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March 27, 2009

The lighter side: creative work excuses

This week, HR Blunders featured an item about the lengths some people will go to avoid work. If you've worked in HR for long, you've certainly heard many "creative" excuses for being late or calling in sick.

And while on the topic of work excuses - The Washington Post runs an enjoyable reader participation column called the Style Invitational. Several years ago - April 1994, to be exact - they ran a column in which they invited readers to submit their suggestions for the best excuses to miss a day of work. The results were pretty funny. We can't locate the exact archive online, but we had kept a copy, which we pass along for your amusement.

Best excuses to miss a day of work

  • If it is all the same to you, I won't be coming in to work. The voices told me to clean all the guns today.
  • When I got up this morning I took two Ex-Lax in addition to my Prozac. I can't get off the john, but I feel good about it.
  • I set half the clocks in my house ahead an hour and the other half back an hour Saturday and spent 18 hours in some kind of space-time continuum loop, reliving Sunday (right up until the explosion). I was able to exit the loop only by reversing the polarity of the power source exactly e*log(pi) clocks in the house while simultaneously rapping my dog on the snout with a rolled up Times. Accordingly, I will be in late, or early.
  • My stigmata's acting up.
  • I can't come in to work today because I'll be stalking my previous boss, who fired me for not showing up for work. OK?
  • I have a rare case of 48-hour projectile leprosy, but I know we have that deadline to meet...
  • I am stuck in the blood pressure machine down at the Food Giant.
  • Yes, I seem to have contracted some attention-deficit disorder and, hey, how about them Hoyas, huh? So, I won't be able to, yes, could I help you? No, no, I'll be sticking with Sprint, but thank you for calling.
  • Constipation has made me a walking time bomb.
  • I just found out that I was switched at birth. Legally, I shouldn't come to work knowing my employee records may now contain false information.
  • The psychiatrist said it was an excellent session. He even gave me this jaw restraint so I won't bite things when I am startled.
  • The dog ate my car keys. We're going to hitchhike to the vet.
  • My mother-in-law has come back as one of the Undead and we must track her to her coffin to drive a stake through her heart and give her eternal peace. One day should do it.
  • I am converting my calendar from Julian to Gregorian.
  • I am extremely sensitive to a rise in the interest rates.
  • I can't come to work today because the EPA has determined that my house is completely surrounded by wetlands and I have to arrange for helicopter transportation.
  • I prefer to remain an enigma.

March 24, 2009

Short takes: social collaboration, thoughts on bosses, telecommuting, FMLA & more

Social media done right - Wondering how your company can harness social media in its communication efforts? Jason Corsello of The Human Capitalist points us to this example of a company that is an innovator in social collaboration.

Bosses - Susan M. Heathfield of Human Resources Blog offers a post highlighting one of her reader's comments about
micro-managers. See other thoughts on bad bosses elicited from reader comments after a poll on the topic. And while on the topic of bosses: Corporate Wellness Insights weighs in with thoughts on three effective management styles. And Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership Blog reminds bosses everywhere that now is not the time to hunker down - the times demand leaders who are leading from the front.

Telecommuting - Jim Ware of The Future of Work Weblog considers the question of whether telecommuting is dangerous for your future in today's economic times - does the out-of-sight-out-of-mind principle apply, or is it a useful alternative to layoffs. He links to a roundup of recent stories on telecommuting in the business press.

FMLA compliance - The folks over at Suits in the Workplace have been doing a superb job posting about new FMLA regulations - they are midway into a 5-part series.
Part 1: Employer Notice Requirements - New FMLA Regs
Part 2: Employee Notice Requirements - the Bright Side
Part 3: The Certification and Recertification Process: The Who? The What? & The When?
In upcoming postings, they will cover the topics of military caregiver leave and qualifying exigency leave.

Job descriptions - HR Daily Advisor offers some excellent advice on job descriptions in two recent postings: Non-Prejudicial Language for ADA Job Descriptions and 'Other Duties as Assigned’ Won't Cut It in 2009

Identity Theft - Consumer Insurance Blog reports on a recent study on identity theft. The bad news: it's on the rise. The good news? The per incidence cost is decreasing. The study also showed that most compromised data is due to low-tech methods, such as lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks, and credit and debit cards.

