4 Newsworthy HR Mistakes (And How They Could’ve Been Avoided)

By: Brian Westfall on November 9, 2016

When HR departments do everything right, nobody really notices them. Like a stunt double in a movie or an offensive lineman in football, they’re the unsung heroes operating behind the scenes making sure everything runs smoothly.

That’s right, HR managers. As if your job wasn’t stressful enough already, your department is one misstep away from dominating the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, let’s look back at some of the biggest HR mistakes that made the news in recent years to figure how you can avoid making them in your own organization.

1. That Time Luzerne County Almost Ruined Christmas

The mistake: Employees tend to want to get paid for their work on time (weird, right?). So when the 1,200+ workers for Luzerne County, Pennsylvania woke up one Friday morning back in 2014 to find that their paychecks weren’t deposited in their bank accounts as expected, naturally they remained calm and went about their day.

Just kidding! They freaked out.

It turned out that the person who was in charge of payroll was on vacation, leaving nobody to approve the electronic money transfer. Whoops.

Source: WNEP 16

The aftermath: Most workers eventually received their paycheck by late Friday or Saturday, but by then the damage had already been done. Employees reported getting insufficient fund and overdraft charges from automatic payments set up with their bank. Oh, and did we mention that this gaffe happened on Black Friday, aka, the biggest shopping day of the year? Yeah, not a good look.

The employee union filed a grievance and the payroll boss who was on vacation got fired.

How it could’ve been avoided: Employees’ paychecks are too vital to their happiness and well-being to have this responsibility rest solely on one person’s shoulders. Just as every flight needs a co-pilot, every organization needs a designated co-payroll employee on standby in case the primary payroll authorizer isn’t available.

Even if your payroll boss isn’t in the office, that shouldn’t be an issue if you have modern payroll software. If Luzerne County had a system like ADP RUN, that vacationing employee could have approved the payroll with one click from their smartphone while taking a sip from their mai tai.



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Mobile payroll preview in ADP RUN

2. Would You Mind Working for Free?

The mistake: Anticipating a crazy holiday rush for shirts that make no sense, URBN, the parent company of clothing retailer Urban Outfitters, needed more hands on deck than usual at one of their Pennsylvania warehouses to guarantee that all of their online orders shipped on time.

However, instead of paying their warehouse workers more overtime or focusing on recruiting more part-time labor, URBN management thought it would be a good idea to ask their salaried employees to volunteer to work at the warehouse on the weekend for free and call it a “team building activity.”

Their total compensation for doing six hours of actual work way outside of their job description? A ride to the warehouse and a free lunch. Thanks URBN!

Source: Fox Business

The aftermath: Once the news leaked to outlets such as Gawker and Fortune, URBN was quick to announce that they did not extend this dubious “opportunity” to their hourly employees. (That would definitely be illegal instead of just probably illegal.) They also spun the snafu as an example of their salaried employees’ “dedication and commitment.” If you need a minute to bang your head on your desk after reading that, I understand.

URBN hasn’t faced any legal repercussions for this particular incident, but many salaried job applicants have likely changed their mind about working there for the time being.

How it could’ve been avoided: Let’s imagine for a second that URBN didn’t do this on purpose in order to cut costs. Instead, we’ll assume a more common occurrence among businesses: They failed to predict the holiday rush for their products which led to them not hiring enough workers.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, historical data is your biggest ally. A POS system with retail analytics linked to your brick-and-mortar and e-commerce sales can use past figures to give you more accurate projections of your upcoming product demand.

You can combine this information with compensation management software to better maintain labor budgets and a scheduling system like TimeForge to optimize your shift workers’ hours in the most cost-effective way. By doing this, you can ensure that you hire the part-time workers you need when you need them, and use them effectively.



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Shift management in TimeForge

Learn more about how you can eliminate shift scheduling headaches with dedicated software here.

