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October 31, 2006

HR practitioners wanted: submit your entries

Winning Workplaces - Are you one? WSJ wants to know - Are you an independent company with fewer than 500 employees and no more than $200 million in annual revenues? Have you been in business at least 5 years? Is your workplace outstanding? If so, Wall Street Journal wants to know for its first annual ranking of the Top Small Workplaces. They are looking for "small employers that foster teamwork, flexibility, high productivity and innovation while also treating their employees with respect, providing opportunities for professional growth and advancement, and providing benefits, both traditional and nontraditional, that make the employee experience better." To nominate an employer, fill out the online nomination form by January 31, 2007.

Benefit News Benefit Blockbuster Poll - Thanks to Benefit News Connect newsletter for the above tip. We get this newsletter twice a week, free, and you can too - as well as having free access to most of the BenefitNews.com site simply by registering as a member. And while there, you might take part their ‘Benefits Blockbusters’ poll. If you are a veteran HR practitioner, Employee Benefit News is looking for your feedback on the most significant events or trends that have shaped employee benefits and your career in the last 20 years. Send one or more “nominees” for what should be included in their “Benefits Blockbusters” list for the January issue. They invite you to "... consider all aspects of benefits, including technology, laws, industry, business and societal trends. Blockbusters may be positive or negative. We’d also like to know why you think your picks deserve to make the list." Send nominations - which will be confidential - to bbsurveyebn@sourcemedia.com.

Participate in a HR benchmarking survey - Are you asked to do more and more every year, and given less resources to do it with? If so, you aren't alone. The Boeing Company and Best Practices, LLC, are conducting a survey to establish comprehensive performance and cost benchmarks for HR functions in large organizations. If you are an HR practitioner in a Fortune 500 company, you may want to participate before November 15. Access the benchmarking survey and past survey results here.

Events in November - two events that should be on your radar screen this November include: National Diabetes Month and the Great American Smoke Out on November 16. For other seasonal events, see our post on free resources for wellness programs.

October 27, 2006

Short takes: harassment, Halloween, hiring, and more

Hip-hop harassment - At Jottings by an Employer's Lawyer, Michael Fox discusses a recent $15.5 million court decision in a sexual harassment and gender discrimination suit against The Source, a prominent hip-hop publication. The suit was filed by Kim Osorio, the former editor in chief, who was fired because she refused to drop her complaints against the publication. The defense essentially amounted to "it goes with the territory," but the court decided otherwise.

Halloween at work - At George's Employment Blog, George posts about Halloween in the workplace. Does your organization encourage Halloween frivolity? Here's a nice tale of how some nurses celebrate Halloween at work. William Wyberg of the Des Moines Register discusses some local workplaces that celebrate Halloween and offers employees some tips for appropriate costumes. And Joni Lucas of HR Magazine offers her tips on Halloween Parties: A Tricky Treat - office parties. Here are some truly gruesome recipes should you opt for the party route. On second thought, they aren't very PC, but we couldn't resist passing them along.

Learning from Google - HRMarketer examines ways that Google is honing its hiring practices as it grows, drawing lessons for other employers in how to expeditiously build a talent pool.

Keeping workers safe - Workplace Prof Blog posts about the Top 10 Violated OSHA Standards. Wonder how you stack up? Here's a tool so you you can learn the most frequently violated OSHA standards for your business size and industry class.

Friday FMLA fun - How well do you know the law? Take the Family Medical Leave Act Quiz.

Are you a bad boss? - Are you trying to be friends with the people you manage? If so, you top the list of Bosses' 10 biggest sins as revealed in a recent survey of 900+ employees. Take the quiz to see how good a boss you are.

Texas non-compete agreements - At HR Lawyers Blog, Chris McKinney discusses a recent Texas Supreme Court decision that changes the nature of non-compete agreements.

October 25, 2006

Follow the laws with Employee Health Initiatives

It’s October and most companies are deep into the Wellness Fair season and while it’s great to promote healthy lifestyles for our employees, there are some cautions and pitfalls we need to be aware of.

