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October 26, 2009

Costumes at work - the seasonal quandary

Here's a question that spooks employers every year about this time: should you allow costumes at work? For many employers, the answer is an outright "no way." A decision to disallow costumes may be based on business reasons such as upholding a professional image or for safety reasons - costumes don't work well in every environment. Or for many other employers, it's simply not worth taking on the additional liability risk.

But other employers see the holiday as a fun time to build team spirit and camaraderie given that Halloween ranks second after Christmas in terms of holiday popularity. If you are among the employers who choose to allow costumes, forewarned is forearmed. Set expectations in advance about what is and isn't allowed - no risque costumes; no costumes that might be perceived as racially, ethnically, religiously, or politically offensive; and no costumes that could be a safety hazard. Human Resources Executive poses some spooky legal scenarios along with some advice. Also see SHRM's advice in their article Allowing Halloween Costumes at Work Can Be Tricky, along with some legal advice from HR Tools, Costumes at Work? Avoid Liability Nightmare at Halloween. (Although here's an unusual case that turns the tables: Halloween Photos Can Be Used in Harassment Case)

One idea that we advocate: many experts suggest alternative celebrations in lieu of at-work costumes. Here are a few ideas:

  • Have a family event geared to kids. Let kids and pets come in costumes
  • Organize a "trick or treat" event for a local nursing home or have an event to raise money for a charity. A zombie walk might be fun!
  • Sponsor a pumpkin carving contest
  • Let people decorate their offices and work stations
  • Have a Halloween pot-luck lunch with themed food
  • Sponsor a blood drive on Halloween and offer treats for participants

For more thoughts, we call your attention to advice we offered in a prior year's post: Halloween in the Workplace. In addition to advice, there are also some costume and Halloween party food tips.

October 18, 2009

Short Takes: domestic violence, disability, legal briefs, sexy executives & more

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Research has shown that as many as 21% of full-time employed adults have been victims of domestic violence and 64% of those affected indicated their work performance was significantly impacted. The CDC estimates that intimate partner violence victims lose a total of nearly 8.0 million days of paid work as a result of the violence. Learn more about what you can do at the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence.

Wellness program incentives may need revamping, according to Victoria Knight at the Wall Street Journal. Employers that offer insurance premium discounts or cash bonuses to employees who complete Health Risk Assessments need to be aware that preliminary new rules issued this month disallow requests for genetic information, which includes family medical history. The rules are not yet final - employers and insurers have until Jan. 5 to submit comments.

Two good recent posts from HR Daily Advisor on the topic of disability: How to Create a Disability-Friendly Workplace and Acceptable Affirmative Phrases for Discussing Disabilities

Thoughts from Training Time asks if your workplace is in a state of swine-flu freakout, and offers some helpful steps and a list of resources to keep panic at bay. Meanwhile, at Workers Comp Insider, Jon Coppelman look s at whether there is a link between swind flu and the ADA.

Legal Briefs
EEOC notes 23% increase in retaliation claims - compared to a 12% increase for other types of claims. "Management-side attorneys say many complaints come from laid-off workers. Moreover, retaliation is often easier to prove than discrimination, particularly since a 2006 Supreme Court decision adopted a broader definition of retaliation than some courts had used."

Ever heard of a faithless servant lawsuit? Mark Toth gives you the scoop. He also highlights an egregious Colorado harassment case involving 21 former employees of a prison system. Yikes, bear in mind these charges were against staff not inmates!

Lighter side
Is your work environment nurturing your inner creative? Check out 9 work spaces where creative people get stuff done.

You aren't a true corporate web celebrity until you've made the Sexy Executives site, which invites you to "Meet the silver-foxes and their lovely lady friends who rule our corporate world."

October 16, 2009

"When I Grow Up"

Relive all the reasons you wanted to get into the Human Resource field in this cute video from HR.com. Thanks to HR Lori for the pointer.

October 5, 2009

A focus on wellness: Obesity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "American society has become 'obesogenic,' characterized by environments that promote increased food intake, nonhealthful foods, and physical inactivity." The CDC notes that during the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. In 2008, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-two states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; six of these states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%.

A look at the two charts below dramatically tell the picture over the past 20 or so years. For a really chilling effect, you can play all the years and data as an animated obesity map on the CDC obesity trends page.



Obesity is Costly
In 2000, the CDC put obesity-related health care costs at an estimated $117 billion. Between 1987 and 2001, diseases associated with obesity account for 27% of the increases in medical costs. Medical expenditures for obese workers, depending on severity of obesity and sex, are between 29%–117% greater than expenditures for workers with normal weight.

The CDC has developed various tools for employers:
Obesity Cost Calculator, which uses input data provided by your human resources/benefits staff to calculate your organization's estimated obesity-related costs. It also helps to estimate the costs/benefits of user-defined interventions targeted at reducing obesity.

LEAN Works, a free web-based resource that offers interactive tools and evidence-based resources to design effective worksite obesity prevention and control programs.

Tools Index, including a complete list of resources to help you plan, build, promote and assess a worksite obesity prevention and control program.

Resources and publications, a list of links to information about weight, nutrition, health, weight loss, research, reports, and more.

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