Human Resources Nightmares

October 13th, 2011 by Potato

There are days that I think Human Resources departments are a plague on our species, threatening to consume all productivity beneath layers of impenetrable, arbitrary bureaucracy.

Then there are days when I think that is a charitable description.

Lately we’ve been battling with HR’s notion of “new” employees. I’ve been working where I am for over 8 years now, yet since I had over a month without a contract at the end of my grad school/research assistant contract and the beginning of my post-doc, suddenly I’m a “new” employee, and have to go through the whole new employee rigmarole. Similarly, we get a group of talented summer “students” to work with us regularly each summer, for years now. Again, they’re not really new employees, yet have to go through the whole intake process each year. For employees that are only with us for 2 months (~40 working days) it’s ludicrous that HR takes 2 full days of their time away from us for non-productive paper-pushing purposes. Proportionately, HR gets more of our summer students’ time each year than most people get for vacation.

Orientation is a big one, taking up a full day. Oddly enough, it’s not about spatial orientation at all, which in this maze of a century’s worth of additions might be useful. It’s not even held at this site. They only introduced the full-day orientation requirement a few years ago, so I didn’t have to take it when I first started; no one who’s worked here for any length of time has. Yet our summer students have taken it several times. Yet each year, they have to take it all over again, supposedly because HR “couldn’t” let them work without it — what if they had an accident and didn’t know how to fill out the WSIB forms? A strange rationale, given that the orientation day for summer students doesn’t take place until about 2/3 of the way through the summer, and most employees have never taken it. Supposedly critically important, yet not so essential to actually do in a timely manner. Same for my new contract: my mandatory, useless-sounding orientation isn’t until two months after I started. What if I had an accident (or whatever peril they think the orientation is solving) in that time? And note that this is not the actually useful safety stuff like WHMIS, lab safety, radiation safety, or fire safety courses, which are either run online so they can be finished immediately (and with a minimum of pain) or outside of the HR bureaucracy entirely.

Another intake requirement is a clean TB skin test and health review. This is a very sensible intake procedure, but how valuable/hypocritical is it to only screen people when they start their jobs? Suddenly I’m a big risk if my contract lapses and I spend a month at home in my underwear studying, but as long as someone’s contract is still good they can romp through the jungle or sleep in a Guangdong chicken coop and nobody bats an eyelash. It seems to be less of a genuine concern for infection control than a form of security theatre: checking the right boxes on the form has become more important than the goal behind the creation of the policy.

But what really got me mad was my particular HR nightmare this time around. First off, my contract was late. The wonderful and helpful and competent people in my department reminded HR that it was late and they were dropping the ball, again and again. After a few pokes they finally said they’d get it to me by the end of the week. Then that week came and went. Another promise to get it to me by the afternoon. Another few days, another few promises. “By the end of the day today, for sure.” They’d say, only to say it again the next. Finally I got my contract, a full month after my start date, and almost two since my department sent them all the info they needed to fill out the contract (and, BTW, this is not a terribly unusual contract. I’m not exactly asking to be paid in Reese Pieces and Star Wars action figures here, or negotiating IP rights).

And it was wrong.

So back into the process we go, another three days until I get a corrected contract to sign. It’s now two days before the last day to get paid for the pay period, and I’m rather desperate to get everything approved. Due to not getting paid for almost 4 months*, and another client stiffing me for the freelance work I did to fill the time while I was off, I’m pretty damned desperate to get paid at this point (the emergency fund is long gone, the various reward points have been spent on groceries and gas, and the line of credit is about half drawn). I wasn’t ever really that close to the brink — not like I was going to starve or miss rent or anything — but I found out that yes, I am in fact allergic to debt, and it was making me itchy. And I legitimately didn’t want to wait another month to get paid due to their incompetence.

