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April 29, 2012

News briefs: New EEOC guidance; Obesity; Violence; Talking about bad news; Motivating employees, and more

New guidance from EEOC - the past week was a busy one at EEOC, with two important releases. Connecticut Employment Law Blog offers an overview of the EEOC Guidance on Use of Criminal and Arrest Records By Employers and Ohio's Employer Law Blog discusses the EEOC protections for transgender workers. Recently, EEOC also issued revised publications on Employment of Veterans with Disabilities.

New study on the cost of obesity - Obesity now accounts for 21% of healthcare costs - a new Cornell University study finds that obesity costs more than twice what had been previously thought, raising the cost of treating nearly any medical condition: "An obese person incurs medical costs that are $2,741 higher (in 2005 dollars) than if they were not obese, according to the newest study. Nationwide, that translates into $190.2 billion per year, or 20.6 percent of national health expenditures."

Obesity discrimination - Victoria Hospital in Texas instituted a recent policy stating they won't hire very obese workers. Evil HR Lady Suzanne Lucas asks whether it is okay to discriminate against obese workers, offering five reasons why such a policy is misguided. The hospital is basing its hiring guidelines on the Body mass Index and Lucas points out that many health professionals consider the BMI a faulty health metric.

Workplace violence - Recent research by AlliedBarton Services reveals that as many as 1 in 2 U.S. employees report having been exposed to workplace violence. These events included open hostility, abusive language or threats; 28% of responding workers workers reported a violent event or one that can lead to violence happened to them at their current place of employment or they have been personally affected this type of event, and overall, 12% reported witnessing, hearing about or being aware of an incidence of significant physical harm to another person, with 5% having had this happen to them or having been personally affected by this type of incident. The survey also revealed that employers appear reluctant to take aggressive actions when violence occurs. Only 53% took disciplinary actions in response to the reported violence, and even fewer implemented training for employees or supervisors, made changes to the physical environment or revised company policy.
Related: Violence in the workplace often happens on a continuum and the tone is often set at the top. See HR Bartender's post, How To Tell If Your Boss Is a Bully or Just Tough.

Age discrimination - Susan M. Heathfield of About.com Human Resources notes that age discrimination lawsuits are up over 18% - the fastest rising of any lawsuit. People over the age of 40 who have been displaced in the current tough job market have a difficult time finding new work. She asks Do You Discriminate Against Older Workers - Even Subtly?, issuing a reminder that "age discrimination is illegal at any phase of the employment relationship including job postings, job descriptions, interviews, hiring, salaries, job assignments, merit increases, performance management and evaluation, training, disciplinary actions, promotions, demotions, benefits, employment termination, and layoffs." For strategies older job seekers can implement to help expedite a job search, see job search tips for older workers

How to talk to someone who is facing bad news - At KevinMD, physician Kate Land writes about how to handle a conversation when the news is bad. When someone we know faces bad news, the tendency for many well-meaning people is to respond with their own story. That is perhaps better than other all-too-human tendencies, like taking flight or avoidance, or minimizing the event. She suggests we learn to keep things simple and learn to be comfortable with a moment of silence. She also points to an excellent article by Bruce Feiler about Six Things You Should Never Say to a Friend (or Relative or Colleague) Who’s Sick. And Four Things You Can Always Say.

Effective motivation - CEO Greg Lederman notes that the all-too-common carrot-and-stick pathway to motivating employee performance is inefficient, costly, and does not produce the desired results. In What Really Motivates People at Work, he suggests three strategic and simple ways to manage behavior. that will help to increase employee engagement, strengthen the work culture and improve the experience provided to customers.

The high cost of bullying - A New Jersey school will pay $4.2 million in settlement fees for failing to comply with a state anti-bullying law. The school was sued after a middle school student was paralyzed by a punch from another student. The student had repeatedly complained of being bullied. In addition, the perpetrating student had other instances of violent behavior, but this had not been documented or dealt with by the school. While this case represents a settlement rather than a court judgement, it points to the high potential cost that bullying can represent, both in a human toll and an expense to the educational institution.

Cool Tool - Next time you plan a trip, give Google flights a try. Whether you have a specific destination with dates in mind or not, Flight Search can help you quickly find the best options for your trip, including a tool to help you find the cheapest flight and best duration options when you have flexible travel dates. Learn more about this service on the Google Flights support and FAQ page.

More news of note

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

April 22, 2012

You're fired x 1300

Did you hear the one about the employer who mistakenly issued pink slips to 1,300 employees via email? Oops! They only meant to send the termination notice to one person. We bet the phone lines and Twitter feeds were doing double time in that work community after that surprise.

