Government Contracting HR: Retaining Cleared Employees

For those of you who don’t work in the government contracting HR world, “cleared” employees are those who the government has granted a clearance to work with sensitive materials. This clearance is very important, and to get one the employee (and employer) have to agree to some specific requirements. Today I’d like to talk generally about a topic that I had experience with previously to give those outside this industry a view of how things are different. If there is sufficient interest I can talk more about some of the other specific requirements of working in HR for a government contractor in future content. You guys let me know…

Reporting employees to the government

One of the primary responsibilities on both the employee and the employer is this: if the person has anything in their life that might affect their judgement or capabilities, the government needs to know about it, because it could affect their clearance. The employee is supposed to supply the information to the employer, but there are times when the employer becomes aware of something that was not brought to their attention (that sometimes is worse, because the requirement for the employee to notify immediately is pretty serious).

Once the information is known, the initial facts are provided to the government representative and a chain of events is set in motion. Sometimes nothing happens, but sometimes it can cause the person to lose their clearance. And in a job where having a clearance is a requirement to do the essential functions, that means they are out of a job.

I illustrate this so we all understand how serious it is, as well as to explain why an employee might cover up this information initially to protect themselves and their family.

The number one rule in HR

If you think about everything you do, one of the most important rules that you have to live by is confidentiality. You have to keep things quiet, secure, locked away, etc. Yes, we need to share when the situation dictates it, but more often than not the conversations we have on a daily (hourly?) basis with our staff are locked away in our heads for nobody else to see or know.

Government contracting HR: The intersection

If an employee comes to you with a story about their spouse being laid off, what do you say? Suppose the employee returns a month later and tells you that they are being foreclosed on due to the job layoff. How do you respond?

This is tactical, hands-on HR. The “good” HR person is going to sit down with them, offer any advice/support they can, and generally be a comforting presence in this troubled time in the employee’s life. Maybe you have something positive to share. Maybe you offer them some flexible time in order to take care of things at home. Whatever the case, you acknowledge their dilemma and offer what support you can.

If you’re in the government contracting HR field, the next step is taking that conversation straight to your security professional and having them report that information to the government. And honestly? It stinks. Because if the government believes that this person is no longer trustworthy due to the personal/financial problems they are facing, they can pull the job out from under them in a moment’s notice.

For me, that was one of the hardest lessons to learn stepping into the government contracting HR world. This stuff has some unique twists and turns that make it harder than usual to handle those personal and emotional issues that come up in the average day to day life of all of us.

If I have to provide a lesson in all of this, it’s just a reminder that ensuring our employees are well in every sense of the word: emotionally, financially, physically, etc. should be a priority for us. Getting the best from our people doesn’t happen by accident; we have to work at it.

Have you ever worked in government contractor HR? Would you even be interested after hearing this example?