There are some final hoops to jump through. They need a void cheque and my SIN (again, not a new employee), and some tax forms signed. A copy of my driver’s license. Pretty standard stuff, anyway. Plus some other stuff (a quick online privacy course, an information form, signatures, signatures, signatures). But when I went in for those final hoops, thinking this was finally over, they wanted my physical SIN card, not just my number. My card, unfortunately, was stolen years ago. I never replaced it because I have never needed the physical card before. I’ve worked for the government and they didn’t need to see the physical card — only the number is needed to process you through for taxes, etc., and I’ve long since had that memorized. But no, this lady wasn’t going to let me get paid until she saw my physical card. “But I’m not exactly a new employee, don’t you have that photocopy in my file from the last time you hired me?” I said, and “You don’t really need the physical card to pay me, you should only need the number.”

“Well, we require the physical card here.” she said in a tone so flat I became certain that she was indeed a zombie, or some kind of low-powered robot.

“Can you at least get my pay process started with the number and I can come back with the card later?”

“Nope. You can’t get paid until I can photocopy the card.”

Fuck off. That part was under my breath. “But you guys have already held up my contract for a month, and now I have to wait another month for the government to mail me a card I don’t legally need?” She told me that once I applied for a new card, I’d get a letter/receipt that would act as a temporary card. So off I went to spend half a day in the government building to get my SIN card replaced.

At this point I really have to give a shout-out to my supervisor and the admin people in my department, who really went to bat for me harassing HR to make sure that they didn’t drag their feet for a few more weeks so that I could get paid that pay cycle. Unsurprisingly, with a month of back-pay to put into one bi-weekly period, too much tax was withheld, but I’m beyond caring about details like that at this point. I’ll get it back in the spring.

Back to the TB skin test: HR assigned me a date to go in and get it done, with no input from me. Whatever, I’m not going to raise a stink about getting it redone, and go. I just want to get paid. The day they give me is a Friday. The physician injects me with the subdural agent that will, in time, react with TB if I have any. Then, only after they inject me, do they ask “so, what time are you free on Monday to have that read?” Umm… huh? I’m not going to be in the city on Monday. At all. “But it has to be read within 72 hours!” Wouldn’t that have been a good thing to mention, say, before injecting me? Sheesh.

I’m an understanding guy, and I comprehend the value of policies and procedures, but there has to be a balance between having policies, and iron-clad arbitrary rules enforced by unthinking HR zombies.

What gets me though is not once was there an apology. At no time did they even attempt to sympathize with me for what they had put me through, or even slyly acknowledge that their rules were ridiculous in my situation. No “what are you gonna do, those are the rules?” shrug. If anything, they seemed to take delight in their obfuscation.

* – where 4 months comes from: almost 2 from just not being employed, 1 from HR being late on my current contract, and 1 because somewhere along the way my previous contract ended up paying me at the beginning of the month, so even though I worked and did get paid for my final month as a grad student/RA, getting paid up front (and not knowing that’s how it worked) threw my budgeting all off (I was expecting one more paycheque before having to draw from my emergency fund). Though I suppose that one was my own error in budgeting, it still contributed to the cash-flow short-fall. As a budgeting aside, my old contract’s pay schedule was messed up. I have a PhD, and was never able to figure out in advance when I was going to get paid. It averaged out to monthly, but sometimes it was the beginning of one month, then the end of the next, and sometimes then the beginning of the one after that, so the time between pay periods could be 3-4 weeks or 6-7 weeks. One time they did legitimately miss paying me due to (guess what) a HR SNAFU and it took a full extra month for me to figure out that it wasn’t just a really long pay interval but an actual problem (by the time I did get caught up, it was almost 3 months between pay periods). So having an emergency fund of a few months’ worth of expenses is not just for job losses, but also potentially having a perfectly stable job and a perfectly unstable HR/payroll department.

3 Responses to “Human Resources Nightmares”

  1. Netbug Says:

    I have nothing to add but my sympathies.

    Also, the absolutely insane monetary waste (and paper waste) that the HR departments consume is ridiculous.

  2. Michael James Says:

    I thought that HR departments like this were all fired in the 1990s. Unless you’re working for the government or equivalent. In my limited experience, contract workers face constant uncertainty in their pay schedules and contract renewals.

  3. Potato Says:

    I think our “or equivalent” department must have picked them all up ;)