The big news here isn't the blooper. It's that some employers think using email is an appropriate way to fire people. Call us old-school, but we don't think an important matter like a job termination should be handled by email, phone call, or letter. Unless there are extraordinary and unavoidable circumstances, firing should be a face-to-face meeting -- employees deserve that courtesy. Yet virtual firings do happen, and they happen at all levels of the organization.

In our role as an EAP, we find ourselves working with managers and employees when terminations and downsizings occur. There is no easy way to fire someone, but here's our recommended best practices to ensure that affected employees are afforded the maximum in fairness and dignity.

First, if the termination is based on performance, make sure that the employee has been adequately warned, that warnings have been well documented, and that the employee has been given ample opportunity to rectify the situation. Many employers conduct an administrative referral to their EAP at this stage. Done properly, an administrative referral will resolve and head off more than half of all performance-based terminations. If the termination is part of a downsizing, there should be an announcement ahead of time that layoffs are planned.

If termination is the only solution, whether for performance or for general business reasons, the following steps will prove helpful:

  • Schedule the termination meeting early in the day, and during the week; avoid terminating employees right before a holiday or a weekend.
  • Have all paperwork ready. The final paycheck and all severance and benefit information need to be delivered at the termination meeting.
  • The employee's manager and a representative from HR should attend so that you are able to cover all issues and questions.
  • Be brief. Be compassionate. Allow the employee to vent his or her feelings, but do not engage in a negotiation or argument. Plan in advance what you are going to say and choose your words carefully.
  • Extend every reasonable courtesy to the employee. Give the person an opportunity to say goodbye to coworkers. Should the employee become angry or abusive, don't get upset, simply escort the worker from the building.
  • After all questions are answered and all paperwork completed, wish the person well and help them assemble their belongings and leave.

Firing someone is always a difficult task, but following these basic rules will help it go better. We don't advocate e-mail as a good termination strategy!

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

April 21, 2012

Facebook follies & how employers are using social media in the hiring process

There's been a big brouhaha of late about employers who ask prospective job applicants for passwords to their Facebook account. Apparently, the Maryland Department of Corrections had candidates log in to their profiles and click around while the interviewer watched, a practice called "shoulder surfing." This practice - which many think is so rare as to be apocryphal - has been widely denounced in all quarters as being everything from a gross invasion of privacy to just plain dumb.

But that is not to say that employers aren't mining social media to evaluate job candidates, indeed they are. An article by Gloria Goodale in The Christian Science Monitor talks about other perfectly legal ways that employers access social media profiles, making it "not only unnecessary but unwise for companies to ask for social media passwords."

The article offers this commentary:

“Once you ask for this kind of access, then you are on notice for anything that you might find,” says Todd Taylor, an attorney with Moore & Van Allen who specializes in communication technology. “I would advise against going after information that isn’t already public for the simple reason that if you see something and you don’t act on it, you have the potential issue of a negligent hire down the road.”

But just how are employers actually using Facebook in screening job candidates? In a survey of 2,000 hiring managers and human resource professionals, nearly 37% of the respondents say they use social networking sites to research and screen job candidates. Another 11% said they plan to start, while 15% said that their company prohibits the practice. The survey on the use of social media in hiring practices was conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.

Of the social sites, Facebook ranked the highest, at 65%, followed closely by LinkedIn at 63%. Twitter came in at 16%, and other sites at 17%. IT was the industry that relied on social networks the most heavily (52%) and healthcare the least heavily (28%).

34% of those surveyed found material that factored into a decision not to hire a candidate.Some of the most common findings that led to such a decision included:

  • Candidate posted provocative/inappropriate photos/info – 49%
  • There was info about candidate drinking or using drugs – 45%
  • Candidate had poor communication skills – 35%
  • Candidate bad mouthed previous employer – 33%
  • Candidate made discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion, etc. – 28%
  • Candidate lied about qualifications – 22%

For some of the potential pitfalls and legal minefields, see our prior post Tips for using Facebook (and other social media) in the hiring process. We also recommend the social media posts from two of our favorite employment law blogs: Ohio Employer's Law Blog and Connecticut Employment Law Blog

April 15, 2012

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month: What employers can do

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. As an employer, what does child abuse have to do with you? That's a question that officials at Penn State might well answer for you. No doubt, they would approach the issue of child abuse differently if they had a do-over from last fall's child sexual assault scandal. Throughout the course of that sad series of events, many opportunities to intervene or investigate were missed.

The Legal Imperative
Depending on the work you perform, you may have reporting obligations under the law. In fact, since the Penn State scandal, several states have or are looking to strengthen reporting obligations. In most states, the following professions have legal obligations to report child maltreatment: social workers, teachers and other school personnel, physicians and other health-care workers, mental health professionals, child care providers, medical examiners or coroners, and law enforcement officers. Other states expand the mandatory reporting obligations to commercial film or photograph processors, substance abuse counselors, probation or parole officers, domestic violence workers, animal control or humane officers, court-appointed special advocates, and clergy.

