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Monthly Archives

July 2008


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Marketers always talk about expressing your “core story” to your customers and clients. It’s just as important to express it to your employees. This story should include at least four elements:

  1. An understanding of where your company has been. We’re always amazed how many employees don’t understand the background of business owners, key executives, key clients, facilities, locations, products, and so on.
  2. Where the company is today. How are you positioned in the marketplace? What are the strengths you are known for? What are the weaknesses that continue to concern you? What economic forces or trends are likely to impact your future? For example, how will a slowing economy affect sales and overhead factors? What can be done now to prevent the inevitable layoffs?
  3. Where do we go from here? What are your company’s vision, mission, and goals? How well have they been communicated through the ranks? Have you surveyed the workforce to make sure they are going in the same direction?
  4. Finally, where does the employee fit in the story? What does it mean for them? Again, survey them to find out!


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

In CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries, the high court ruled that an employee could bring a claim of retaliation under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 even though the statute doesn’t mention retaliation. In a 7 to 2 vote, the Supreme Court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 encompasses claims of retaliation that follow complaints of discrimination based on race.

Here are some pointers to help prevent retaliation claims:

  • Remember that an employee can turn a marginal underlying claim into a great retaliation claim based on numerous Supreme Court rulings.
  • Any time anyone has a claim filed against them, it feels “unfair.” It’s important to deal not only with the employee, but with the accused in this process. Make sure that the accused manages their emotions properly so that they don’t, in fact, retaliate against the complainant.
  • Give the complainant a way to file follow up complaints that feels “safe” to them, for example to assigning an ombudsperson for follow up. Make sure to investigate any underlying claim thoroughly. However, do not promise the claimant confidentiality in the process.
  • Finally, make sure to notify your insurance carrier about the underlying claim. If you have an Employment Practices Liability policy, it might have a “trigger” provision that requires this notice. The failure to give notice may limit your coverage.

We encourage HR That Works users to review the Training Modules on sexual harassment and discrimination.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Department of Labor regulations state that “[t]ime spent by an employee in waiting for and receiving medical attention on the premises or at the direction of the employer during the employee’s normal work hours on a day when he is working constitutes hours worked.” 29 C.F.R. § 785.43 (2007)

A U.S. Department of Labor opinion letter further supports the conclusion that companies should be bound by the actions of their workers compensation administrator.According to the opinion letter, an entity acting on behalf of an employer can bind the employer for purposes of directing medical appointments. The letter explains that “[i]f the employer or the employer’s agent (insurance carrier) arranged for the employee to see a doctor during the employee’s normal working hours, the time spent traveling to and from and visiting the doctor’s office would be compensable hours of work.”

Read a recent case discussing this issue here, and a DOL opinion letter here.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Today there’s a greater opportunity than ever to establish excellence in the human resources field. The choices are enormous. Sometimes they are also paralyzing.

See how you would answer these questions:

  1. What do I really want from my HR department or HR career? Is it to eliminate the unnecessary dramas? Dramatically improve the quality of the workforce? Hire as many people as possible in the next six months? Maybe it’s to reduce your workflow so you can spend more time with your family. Just how clear are you about the results you seek to achieve for you and the company?
  2. Why do you want this outcome? What are you going to get as a result? Is it time, money, recognition, fame? What’s the “why”?
  3. Remember, Yoda said, “There is no try, only do.” What specific activities or actions will you engage in today to make this goal a reality?


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

At some time everyone might experience the blues or feel down and not quite themselves. But when the bad days start outnumbering the good ones, and an employee begins to have attendance and performance issues, then this employee might have depression. Depression is a serious medical condition that affects nearly 15 million adults each year. It’s one of the top three workplace issues impacting employers each year and costs businesses $83 billion annually (SAMSHA). The symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistently sad or irritable mood
  • Pronounced changes in sleep, appetite, and energy
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, and remembering
  • Physical slowing or agitation
  • Lack of interest in or pleasure from activities that were once enjoyed
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, and emptiness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain (Source: http://nami.org/)

Depression can be treated: Medication and psychotherapy can rehabilitate more than 80% of those diagnosed with this condition. Diet and exercise can promote a healthy lifestyle to combat the effects of depression. You can provide a number of workplace accommodations to help employees with depression perform their job. Job Accommodation Network (www.jan.wvu.edu ) Lead Consultant Kendra Duckworth, M.S., recommends specific steps for dealing with depression-related problems.

