice. Unfortunately, when the EEOC is involved things stop making a whole lot of sense.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If that’s the case, then the HR manager should clearly explain that, including the EEOC charge. And employees should be informed as well so that people understand what’s going on. (Of course, if that’s the case, then these interview processes should be real, not charades, or they wouldn’t be complying with their orders from the EEOC, so I doubt that’s the case.)

      Either way, the HR manager sucks and needs to be replaced.

  7. HDL*

    The federal government has a policy similar to this. Any time a new position opens up, even if it has been created as a promotion for a current employee, a job ad has to be posted for the general public. I assume that, should the posting attract candidates who fit the job, they would be interviewed and potentially hired instead of the original staff member. (I don’t work for the government but I would like to and I see tons of job postings that are only open for 3-4 days including non-business days. I usually assume there is already someone earmarked for that position. I have applied to some of those, but have yet to receive a reply.) Maybe that’s what’s going on for this library: keeping their options open. It does seem like a waste of time and resources if management doesn’t intend to even consider hiring someone else for the position.

    1. KayDay*

      I had a friend who was a contractor for the gov’t and was desperately trying to get a regular fed employee job (at the same department). She would get so annoyed at those posts because they were such a waste of time–fist of all, it made it harder for her to search for legitimate openings. Secondly, since fed applications require more work, she spent wasted a lot of time on applications for jobs that were never really open.

    2. The gold digger*

      Maybe this explains why I am only #117 on the civil service list, even though I knocked the test out of the park.

      At least, I think I got the differences between “their, they’re, and there” and “red and read.” I am pretty sure that I got the question about “1/8 = 0.125, 0.5, or 0.75” correct and I’m almost sure that I picked the right answer to this question:

      Alison’s cat is sick. She takes it to

      a. a veteran
      b. a vegan
      c. a veterinarian

      1. anon-2*

        Back in my day – in the early 1970s – I could not crack the federal employment system because – a) I was not handicapped b) I was not a member of a minority c) I was male d) I was not a military veteran …. etc.. etc…

        That’s the way things worked back then. And, in any civil service situation there may be rules and the infamous “policies” that need to be followed.

        1. Grace*

          Wow, I wish I lived in the 1970’s, when they actually understood that the straight, white, able-bodied cisman’s interests are overrepresented.

  8. KHK*

    I work in HR in the public sector and hate this stuff. In my experience, this usually occurs when the hiring managers abuse their flexibility and/or the union files a grievance for a nonperforming employee who isn’t bad enough to be fired and wanted that job. Then HR reacts by making rules that are so inflexible resulting in this nonsense. Gutless.

  9. Anonymous (former) HR Manager for a Public Library*

    There could be union reasons why this is happening as well. While I agree that it’s outrageous and short sighted, when I worked in the industry, there were a lot of effing ridiculous things that went on behind the scenes.

    I got promoted but had to interview for my role. Everyone rolled their eyes at the other candidates who applied. I couldn’t be promoted just on merit and based on experience. I had to go through the fake motions because our union contract (a contract that, for the record HR wasn’t included in) stated that all positions (both union and nonunion) had to be posted internally for two weeks before a hiring decision was made. There wasn’t really such a thing as a promotion in that sense.

    And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous hoops we had to go through to fire someone. Someone could physically assault a coworker and be permitted to keep their job. I can’t.

    So while the idea of having to interview for an increase of hours, there might be some reasoning behind the scenes why there needs to be the appearance of fairness in selecting who goes from .3 FTE to .5 FTE. (And fwiw, what exactly is the reasoning behind having someone on .3 FTE? Why not just combine into one .5 FTE role?)

    1. OP*

      We are not unionized. We are trying to get away from the tiny FTEs but we are made up of a LOT of part-time staff.

      1. KayDay*

        Tons of places of business (private sector not public sector) operate with staff that is mostly part-time. Restaurants, grocery stores, retail, dog walking, etc. I have never heard of these sorts of companies classifying workers by the exact number of hours they work. People are either classified as part-time or full-time, not 0.25FTE or .5FTE or 0.31830^(-1)FTE. And those employees hours change. All the time. And no one gets sued. And it’s legal.

        Having HR look for discrimination in everything will cause the employees to look for discrimination in everything. Honestly, the environment this person is creating–where everything must *appear* to be 125% fair all the time no matter what–is going to lead to law suits. Not operating like a normal employer.

        1. Piper*

          Not really overly important or terribly relevant, but my mom works for a hospital and they classify employees by the number of hours they work, since there are different types of part-time workers (some work 15, some work 20, or whatever, and they each have a different classification level).