Training - Thoughts from Training Time posts about the good, the bad, and the ugly in recent news reports that cover employee training issues.

By the numbers
14 Tips for Employers Seeking Alternatives to Pink Slips
10 Things You Can Do About Domestic Violence
10 Business Words to Ban
5 Winning [Recruiting] Strategies for Managers in Tough Times
5 Tips for Managing Change
4 strategies that young and first-time managers can use to tackle new responsibilities

March 16, 2009

Workers' comp study: costs at least 3x higher for obese workers

Roberto Ceniceros, writing for Business Insurance, notes that National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has released preliminary findings on an upcoming report on obesity which shows that workers' comp medical claims open for one year cost three times as much when the injured employee is obese, and claims that are open for five years are five times more costly when involving an obese claimant. For smaller claims, the study will show that the cost differential can be even greater.

Employers already know that obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other common health conditions are having an enormous impact on the cost of health care and group health insurance, but may be unaware of the impact that these conditions can have on the duration and cost of recovery after workplace injuries. While the frequency of worker injuries has been dropping consistently over the last decade, the severity of the injuries that has been increasing when measured in terms of the duration and cost of those injuries. The presence of co-morbid conditions such as obesity may is likely a factor in the increased severity. There have been numerous studies linking obesity to high medical costs and longer duration of lost time. One 2007 study documenting the cost link between obesity and workers comp by researchers at Duke University found that obese workers filed twice the number of workers' compensation claims, had seven times higher medical costs from those claims and lost 13 times more days of work from work injury or work illness than non-obese workers.

Workers' comp programs and group health programs are often managed in two very different workplace environments: occupational safety, prevention, and other issues related to workers comp are most often managed by risk managers and safety staff. General employee health issues are usually tucked under an organization's benefits and human resources department as part of group health - or under a wellness program, if one exists. But increasingly, data shows that the two are often inextricably linked and it makes good sense to address health issues with a more holistic approach. For more on the matter of wellness programs and the effects on workers comp, the 2008 NCCI Issues Report includes an article by Bill Thorness called Wellness Comp (PDF), in which he addresses the issue of whether there is a place for health promotion programs in workers' comp.

March 12, 2009

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you: guns in your company parking lot

As an employer, you have a right to set policy for your private property, right?

Apparently not when it comes to guns. An employer's private property rights are taking a back seat to employees' rights to keep loaded guns in their cars in workplace parking lots. At least that's the word from the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The ruling is the latest development in a series of events that began in Oklahoma in 2002 when Weyerhaeuser employees were fired for having left firearms locked in their vehicles in the plant parking lot. In reaction to these firings, the state legislature enacted a law banning companies from restricting workers' ability to carry legal firearms in their vehicles. Many employers - Weyerhaeuser Corp., Whirlpool Corp., and ConocoPhillips among them - challenged the Oklahoma law on safety grounds. In October 2007, a U.S. District Judge issued an injunction against the law on the basis that it conflicted with an employer's legal obligation under OSHA to maintain a safe workplace.

In its decision, the appeals court noted that OSHA took a neutral stance on the law and, therefore, the law did not create a conflict.

Since this ruling, both Arizona and Utah legislators have made progress on enacting similar bills. In both places, there has been significant opposition to these laws, particularly from business and employer groups. But such opposition did not stop the passage of a similar law in Florida last year. Ironically, guns are not allowed in most of the chambers where such laws are decided. Guns are not allowed in most federal offices or in many state and municipal offices.

This decision is a substantial victory for the gun lobby of the National Rifle Association, which has been going state by state to promote such legislation. Employers are left with the burden of maintaining a safe workplace while being disallowed from establishing safety policies of their choosing for their own property.

While several such state laws have provisions that offer some thin liability protection to employers, there are other losses that could occur as a result of a gun-related incident at work. Such losses could include business interruption, loss of reputation, an increase in absenteeism, a decrease in employee productivity and morale, and increased disability and workers compensation losses. Waivers are also unlikely to protect an employer from employment suits such as negligent hiring or negligent retention. Is your business ready for the heightened security burden that this additional risk will impose?

The parking lot today, but one has to wonder if the next battle line will be the workplace proper. Will the NRA soon be lobbying for the right of employees to arm themselves at their workstations to be protected from co-workers who retrieve loaded weapons from the parking lot and begin a shooting rampage?