In more than a third of all states, reporting requirements extend to any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report. See Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect: Summary of State Laws. This is a good guide, but because several state laws are currently under scrutiny, you may want to check with state authorities too.

The Moral Imperative
Regardless of legal obligations, all of us as a society have a moral imperative to protect children. Employers can play a key role in curbing child abuse and domestic violence. HR managers and supervisors are often in a position to spot signs of domestic violence and can often play a critical role in directing the employee to help through referrals to an EAP or other community resource. In the past, the "none of my business" type of thinking often prevailed, but today employers know that problems at home rarely stay at home.

What can an employer do? The following are steps that employers can take to address child abuse:

  • Know your state law and your reporting requirements
  • Participate in national and local prevention and education efforts
  • Donate to a local community prevention organization or sponsor a fundraising activity
  • Educate employees about recognizing and reporting child abuse
  • Sponsor parenting skills workshops as part of health fairs
  • Offer seminars in stress reduction and anger management
  • Use your Employee Assistance Program as a resource
  • Be a family-friendly employer (see suggestions below)

The Child First Advocacy Center of Vermont offers 10 Things You Can Do To Prevent Child Abuse, steps that any adult or organization can take to support children.

A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice offers primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention approaches that communities can and should take. Among the recommendations for various sectors of society, here are the recommendations for employers:

As the number of parents working outside the home continues to grow, the need increases for workplace policies that support family functioning and promote the prevention of child maltreatment. Family-focused initiatives for the workplace include:

  • Flexible work schedules and other "family friendly" policies that help employees to balance the demands of their work and parental commitments;
  • Parental leave policies that reduce stress on new parents and help facilitate positive attachments between parents and their infants;
  • Employer-supported child care;
  • Family-oriented policies that support healthy and humane working conditions and ensure adequate family income;
  • Employee assistance programs that can provide information on reducing stress.

For all working parents, a supportive work environment can help ease the stress of the dual responsibilities of work and family. For some already vulnerable parents, a supportive work climate may prevent family dysfunction, breakdown, abuse, and neglect.

ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers help for parenting, childcare, domestic abuse, and other family and relationship issues. If you need help with a family matter, your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

April 8, 2012

Mike Wallace's battle with depression leading to a suicide attempt

In one of the many online eulogies to the great newsman Mike Wallace, it was noted that he suffered from severe clinical depression when he was about 60 years old - an episode severe enough that he tried to end his own life. In an interview with psychiatrist Jeffrey Borenstein on Healthy Minds, Wallace and his wife Mary discuss his suicide attempt and his 20 year struggle with depression. He discusses the pain of depression and it was obviously deeply moving for him to speak of it, his difficulty is apparent. He and his wife also speak of the stigma and ignorance that often stands in the way of getting help. The first time he reached out for help to his family physician, the doctor was not helpful and displayed terrible ignorance about the disease by being dismissive and denying it.

Roughly 5% of the population experiences a major depression characterized by helplessness, hopelessness despondency, sleep disturbance, and the inability to enjoy anything. It is described as "the most awful feeling, worse than cancer" and it is frequently accompanied by suicide attempts, a significant aspect of the disease.

The interview segment stresses how vitally important it is for families and close friends to intervene and urge the person who is suffering to get treatment and help. Often, the person who suffers from depression does not have the wherewithal, interest or energy to cope. By the same token, Mary Wallace speaks about the out-of-control feelings, the guilt, and the isolation that a spouse might feel, and stresses that it is important for a family member of a person suffering from depression to also get help.

The key takeaway is whether it is you or a loved one suffering: get help. Depression is treatable and treatment is quite effective, but it often requires the agency of a spouse, friend or family member to intervene. Wallace talks about the incredible feeling of relief from pain when medication took effect. His episodes were in 1982, and he lived 30 years of happy, productive life after getting help.

One of the other important takeaways is to intervene. Many people, like Wallace's physician, have a tendency either to denial "You're OK" or to thinking they can shame ("don't be selfish") or jolly ("come on, cheer up") the person out of it, when that just adds to the burden of hopelessness the person experiences. As supervisors and people managers, if you see someone with a behavioral and performance change, you don't need to diagnose it or treat it -- and you shouldn't try -- you simply need to urge the employee to get help through the EAP.

Learn more:

ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers help for depression for you or one of your immediate family members. If you are suffering from depression or you know someone who you think may be suffering from depression, your EAP can help. If you are employer that doesn't have an EAP, call us at 800-535-4841.