3. The Most Cringeworthy Recruiting Email Ever

The mistake: Microsoft has a noted history of being uncool, but they truly outdid themselves earlier this year. Instead of writing a straightforward email inviting a group of young interns to a conference after party, one Microsoft recruiter sent this marvelous disaster:


Source: Twitter

Yes, bae, this is real and it’s amazing. Take some time to really soak it all in: the highlighter-colored text, the forced buzzwords and the sign off “HELL YES TO GETTING LIT ON A MONDAY NIGHT.” It’s the email equivalent of watching your dad whip and nay nay.

The aftermath: Once it got out, every media outlet under the sun was quick to point and laugh at Microsoft’s misguided attempt at youth appeal. A spokesman for the company had to issue an apology saying the email was “poorly worded and not in keeping with our values as a company.” No word yet whether the hella noms were worth it.

How it could’ve been avoided: If you’re ever even thinking about using weird slang or an off-kilter message in a recruiting email to appear hip with the times, consider the best- and worst-case scenarios.

The best-case scenario is you convince a few more young workers to attend your event or apply for a job than usual. The worst-case scenario is you appear spectacularly lame to everyone and become the laughing stock of Twitter. In most cases, err on the side of caution.

Still, getting your recruiters in line on email messaging is a tricky balance. Too much oversight and rigidity and you’re not letting them do their job. Too lax and carefree, and you risk one of them going off the rails.

To avoid this disaster, make sure every single one of your recruiters understands your brand messaging and corporate culture and, more importantly, how to convey it to external parties. A recruiting system like Newton can also allow you to set up customizable templates for different scenarios that your team can edit and play around with as needed.



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Email template in Newton

4. You’re Fired, I Think

The mistake: Yahoo couldn’t catch a break in 2016. Between discrimination lawsuits, email hacks and a squandered acquisition of Tumblr, it looked like the company was playing Bad Decision Bingo—and winning.

The trouble all began back in January when it was revealed that as many as 30 Yahoo employees were fired by accident. According to insiders, a firing list that included low performers who weren’t supposed to be fired was sent to managers by mistake. The managers told the low performing employees they were let go, only to have to make the most awkward phone call of all time telling them “nevermind.”


“Hi, Tim? Guess what buddy, you’re not fired aft…Hello?

The aftermath: To the surprise of literally no one, the mistake reportedly didn’t go over well with team leaders or workers. Adding insult to injury, CEO Marissa Mayer had joked at a company-wide meeting just a few days earlier that she wasn’t going to lay off employees “this week.” Yikes.

Yahoo denied the claims, but the insiders didn’t change their story. Just three days later, Yahoo announced plans to lay off 15 percent of their workforce. For real, this time.

How it could’ve been avoided: This is a great example to show how one slight miscommunication between departments can lead to drastic, irreversible harm. Good luck trying to get your employees to trust you again after you mistakenly told them to hit the road.

Only 14 percent of IT leaders strongly agree their organization has an effective offboarding process. If your company doesn’t fall in this group, it’s time to formalize and communicate your offboarding process to department heads to avoid these kinds of mistakes and ensure that workers are given an error-free exit.

Workforce management systems such as Natural HR offer customizable offboarding workflows. As the decision is made to let an employee go, the system walks through every step needed to be taken—notifying stakeholders along the way.



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Workflow in Natural HR

Proper Precautions Make Sure Molehills Don’t Become Mountains

Asking your HR department to never make a mistake is unrealistic, especially as your company goes through inevitable growing pains. As long as HR workers are still human and not optimized automatons, mistakes are bound to happen.

A combination of formal training, proper preparation and checks and balances in place can at least bend the odds in your favor so a missed decimal point in a payroll spreadsheet won’t become a newsworthy catastrophe.

Lastly, don’t rely on word of mouth or talk of “that’s just how it’s done around here” as assurance that every employee in your organization knows the right thing to do in important situations. Using the right technology can reduce human error and set your policies and procedures in stone.