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Monthly Archives

October 2008


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

America is in a financial mess that includes many, if not most, of your employees. According to research published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), the AARP, and Schwab, here’s the shape we’re in:

  • Nearly one in five surveyed workers (18%) was very confident in 2008 about having enough money for a comfortable retirement. This compares to 27% in 2007.
  • One third (33%) of surveyed workers said they were very confident or somewhat confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement — despite having saved nothing.
  • Nearly half (47%) of surveyed workers in 2008 said they have done some sort of calculation of their retirement needs; 44% of households have changed their savings and spending behavior after performing such a calculation.
  • Seven in ten pre-retirees surveyed (71%) said they want to work in retirement — regardless of whether they need to financially.
  • Two in five of those surveyed (40%) worry that they’ll have to contribute to their parents’ finances; more than one in four (26%) worry that they’ll have to support a sibling.
  • Seven in ten of Americans surveyed (70%) would like their employer to provide professional advice on saving and investing.
  • Parents themselves acknowledge they aren’t passing down lessons on financial education, giving themselves a D+ grade for talking to their own kids about managing money.
  • Older Americans surveyed say the most important lessons parents can teach their children about saving and investing are:
    • Live within your means (69%)
    • Begin saving at an early age (65%)
  • Only one in four Americans surveyed (25%) say they clearly understand how Social Security works, and only 11% say they understand Medicare.

Here’s the point: Your employees are stressed and need financial education. We encourage HR That Works users to do a “lunch and learn” session using the June 2008 webinar with Dave Ramsey’s business trainer, George W. “Coach” Campbell, OVEREXTENDED – A Special Program on How the Personal Financial Stress of Your Employees is Impacting Your Business.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

According to former America’s Cup Captain and Oxbow Corp President Bill Koch, “The problem of competition is primarily a management problem.” According to Koch, these guidelines provide steadfast reminders of the dynamic impact of the relationship among teamwork, technology, and talent:

  • Develop team players according to the 80/20 rule: 80% attitude, 20 % talent.
  • Management’s job is to keep the team focused, not perform subordinates’ jobs.
  • It’s the team that wins. Management must be part of the team, together with customers and suppliers. Team members must have compatible goals and agendas.
  • Everyone is equally important. The only ego that counts is the ego of the team.
  • Together with teamwork, technology offers the most effective tool to achieve your organization’s goals. Technology can be especially effective when used in areas in which others are convinced that it doesn’t apply. This is one way to make tremendous gains over your competitors.
  • Always improve. Mistakes are fine as long as you learn from them, and you “don’t bet the farm.”

That’s timeless wisdom for any team.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

In a recent California Court of Appeals case, Brinker Restaurant Corporation v. Superior Court, the court discussed what it means to “provide” meal and rest periods. The decision made some significant conclusions:

  • “While employers cannot impede, discourage or dissuade employees from taking meal or rest periods, they need only provide them, and not ensure they are taken;”
  • “Employers need only authorize and permit rest periods every four hours or major fraction thereof and they need not, where impracticable, be in the middle of each work period;”
  • “Employers are not required to provide any meal period for every five consecutive hours worked;” and
  • “While employers cannot coerce, require or compel employees to work off the clock, they can only be held liable for employees working off the clock if they knew or should have known they were doing so.”

In other words, the court made it clear that although the employer must make meal and rest periods available, it does not have to force an employee to take such a break.

The decision also provided examples of how an employer would be non-compliant; for example, when an employer did not schedule meal periods, did not have a policy authorizing meal periods, or pressured employees to skip meals. The court further noted that if an employer knew that employees were working while eating, and did not take steps to address the situation, the employer would be depriving employees of such breaks and, thus, would have failed to provide meal periods.

This decision provides California employers with a new level of flexibility in scheduling and permitting employees to take their meal and rest periods. The decision also highlights the importance of employer wage-and-hour practices and policies, and reminds them to review employee handbooks and other policies to ensure compliance with the clarified meal and rest period laws.

Courtesy of Pettit Kohn Ingrassia and Lutz (San Diego, CA).