A recent white paper published in HR Business Legal Reports warns that Corporate Wellness Programs can contradict State and Federal Labor Laws related to discrimination. An illustration from this paper states

wellness programs must be carefully crafted. For example, a wellness program that offers financial incentives to employees who walk a certain number of miles per week may discriminate against employees whose disabilities preclude them from reaching the target number. When developing a program, therefore, employers must be aware of the legal requirements that may impact their decisions. Offering a reasonable alternative that allows a disabled worker to earn the financial incentive may satisfy certain legal requirements - but crafting such alternatives may be challenging. Employers should have their legal counsel review a wellness program before it's presented to employees.

HR managers need to consider The ADA-American with Disabilities Act in the implementation of wellness initiatives. Reasonable alternatives and accommodations must be available to employees with an identified disability. Also according to the ADA, companies cannot ask employees for their personal health information. So requiring statistics on weight and blood pressure as a way to measure progress in a health promotion would be a violation. Offering a voluntary program for employees, where participants keep track of health stats would be just fine as long as there was no penalty for those who didn’t participate.

According to the same white paper, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Internal Revenue Service jointly issued a proposed regulation describing four requirements for a "bona fide wellness program" that would comply with HIPAA:

The rewards that are offered to an individual must be limited (the departments suggest a limit of 10 to 20 percent of the total cost of employee-only coverage).

The program must be reasonably designed to promote good health or prevent disease for the individuals in the program, and must give eligible individuals the opportunity to qualify for the reward at least once per year.

The reward must be available to all similarly situated individuals, and a reasonable alternative standard must be made available for any individual for whom, due to a health factor, it would be unreasonably difficult to meet the initial standard (or for whom it is medically inadvisable to attempt to satisfy that standard).

All plan materials that describe the terms of the wellness program must disclose the availability of a reasonable alternative standard.

Union contracts also need to be considered as they may restrict management’s influence on behavior outside of the identified work duties of an employee. Likewise State laws may prohibit an employer from influencing behavior of an employee who is off duty.

It is clearly advisable to review the recommendations as stated by the Department of Labor, http://www.dol.gov/ cautiously analyze any initiatives for disparate impact on any group of employees and seek legal counsel if you are uncertain that your programs are fair and within the law.

October 19, 2006

News briefs: compliance, nightmares, business tips from Google

One-stop regulatory resource. Researching federal regulatory information just got a whole lot easier. The fed's new website Business.gov bills itself as the U.S. government's official link to business and a one-stop compliance resource. The site is managed by the US Small Business Administration in collaboration with more than 20 other federal agencies. The stated purpose is to serve as a gateway or single access point to government services and information.

Legal issues that keep HR managers awake at night - In an article in Human Resource Executive entitled Liable Nightmares, legal experts pinpoint and discuss five major areas of concern to human resource executives: class-action lawsuits, harassment claims, retaliation claims, leave issues, and wage-and-hour class-action cases.

More Employee Problems at Wal-Mart - It's not easy to maintain the market position as the lowest cost retailer. Its a hard fought battle, and some think that all too often, employees are the casualties. Earlier in the week, we learned how a Pennsylvania court levied a $78 million dollar judgement against the retail behemoth for requiring employees to go off the clock during lunches and breaks. Now, Business Week brings us a story about 200 Florida workers who walked off the job to protest new policies and procedures. Among the grievances: cutting the hours of full-time employees from 40 hours a week to 32 hours, with a corresponding wage cut; a policy that workers be available for shifts around the clock; and a move to computerized rather than human scheduling, which workers felt would result in erratic schedules. According to the article:

The scheduling changes, which have been rolled out in Wal-Mart stores around the country in recent weeks, are a sign that the retailer is acting on ideas outlined in an internal document that was leaked last year. In the memo, a Wal-Mart executive said it would find ways to rid its payroll of full-time and unhealthy employees who are more expensive for the company to retain.
Wal-Mart executives have recently told Wall Street analysts that the company wants to transform its workforce from 20% part-time to 40%.

This employee action has all the flavor of unionization, although Wal-Mart is strong in its anti-union stance, even closing a Canadian store that had voted in a union.