Stamina during the Workday:

  • Provide flexible scheduling
  • Allow longer or more frequent work breaks
  • Let the employee work from home during part of the day or week
  • Provide part-time work schedules


  • Reduce distractions in the work area
  • Provide space enclosures or a private office
  • Permit the use of “white noise” or environmental sound machines
  • Allow the employee to play soothing music using a cassette player and headset
  • Increase natural lighting or provide full-spectrum lighting
  • Plan for uninterrupted work time and allow for frequent breaks
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals
  • Restructure the job to include only essential functions

Memory Deficits:

  • Allow the employee to tape record meetings and provide written checklists
  • Provide typed minutes from meetings
  • Provide written instructions and allow additional training time

Difficulty Staying Organized and Meeting Deadlines:

  • Make daily TO-DO lists and check items off as they’re completed
  • Use several calendars to mark meetings and deadlines
  • Remind the employee about important deadlines
  • Use electronic organizers
  • Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals

Difficulty Handling Stress and Emotions:

  • Provide praise and positive reinforcement
  • Refer to counseling and employee assistance programs
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support
  • Permit the presence of a support animal
  • Allow the employee to take breaks as needed

Attendance Issues:

  • Provide flexible leave for health problems
  • Offer a self-paced work load and flexible hours
  • Allow employee to work from home and provide part-time work schedule
  • Let the employee make up time

The recent California Supreme Court case Lonicki v. Sutter Health focuses on one of the major challenges under the ADA and similar state laws: How do you manage a depressed employee? In this case, a nurse essentially claimed that her job was too stressful. The employer argued that she did not have a medical condition, but rather, the stress that comes with being a nurse. As evidence, they cited the fact that she was able to work as a nurse in a similar job at another hospital on a part-time basis.

Learn more about accommodating depression here.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

More than 50 “markets” offer Employment Practices Liability insurance (EPLI), either through stand-alone policies or as an addendum to a Directors & Officers policy.

Here are some trends to look for when reviewing your coverage:

  • “All-inclusive wording.” When the first policies were created, they defined the coverages. Now they do just the opposite — they say that they cover all claims except for those explicitly excluded.
  • Due to the softening insurance market, prices for EPL coverage are more competitive than ever. The industry is focusing on companies with 500 or less employees. Even if you have fewer than 10 employees, you should consider this coverage.
  • Policies are allowing insureds to select their own counsel as long as they meet certain criteria. Negotiate this provision when you’re buying the policy.
  • “Prior acts” coverage increasingly is becoming available due to the “continuing harm” nature of many employment practices claims.
  • A handful of policies have begun offering wage and hour defense coverage.
  • Many carriers provide “worldwide” coverage. This is helpful to companies with operations abroad.
  • A few carriers are offering “soft hammer” coverage. For example, if you have $1 million in coverage, but a settlement offer is made at $100,000, the company can usually force you into accepting this settlement, with you paying any expenses above this cap if you don’t. With a soft hammer clause, the company will negotiate and apportion any additional potential liability.
  • EPLI carriers remain concerned about “red zones,” including companies in California, large employers, retail operations, restaurants, law firms, auto dealers, and others.
  • No reduction in coverage for defense costs. For example, if you have a $1 million policy and it costs $200,000 to defend the claim, the company will not deduct the $200,000 from the $1 million limit for possible future claims.
  • EPL carriers continue to limit coverage for reductions in force, mergers and acquisitions. With a downsizing economy, they’re very concerned about age discrimination and class action claims that are related to downsizing.

In conclusion, we believe your company should not be without EPLI coverage. Contact your insurance broker to learn which coverage works best for you.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

During recent months I’ve been asked to do a number of workshops on team building. These principles should be considered plain common sense.