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

The FMLA, although still a source of frustration for employers in regard to its administration, is a common sight in employer handbooks. Federal law requires all employers covered by the FMLA to have an appropriate FMLA policy in any handbook or compilation of written work rules and policies. Employers can certainly offer more generous FMLA-type leave benefits if they so choose. On the other hand, inadvertent exclusion of FMLA eligibility requirements from an employee handbook might subject employers to unintended liability based on implied contract theories.

For example, in Peters v. Gilead Sciences, Inc., when an employee suffered a shoulder injury and underwent corrective surgery, he took what he thought was FMLA leave, as outlined in the employer’s handbook and as further explained to him in letters from the employer outlining his rights under the FMLA. Although the handbook and letters recited the 12-month, 1,250-hour prerequisites for FMLA eligibility, they listed no further requirements or exceptions. In fact, the handbook and letters stated that family and medical leave would be provided to “all employees” who were employed for at least 12 months with a minimum of 1,250 hours worked during the prior 12 months. The other key statutory eligibility requirement, not mentioned in either the handbook or the letters, was that the employee be working at a worksite with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Because the employer did not, in fact, have 50 employees within 75 miles, technically, the employee was not eligible for FMLA leave under the federal law.

So, when the employer miscalculated the employee’s return-to-work date and replaced him with another employee based on the improper date, the employee sued in federal court alleging violations of the FMLA and a state-law claim for promissory estoppel based on his reliance on the employer’s representations regarding his entitlement to medical leave. Although the FMLA claims were dismissed on summary judgment, the court found that, based on the employee handbook and letters to the employee, the employee could bring a state-law claim for promissory estoppel because of the employee’s detrimental reliance on the letters and handbook. Because the handbook excluded from the entitlement to 12 weeks of leave only those who did not meet the prerequisites of 12 months’ employment and 1,250 hours of work in the preceding 12 months, the court concluded that the employer offered “FMLA-like” leave benefits, using eligibility requirements less restrictive than those in the FMLA (and had offered FMLA-like leave to employees who worked at a worksite that did not have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius).

Although employers are entitled to offer benefits more generous than permitted under the FMLA, those employers who don’t intend to do so should ensure that their FMLA policies and related documents reflect exactly the leave that the employer seeks to grant. So if you want to provide only that required by the FMLA, your policies must include all statutory eligibility requirements. HR That Works users should consider using the Sample FMLA Policy.

Courtesy of Shawe Rosenthal, a Worklaw® Network member in Maryland.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

I love the notion of trusting relationships. I’ve also come to learn that you can’t trust blindly. That’s a game that fools play and then wonder why they get burnt. I know because I’ve been there.

You can’t trust employees blindly. Employees are there to perform work that produces a profit or other defined value-producing outcome. Anything short of this is unacceptable and the cause of eventual business failure. Here are some ways I’ve seen well-intended employers get burnt:

1. They’ll steal your money. You must have checks and balances around any money, anywhere. Is your CPA checking the work of your bookkeeper? Do all P&Ls and banker reconciliations have to be signed off by more than one person? Do you have specific rules about handling cash? Have you considered video surveillance anywhere cash or money is handled? The point is: Don’t conduct social experiments! You might be doing OK financially, but there are people out there who are not. The temptation can be overwhelming when panic is at their doorstep.

2. They’ll steal your merchandise. Employee pilferage in the retail industry is alarming. But guess what? It’s the same in every industry! Employees are stealing everything from office supplies to equipment, tools, furniture, food, employee valuables, you name it. If you run a retail operation without surveillance, you’re conducting a social experiment. If you have equipment that hasn’t been stamped and bar-coded, you’re conducting a social experiment. If your security guard isn’t watching your employees as well as your customers, you’re allowing people to think they can get away with it (which is the reason that most people steal). Your job is to remove that thought.

3. They’ll steal your time. I’m always amazed when I go into stores or other offices and observe the amount of time that employees waste. We’ve all had the experience of waiting in a customer line while somebody is finishing a personal conversation. If the business owner saw this, they’d have a heart attack. Add cell phones, online shopping, MySpace, texting, and instant messaging and you begin to see the many ways in which employees become distracted. Dan Kennedy, in his excellent book, Ruthless Management, recommends that companies set up separate areas for employees to engage in private communications during their breaks. Outside of an emergency, no private communications are allowed while they’re supposed to be doing work. Great idea!

