1500 Lake Shore Drive, Suite 400, Columbus, OH 43204
614.481.4300
Monthly Archives

January 2010

CONGRESS EXTENDS COBRA SUBSIDIES

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Congress has extended the federal subsidy for COBRA Health insurance premiums for employees who are terminated involuntarily. The nine-month, 65% premium subsidy is extended by six months, to a total of 15 months.

The subsidy now is available to those who involuntarily lose their jobs through February 28, 2010. The legislation also provides an additional six months of subsidized coverage for beneficiaries whose initial nine-month COBRA premium subsidy has run out. In addition, the legislation gives beneficiaries whose subsidy ran out, and who did not pay the full premium, a second chance to opt for coverage. For example, a beneficiary whose nine months of subsidized coverage ran out November 30, and who did not pay the regular unsubsidized December 2009 premium, can pay the 35% premium share in January 2010 and receive coverage for December. The legislation requires employers to notify current COBRA beneficiaries and future beneficiaries of the new 15-month premium subsidy.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORKERS TO REPORT, AND EMPLOYERS TO RECORD, INJURIES AND ILLNESSES

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Here’s an important excerpt from a recent GAO report on OSHA audits that addresses concerns about disincentives for reporting injuries (Italics added):

“Occupational safety and health stakeholders we interviewed and occupational health practitioners we surveyed told us that primary factors affecting the accuracy of injury and illness data include disincentives that affect workers’ decisions to report work-related injuries and illnesses and employers’ decisions to record them. Stakeholders most often cited workers’ fear of job loss and other disciplinary actions as disincentives that can affect workers’ decisions to report injuries and illnesses. Occupational health practitioners concurred: 67% reported observing worker fear of disciplinary action for reporting an injury or illness, and 46% said that this fear of disciplinary action has at least a minor impact on the accuracy of employers’ injury and illness records. Workers’ fear of disciplinary actions might be compounded by policies at some worksites that require workers to undergo mandatory drug testing following incidents resulting in reported injuries or illnesses, regardless of any evidence of drug use. Several labor representatives described mandatory drug testing policies as a disincentive that affects workers’ decisions to report injuries and illnesses, and 67% of health practitioners reported they were aware of this practice at the worksites where they treated workers in 2008.

“Stakeholders also said employers’ safety incentive programs can serve as disincentives for workers reporting injuries and illnesses. These programs reward workers when their worksites have few recordable injuries or illnesses. One-half of the health practitioners who responded to our survey reported they were aware of incentive programs at the worksites where they treated workers in 2008. Safety incentive programs are designed to promote safe behavior by workers; and 72% of health practitioners reported that these programs motivate workers to work in a safe manner. However, some stakeholders said these programs could discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses; more than three-quarters of health practitioners said they believed workers sometimes avoid reporting work-related injuries and illnesses as a result. Stakeholders also said that in addition to missing the chance to win prizes for themselves, workers who report injuries and illnesses might risk ruining their coworkers’ chances of winning such prizes.

“Disincentives that discourage workers from reporting and employers from recording injuries and illnesses might also result in pressure on occupational health practitioners to treat workers in a manner that avoids the OSHA requirement to record injuries and illnesses. From our survey, we found that more than one-third of health practitioners were asked by company officials or workers to provide treatment that resulted in an injury or illness not being recorded, but also was not sufficient to treat the injury or illness properly. For example, in some cases, practitioners stated that employers might seek out alternative diagnoses if the initial diagnosis would result in a recordable injury or illness. One practitioner said that an injured worker’s manager took the worker to multiple providers until the manager found one who would certify that treatment of the injury required only first aid, which is not a recordable injury. More than half (53%) of the health practitioners reported that they experienced pressure from company officials to downplay injuries or illnesses, and 47% reported that they experienced this pressure from workers. Further, 44% of health practitioners stated that this pressure had at least a minor impact on whether injuries and illnesses were accurately recorded, and 15% reported it had a major impact. In some cases, this pressure might be related to the employers’ use of incentive programs. Of those experiencing pressure from workers, 61% reported they were aware of incentive programs at the worksites where they treated workers. In comparison, among the practitioners who reported not experiencing pressure from workers in 2008, 41% reported being aware of incentive programs at the worksites where they treated workers.