March 6, 2009

Consumer Protection Week - resources for your employees

To commemorate National Consumer Protection Week, we've compiled some useful tools and resources that you can share with your employees. In these tough economic times, it's more important than ever to be a savvy consumer.

Making Home Affordable - learn about refinance and modification options available through the new government stimulus plan. Use the self-assessment tools to find out if you are among the 7 million+ homeowners who can benefit.

Guide to Avoiding Foreclosure - information for those who are in foreclosure now or are just worried
about it in the future from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

66 Ways to Save Money - tips from the Federal Citizen Information Center - available in English and Spanish

AARP's Quick Tips for Saving Hundreds of $ per Month

HelpWithMyBank.gov - provides answers and assistance to customers of national banks. It assists consumers in filing complaints online by telling them what to provide and what to expect. The site also includes answers to common questions on a variety of consumer topics.

Free annual credit checks - This is the official site to help consumers to obtain their free credit file disclosure, commonly called a credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Learn more about credit scores and why they matter. Also: Tips on Understanding your Credit Report.

Consumer Action Center - order a copy of the 2009 Consumer Action Handbook, an everyday guide to being a smart shopper or search this useful website for the same information. Find tips about preventing identity theft, understanding credit, filing a consumer complaint, filing for bankruptcy, finding a lawyer, and planning a funeral, along with many other useful topics.

10 ways to protect yourself from scams and ripoffs - According to a survey conducted in 2008 by the Consumer Federation of America, the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA), and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators, the top complaints that state and local consumer protection agencies receive concern everyday transactions: car sales and repairs, home improvement work, credit and loans, debt collection, retail sales, utility service, Internet sales, door-to-door and telemarketing sales, and apartment rentals. These tips will help you to avoid scams.

OnGuard Online - practical tips from the federal government to help you guard against phishing, spyware, identity theft and other types of Internet fraud. For other types of fraud, see: Don't Be Burned by Debt Elimination Scams (PDF) and Avoiding Cashier Check Fraud.

March 4, 2009

Data theft often accompanies layoffs

It's an unfortunate reality in today's tough economic climate: While many companies are finding creative ways to retain their workers, others are forced to thin their ranks. And many of the departing employees are leaving with more than just their severance checks: a recent survey of 945 people who were laid off, fired or quit their jobs in the past 12 months revealed that nearly 60 percent admitted to having stolen company data when they departed, and 67% reporting that they used confidential information to help secure a new job.

The study on data risk was conducted by Ponemon Institute, a Tucson based research group which focuses on information, privacy and security management practices in business and government. The survey revealed that e-mail lists were the most common data element taken from an employer (65%), followed by non-financial business information (45%), customer contact lists (39%), employee rcords (35%) and financial information (16%).

Another survey on data theft conducted by Cyber-Ark Software reveals that Information Technology (IT) employees are a particular risk. Its annual survey around "Trust, Security & Passwords" focused on 300 IT security professionals and revealed that 88 percent of IT administrators, if laid off tomorrow, would take valuable and sensitive company information with them. The target information includes the CEO's passwords, the customer database, R & D plans, financial reports, M & A plans, and most importantly the company's list of privileged passwords. The company's press release highlights several areas of "poor housekeeping" that make a company more vulnerable to this exploit. An article by Julia King in Computerworld suggests 5 steps a business can take for protection from angry ex-employees, along with a list of security tips.

While good data security practices are a vital discipline for every company in good times and bad, it's an area that bears particular attention when layoffs loom. However, all the best security measures in the world will be insufficient if the climate between employees and employers is negative, mistrustful, and toxic. Organizations that maintain a healthy and respectful relationship with their work force can better weather crises than those that do not. Here are a few steps we recommend:

  • Develop standards for privacy and confidentiality of company, employee, client and vendor information and records and communicate and promote those standards throughout the organization
  • Foster an atmosphere of trust, honesty and respect with employees through open communication
  • Promote high standards of ethics, honesty and integrity as an organization - this starts at the top
  • Discourage any unethical or borderline use of information obtained about competitors or vendors
  • When layoffs are unavoidable, ensure adherence to best practices for terminations and firings.

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