4. Your managers would rather be liked than be effective. Nobody likes to be “villainized” and bosses have been cast squarely in the villain role. As a result, they’ll often focus on being liked, as opposed to being effective. The result is that poor performers are kept on the bus much longer than they should be and their department never makes the profit it should. Have your managers generated crystal clear performance objectives, goals, and benchmarks for both themselves and every one of their employees? If not, then what are they managing? If not, how can you trust them? It’s also important not to assume that just because somebody is in a management position that their primary motivation is to help you make a profit. They have lives of their own and, quite frankly, their conversation with their kid, their online shopping, and their fantasy football league might be far more important to them than enhancing the bottom line.

5. They’ll abuse sick pay leave and other attendance related policies. Every company has employees who seem to be sick more often on Monday mornings or Fridays before a holiday. Be very clear about your attendance policies; put them in writing. Make sure employees take their lunch and rest breaks and show up and leave on time. Taking 20 minutes for a smoke break is unacceptable if the break period is 10 minutes. If an employee is out for more than a few days, or if they claim family and medical leave or some other leave, then be sure to get proper medical certifications. According to annual surveys by the publishing giant CCH, more than two-thirds of sick time is used by employees who are not sick! Whether it’s to see their kid’s soccer game or entertain in-laws who are in town, the fact is that you’ve set up a system which encourages people to lie two-thirds of the time. This why we encourage employers to collapse vacation and sick days because the bottom line to you is they’re not there to help you service the client or customer. Here’s how it works: If you offer two weeks of vacation and offer five days of personal leave, simply collapse them into three weeks of vacation. Remember, before terminating an employee for violating your time and attendance policy, make sure that their actions aren’t due to a disability (protected by the ADA where there are more than 15 employees) or related to a serious medical condition or other condition covered by the Family Medical Leave Act (50 or more employees).

6. They’ll sabotage your relationships. Many employees have little regard for themselves — never mind you. These same folks will talk behind management’s back, poisoning the well with co-workers, clients, customers, and vendors. Employers who look up their company name on a Google search (this can be done automatically) will probably be amazed by what disgruntled employees say in chat rooms, blogs, etc.

7. Finally, they’ll file frivolous claims knowing that dragging you through the drill is an expensive and emotional waste of time. For example, I recently had a client who was hit with a completely frivolous EEO claim and an OSHA contact about “unsafe” working conditions — despite the fact that this is one of the best intended employers and safest workplaces I know of. The best way to pull this rug out from under the feet of litigious employees is by using the Employee Compliance Survey.


By Workplace Safety | No Comments

In most everything we do, we find a “trick” or shortcut to make the process easier and faster. For better or worse, after we develop these shortcuts, they become work habits in our everyday activities. Developing everyday safety habits can keep you injury free through the year. Here are ten safety habits to live by:

1. Set Your Own Standards.
Don’t be influenced by others around you who are negative. If you fail to wear safety glasses because others don’t, remember the blindness you suffer will be yours alone to live with.

2. Operate Equipment Only If Qualified.
Your supervisor might not realize you have never done the job before. You have the responsibility to let your supervisor know, so the necessary training can be provided.

3. Respect Machinery.
If you put something in a machine’s way, it will crush it, pinch it or cut it. Make sure all guards are in place. Never hurry beyond your ability to think and act safely. Remember to de-energize the power first before placing your hands in a point of operation.

4. Use Your Own Initiative for Safety Protection.
You are in the best position to see problems when they arise. Ask for the personal protective equipment or additional guidance you need.

5. Ask Questions.
If you are uncertain, ask. Do not accept answers that contain, “I think, I assume, I guess.” Be sure.

6. Use Care and Caution When Lifting.
Most muscle and spinal injuries are caused by overstrain. Know your limits. Do not attempt to exceed them. The few minutes it takes to get help will prevent weeks of being out of work and in pain.

7. Practice Good Housekeeping.
Disorganized work areas are the breeding grounds for accidents. You might not be the only victim. Don’t be a cause.