“Various disincentives might also discourage employers from recording workers’ injuries and illnesses. Stakeholders told us employers are concerned about the impact of higher injury and illness rates on their Workers Compensation costs. Several researchers and labor representatives said that because employers’ Workers Compensation premiums increase with higher injury and illness rates, employers might be reluctant to record injuries and illnesses. They also said businesses sometimes hire independent contractors to avoid the requirement to record workers’ injuries and illnesses because they are not required to record them for self-employed individuals. Stakeholders also told us employers might not record injuries and illnesses because having high injury and illness rates can affect their ability to compete for contracts for new work. The injury and illness rate for worksites in certain industries, such as construction, affects some employers’ competitiveness in bidding on the same work.

“An OSHA official told us that OSHA does not have an official policy on incentive programs or practices that might affect workers’ decisions to report injuries and illnesses, but it has authority under the OSH Act to discourage inaccurate reporting by employers. The official stated that, under a planned National Emphasis Program, OSHA will explore the possible impact that incentive programs have on workers’ decisions to report injuries and illnesses. To address disincentives that might affect employers’ decisions to accurately record injuries and illnesses, the official stated that OSHA can issue citations or fine employers when recordkeeping violations are found.”

Lessons to be learned:

  • There are inherent pressures not to report injuries or to minimize their scope.
  • Employees are afraid of losing jobs, receiving discipline, or being drug tested (even where drug use plays no part in causation).
  • Safety programs designed to reduce injuries, lost time on the job, and insurance costs can create a disincentive for reporting injuries.
  • These factors also affect managers and health care providers.
  • OSHA will be more vigilant in exploring how employees might be reluctant to report injuries at the workplace.
  • Keep these lessons in mind when designing and implementing injury-reporting systems.

Read the entire report here.

CONGRESS EXTENDS COBRA SUBSIDIES

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Congress has extended the federal subsidy for COBRA Health insurance premiums for employees who are terminated involuntarily. The nine-month, 65% premium subsidy is extended by six months, to a total of 15 months.

The subsidy now is available to those who involuntarily lose their jobs through February 28, 2010. The legislation also provides an additional six months of subsidized coverage for beneficiaries whose initial nine-month COBRA premium subsidy has run out. In addition, the legislation gives beneficiaries whose subsidy ran out, and who did not pay the full premium, a second chance to opt for coverage. For example, a beneficiary whose nine months of subsidized coverage ran out November 30, and who did not pay the regular unsubsidized December 2009 premium, can pay the 35% premium share in January 2010 and receive coverage for December. The legislation requires employers to notify current COBRA beneficiaries and future beneficiaries of the new 15-month premium subsidy.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORKERS TO REPORT, AND EMPLOYERS TO RECORD, INJURIES AND ILLNESSES

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Here’s an important excerpt from a recent GAO report on OSHA audits that addresses concerns about disincentives for reporting injuries (Italics added):

“Occupational safety and health stakeholders we interviewed and occupational health practitioners we surveyed told us that primary factors affecting the accuracy of injury and illness data include disincentives that affect workers’ decisions to report work-related injuries and illnesses and employers’ decisions to record them. Stakeholders most often cited workers’ fear of job loss and other disciplinary actions as disincentives that can affect workers’ decisions to report injuries and illnesses. Occupational health practitioners concurred: 67% reported observing worker fear of disciplinary action for reporting an injury or illness, and 46% said that this fear of disciplinary action has at least a minor impact on the accuracy of employers’ injury and illness records. Workers’ fear of disciplinary actions might be compounded by policies at some worksites that require workers to undergo mandatory drug testing following incidents resulting in reported injuries or illnesses, regardless of any evidence of drug use. Several labor representatives described mandatory drug testing policies as a disincentive that affects workers’ decisions to report injuries and illnesses, and 67% of health practitioners reported they were aware of this practice at the worksites where they treated workers in 2008.