April 7, 2012

A holiday weekend "ta-dah"

We were looking for a light hearted little something with an Easter theme to post when we stumbled on this video clip of a woman wearing bunny rabbit ears. On closer inspection, the woman is best-selling author Amanda Gore, who offers a fun little lesson in offering up "ta-dahs." If you don't know what "ta-dahs" are, you may be lacking an important leadership skill so you need to watch this short clip now.

Did you watch it? Good for you, you show an awesome capacity for leadership! Ta-dah!

April 1, 2012

Are your employees stealing from you?

Employee theft is a workplace issue that our employers deal with all too frequently and - from our vantage - one that seems to have been exacerbated by a tough economy. It can range from the insidious and costly ongoing bleed of office supplies secreted from the workplace to a million dollar embezzlement by a long time trusted employee. What are people stealing on the job? According to lawyers and law firms on JD Supra, the shopping list is varied and can include such disparate things as intellectual property, trade secrets, wages, identities, merchandise, money, and productivity.

How common is employee theft? A pair of articles that recently passed our desk offers some perspective on scope:

Are Your Employees Stealing From You?

"Steven Wolf, the Executive Director at Capstone Advisory Group, says employee theft can involve more than just stolen physical equipment. He has dealt with cases of misappropriated funds, duplicate payments, kickbacks, and re-selling inventory owned by the company.

“The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) estimates that the typical business will lose an average of six percent of revenues from employee theft,” says Wolf, who advises companies to devote more funds to combatting theft in the workplace and developing policies. Employee theft, he says, accounts for one-third of all bankruptcies, according to the US Chamber of Commerce."

Employee theft costs retailers more than shoplifting, organized crime

"Thefts by employees accounted for about 45 percent of retail losses in 2010, according to the National Retail Security Survey. Shoplifting and organized retail crime made up about 31 percent of inventory shrinkage, the accounting term for loss of products between the point of purchase from a supplier and point of sale.

Administrative error accounted for 14 percent of shrinkage, vendor fraud accounted for 4 percent and the remaining 6 percent was attributed to “unknown” error. The shrinkage rate in 2010 was 1.49 percent."

Plugging the hole in the bucket: Preventing theft
We turn to a variety of experts to offer strategies for deterrence.

In writing about how employers are often blind to employee theft, business consultants Mary Goodman and Rich Russakoff offer the following tips:

  • Expect it. As Oscar Wilde said, "I can resist anything but temptation." People are human. We're sure your employees are likeable people, but no one is above reproach.
  • Make it clear you have a zero-tolerance policy. Whether or not you prosecute criminally is one thing. Continuity of employment will absolutely guarantee continuity of theft. Even more so, it will lower the bar (or open the vault) for every one else in the organization.
  • Put in place internal and external checks and balances. Always have a second set of eyes -- both inside and outside the company -- checking your numbers.
  • Know your margins. We can't stress this enough. Know what your margins should be, and if they're shrinking, find out why.

In Human Resource Executive, employment law attorneys discuss HR's role in curbing employee theft. They suggest that the first line of defense is at hiring and conducting background checks. They also discuss the importance of an employer creating "a perception of detection" - and offer suggestions of controls that can be put in place, from policies to audits, job rotations, and employee education.

In discussing the topic of employee theft during the holiday season a few years back. post on the topic of theft, John Hyman of Ohio Employer's Law Blog offered a sensible five-point attack for deterring employee theft. You should red the entire plan, it is simple and direct - but we offer the broad bullet points here:

  • Communicate: Employees need to know that theft of any nature and in any amount simply will not be tolerated.
  • Investigate: Proper investigation requires having the tools in place to detect theft or fraud and acting swiftly when misconduct is discovered.
  • Document: Once a theft is detected, a company has to act swiftly to complete a full investigation. This investigation includes interviewing any potential witnesses and gathering all necessary documents to support to a case against the employee.
  • Terminate: No other form or discipline should be an option. Theft is a serious offense. It represents a total breakdown of trust between a company and an employee.
  • Litigate: Employers have two choices – filing a civil lawsuit to recover the stolen funds or property, or seeking criminal prosecution ... litigation will not be appropriate in all cases of employee theft.

In a prior post here on HR Web Cafe, we discussed one employer's creative solution to deterring theft, which included such strategies as building an "equipment lending library" and offering amnesty programs.

In that post, we noted that:

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.

ESI-Logo.jpg Employers: ESI EAP offers discounted background checks and pre-employment screening to member employers. And if you suspect a problem with a potentially disgruntled worker, a referral to your EAP can help to defuse a potential problem. Don't have an EAP? Call 800-535-4841.
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