8. Wear Proper and Sensible Work Clothes.
Wear sturdy and appropriate footwear. These should enclose the foot fully. Avoid loose clothing, dangling jewelry, and be sure that long hair is tied back and cannot become entangled in the machinery.

9. Practice Good Personal Cleanliness.
Avoid touching eyes, face, and mouth with gloves or hands that are dirty. Wash well and use barrier creams when necessary. Most industrial rashes are the result of poor hygiene practices.

10. Be a Positive Part of the Safety Team.
Willingly accept and follow safety rules. Encourage others to do so. Your attitude can play a major role in the prevention of accidents and injuries.


By Workplace Safety | No Comments

Prevent Blindness America, a volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness, reports that each year 800,000 eye injuries occur on the job, including 36,000 that require the injured employee to take time off from work. The organization’s mission is to encourage employers and employees to make eye protection a top priority every day.

Prevent Blindness America isn’t alone in its objective to educate the public about the need for preventing workplace eye injuries. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is sponsoring a national initiative called “Healthy Vision 2010,” whose goal is to reduce the number of work-related eye injuries by involving both the public and private sectors. In its handbook titled Educating Your Community about Occupational Eye Injury, HHS lists the following as the most common types of workplace eye injuries:

  • Corneal abrasion – Flying material particles such as grit, plastic bits, or metal flakes can fly into your eye, causing irritation or a scratch on the cornea. These particles can be as small as a pinhead and still cause significant damage.
  • Blunt trauma – Falling or misdirected objects, or collisions with objects swinging from a fixed position, like tree limbs, ropes, chains, lumber, or tools can damage eyes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) names this as the leading cause of work-related eye injuries.
  • Chemicals burns – Hazardous chemicals can splash into eyes, damaging them. BLS says that chemical burns account for 20% of all workplace eye injuries.
  • Radiation burns – Ultraviolet light from welding torches can cause burns to the eyes and their surrounding tissue.
  • Infections – Bacteria in fertilizers, waste, body fluids, and human remains can cause eye infections.
  • Eye strain – Glare, poor lighting, and inadequate rest can cause eye fatigue, soreness, and headaches.

In spite of the numerous opportunities for eye injuries in the workplace, Prevent Blindness America says that 90% can be prevented. Here are the organization’s tips for keeping your eyes safe at work:

  • Be aware of potential eye safety hazards at work.
  • Wear safety glasses or goggles at all times whenever eye hazards are present.
  • Be sure all safety eyewear is clearly marked “ANSI Z87.”
  • Ask for prescription glasses or goggles if you have impaired vision.
  • Know the location of the nearest eye wash station and how to use it.
  • Notify your supervisor immediately if new safety hazards are discovered.
  • Have regular eye exams to make sure your vision is adequate to work safely.


By Workplace Safety | No Comments

In his presentation to the attendees of the 2007 National Safety Council Congress and Expo, Richard Fairfax, the Director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, revealed the agency’s list of top 10 violations for the year. Ranking number six on that list, with 2,577 violations cited, was powered industrial trucks, the category that includes forklifts.

The number of citations OSHA issues in this category is indicative of just how serious a problem the safe handling of powered industrial trucks like forklifts is. The agency estimates that forklift accidents account for 100 fatalities and more than 36,000 injuries annually in the United States. They are the second largest cause of fatalities in the workplace. Proper forklift handling begins with the operator performing a daily inspection. If the forklift is in use throughout the entire workday, then all operators are required to perform an inspection before beginning their shift.

The inspection consists of two parts:

1. The visual check. This is sometimes referred to as the “circle” check, because the operator is required to make a complete circle around the vehicle to complete the inspection. The following items are to be inspected during the visual check:

  • Floor is clear of objects.
  • No obstructions are overhead.
  • Objects that must be avoided as the operator drives away.
  • Fire extinguisher is present and charged.
  • Engine oil, fuel, and radiator water are at the correct levels.
  • Battery is fully charged. Also check that there are no exposed wires, no loose battery plug connections, no clogged vent caps, the electrolyte levels in the cells are correct, and the brackets keep the battery securely in place.
  • Bolts, nuts, guards, chains, or hydraulic hose reels aren’t damaged, missing or loose.
  • Wheels and tires aren’t worn or damaged, and their air pressure is at the correct level.
  • Forks aren’t bent or cracked, positioning latches are in good working condition, and carriage teeth aren’t broken, chipped or worn.
  • Chain anchor pins aren’t worn, loose or bent.
  • Fluid leaks aren’t present.
  • Hoses aren’t loose, crimped, worn or rubbing.
  • Horn is working and loud enough to be heard.
  • Headlights and warning lights are operational.