    2. Piper*

      I’ve worked for two (non-union) companies in which this is the case. All positions had to be posted for two weeks, regardless of whether or not someone internally was being considered. And the person(s) being considered still had to go through the interview process. So. Stupid. One of these companies was a privately owned company (mid-sized, global company), the other was a Fortune 500 (global behemoth).

  10. OP*

    Hi, OP here.

    Thanks so much for answering my question, and thanks to everyone for the responses. I don’t know if there has been a past EEOC suit, but I think if there had been we as managers should have been informed, at least in the context of this new procedure. I and several other managers have directly asked the HR Manager in meetings why we do this and have never gotten a clear response. That’s the hardest part, the lack of clear reasoning or documentation. Our director has backed this up in those meetings, again, out of concern for potential lawsuits.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Arrgggh. Fear of potential lawsuits should not govern everything an organization does. There are things that are more important, no?

      (And I’m not saying this is a reasonable fear, because it’s not. But that’s not even the point.)

    2. Anon*

      I would think the potential for lawsuits is higher with this insane policy. If a manager increases an employees hours, no one would even know, outside the immediate work group, so the likelihood of a lawsuit would be very low.

      However, if they post the position, then every one knows about it. If someone applies for the job who is substantially more qualified than the existing employee, that right there is where you have a potential lawsuit, since that person really wasn’t even considered. If that highly qualified candidate is in a protected class, they might even win.

      1. khilde*

        This is a really good point, I think. Has this ever been brought up the director and HR manager?

    3. Natalie*

      Wouldn’t an EEOC suit be public knowledge? IIRC they post all their cases online, so you could try searching for your organization name and see if it comes up.

  11. Anonymous (former) HR Manager for a Public Library*

    Ugh I fail.

    So while the idea of having to interview for an increase of hours [is absolutely ridiculous], there might be some reasoning behind the scenes why there needs to be the appearance of fairness in selecting who goes from .3 FTE to .5 FTE. (And fwiw, what exactly is the reasoning behind having someone on .3 FTE? Why not just combine [two .3 FTE] into one .5 FTE role?)

  12. Jennimil*

    I don’t know a lot about HR practices and the law but it seems to me that if some of these employees just felt safe where they work like I do now, they would not worry so much about screaming discrimination.

  13. EngineerGirl*

    12 hours and 20 hours are both part time. There is no need for an interview. I would argue that “fake” interviews would increase the chance of lawsuits.
    I’ve found that the best way to expose people is to ask for specifics. Demand the documents so you can comply. When she doesn’t provide the info (because she can’t) raise this as a compliance issue.
    Another tactic is to up the ante. Ask to run the thing past the lawyers.
    FWIW I’m biased against HR. They ate destroying our company (and we’re still losing million dollar lawsuits because they won’t handle REAL issues)

  14. Joey*

    Welcome to the world of public employment. While its not smart nor efficient there are a whole host of reasons this is done like:

    1. The HR manager is following legal advice
    2. The Director is too much of a wimp to overrule everyone
    3. The process is in line with the direction of the governing body of the library.
    4. Theyre concerned about favoritism.
    5. They plan to use it as a tactic to get rid of problem employees.
    6. She’s taking the heat so someone else doesn’t.

    I agree you should protest. But asking for case law is silly. Protest to the director and outline the reasons why it’s inefficient.

    1. A Bug!*

      Alternative 1. The HR Manager read something one time on a blog somewhere, completely misunderstood the information in it, immediately forgot its source but now believes it as gospel.

  15. Frances*

    If you want to have some fun, write a tip to a local newspaper columnist. I used to work at a small paper, I can imagine some writers there having a good time with this story.

  16. Yup*

    Sounds like the classic insecure reaction of someone who’s in over their head. People confident in their knowledge and experience are happy to show you sub-section 11.5.a.VII of the federal statute and the six case laws that demand a certain approach. The “it’s complicated” and “check EEOC” are tip offs that she doesn’t know what she’s doing and is terrified of messing up. (And thereby forcing everyone else to participate in her neurotic coping strategies.)

    I’d position it as a personal learning venture. “Hey Director, clearly I’m behind on employment law. I didn’t realize any of this was mandatory. I’d like to attend a webinar next week on this topic, on my own time. Do you think we could get two hours of consulting with an employment expert, to get all the managers up to speed?” When everyone has the facts, it’ll be much easier to highlight the wasteful insanity of her approach.

    1. barb*

      I was once in a situation where the HR manager had a law degree, but was never a practicing lawyer. This sounds similar in that he would hide behind case law that was questionable or didn’t exist–we didn’t know because he would never share it. I was frustrated to work with him as a hiring manager, but even more frustrated at his boss for not calling him out on the obvious BS. Multiple conversations with big boss about our questionable policies that were in place for “legal” reasons lead nowhere.

