Fake News in the Workplace

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Kyle Kirkland
We regret to report that fake news is very real. In the course of our careers, we’ve had multiple media articles written about our business activities. Some articles were feel good flattery, some were basic business pieces and others were pretty much op ed pieces with little regard for fact.  The commonality in every article we’ve ever had written about us was that it was in some way inaccurate, presumably to make the story work. Every one of them.

Social media is even worse. All you have to do is read a Yelp or Facebook review of your business to understand that accuracy is not a requirement of submission. Most people can’t remember the details of incidents they were involved in right after it happened and color the “facts” with emotion and hyperbole. “We had to wait, like, an HOUR for our meal. The service there is always terrible.” Optimal service for your restaurant? Probably not. But likely not accurate. And worse, if there’s a motive to remember the “facts” in a certain way, people will do it, post about it and have their Facebook friends believing it.

In the hundreds of guest and employee incidents we’ve reviewed on videotape in managing our gaming business, not a single one was ever as it was initially presented by the parties involved. 100% of the hundreds of the initial incident reports were inaccurate. Altercations, employee issues, even manager recollections of staff meetings. All initial reports were missing details and had factual or timing errors or other discrepancies which, upon review, we corrected. “Well, listen, I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding, but it’s pretty clear you’ve got the chair over your head right before you threw it. It didn’t exactly ‘fall over on accident and hit him’…”

So why is fake news the topic of an HR blog? Because the same lack of objective honesty and fact checking in social media and human interaction spills over into workplace filings. In our experience, aggrieved employees can and will say anything in an EDD filing, DFEH claim, declaration and deposition. Courtroom dramas and political hearings make high drama out of “gotcha” perjury moments, but the reality is that no California employee is ever at risk for overstating anything in any governmental or legal filing. For the willful ex employee, there is no downside to spinning a story to meet immediate needs. An obvious falsehood might raise an eyebrow, but no judge, arbitrator or regulator will ever punish an employee for lying on a claim, declaration or witness stand.

On the other, you, as the employer, will be held to a higher standard in your response to an employee complaint. Late to an EDD appeal? “We find for the claimant (employee).” Transpose the dates of a series of incidents? “We find for the claimant.” And you’re not immune from the recollection problems highlighted above albeit with better intentions — your memory of incidents and events will be sketchy even if you were in the middle of the melee. Studies have shown even highly intelligent people have trouble recalling the time, dates and circumstances of even important events. The problem is, if a litigator shows your facts to be suspect, you’re writing a check.

The takeaway is that you must document incidents and issues in real-time with detail, accuracy and discipline. On the plus side, adjudicators will give you the benefit of the doubt if your real-time documentation is tight. If your timelines, real-time notes and counseling forms are organized and the employee has nothing but his “They never told me!”, you’re good. If your notes are erratic or put together after the fact, the judge tilts the benefit of the doubt to the employee. On the other hand, if a litigator sees that your documentation is solid, he’ll realize he’s got his hands full and move on to easier (less diligent) prey.

Document it. We say it to our staff members. We say it to our peers. We repeat it to ourselves like a mantra. Document. Every day. Make it as much a part of your daily routine as your workout or non-fat latte. Instill a culture of documentation among your line staff members and employ real-time documentation tools like JobStats to build a database and timelines of employee incidents, feedback, notes and other HR issues. At first, you’ll need to prod staff members to recheck their dates, name other involved employees, add photos and other relevant files but in a short time, they’ll be recording their interactions with staff members the same way were check in to restaurants on Facebook or snap notable events with friends. Want to defend against fake news in the workplace? JobStats…

About the author

Kyle Kirkland is President of Brick HR, Inc., the developer of JobStats documentation software. As owner, President and General Manager of Club One Casino in Fresno, California, Mr. Kirkland has extensive experience managing employees in gaming, food and beverage, facilities, security, administration and managerial positions. He has direct experience in dealing with the challenges California employers face and how to mitigate the related risk. Mr. Kirkland is also the president of the California Gaming Association, a non-profit trade association which represents California cardrooms.

Prior to joining the gaming industry, Mr. Kirkland served as the chairman of Steinway Musical Instruments, the world-renowned musical instrument manufacturer, a position he held for 17 years. Earlier in his career, Mr. Kirkland worked at Bain & Company, an international management consulting firm and Drexel Burnham Lambert, an investment bank specializing in high yield securities. Mr. Kirkland has served on the boards of several public and private companies and non-profit organizations.

Mr. Kirkland holds an A.B. degree from Harvard College magna cum laude in Economics and an MBA degree from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.

He can be reached at kyle@jobstatsapp.com.

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