“Stakeholders also said employers’ safety incentive programs can serve as disincentives for workers reporting injuries and illnesses. These programs reward workers when their worksites have few recordable injuries or illnesses. One-half of the health practitioners who responded to our survey reported they were aware of incentive programs at the worksites where they treated workers in 2008. Safety incentive programs are designed to promote safe behavior by workers; and 72% of health practitioners reported that these programs motivate workers to work in a safe manner. However, some stakeholders said these programs could discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses; more than three-quarters of health practitioners said they believed workers sometimes avoid reporting work-related injuries and illnesses as a result. Stakeholders also said that in addition to missing the chance to win prizes for themselves, workers who report injuries and illnesses might risk ruining their coworkers’ chances of winning such prizes.

“Disincentives that discourage workers from reporting and employers from recording injuries and illnesses might also result in pressure on occupational health practitioners to treat workers in a manner that avoids the OSHA requirement to record injuries and illnesses. From our survey, we found that more than one-third of health practitioners were asked by company officials or workers to provide treatment that resulted in an injury or illness not being recorded, but also was not sufficient to treat the injury or illness properly. For example, in some cases, practitioners stated that employers might seek out alternative diagnoses if the initial diagnosis would result in a recordable injury or illness. One practitioner said that an injured worker’s manager took the worker to multiple providers until the manager found one who would certify that treatment of the injury required only first aid, which is not a recordable injury. More than half (53%) of the health practitioners reported that they experienced pressure from company officials to downplay injuries or illnesses, and 47% reported that they experienced this pressure from workers. Further, 44% of health practitioners stated that this pressure had at least a minor impact on whether injuries and illnesses were accurately recorded, and 15% reported it had a major impact. In some cases, this pressure might be related to the employers’ use of incentive programs. Of those experiencing pressure from workers, 61% reported they were aware of incentive programs at the worksites where they treated workers. In comparison, among the practitioners who reported not experiencing pressure from workers in 2008, 41% reported being aware of incentive programs at the worksites where they treated workers.

“Various disincentives might also discourage employers from recording workers’ injuries and illnesses. Stakeholders told us employers are concerned about the impact of higher injury and illness rates on their Workers Compensation costs. Several researchers and labor representatives said that because employers’ Workers Compensation premiums increase with higher injury and illness rates, employers might be reluctant to record injuries and illnesses. They also said businesses sometimes hire independent contractors to avoid the requirement to record workers’ injuries and illnesses because they are not required to record them for self-employed individuals. Stakeholders also told us employers might not record injuries and illnesses because having high injury and illness rates can affect their ability to compete for contracts for new work. The injury and illness rate for worksites in certain industries, such as construction, affects some employers’ competitiveness in bidding on the same work.

“An OSHA official told us that OSHA does not have an official policy on incentive programs or practices that might affect workers’ decisions to report injuries and illnesses, but it has authority under the OSH Act to discourage inaccurate reporting by employers. The official stated that, under a planned National Emphasis Program, OSHA will explore the possible impact that incentive programs have on workers’ decisions to report injuries and illnesses. To address disincentives that might affect employers’ decisions to accurately record injuries and illnesses, the official stated that OSHA can issue citations or fine employers when recordkeeping violations are found.”

Lessons to be learned:

  • There are inherent pressures not to report injuries or to minimize their scope.
  • Employees are afraid of losing jobs, receiving discipline, or being drug tested (even where drug use plays no part in causation).
  • Safety programs designed to reduce injuries, lost time on the job, and insurance costs can create a disincentive for reporting injuries.
  • These factors also affect managers and health care providers.
  • OSHA will be more vigilant in exploring how employees might be reluctant to report injuries at the workplace.
  • Keep these lessons in mind when designing and implementing injury-reporting systems.

Read the entire report here.

