HR Management & Compliance

Back to the Future Day Has Arrived, and It’s Brought HR Along with It!

It’s finally here! Wednesday, October 21, 2015, marks the date when Emmett “Doc” Brown and Marty McFly took their Mr. Fusion-powered flying DeLorean time machine into the future (or should we say the present?) in the classic film Back to the Future: Part II. To celebrate the occasion, we look at a few memorable scenes that, surprisingly, have more to do with HR than you’d think!

Granted, the movie’s vision of 2015 is pretty much one in which the 80s never ended, but now cars can fly (and everyone’s still wondering when they will finally be able to buy a hoverboard). There are a couple things the movie predicts semicorrectly, such as the ridiculous number of screens in every household. There are TVs on which you can watch six channels at once, window shades that can project images of a better-looking lawn, and Marty’s future kids spend a lot of time looking through bulky (read: 80s) versions of Google Glass (except the glasses in the movie are apparently much more popular).

In the real world, omnipresent screens (especially in the form of smart phones and computers) present unique human resources challenges, including:

  • Complaints. “My manager kept looking at his phone during my performance review.”
  • Loss of productivity. “Well, the report isn’t ready yet … but check out this cute cat video!”
  • Wage and hour gray areas. “Yes, I know I’m hourly and have been instructed not to work overtime … but I just can’t help answering work e-mails from home.”

Let’s take a look at a few other HR-related moments from Back to the Future: Part II—some of the movie’s predictions are way off, but others may be a bit more prophetic.


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‘The Justice System Moves Swiftly in the Future …’

“… now that they’ve abolished all lawyers!” Doc exclaims shortly after he brings Marty into 2015. Any seasoned HR practitioner knows that’s not the case. Plaintiff’s attorneys abound in the real world, as do employees who are all too ready to bring suits against former employers. Businesses can spend a lot of time and money in court, but with proper training, you can minimize the risk of a lawsuit. Here are a few practical tips:

  • Know and comply with federal, state, and local wage and hour laws. Misclassification of employees (exempt vs. nonexempt vs. independent contractor) and wage theft are common accusations against businesses. Be sure that your exempt employees are really exempt and that the company is complying with applicable minimum wage laws in your area, and stay apprised of any new regulations.
  • Be sensitive to any form of alleged discrimination or harassment. Antiharassment and antidiscrimination policies and training should be emphasized at any company that wants to stay out of court. Do your best to prevent bad behavior in the first place—and in the event it does occur, investigate and discipline in a timely and fair fashion.
  • Document, document, document! Many an employee lawsuit has failed in court because the employer was diligent in its documentation. Job descriptions, performance reviews, accurate pay records, and any disciplinary notes are all important parts of an employee file.
  • Consider an HR department audit. A little self-examination goes a long way—find and fix any holes in your systems before they can be put on display before a judge and jury!


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Automation: ‘You Mean You Have to Use Your Hands?’

When Marty goes into the Café 80s, he’s accosted by a robot waiter that begins arguing with itself (in the form of Ronald Reagan and Ayatollah Khomeini on its television screen) over which special Marty should order. While we may not have reached quite this level of automation in the real world, things are trending in this direction. One source predicts that food services will have 87% of its jobs eliminated by robots in the next 2 decades.

This becomes even more HR-relevant when we consider some big news in the real 2015—the proposed changes to overtime rules outlined in the Fair Labor Standards Act. The salary threshold is expected to more than double from $455 per week ($23,660 yearly) to $970 a week (or $50,440 per year). And guess which industry, among others, is expected to be hit hardest by these new labor costs? That’s right—hospitality and food service.

Should these new rules come to fruition in early 2016, you can bet that companies in hard-hit industries may be looking to robot employees with keener interest … and that’ll present HR departments with new challenges, headaches, and paperwork (let’s hope the paper is dust-repellant!). So, Back to the Future isn’t wrong about extensive advances in automation—it was just a few years early in its prediction.

Fun side fact: One of the kids in the café who shakes his head in derision at the simplicity of old arcade games is Elijah Wood (Frodo from the Lord of the Rings films). If you don’t believe us, just watch the movie!

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we take a look at the biggest HR moment of Back to the Future: Part II—Future Marty’s termination via fax. Plus an introduction to BLR’s HR Playbook: HR’s Game Plan for the Future.