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February 23, 2009

"Love contracts" may limit employer liability for office romance

Are water-cooler romances a big issue at your workplace? If not, your organization may be in the minority. Forty percent of U.S. workers have dated an office colleague, with 31 percent of those romances progressing on to marriage, according to a recent workplace dating survey survey by CareerBuilder.

When workplace dating takes a wrong turn, it can result in headaches for the employer ranging from decreased productivity and an awkward work environment to legal liabilities such as sexual harassment and retaliation. The stakes are particularly high if dating involves employees from different levels of the office food chain. A supervisor-subordinate relationship, publicized in both fictional films and all-too-real court dramas, is the classic example of potential jeopardy. In the not-too-distant past, workplace romance was generally considered taboo, but times are changing. Yesterday's employer policies banning or restricting workplace dating are giving way to the so-called love contract, a written acknowledgment that a workplace relationship is consensual. Generally, the terms of such a contract would involve both parties agreeing to abide by company policies, both while dating and should the relationship end. Employment lawyer Brian Finucane says such contracts are "...almost a get-out-of-jail-free defense, from a lawyer’s perspective."

Attorney Marilyn Sneirson cautions that while such contracts can help to limit liability, they should only be regarded as a supplement to a company's anti-harassment policies. She suggests several key elements that should be addressed in love contracts:

  • Any dispute arising from the relationship or contract will be resolved through arbitration
  • Employees may want to consult an attorney before signing the contract
  • Dating employees are expected to follow certain guidelines, such as refraining from displays of affection at work or work- related events
  • Either employee "can end the relationship without fear of work-related retaliation"
  • Dating employees agree to waive their rights to pursue a claim of sexual harassment for any event prior to the signing of the contract

February 19, 2009

Twitter: productivity helper or nuisance?

Are you tweeting on the job? Aliza Sherman takes on the issue of whether Twitter is a time waster or a productivity tool. Is it an indispensable and efficient part of daily communications or a silly distraction? That might depend on how and why you use it. Aliza outlines both ten positives and ten negatives, offering links to several useful applications.

For more on maximizing the utility, Kim Lau a has great post on getting things done with Twitter, commenting that "There’s a lot you didn’t know you could do with 140 character spurts." She's compiled a list of applications that extend Twitter's capabilities - tools that allow you to track expenses, organize travel, monitor your commute, or keep post it note reminders. One that we found particularly useful for work projects is called GroupTweet, a group message broadcasting tool that offers a quick way for team members to broadcast quick, private messages.

Here are a few other useful Twitter tools:
Twibs - browse 4,755 current twitter businesses on twibs.com
Twitter Groups helps you to find groups of interest
Guide to Twitter for Business
14 tools of highly effective Twitter users
Twitter in Plain English (video)
Twitter - a beginner's Guide

Caution - a tool is only as good as its user
Before you harness an unfamiliar social web tool for business purposes, you might want to play around with it for a bit and test it out with friends and family until you develop some familiarity with its capabilities. Even an "old school tool" like e-mail can have its pitfalls. Making the buzz all over the blogs for the last day or two is the embarrassing mistake that Twitter's HR manager recently made when she issued a rejection letter to 186 candidates, mistakenly hitting "to" rather than "BCC," thus exposing the identity of all the rejected candidates - oops. Kris Dunn at HR Capitalist offers the full scoop on this incident, a painful example of how technology tools can turn on you.

February 15, 2009

Short takes: Bullies, leaders, conflict, humor, and more

Bullies - Forbes talks about Corporate Bullies, noting that while some executives may find an aggressive style helps them claw to the top, they often can't sustain their reign. Don't miss the story's sidebar: The bully bosses hall of fame.

Leadership - How to lead through change - an interview with Kevin Cashman, leadership author. The Human Capitalist talks about critical skills that differentiate leading-edge HR executives.

Conflict - a recent Canadian study on workplace conflict identifies the causes and effects of workplace conflict in Canada. While conflict can have crippling effects on productivity, staff engagement and working relationships, the report also found that when properly managed, conflict actually benefits organizations, leading to major innovations and better solutions to problems.
Related: the Vertabase Blog offers a simple trick to end team turmoil - the "say it to my face" policy.

Humor
*If you didn't yet see the CareerBuilder Super Bowl ad, it is indeed pretty funny: If you hate going to work every day....(video)
*A creative new use for those sticky notes (video)
*Having trouble getting up in the morning? the Nanda clock might cure what ails you.

By the numbers
*Three mistakes to avoid when cutting jobs
*5 must-use social media tools for HR & recruiting professionals in 2009
*5 more must-use social media tools for HR & recruiting professionals in 2009
*10 mistakes trainers make

February 10, 2009

It's National Heart Failure Awareness Week

This week is National Heart Failure Awareness Week - a good opportunity to remind your employees of who is at risk and what the symptoms of heart failure are. This week - or really any week - you might want to incorporate some of the available resources in your wellness program communications. Chances are, this is important information for your work force since heart failure is estimated to affect nearly five million people of all ages and is responsible for more hospitalizations than all forms of cancer combined. It is often undiagnosed because many who are affected mistake the symptoms for tiredness or normal aging.

There are some groups who are more at risk than others: people over the age of 65; African Americans; people suffering form diabetes; people who are overweight; people with high blood pressure; people with a family history of heart problems.