How to run a meeting like Google - You can't argue with Google's success, so you might as well learn from it. Marissa Mayer, Google's vice-president of search products, holds an average of 70 meetings a week. She shares her tips on six key steps to running an effective meeting.

Alphabet soup - Do employee benefit acronyms leave you flummoxed? Can't keep your ADA straight from your ADB? Atty. B. Janell Grenier has compiled a handy Benefit Acronym Lexicon. Also, for the latest in tax, benefits, and ERISA law, visit her blog, Benefitsblog.

October 16, 2006

Short takes: brands, body art, lunch breaks, and more

Your employees are critical to your brand - Regina Miller at HR's Brand New Experience asks how a company can design and build a customer experience program without considering the employee experience. Her essay reminds us that building a good brand and a solid and authentic corporate reputation should start from the inside and work its way out.

A hefty lunch tab - Workplace Prof Blog discusses the recent Pennsylvania ruling, a $78.47 million judgement against Wal-Mart, for making employees go "off the clock" during lunch and rest breaks. Last year, Wal-Mart was also slapped with a $172 million judgement in California for failing to provide legally-mandated meal breaks to some 200,000 employees. Both judgements are still subject to appeal.

More on drugs - Labor and Employment Law Blog comments on Drug Free Work Week and adds a discussion about drug testing, including some helpful steps employers can take to minimize the legal risks of drug testing. While much of the emphasis of Drug Free Work Week will be on drugs, employers shouldn't forget that alcohol is arguably the drug that is most frequently abused, both on and off the job. Try the Alcohol Cost Calculator to assess the costs to your company.

To tattoo or not to tattoo - Making the rounds of the blogosphere this last week was a photo and story about Bruce Potts, a University of New Mexico instructor who sports a full-face tribal tattoo. (Another story is available at the Daily Lobo, but free registration may be required) While not commenting specifically on this person, Jack Yoest at Small Business Trends notes that one third of the population 18 to 29 has a tattoo and discusses issues related to hiring job candidates with tattoos and piercings. According to a survey conducted by Vault, 58% of employer respondents said they would be less likely to hire someone with visible tattoos or body piercings, while 38% said it would have no effect on their decision. We'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. If your company has a policy about body art, leave a comment to tell us about it.

Tenure report - The median number of years that wage and salary workers have been with their current employer was 4.0 years as of January 2006, unchanged from January 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on Employee Tenure. More information is available in the report by demographic.

Powerful women - Fortune issued a list of the 50 most powerful women in business. How are women faring in your organization?

On the lighter side
The "Evil Human Resources Director's" take on salaries - When we compiled our list of HR calculators the other day, we were remiss in overlooking the invaluable Catbert Salary Calculator.

Power napping - We talked about sleep deprivation and the importance of sleep to good productivity the other day. Regina Miller at HR's Brand New Experience brings things to to a whole new level - perhaps your organization needs napping pods to ensure maximum productivity?

October 13, 2006

Drug Free Work Week

The Department of Labor (DOL) announced the first-ever Drug-Free Work Week is scheduled for October 16 - 22. The stated purpose is to educate employers, employees and the general public about the importance of being drug-free as a component of improving workplace safety and health and to encourage workers with alcohol and drug problems to seek help.

We recently discussed the high toll that substance abuse can take in the workplace, and the importance of implementing a drug-free program. In fact, certain employers are mandated by law to implement a drug-free workplace. Failure to have such a program can be costly for both employers and employees alike:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse cost the nation $246 billion annually, or nearly $1000 each for every man, woman and child.
  • Substance abuse problems cost American business an estimated $81 billion in lost production.
  • Up to 40 percent of industrial fatalities and nearly half of all industrial injuries can be linked to substance abuse.
  • One in five workers report that they have had to work harder, redo work, cover for a co-worker or have been put in danger or injured as a result a fellow employee's drinking.
  • Substance abuse is estimated to cause 500 million lost workdays annually.

The DOL offers an extensive variety of suggested activities and programs that employers can implement at their work site, with links to other resources. Below, we are excerpting a few that we see as vital.