  17. Anonymous*

    Coming from the other perspective of a job hunter I find this infuriating and false advertisting. As a person looking for a position I spend time crafting my cover letter and resume, send it in and hope for a call. Then when I do get the call to interview I spend time researching, preparing questions, perhaps even taking time off from work. I interview, thinks it goes well, craft a thank you note and am hoping beyond hope to get the job because I really need it. To then only find out, if they even tell me, that I didn’t get it.
    This has happened to me and when I found out it was “because we didn’t want to get sued so we went through the motions” I was pissed and very upset. Got my hopes up when there shouldn’t have been any to begin with. And now as a customer/patron you have alienated me from your company/library. I do not want to give you any of my time or money and neither do my friends and family. Maybe your HR manager should take that into consideration.

    1. Lauren*

      This is so bad, especially when people are taking off time from current jobs to interview for fake positions. With HR depts wanting 4 hour interviews, presentations, etc. There isn’t time to waste on fake interviews.

    2. Anon.*

      If I found out this was happening in my county, (thinking of a particular library close by me) I would speak with a county legislator that has been very responisive to his constituents over the years. Do you have anyone like that that you could contact? It seems that taxpayer dollars are being wasted here in a big way.

      Down thread someone mentioned calling in a tip to a newspaper. I’d also consider your local news station.

      Just as an aside, would love to hear from Liz in the Library and Modern Hypatia on this issue. Seems (from the comments) that this is somewhat common in libraries.

      1. Anon.*

        job hunter, lauren, elizabeth – sorry! this wasn’t in reponse to your comments but was supposed to be by itself. Grr! Agree with you all though.

      2. Liz in a Library*

        I’m not in a public library, but I’ve had terrible (and strange) experiences with our public library system’s HR (and it is a fairly large and respected system). I find this not at all surprising, though terribly disheartening.

        Their website should have the contact information for the Board of Trustees or Library Board; if you have a connection to any of those people, I’d be tempted to put a bug in their ears.

  18. Active HR Manager*

    Years ago I applied to an open library position and after a great interview (and then naively telling my then-boss I was likely going to be offered a job) they called up and explained it was a job being filled by an internal candidate, and had been from the start of the process. It was pretty frustrating to find out after the fact that I had no hopes. They ended up calling me back months later and offered the same position on a strictly temp basis when the person went out on leave but I wasn’t comfortable taking it then.

    Telling your managers “It’s complicated” and “look at the EEOC” is lazy. If it’s an EEOC decision or union driven, that should be described to the managers in a clear way or it can ultimately cause more problems (uninformed managers dealing with a time wasting process they hate that might have EEOC implications – no issues there!). I think this HR manager at minimum should be subjected to a Bon Jovi karaoke parody of “You Give HR a Bad Name”.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      Oh, I had that too!
      Our city council (the people that run libraries, school etc) are heavily in debt and consequently all – or very nearly all – the vacancies are fixed term contracts for “up to 51 weeks” (I HATE that). So when my last contract ended, I applied for a full time position in the children’s library….only to discover I didn’t get it. Despite doing the job already. My feedback? “I could’ve given more detail in the heath & safety question…”
      Now I’ve got a part time position in another library, it transpires that they just re-hired the woman that had been working there before! & who was also the person the time before that, too!
      Eurgh, it all sucks. & seems to be a pretty universal occurance.

  19. Joanna Reichert*

    This makes my head hurt. I’m going to bed.

    This is PRECISELY why I’m dropping all of this silly sh*t and going the entrepreneur route.

    AND might I suggest that the OP create a pie graph of how much company time HR bimbo this is wasting? I like pie graphs. To top it off, make it in reds and yellows and put little pepperoni ‘frowny face’ stickers all over it.

    But seriously off to bed . . . .

  20. Michael*

    Seems as though you open yourself up to more liability by posting jobs and hiring pre-selected people without truly interviewing. That’s discrimination to me.

  21. Blinx*

    One place I worked would post jobs internally with the footnote “A viable candidate has already been identified for this position.” Code for, apply if you want to, but don’t get your hopes up. Then a few years later, I noticed that I never saw the footnote anymore. I’m sure it was removed for legal reasons.

    Not sure why jobs are posted externally before all interested internal employees have had a chance to apply and interview for the position, if qualified.

    1. KDD*

      ^^ Exactly! I’ve seen many postings with the line “there is a strong internal candidate for this position”.

  22. Anonymous*

    I love the positions that are filled externally even when there is a qualified and obvious internal candidate interested. That is great for everyone’s morale.

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