People often expect signs of heart failure to be sudden and dramatic, but symptoms are often gradual and occur over a long period of time. They are often unrecognized because people are unaware of what to look for. Some symptoms of heart failure include:
# Shortness of breath, which can happen even during mild activity
# Difficulty breathing when lying down
# Weight gain with swelling in the legs and ankles from fluid retention
# General fatigue and weakness
# Frequent cough with frothy sputum
# Increased urination at night

Additional resources
Signs and Symptoms of Heart Failure - American Heart Association
Heart Failure - The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
Heart Failure Symptoms - The Mayo Clinic
Heart Failure Symptoms - HeartHelp.com
Take the Heart Failure Assessment - HeartHelp.com
Heart failure classifications - HeartHelp.com

February 7, 2009

Coping with tough times

Challenges to the HR professional's role in these tough economic times are rife. Many are dealing with difficult corporate decisions that may result in layoffs or plant closings. This entails managing those layoffs and dealing with the morale of the remaining work force. Many other companies are avoiding layoffs by reducing pay, reducing hours, or enacting other strategies that require creative solutions and communications from the HR team. And even in those companies that are fortunate enough to be weathering the storm relatively unscathed, the spillover effect on productivity can be substantial when employees suffer economic stress due to another family member's job loss or a home foreclosure.

It's hard for employees to be productive when their physical, emotional, or financial well-being is in jeopardy. Even for those who are not directly affected by economic turmoil, the anxiety factor of the unknown can be fairly intense.

We've found some good articles that offer advice on many of these issues. Some are designed for HR managers and some are tools and advice that might be shared with employees. As we find more resources on these issues, we'll continue to share them on the blog.

Helping employees cope with change - Lauren Keller Johnson of Harvard Management Update notes that managers face a daunting task in helping their organizations weather a downturn. "They need to ensure that employees fully buy into change initiatives and make the necessary alterations in their day-to-day behavior - at precisely the same time their employees are likely to be most anxious about, and resistant to, change." She discusses five phases of change.

Crisis Communication: Now More Than Ever, a Timely Topic - Knowledge@W.P. Carey notes that while the times appear perilous for corporate entities, crisis is inevitable and can occur at any point. The post reviews 5 rules of crisis communication.

Stopping Survivor Guilt - Rebecca Reisner of BusinessWeek says that it is a senior manager's responsibility to stave off survivor guilt before it lowers the morale and productivity of remaining employees. She offers concrete suggestions for how to do this. In a similar vein, see CC Holland's article How to Restore Morale After Layoffs from BNet Insight.

Step up your EAP communications in light of high financial stress - we would like to issue a pointer to this post that we made in October because we think it is of great importance. If you are not tapping into the resources available from your EAP, you are missing an important source of help for both you and your employees.

Tools for your employees
Helping Children Cope in Unsettling Times: The Economic Crisis (PDF) - you or your employees may be struggling with the effects of the bad economy at home - and it's vital not to overlook the anxiety that may be taking a toll on kids. The national Association of School Psychologists offers tips for parents and teachers to help reduce fear, anxiety and uncertainty that many children may be experiencing. And on the same issue, Paula Ebban of WBZ-TV discusses ways to help kids cope with the tough economy, including a suggestion for some kids' books that might help you to start a discussion.

Financial Survival Guide - from ConsumerReports

CPAs offer tips for managing money in down economy

Healthy Heart Tips for a Bad Economy - Don't let your body pay the price in uncertain times, experts say

10 Car Care Tips for Tough Economic Times

February 1, 2009

Crawford, Ledbetter, and FMLA

There have been several recent legal and legislative developments that will keep HR directors hopping. We provide a rundown of some resources about these developments that we've found helpful.

Employment Law - The Supreme Court recently came down on the side of whistle blowers in issuing a judgment favorable to Vicky Crawford, an employee who testified in a workplace sexual harassment case. Shortly after testifying in the case, Crawford and two other workers who testified were fired. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but lower courts denied her claim because she had not been the initiator of the harassment charge. The Supreme Court found in her favor, stating "If it were clear law that an employee who reported discrimination in answering an employer's questions could be penalized with no remedy, prudent employees would have a good reason to keep quiet about Title VII offenses against themselves or against others." Michael Fox of Jottings by an Employers' Lawyer offers his thoughts on Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and the implications for employers.

Legislation - George Lenard at George's Employment Blawg provides a good backgrounder on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, along with an analysis of the implications for employers:

"Regardless of the impact on litigation, in terms of recommended human resources practices, the Ledbetter Act does not directly require any specific changes, since it merely alters the procedures claimants must follow — and the corresponding procedural defenses available to employers.

Rather, it reinforces the need, in order to comply with substantive pay discrimination law, to carefully review employee compensation, identify any significant disparities along the lines of race, sex, or other protected characteristics, and take all necessary steps to ensure that compensation differences are supported by sound, objective business reasons."

BLR Founder and CEO Bob Brady weighs in with his editorial in HR Daily Advisor on Comparable Worth: Back from the Dead--Again?

Compliance - Human Resource Executive offers part 1 of an overview of the new FMLA regulations. David Greenspan and Briton Nelson of Suits in the Workplace offer a detailed and helpful post on the new Employer Notice Requirements. They promise more information on other aspects of the new regulations in upcoming posts.


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