Implement a Drug-Free Workplace Program—Drug-Free Work Week is the perfect time to launch a Drug-Free Workplace Program if your organization does not already have one. Such programs are natural complements to other initiatives that help protect worker safety and health. To learn more about them, visit DOL's Working Partners Web site. In particular, the site's Drug-Free Workplace Advisor Program Builder offers detailed guidance on how to develop a Drug-Free Workplace Program, starting with the first step: a written policy.
Promote your Drug-Free Workplace Program—If your organization already has a Drug-Free Workplace Program, Drug-Free Work Week is a logical time to ensure the program is adequate to meet current needs and to remind employees about its important role in keeping them safe while on the job. One way to do this is to distribute to all employees a copy of your drug-free workplace policy, along with a positive message about valuing health and safety, and then provide an opportunity for them to ask questions about it, perhaps through an open forum or privately.
Train supervisors—Supervisors are the individuals closest to an organization's workforce. As part of Drug-Free Work Week, organizations can conduct training to ensure supervisors understand their organization's policy on alcohol and drug use; ways to deal with workers who have performance problems that may be related to substance abuse; and how to refer employees to available assistance. Working Partners offers more information on Supervisor Training, including ready-to-use training materials.
Educate workers—To achieve a drug-free workplace, it is critical that an organization educate its workers about the nature of alcohol and drug use and its negative impact on workplace safety and productivity. Drug-Free Work Week is a natural time to step up such efforts through training sessions, guest speakers or brown-bag lunches. Working Partners offers more information on Employee Training, including ready-to-use training materials. If employee education is already a regular activity, a Drug-Free Work Week program could be offered on a specific timely topic such as the abuse of prescription drugs or methamphetamine.
Remind employees about the availability of EAP or MAP services—If your organization has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Member Assistance Program (MAP), Drug-Free Work Week presents a perfect opportunity to remind them of its availability. Such programs offer free, confidential services to help all employees, including supervisors, resolve personal and workplace problems, such as substance abuse. They also offer confidential substance abuse screenings as well as brief intervention, if warranted, and help employees locate local treatment resources. Working Partners offers more information about EAPs.

October 10, 2006

HR widgets: hiring, turnover, and absence calculators

We all know that turnover is costly, but do you know just how costly? Do you know what your costs are for hiring a new employee? Or what it costs your company if you make a bad hire? There are a variety of free online tools and widgets to help you assess these costs and figure them into your planning. Here are a few tools that we've found useful.

A handy resource that's well worth bookmarking is a page of useful HR calculators compiled by the Recruiters Network. These include a Cost Per Hire Calculator, a Recruiting Costs Calculator, a calculator to assess the Cost of a Bad Hire, a Moving Calculator to help determine relocation costs, a variety of calculators to measure the turnover rates or costs, a Salary Calculator to learn comparable salaries for hundreds of U.S. and international cities, and an Hourly & Annual Wage Rate Converter.

Aon Workforce Strategies also has a pair of valuable tools. Their Absence Cost Estimator calculates your direct and indirect costs of absence and their Turnover Cost Estimator calculates your direct and indirect costs of turnover. Both tools help you to determine the magnitude of the problem and provide a baseline to measure future performance.

ADP Screening and Selection Services offers a Bad Hire Calculator to help you assess how much a single bad hire could cost your company.

HR Software offers a page of links to a variety of turnover calculators.

The Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) has compiled a list of links to a variety of compensation and benefit calculators, including salary wizards, cost of living calculators, and inflation calculators.

October 6, 2006

Time for a nap? The sleep deprived American workforce

Ok, so who’s to blame for these statistics recently reported by USA Today?

American workers are hungry for sleep. A 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation, a Washington D.C., nonprofit that focuses on sleep and public health, found that 26 percent of adults get a good night's sleep only a few nights a month or less. Another 24 percent say they get a good night's sleep only a few nights a week.

In other words, the sleep-deprived are cranky, in a workplace full of other cranky people. Their ability to concentrate, remember and make decisions decreases significantly and the estimated cost to U.S. businesses ranges from $30 billion to $100 billion a year.

