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November 28, 2006

Short takes: background checks, bonuses, turnover, and more

Background checks and diversity - Employers that regularly conduct criminal background checks as part of the new hire process are more likely to hire a black applicant, or so says a new study reported in The Journal of Law and Economics. The study authors state that "The results are consistent with the proposition that in the absence of a criminal background check, employers use race to infer past criminal activity, especially employers with a strong stated aversion to hiring ex-offenders." (Thanks to Workplace Fairness for the tip.)

Holiday and end-of-year bonuses - Are employee bonuses a part of your compensation plan this year? Diane Pfadenhauer of Strategic HR Lawyer reminds us of the need to stay compliant with tax laws: IRS Guidelines on Bonuses and Special Awards (PDF).

The graying of America - Chris McKinney of HR Lawyers Blog asks if your organization is prepared for the aging workforce. He posts about a recent AARP survey entitled "Business Executives' Attitudes Toward the Aging Workforce: Aware But Not Prepared?" In the survey, only one in seven respondents believe their organization is very committed to retaining employees who are approaching retirement, yet nine out of ten agreed that it is challenging to find the skills and experience that they need. Chris notes that employers will need to bridge this disconnect between what they know they need to be doing and what they actually are doing.

How does your turnover compare? - Whatnot at Work posts on the latest voluntary employment turnover rates as released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics through August 2006. The report notes:

"Overall U.S. voluntary turnover increased slightly to 23.4% annually, up from 22.7% the previous year. The highest turnover by far is still in the Accommodation and Food Services sector at 56.4% and the Leisure and Hospitality sector at 52.2%. Sectors that saw the highest increase in turnover were Accommodation and Food Services, up 7% from the previous year, Leisure and Hospitality, up 5.4% and Information, up 4.5%. The only sectors seeing a (slight) decrease in turnover were Real Estate, Natural Resources and Mining, and Professional and Business Services."

What Homer Simpson can tell you about distinguishing exempt vs nonexempt workers - Workforce features and amusing and instructive article by Robert S. Nelson entitled All You Need to Know About Overtime Exemptions You Can Learn From TV. He suggests that when it comes to the legal complexities that govern the distinction between salaried and hourly workers, popular TV might be a better teacher than labor lawyers because it provides powerful archetypes and common frames of reference to aid decision making. Thanks to Workplace Prof Blog for the pointer, as well as for this expensive real-world lesson about what can happen when a company makes misjudgements in this area: IBM resolves overtime-pay lawsuit with $65M.

And on the lighter side...

November 21, 2006

Words of advice from "the chief happiness officer"

"Imagine waking up every morning totally energized about your job, your coworkers, and the chance to go in and make a difference. THAT is Happiness at Work and every single one of us can have it."

So says author Alexander Kjerulf who bills himself as The Chief Happiness Officer at a blog by the same name. What a cool title and what a delightful way that would be to re-frame the role of human resources.

We found Alexander's blog from 10 seeeeeriously cool places to work, a fun post that discusses the relationship of physical space to productivity and attitude. Check out the impressive collection of photos of highly innovative and creative work spaces that he's gathered - your cubicle farm will never look the same. And don't miss the newest radically cool workspace he later found: Inventionland Motor Speedway.

If your budget doesn't afford you the ability to rebuild your organization's physical plant, don't despair. Kjerulf's blog also has some good words of advice on ways you can enhance the overall climate, culture, and energy of your workplace. After all, a good part of style is simply in the attitude—so if you can't work in a tomorrow-land space, you might be able to create a very cool and engaging environment through your culture.