  • The team comes first. A recent Men’s Health magazine interviewed Navy Seals about what’s critical to their success. They said that the most important thing was an understanding that the team comes first. Because we live in a society that prizes rugged individualism, this can be a difficult concept to fully grasp. Often the most difficult challenge for management is the employee who’s productive, but not a team player. Is it worth keeping the Prima Donna at the cost of destroying the team? That’s the question. You know the answer.
  • Teams need leadership and a sense of direction. What are the vision, mission, and goals for the team? Who’s in charge of communicating them and making sure they get accomplished? Is the person in charge a good leader, or just someone with the most experience? Are they motivating or demotivating by nature? Do they spend most of their time praising or criticizing?
  • All team members must lead by example. Can you honestly say that you gave it your best today? Are you genuinely caring toward other team members? Are you committed to improving your skill sets constantly? Do you enjoy playing team or would you rather be a solo flier? One of the things I teach is understanding the “processional” effect of our actions. For example, how we treat a team member impacts how they treat clients, customers, and their own family members. Are you fully aware of your processional impact?
  • Treat each other with respect. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talked about how graduate students were able to see the “thin slice” of information that would determine whether the marriage of a couple in therapy would survive or not. Their conclusion: The single most important factor in the chance of survival was whether or not the couples treated each other with respect — even though they disagreed. Having respect toward team members is paramount. It makes no difference whether you’re the head chef or the dishwasher. This means you follow the Golden Rule and treat team members the way you would want to be treated — no matter what their position is.
  • Eliminate the fear. What are the fears present in your environment? Perhaps there are new team members and you’re concerned that they won’t respect your “way of doing things.” Perhaps you’re the new team member and you’re concerned that the old team members won’t respect the “best practices” you bring with you. Perhaps the fear is that you’re of a different age, sex, religion, or sexual orientation from other team members. Will they be inclusive of your differences? Are you inclusive of theirs? Perhaps the fear on the team is that if you try to contribute a suggestion, it will be shot down and ridiculed every time. Fact is, every team has its fears. Eliminating them will guarantee increased team work.
  • Know what it means to “win.” How are you keeping score? What benchmarks are important to team success? Is it getting the project out on time? Is it increasing client satisfaction? Is it winning some type of excellence award? Are you playing win/win and generating more winners than losers on your team?
  • Have you reduced your commitments to writing? We can’t assume that others play team the way we do. Take a look at this month’s Form of the Month: Team Commitments. Tweak this document to address your team needs. Once you do, place it in your employee handbook and then blow it up and put it on your walls.

All of the above is plain common sense. What’s lacking in most environments is the discipline and commitment to following these powerful guidelines.


By Risk Management Bulletin | No Comments

Checklists keep airliners flying. They can keep your safety program up and running, too.

All too often, workers take the blame for safety lapses when management could have anticipated job hazards and eliminated them before workers had a chance to err. Job hazard analysis (JHA) provides a systematic approach for examining work processes to identify a variety of potential threats that might otherwise “fall through the cracks.”

OSHA and other workplace safety groups are strongly committed to JHA. The agency offers these guidelines on how to do it right:

  • Set priorities. Do JHA first on those jobs with the highest injury or illness rates, those with the greatest potential for causing disabling injuries (even if there haven’t been any accidents), and those that are new or substantially changed in process.
  • Involve your employees. They know best how the job works, where hazards are apparent, and where there have been near misses. They’re also the ones with the most to gain from increasing safety. However, make it clear that you’re evaluating the job, not their performance of it, or you might get less-than-complete answers.
  • Break the job down into its component tasks and actions in the smallest steps that make sense, even individual hand movements. Consider videotaping the work sequence from several angles.
  • For each step, ask: What can go wrong? What’s the likelihood of it happening? What are the consequences if it does? How can the potential problem be prevented? Look at all possible contributing factors: The work environment, the tools, the process, and the employee’s actions. Many accidents are caused by a combination of factors that create a “perfect storm.”
  • Document and remediate. Take all steps possible to eliminate the potential hazard, and record what you’ve done. Others at your facility should be able to know about and to learn from your experiences.
  • Make policy match reality. Be sure that managers keep fixes in place and watch for hazards to reoccur. Put it in writing, including penalties for failure to comply.
  • Use checklists. This will help ensure that workers and managers think through all the issues involved with any procedure and certify in writing that all issues were addressed.