Perhaps the most disturbing outcome is when a sleep deprived employee makes an error that causes accidents and death. Forty nine- people died on board Comair Flight 5191 as it ran out of runway for its dawn takeoff from the Lexington Blue Grass Airport on August 26th. While government investigators have not officially attributed the crash to any cause, they have said the air traffic controller on overnight duty then was working with only two hours of sleep.

Is this a problem with society that promotes a 24/7 never-ending culture of work and productivity? Is this the result or competition and pressure to perform in a global market? Is this the fault of the overextended individual not knowing how to say no? Or is this a lack of basic understanding that the body must sleep to rejuvenate?

When I go into companies to provide presentations of stress, I often ask participants “how many hours of sleep do you get?’ The average answer is less than 6 hours with individuals actively deciding to forego sleep to wash clothes, clean the house, fix household problems, or catch up on work.

“If I don’t, I will be so far behind, I will never catch up” And perhaps that is the scourge of society in 2006. Our lives are over scheduled and time to relax is scarce. It’s no wonder that the sales of prescription sleep medication is skyrocketing as people who are overstressed find it impossible to calm down enough to fall asleep.

Some workplaces are addressing the problem by educating employees about the physical and cognitive need for sleep, but that does little if management piles on unrealistic expectations that require 60 hour work-weeks. A company that was enforcing indefinite mandatory overtime requiring employees to put in 57 hours of work each week recently asked that I come in to conduct a two-hour presentation on managing stress. I told the manager to forget having me in and give the employees two hours to take a nap. No amount of training on stress will fix an unmanageable work schedule.

Another workplace, described in the USA Today article, tried a different approach as

At 10e20, a New York-based global search marketing and Web solutions company, President Chris Winfield makes sure employees are supplied with free Starbucks coffee and Red Bull energy drinks. "It's coffee in the morning and Red Bull in the afternoon," he says. "We have a lot of legs shaking, but the work gets done." He says the combination is effective: "We don't have many missed deadlines."
This may help deadlines but it does little as workers go home and try to sleep at night pumped up on caffeine. Sleep deprivation not only results in an immediate decrease of productivity but can also advance long-term illness.

Management needs to see the bigger picture on this issue. We must creatively solve the need for 24 hour response in the global economy without burning out the workforce.

Here are some thoughts to consider in promoting wellbeing of the worker.

Staff to adequate levels to get the job done
Question double and extended shifts and mandatory overtime and look for alternative ways to handle demanding projects
Encourage the 8 hour day, lunch hours and breaks

Short term gains in productivity from working with inadequate staff seldom produces long term sustainable results.

October 5, 2006

Interesting stories from the blogosphere

Recruitment: the good, the bad, and the ugly - What do Google, Starbucks, MGM Grand, and the U.S. Army have in common? Apparently, they all have refined the art of recruitment. HR Blog points us to an article by Dr. John Sullivan discussing the 12 best recruitment practices to copy. And Workplace Prof Blog points us to an article in the Wall St. Journal's Career Journal that discusses the antithesis of best practices: A Rude Selection Process Can Mirror Working Conditions

Family-friendly workplaces - Working Mother names the 100 best companies to work for, and discusses the practices that earned them a place on the list - well worth a read. Thanks to Chris Mckinney at The HR Lawyer's Blog for the pointer.

Grief in the workplace - Our sincere condolences to Brent Hundberger and his co-workers on the recent untimely death of a colleague. We often spend as much time with our work colleagues as we do with our families so a loss can be a painful and traumatic event. We've found a couple of articles that offer some words of advice for handling grief in the workplace: Coping with the Death of a Coworker and When a Co-worker Dies (PDF).

Preventing harassment - George Kittredge at Labor and Employment Law Blog reminds us that "... it generally is necessary and good business practice for employers to establish, publicize and enforce anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures. As the Supreme Court stated, "Title VII is designed to encourage the creation of anti-harassment policies and effective grievance mechanisms." He offers Six Elements Of An Anti-Harassment Policy.