Poke around a bit on Kjerulf's site, there are many fun and thoughtful posts. Here are a few we enjoyed:
The top 5 myths about workplace stress
A challenge to managers: Do you know your people
Everything sucks and you can't convince me otherwise: How to handle chronic complainers

November 17, 2006

News briefs: workforce planning, ADA, fabulous perks, Friday fun , and more

People planning - Human Resources: "Right" Sizing - an article in Industry Week uses the experience of Corning Company as a springboard for a discussion on strategic workforce planning, offering 12 tips for how to implement the practice. The article defines this as:

"Strategic workforce planning is not a new name for some old practice, emphasizes Mary B. Young, a senior researcher at the Conference Board. Strategic workforce planning, for example, assumes the business environment is constantly changing. It includes, she notes, asking such questions as, "What if the price of oil drops?" or "What if the Democrats win the election?" What's more, "you can look at the differences between different operating businesses, or different locations or even under different managers," she says.
In contrast, workforce planning of the past has often focused simply on headcount and produced a static projection of the number of people likely to be needed sometime in the future, Young says. "Too often, the net result was a humongous report, blinding spreadsheets and a dizzying amount of data that provided very little value to the business."

Up, up, and away - Joanne Wojcik of Business Insurance reports on a recent survey conducted by the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers on employer health-care costs for 2007. Among the findings:

"According to the survey, while 41% of large employers (501 or more employees) saw rate increases ranging between 6% and 10% for 2007, only 16% of small employers (50 or fewer employees) saw rate hikes that low at renewal.
At the other end of the spectrum, 50% of small employers saw rate hikes between 11% and 15% for 2007, while only 19% of large employers saw similar increases at renewal."

Accommodating employers - Jonathan O. Hafen discusses How Employers Can Address Mental Illness Claims Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in an excellent article in law.com. Here's an excerpt:

"Recent cases suggest that employers should do more to confirm that an alleged mental illness qualifies as a "disability" under the ADA before proceeding to discuss potential accommodations. The process of confirming a qualifying disability will also often narrow the range of required accommodations, thereby benefiting the employer. When an employee requests an accommodation based on a mental illness, the employer should make the following determinations prior to addressing potential accommodations: 1) has the alleged mental illness been properly diagnosed?; 2) is the mental illness a long-term pervasive problem which substantially limits a major life activity?; and 3) can the employee, with or without reasonable accommodation, continue to perform the essential job functions in light of the mental illness?"

Comparing workers comp costs - Workers comp is regulated by 50 separate laws. and each state has different benefits and costs. In Workers Comp Insider, Tom Lynch discusses various tools for a state-by-state workers comp cost comparison. Alaska just took the title away from California for the state with the highest cost and North Dakota has the lowest cost. See where your state falls on the list. (PDF)

Fabulous perks - at Ask MetaFilter, a member asks what types of jobs have awesome perks/benefits? and other members respond. Educational benefits are frequently cited.

Friday fun - Addressing Employee Complaints, a YouTube video clip brought to you from the wonderful folks at despair.com.

November 13, 2006

Short takes: data security, "gruntled" employees, voter preferences, and more

How secure is your employee data? - Diane Pfadenhauer of Strategic HR Lawyer discusses how data for 60,000 Starbucks employees is missing. Corporate security breaches of confidential employee records are becoming increasingly common - how secure are your organization's employment records?

Good new blog find - We recently discovered a great new blog called Gruntled Employees by Jay Shepherd, CEO of a Boston law firm that specializes in employment issues. Check out some recent posts we enjoyed: The Cost of Employee Turnover and Workplace romance: love affairs and lawsuits. We'll be adding this blog to our sidebar.

What the voters want at the workplace - Brent Hunsberger of The Oregonian's At Work blog discusses some initiatives that recently passed at the polls: six states approve minimum-wage hikes and San Francisco voters embrace mandatory paid sick days.

What do you love about HR? - This amusing video parody lampoons the benefits of a career in human resources.

Top HR concerns - Are compliance issues your biggest worry? If so, you aren't alone. George’s Employment Blawg discusses a recent compilation of surveys that amalgamate the top concerns of HR practitioners.

Compliance - Speaking of compliance, do you need a source to check for and order your state's mandatory posting requirements? Try Labor Law Poster.

Bullies at work - Workplace Prof Blog discusses a recent study about bullies in the workplace. " ... bullied employees likened their experiences to a battle, water torture, a nightmare or a noxious substance. Understanding the seriousness of workplace bullying and what it feels like to get bullied could help managers put the brakes on the behavior, shown to afflict 25 to 30 percent of employees sometime during their careers."