2. The seat check. This is performed while the operator is behind the wheel, but before the vehicle has been started:

  • Foot brake holds, and the vehicle stops smoothly.
  • Parking brake holds against slight acceleration.
  • Deadman seat brake holds when operator gets up from the seat.
  • Clutch and gearshift operate smoothly with no jumping or jerking.
  • Dash control panel is operational.
  • Steering moves smoothly.
  • Lift mechanism operates smoothly.
  • Tilt mechanism moves smoothly, and holds firm.
  • Cylinders and Hoses aren’t leaking after performing the previous checks.
  • No unusual sounds or noises are present.

If the operator identifies any problems during either of the two checks, they should immediately report them to the shift supervisor.


By Employment Resources | No Comments

The obesity epidemic has been growing in the United States for some time. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that 66% of U.S. adults are either overweight (body mass index, or BMI, of 25.0-29.9) or obese (BMI of 30.0 or more). Rates also are rising among members of tomorrow’s workforce: Children and teens. Among children ages 2-5 years, 13.9% are obese; ages 6-11, 18.8%; and ages 12-19, 17.4%. The rate of individuals with morbid obesity — a BMI of 40.0 or more — has grown to the point that in 2007 an estimated 205,000 individuals had bariatric surgery, according to the American Society for Bariatric Surgery.

It is well known that obesity is associated with a long list of health concerns: High blood pressure, diabetes, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, and some types of cancer (endometrial, breast and colon). Therefore, findings reported in a recent Conference Board release, Weights and Measures: What Employers Should Know About Obesity, should come as no surprise. According to the report, obesity is associated with a 36% increase in spending on health care services, more than smoking or drinking. Obese employees cost U.S. private employers an estimated $45 billion annually in medical expenses and work loss.

In response, more than 40% of U.S. companies have implemented obesity-reduction programs for employees, the report states, and 24% more are planning to do so. But, according to the report, employers need to weigh the risks of being too intrusive in managing obese employees against the risks of not managing them.

Employer initiatives can range from implementation of wellness programs to making simple changes in the workplace designed to help employees be more active and eat healthier. The Conference Board notes that estimates of return on investment (ROI) for wellness programs range from zero to $5 for every $1 invested in such a program. In addition to ROI, wellness programs can give a company an edge when it comes to retention and recruiting.

Regardless of your budget, there are steps your company can take in your workplace to fight the obesity epidemic head-on, and to lessen the toll it’s taking on your bottom line. Short of building an onsite fitness center, you can:

  • Encourage employees to get moving on the job. Discourage elevator use by making stairwells attractive or by using them as a place to post employee photos, brief interesting news articles, or funny anecdotes and comics. Ask employees to gather for an afternoon break, and play 10 minutes of salsa music with someone leading the moves, followed by a piece of fruit for everyone.
  • Install bike racks in preferred parking positions or permit employees to house their bikes inside the building during the workday.
  • Stock vending machines with water and healthy snacks. If your company has a cafeteria, be sure that the menu includes a salad bar and predominantly fresh, low-fat food choices.
  • Sponsor a company softball or soccer team. Encourage employees to sign up and participate as a group in fundraising walks or runs that take place in your community.
  • Arrange to make a program like Weight Watchers at Work available at your worksite.
  • Offer incentives for employee participation in health risk assessments.
  • Check with any local gyms or fitness facilities for the availability of group discounts for your employees.
  • Finally, your company probably already pays for health benefits, so check to see what wellness, nutrition and/or fitness programs are provided by or covered under the plan. Become an active partner with your health benefits carrier in marketing any of these offerings to your employees.

Though national rates of obesity are growing, you can buck the trend in your workplace — it just takes initiative and a few creative ideas to get started. Your employees’ health — and your company’s bottom line — will be better off as a result.