Speaking of harassment - be sure to tell your managers that strip searches are against company policy - In our "what were they thinking" story of the week, we have a lawsuit dealing with restaurant managers who face criminal charges for conducting strip searches of a fellow employee. Apparently, dozens of fast-food managers throughout the country have been the victim of a bizarre hoax. Callers posing as police name an employee who is supposedly involved in a crime such as theft or drug possession. The caller directs the manager to detain that employee, and subsequently orders the manager to conduct a progressively invasive strip search of the alleged criminal. If you think this all sounds too bizarre to be true, you are sadly mistaken - just conduct a simple Google search to learn how many people have been taken in by this, and the headaches that it causes for employers ... to say nothing of the hapless victims who are subject to shocking humiliation and degradation.

Trend watch: medical tourism - The folks at Workers Comp Insider discuss the growth of medical tourism as more and more people travel to India, Malaysia, Thailand, and other countries to have surgery performed at a fraction of what such surgeries would cost here in the U.S. At least one cost-conscious employer tried to get an employee to travel abroad for an expensive procedure, raising the ire of the employee's union, which put a halt to the plans. Workers Comp Insider wonders if we will see more employers seeking to "offshore" expensive medical procedures.

On the lighter side... The Human Capitalist points us to an engaging little musical video clip that demonstrates synchronizing talent and performance management raised to an art form.

October 2, 2006

Thou shalt not steal at work

If you think that your employees are above stealing from your organization, you may want to rethink things.

Making the headlines this week are two priests from Delray Beach, Florida who have been accused of stealing more than $8 million from their parish. Monsignor John Skehan, pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church for four decades, and Reverend Francis Guinan, who succeeded Skehan as pastor, three years ago, were both charged with theft going back to 2001. Among other things, funds were allegedly used to support an "intimate relationship" with a bookkeeper, and to finance gambling trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas. So much for "Thou Shalt Not Steal." Apparently Fathers Guinan and Skehan weren’t in class the day they covered the seventh commandment back at the seminary.

The point here is that if even a couple of priests can allegedly stoop to stealing from the church, it’s a sure bet that every employer is at risk for employee theft.

There are some startling statistics concerning employee theft that every HR professional should know. A number studies have been done to better understand this issue. The landmark study* conducted some twenty years ago by researchers at the Universities of Minnesota and Florida indicated that as many as 4 out of 10 employees admitted to occasional theft. In addition, those who steal were more likely to exhibit counter-productive traits, such as sloppy work and breaking work rules. Other research by the US Chamber of Commerce estimates that the cost of employee theft falls someplace between $40 and $50 billion per year.

Most thefts involve petty items such as office supplies. But every employer is at risk of significant loss if proper precautions aren’t taken. Don't rely on your instincts. Many employers make the mistake of thinking that their managers or higher paid professionals wouldn't steal. Wrong. While larcenous employees may be a small minority, they cut a wide swathe across all jobs, ages, incomes, races, religions, and sexes.

Loss prevention: Managing your risk
If your organization doesn’t have an anti-theft policy and program, run don't walk to develop and introduce a written theft policy that outlines your organization’s commitment to honesty and integrity. The policy should clearly spell out any consequences for any employee caught stealing. Communicate this policy during employee orientations, in employee newsletters, and on bulletin board announcements. Organizations that establish and communicate a policy tend to have less theft.

Background checks also go a long way in terms of deterrence. Screening will identify some bad apples before you hire them and prescreening sends an indirect message that your organization is concerned with ensuring the highest level of integrity and security.

Finally, reduce the opportunity for theft by maintaining a regular audit program that checks all of the potential areas of loss. Build in checks and balances and paper trails. Trust, but verify, as the saying goes.

Our experience shows time and again that employers who communicate often and well with their employees and who work diligently to maintain a healthy work culture experience fewer workplace behavioral problems than their mistrusting, suspicious counterparts. Keep things in perspective. Dishonest employees are in the minority so don't cast a pall of suspicion over everyone. Set the policy and the expectation, ensure that risk control measures are in place, and be fair and consistent in the way policies are enforced.

* Deterrence in the Workplace: Perceived Certainty, Perceived Severity, and Employee Theft by Richard G. Hollinger, University of Florida and John P. Clark, University of Minnesota (available for purchase or through free trial subscription).

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