November 9, 2006

Helping your employees "Kick the Habit"

Is it time for your organization to do more to encourage employees to quit smoking? Smoking tobacco is still the number one killer of individuals in the US and associated illnesses cost billions for American businesses. Here is your chance to take advantage of a nation-wide effort. Every year, the third Thursday November -- November 16th this year -- is the Great American Smokeout. Smokers are encouraged to give up smoking for 24 hours in the hope that this head start will support a long-term behavior change.

Resources from the American Cancer Society are available and community events you can tag onto pop-up across the nation. The CDC also offers many free resources for you to use in your efforts.
This can be a great company-wide event to improve the health of your employees. But is it really a company's place to promote smoking cessation? Citing benefits for employers and employees, many states have passed laws requiring workplaces to be smoke free. The Lung Association offers a Worksheet to determine State laws that may apply to your organization.

Here are some benefits of a smoke-free workplace as identified by the American Cancer Society:

Benefits for the Employees

  • A smoke-free environment helps create a safe, healthful workplace.
  • Workers who are bothered by smoke will not be exposed to it at the worksite.
  • Smokers who want to quit may have more of an incentive to do so.
  • Smokers may appreciate a clear company policy about smoking at work.
  • Managers are relieved when a process for dealing with smoking in the workplace is clearly defined

For the Employer

  • A smoke-free environment helps create a safe, healthful workplace.
  • Direct health care costs to the company may be reduced.
  • A well-planned and carefully implemented effort by the employer to address the effect of smoking on employees' health and the health of their families shows the company cares.
  • Employees may be less likely to be absent from work due to smoking related illnesses.
  • Maintenance costs go down when smoke, matches, and cigarette butts are eliminated in facilities.
  • Office equipment, carpets, and furniture last longer.
  • The risk of fires is lower.
  • It may be possible to negotiate lower health, life, and disability insurance coverage as employee smoking is reduced.

Creating a Smoke-Free Work Policy

Creating a Smoke-Free Policy is a good way to clearly present your organization's position on this practice in the workplace. For model policies check out The American Cancer Society

Making a policy successful may depend on a few preparations:

  • Find out what your employees want. You may discover that employees object to co-workers smoking outside the front door or beneath open windows. Second-hand smoke is a consideration when identifying smoking places on company property.
  • Announce the no smoking policy ahead of its implementation.
  • Give details of how things will change and allow employees time to adjust to new rules. If possible, specify a starting date.
  • Help employees kick the habit by offering a smoking-cessation program.
  • Offer access to support through a health professional or your EAP. It is proven that groups of individuals who quit together offer each other support, and this can often enhance success.

While eliminating smoking in the workplace is a good start, refusing to hire smokers all together is not an option for most organizations. More than half the states in the US have "lifestyle discrimination" laws which prohibit employers from discriminating against employees based on their use of tobacco or other lawful products. And for many employers, limiting the potential labor pool by instituting a blanket hiring ban on a class of workers for a lifestyle issue isn't feasible. Many fire and police departments and some companies are indeed banning smoking entirely—on or off the job—and refusing to hire smokers. Here's how Jon Coppelman at Workers Comp Insider wrote about this.

The final word, it's always advisable to look into your state laws to determine your best course of action.

November 8, 2006

When politics spill over into the workplace

On the day after election day, politics may still be percolating as specific races go through a post mortem, or worse, recounts. This is a topic that may likely engage your workers - hot elections and controverrsial political issues can and do carry over to water cooler debates. In a recent poll conducted by AP-Pew Research, nearly half of all respondents, or 43 percent, said they debate political issues at work.

Here's a round-up of some news and web stories that discuss both employer and employee rights related to politics in the workplace.

Arthur Susser of Littler Mendelson, a national employment and labor law firm, discusses the fact that workers are often surprised to learn that their employers can restrict political expression at work. He suggests some steps that employers can take to restrict workday activities to business pursuits, even in states with laws protecting political expression.

Geoff Williams of Entrepreneur.com suggests that, despite how pervasive politics has become, we should take the advice of experts and keep it out of work or " ... risk an entire Pandora's box of problems spilling out to the office place." He offers 5 tips on defusing political passions before they start at the workplace.