WOMEN AT WORK

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Back in October 2009, Time magazine ran a special report on women. A number of the statistics in this report deserve a closer look:

  • More women think that men resent women who have power than is the fact. Nearly seven in ten (69%) of the women surveyed felt that men resented women who have greater power than they have; in reality, only 49% of men did (yes, half the guys out there have difficulty with powerful women, but they’ll have no choice but to get over it).
  • More than four in five (84%) respondents believe that businesses have not done enough to address the needs of modern families. Given that women are roughly half of the workforce, providing a family-friendly work environment can help to attract and retain employees. Job sharing, flexibility, more paid time off, and day care options are all factors women look for when entering the workforce.
  • More men (60%) than women (50%) are convinced that there are no longer any barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace. You can only imagine which women are more successful; those who believe their success lies entirely in their own hands, or those who believe that somehow there remain barriers to their advancement. Of course, this might depend on the type of industry they’re in.
  • Interestingly, more women felt that female bosses are harder to work for than male bosses (45% versus 29%) are. This raises the question: Do women feel they have to be tougher than men to be successful managers?
  • Most women (84%) believe they are just as committed to their jobs as women who do not have children. Interestingly, more women disagree that it’s difficult for them to establish a warm and secure relationship with her children if they work than do men.
  • More women (52%) than men (27%) believe that women bear the primary responsibility of taking care of sick or elderly parents. Many women are “sandwiched” between kids and parents.
  • The most important issues for women in general are health (96%), self-sufficiency (85%), financial security (81%), and job fulfillment (72%).

What does this data mean for employers? Answer: If you want to attract women to your workforce, create the flexibility that allows them to take care of children and elderly parents, including more paid time off and better day care options.

GETTING PAID FOR HR

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Every year HR Executive publishes a list of the 50 highest paid HR executives. All of these people work for public companies and each of them earned more than $1.3 million, often including sizable bonuses.

Click here to view the list.

Here’s the point: HR professionals can be paid well, if they’re good at their job and take on a lot of responsibility. The chances are that these folks all put in long and stressful workweek — but the results were well worth it!

$200,000 JURY AWARD FOR A SINGLE INCIDENT OF DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

In a California case, AM vs. Albertson’s Supermarket, an employee of Albertson’s underwent a difficult operation to help cure cancer of the tonsils and larynx. The treatment affected her salivary glands, which required her to drink water constantly and, as a result, go to the bathroom frequently. Albertson’s, aware of its obligations under California and federal disability law, did everything possible to accommodate the plaintiff.

Unfortunately, the plaintiff worked under a new manager unaware of her limitations, which led to a situation in which the plaintiff was stuck at the register and despite requests to be relieved so that she could go to the bathroom, obtained no relief. Unable to hold it anymore, the plaintiff urinated in her pants and went home distressed.

As it turns out, she had suffered since youth from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), which caused her to cycle into depression and lose a great deal of time from work. At trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $200,000 — $12,000 for lost wages, $40,000 in future medical expenses, and $148,000 for past emotional stress.

Albertson’s argued that under the circumstances, the plaintiff had a continuing duty to communicate with the new manager regarding her need for an accommodation or simply to leave the register and use the bathroom. In upholding the plaintiff’s verdict, the court reminded employers of two important obligations: 1) You take employees “as you find them.” For example, if you have an employee with PTSD, and an incident causes them to become depressed, when a normal person would not, the plaintiff is entitled to damages; and 2) If an employee is being accommodated and you have new management, you must make them aware of this accommodation Read the entire case here.

EDITOR’S COLUMN: THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

One of my favorite books is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel El Ruiz. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, the Four Agreements are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Take nothing personally.
  3. Assume nothing.
  4. Always do your best.

I can’t think of a better formula for success for a leader, manager, or employee. Let’s review each in turn:

  1. Be impeccable with your word. Do you speak the truth even when it might not be in your best interest? Are you honest with yourself and willing to acknowledge your own fears and judging nature? We recently had a webinar with Cornell University professor Tony Simons, entitled “Integrity in the Workplace.” Whether you call it being impeccable, having integrity, or being trustworthy, you’re really talking about the same thing. As a leader, are you willing to tell your employees the truth about the organization? As a manager, do you focus your interest on yourself or the team? As an employee, are you being honest about the effort you give every day and your willingness to improve yourself?
  2. Don’t take things personally. This is one I have to keep reminding myself about. It’s all too easy to feel disrespected when you work so hard and try to be a good person. It feels unfair when we assume that others are doing bad things to us instead of simply being unaware. For example, if an employee makes a mistake, it’s generally not because they don’t care about you. Yes, there are folks whose hearts have grown so cold that they don’t care who they damage, including themselves. If you give yourself a moment just to be with the situation, you’ll quickly be able to discern whether the activities are invidious and warrant you taking them personally. The challenge is not to take things personally when the intention to harm is purposeful.
  3. Assume nothing. This gets managers (including me) in more trouble than anything else does. We assume people have certain talents and desires. We assume we’re managing in the best way. We assume that we have our risk management act together or that because we care we don’t have to worry about those exposures. Quite simply, we assume too much. If you study surveys about companies that have won the Baldridge Award, you’ll find that managers make certain assumptions about employees which are distant from reality. For example, we might assume that money, career growth, or camaraderie are the most important motivating factors to our workforce without surveying them to find out if these assumptions are in fact true. That’s a quick way to waste money and cause unnecessary turnover. Because we’re all running so hard, we don’t take the time to ask the right questions. One solution: View surveying, dialoguing, interviewing, and so forth as a process — not as an event you’ll get around to someday.
  4. Do your best every day. When I was facilitating leadership training for a billion-dollar corporation, I asked the leaders if they intended on being a world-class organization. All of them swore up and down that they wanted to be just that. I then asked them what they had done differently during the past month to drive this level of excellence. To my amazement, not one of them could define some purposeful effort they’ve made to get better. This is not trying your best. Trying your best means that you’re moving forward purposefully. You’re willing to bring out the best in yourself and the people around you. You don’t settle for some type of “comfort zone.” You embrace change, internally and externally. This holds true for both individuals and organizations as a whole. Lexus, the best-made car in the world, is famous for its slogan: “The relentless pursuit of perfection” (derived from Dr. Edwards Deming)

There you have it — a clear formula for incredible success. Be impeccable with your word, take nothing personally, assume nothing, and always try your best. Will you mess this up? Every day. The point is to do what you can to learn the lesson and move on. That’s also what it means to do your best.

PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY WITH A LIVING WILL

By Life and Health | No Comments

Have you given much thought to the decisions your family might have to make when contemplating life-sustaining medical treatment for you, in the event you are unable to make your own decision? Have you communicated how you feel about life-support systems for the terminally ill? Mostly everyone agrees it is not an easy subject to contemplate. However, it is important to recognize there are steps you can take now to help quantify your thoughts and wishes on the subject. By doing so, you will provide your loved ones with some concrete guidelines in case such decisions become necessary.

A Closer Look at a Living Will

At the present time, nearly every state has passed some form of law dealing with the requirements for living wills or health care proxies. A health care proxy allows you to designate someone to make decisions on your behalf. On the other hand, a living will usually allows you to specify the particular types of treatment you would like to have provided or withheld. Each state has its own set of requirements.

If you are unable to direct your own care, a living will is a medical directive written in advance that sets forth your preference for treatment. The document can be set up to include when the directive should begin, and who has the decision-making responsibility to withdraw or withhold treatment. In addition to respecting your wishes, the living will can help provide clarity and alleviate feelings of guilt experienced by those faced with the responsibility of making important decisions for loved ones.

Even more far-reaching is a federal law that requires all Medicare and Medicaid providers to inform patients over age 18 of their medical directive rights. You might have even received information on this topic, since the law also requires increased emphasis on community outreach and education.

The federal law, known as the Patient Self-Determination Act, impacts virtually every health maintenance organization (HMO), hospital, and nursing home nationwide. It is important to recognize that the law doesn’t mandate that health care providers require their patients to have a living will. Instead, it necessitates health care providers to supply written information about a patient’s rights to make decisions about medical treatment, including the right to make an advanced determination about life-sustaining medical treatment, and to record whether the patient has done so.

At this time, it appears most of these organizations have realized this question can most appropriately be handled when a patient is admitted. Consequently, the next time you are admitted to a hospital, even for a very minor procedure, don’t be surprised if you are given information about these rights and are asked to fill out a form that asks whether you have a living will.

The living will is a legal document and each state has its own specific requirements. It is best to consult with a qualified legal professional when creating a living will. The professional assistance will ensure you understand what a living will can provide and what has to be done to assure its validity.