Month: January 2010

Employers: the fine print

My ears perked up when I heard that the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing a case that dealt with individual rights to privacy at work. Specifically, the case is addressing the use of company communication channels and personal texts.

One thing that always surprises me is how little most people know about the “terms and conditions” at their workplace. Sure, the legal department spent a lot of time putting that nifty document together, but most of us never read the fine print. We assume that everything will be fine, sign and date the acknowledgment, and then forget that any such document exists.

Depending on what you do – and what, if anything, you create – that document is far more than an appendix to your company’s employee handbook.

What should you be looking for?

INTERNET USE POLICIES: At least a half-dozen people I know have lost their jobs because they didn’t meet the guidelines of their company’s Internet usage policy. Make sure you’ve read yours.

A good rule of thumb: Minimize your access to a few minutes, a few times a day. Don’t access personal, Web-based email at work (many workplaces block those programs). And if it’s something you wouldn’t check out around a spouse at home – gambling, message boards, or porn – it follows that you shouldn’t check it out at work.

Sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised how many people think they won’t get caught. (And no, clearing your cookies doesn’t make it all go away.)

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: If you have a legal agreement with your company about something you’re creating as a member of their team, it’s important to read it very, VERY carefully and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you own any part of what you create?
  • Will you receive any payment beyond your salary (or the initial payment) if your creation is used multiple times or generates a steady stream of profits?
  • Will your name always be clearly and prominently attached to what you’ve created?

In most cases, your employer has outlined very restrictive terms about what their rights are and what you can lay claim to. Most companies have intellectual property clauses that are designed to give them full rights to what you create while under their umbrella.

What you should negotiate for: clear credit as the creator of the work.

I learned this the hard way after a former employer removed my name from everything I’d ever written for them (after they’d laid me off, naturally). To add insult to injury, they’ve also been re-posting the work in recent months as new content.

I don’t have any issues with them re-posting the articles and blog entries, and I don’t expect any additional compensation for what I created. But I’m at a loss to understand why my byline was removed. For a writer, bylines are EVERYTHING. The lack of a byline on my written work (especially the work posted online) severely impacted my ability to highlight my experience when I was looking for a new job.

Lesson learned: Make sure you know where the boundaries are, and what might happen if those boundaries shift – or give way.

Good news

OK, I admit it – underneath my snarky exterior, I am a big ole’ sap.

And I love “good news” – when we actually hear about things that aren’t murders, money woes or mayhem in the news.

It’s probably why this story of kindness affected me (and why I’d like to pay it forward).

And it’s why I got a few warm fuzzies inside when I read this story. It’s an act of human kindness that seems both simple and far more generous than many of us would dare to be. (I’m not sure I could invite a complete stranger into my home. Even if she is Canadian!)

The most amazing part of the story is here:

(Elsie) Clark, who has a bad hip and has to use a wheelchair when traveling, was finally put on another plane with a connection in Chicago, only to be delayed by bad weather.

“I was so thirsty and hungry,” said Clark, who lives on a fixed income. “I felt absolutely deserted and I was scared because I kept thinking, ‘What is going to happen in Chicago if I miss my plane?’ I would have to sit on the hard airport bench all night.”

But as Clark looked down, trying to hold back tears, she noticed the polished shoes of a man sitting nearby.

“I wanted to talk to somebody to get my mind off things for a little while,” said Clark. Growing up poor, she said, her mother taught her that people who dressed well respected themselves and other people. “So, I said, ‘Sir, do you mind telling me what you do because I’ve always admired shiny shoes.’ ”

Dean Germeyer, 43, who runs a technology consulting group in Chicago, did not mind at all.

“People were coming by and putting their hands on her shoulders and saying, ‘I hope you get home tonight,’ ” said Germeyer, who was scheduled to leave Texas later but snagged an earlier flight at the last moment.

“She was doing OK, but you could tell she was at a breaking point,” he said.

Although Clark didn’t ask for Germeyer’s help, their passing pleasantries turned into a longer conversation. Germeyer soon began making arrangements with a flight attendant to have a wheelchair ready when the plane landed so Clark could catch her next flight.

“There was a connection between Elsie and myself,” Germeyer said, adding that during the flight he learned that Clark had raised four daughters by herself, helping to put them all through school while working as a waitress. “She wasn’t asking for anything at all.”

Upon landing, Germeyer rushed Clark to her next terminal, but Clark still missed her flight. That meant she would spend the night in Chicago, so the airline, United, offered her a stay at a nearby hotel at a discounted rate, in keeping with the company’s bad-weather policy, spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

But Germeyer said he did not feel right leaving her.

“She is somebody’s grandmother,” Germeyer said. “And to slide this piece of paper across the desk and say, ‘Here is your voucher, good luck,’ when she hasn’t eaten, doesn’t have her luggage and doesn’t know Chicago … that really aggravated me.”

So Germeyer called his wife, Nina, who had dinner waiting at their Streeterville condo, and asked her to arrange an extra place setting.

“This is why I married Dean,” said Nina Germeyer, 41. “He couldn’t know that this little old lady was going to just sit at the airport all night while he went home and had a nice meal and a warm bed.”

But Germeyer did not stop there. After taking Clark to his condo, on the 55th floor of a building just off of Michigan Avenue, he took her on a brief city tour before putting her up in a suite at the Affinia Hotel next to his building.

Then he arranged for a car to take her back to the airport the next day.

A few Web sites have already labeled this as the work of “angels” and assigned a religious significance to Germeyer’s generosity. Regardless of religious beliefs, it’s a reminder that human nature isn’t always a sea of negativity. That’s hard to remember sometimes when you read the news. That’s especially true in Chicago, where the news feed seems to surprise and shock us with how openly corrupt our officials are.

It’s also a reminder to me that the actions of one person always affect others – an important mantra I intend to keep in mind for my personal and professional life.