Susan M. Heatherfield of Human Resources at About.com discusses the reasons why it's best to nix political discussions at work. She also offers some helpful tips for supervisors who become aware of potentially negative political discussions. She suggests that politics should be treated like any other situation that holds the potential for escalating into conflict.

Workplace Fairness discusses employee rights and the limitations of the law in relation to retaliation for political activity.

Margarita Bauza has a story entitled Working with politics: Experts advise treading lightly and knowing office policies before speaking on the issues in Detroit Free Press:

Typically, company policies addressing political speech deal with displaying signs of support and soliciting donations, said Jennifer L. Berman, an attorney who has drafted numerous workplace policies dealing with political speech. Berman is managing director of CBIZ Human Capital Services in Chicago.
"In a private workplace, you can prohibit any type of speech you want," Berman said. "But that would be a little bit stronger than what most companies want to do."
No office is immune to rules regarding political speech -- even political offices. Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, a Democrat, prohibits assistant prosecutors from supporting opponents. There is language to that effect in their union contract.
Nemeth said such policies are rare and potentially violate free-speech rights. But they at least define what is and isn't acceptable in the workplace, she said.

Michelle Kara of The Mercury has a story advising caution when talking politics at work:

Peter Susser, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Littler Mendelson, the nation's largest employment and labor law firm, encourages employers to "ensure that work environments are safe, are free of hostility and conducive to productivity" by "protecting employees from being badgered or pressured by overzealous political advocates."
Susser said many people wrongly assume the Constitution and the Bill of Rights entitle them to express their political views whenever and wherever they wish. In fact, "workers at private-sector companies that are employed at will can be terminated for their political beliefs as long as their dismissal complies with employment statutes and does not run afoul of other state-law guarantees," he stated in a news release.

November 2, 2006

Help for your out-of-shape workers may be cheaper than you think

Is there any correlation between skyrocketing health-care costs and the nation's expanding beltline? Many would say yes. Obesity is becoming a national health crisis, and the effects definitely spill over into the workplace. The costs to businesses are astronomical. According to an article in Knowledge @ Wharton Efforts Are Growing to Trim the Fat from Employees -- and Employers' Health Care Costs:

“Obesity and overweight conditions contribute as much as $93 billion to the nation's yearly medical bill, according to studies reviewed by the National Business Group on Health, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that represents large companies. Of that amount, the total cost of obesity to U.S. companies is estimated at more than $13 billion per year -- a price tag that includes $8 billion for added health insurance costs, $2.4 billion for paid sick leave, $1.8 billion for life insurance and $1 billion for disability insurance. According to recent studies on the economic cost of workplace obesity, that translates into 39 million lost work days, 239 million days where work activity is restricted, 90 million sick days or days in bed and 63 million visits to physicians.”

The article goes on to discuss some steps employers are taking to fight obesity in the work force, ranging from mild to aggressive intervention programs. It can be a delicate matter – many employers we encounter are a little reluctant to encroach on “lifestyle” areas that may involve personal choice. But what we don’t understand is why more employers don’t take the first steps to a healthier work force by taking advantage of fitness and wellness programs offered by benefits companies, many of them free.

Here are a few of the reasons we hear:

  • We have had staff reductions so we can’t afford to let our employees go to a gym during the day.
  • We don’t have a budget for it.
  • We let our employees know about these benefits but they don’t use them.
There are more excuses, but you get the point. But the long-term benefits of a healthier staff more than outweigh (heh) the cost. Healthier employees:
  • Have more energy and can accomplish more in a day.
  • Take fewer sick days
  • Lower insurance costs
  • Have healthier attitudes and improve moral
Here are some tips for promoting a successful wellness program:
  • Lead by example: get involved in a fitness program yourself and talk it up.
  • Promote, promote, promote: the more information you put in front of your employees, the more likely you will get buy in.
  • Make it fun: Some companies use contests and incentives.
  • Take advantage of all the free stuff: Check your health insurer and EAP to see what they what programs they offer, along with any incentives and promotional information.
This has to start at the top. As with just about any other initiative, if the president of the company doesn't make it a priority, it's not likely to succeed.

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