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Monthly Archives

February 2010

A REVIEW OF THE 2008-2009 SUPREME COURT TERM

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Worklaw Network Member Firm Franczek Radelet’s has provided us with a great summary of recent U.S. Supreme Court cases. Labor and employment-related cases figured prominently in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recently concluded 2008-2009 term. The Court’s conservative Justices continued to play a dominant role, with Justice Kennedy often casting the deciding vote. This trend will probably continue at least through the next term, despite the replacement of Justice Souter by Justice Sotomayor.

During the 2008-2009 term, the Court took these actions:

  • Considered whether an employer’s well-intentioned decision to disregard promotional test results and avoid claims of disparate impact discrimination violated Title VII.
  • Held that “mixed motive”� jury instructions applicable to cases arising under Title VII may not be given in discrimination cases pursued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
  • Found that a pension plan qualified as a bona fide seniority system and did not violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act by giving less credit for maternity leave taken before that law took effect than for other medical leave in calculating pension benefits.
  • Determined that Title VII prohibits retaliation against employees who participate in an employer’s harassment investigation.
  • Held that a collective bargaining agreement can waive employee rights under the ADEA.
  • Found that a local union’s charge of litigation fees to nonmember employees was constitutional.
  • Addressed the constitutionality of a state law that prohibited the use of union dues deducted from public employees’ paychecks for political purposes.
  • Adhered to the plan documents� rule under ERISA requiring that plan administrators follow the express language of plan documents in all but a very few, narrowly defined circumstances.

Read the entire report here.

MOVING DOWN MASLOW’S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

The recent Internet Labor Outlook Survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) included a question about the most important aspects of employee job satisfaction. The results, in order, were:

  • Job security (63%)
  • Benefits (60%)
  • Compensation/pay (57%)
  • Opportunities to use skills and abilities (55%)
  • Feeling safe in the environment (54%)
  • Relationship with immediate supervisor (52%)
  • Management recognition of employee job performance (52%)
  • Communication between employees and senior management (51%)
  • The work itself (50%)
  • Autonomy and performance (47%)

At the bottom of the list came items such as being in a green workplace,networking opportunities, career development, social responsibility, and so on.

These results show that when we hit tough times, our needs move down the Maslow Hierarchy.

In today’s economy, it’s very difficult to self-actualize when you’ve just been laid off from a job. Survival, security, and belonging are what employees need right now. Their egos are in check and trying to save the world might have to wait until another day. This is one reason why I continue to support the notion of open-book management. It’s about having an authentic and honest conversation about money (an item in great demand today). Show your employees the black and white of their futures and understand how they can shape it to the benefit of all.

BEWARE OF PUNISHING EMPLOYEES WHO COMPLAIN ABOUT WAGES OWED

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

IMPCO Technologies found itself in a no-win situation. Just after having moved over to a new time-clock program, two employees approached their manager, Manuel Barbosa, claiming that they were not paid overtime for a couple of hours. Since their manager was also paid on an hourly rate, he realized that if they hadn’t been paid, neither had he so he submitted a claim for overtime to human resources. An investigation determined that the employees did not work overtime. When confronted with this finding, the manager maintained his good faith belief that he was entitled to overtime. The company, which, in fact, had paid the overtime, dismissed the manager for intending to defraud the company. He promptly sued for wrongful termination.

When the case made its way to trial, the court ruled that the company had terminated the employee for his dishonesty, not for making a claim for overtime. On appeal, the court ruled that if an employee brings forth a wage and hour complaint in good faith,� they are thereafter protected from termination even if, in fact, they prove to be wrong. The case was reinstated, with instructions to determine if the manager had acted in good faith.

Lesson to employers: Think twice about firing any employee who complains about anything. If such a situation arises, contact the HR That Works hotline or your attorney before making a decision. Remember that, in general, if the matter complained about affects public policy (health, safety, labor laws, tax laws, etc.) the employee is generally protected from a retaliatory discharge.

To read the case (Barbosa v. IMPCO Technologies), click here.

CREATE A FUN WORKPLACE

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Life is short. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t have fun while making money every day. What follows are 13 suggestions that you might want to employ at your company.

  1. Set up a fun committee. Put some of the “funniest”� people at your organization in charge. Give them a budget maybe $10 per employee per week and see what they can do with it for a couple of months.
  2. Have a community service day. Giving back to the community is fun. Whether you coordinate an event for the Boys and Girls Club, a homeless shelter, senior citizen home, a group cleanup project, etc, giving back on a group basis is even more fun.
  3. Set a red noses day. Whether you wear red noses, Groucho glasses, or silly hats, it’s fun to have a day like that. You simply can’t take each other seriously when you do (I can hear the chorus now, “But I want to be taken seriously!”).
  4. Ask for kids pictures. A number of companies have encouraged their employees’ children to produce pictures that they can hang up in a hallway. One company specifically created slot-like frames for 8.5″ x 11″� paper, which made it very easy for the parents and kids. You can’t stay in a funk very long walking past a bunch of pictures drawn by kids.
  5. Bring in a magician. Let them walk around and do some magic tricks for your employees. Sure, they might be distracted for all of five minutes, but they’ll have fun doing it, which is exactly the point!
  6. Hold theme days. Whether it’s Country/Western, 60s, 70s, or otherwise, it’s fun to not only dress up employees, but the environment as well. This goes great for St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day, and of course, Halloween.
  7. Require people to provide a joke with their resume. When one CEO told us about this, we thought it was a brilliant idea. He said reading resumes is one of the most boring things you can do. Requiring a joke certainly makes it more fun. Second, if people can’t follow instruction he won’t hire them. And third, you get an idea of what type of sense of humor they have.
  8. Run a cartoon caption contest. Get a cartoon, blank out the caption, and then have a contest for your employees to fill in.
  9. Hold food events. Eating with your friends and colleagues can be fun. Many companies will have food events around a holiday theme. Encourage people to bring a dish native to their heritage. We’ve tasted some of the best and most unusual food at these events.
  10. Stage a murder mystery. A body was just found by the water cooler. Who did it? You can easily hire actors who perform these skits in the evening to come into your company and spend an hour or two some afternoon.
  11. Throw a sundae party. Bring in a boatload of ice cream, nuts, and cherries and engage in some sugar overload. What could be more fun than that?
  12. Have story day. Have folks share a humorous workplace story either at your company or a previous employer. Issue some basic guidelines, such as no obscenities and no ridiculing any current employees, to avoid offending them. Keep a time limit of, say, five minutes.
  13. Get out and do something physical together. Whether it’s a ropes course, bowling, or miniature golf, it’s fun to engage in physical activity. Many companies also have softball, soccer, basketball teams, and the like as well.

There are dozens of other ways to have fun, limited only by your imagination!

EDITOR’S COLUMN: ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

My years as a litigation attorney provided me with excellent insight into failed business and employment relationships. Here are a few critical questions business owners, managers, and employees can ask themselves to make sure that their thinking is on the right path:

  • Is it in the best interest of the team? There’s no substitute for playing with a win/win attitude. As they say, “A rising tide floats all boats.”� Putting the team first does not mean that you have to settle for mediocrity or that you decide simply on a consensus basis. Putting the team first means that you ask the critical question: “Is this in the best interest of the team (or company, nation, family, etc.)?”
  • Will this increase or decrease the level of trust in the environment? I’ve never seen a failed relationship where the parties trusted each other. Trusting partners even dissolve their relationships in an amicable manner. To make a trustworthy decision means that you have the skills or critical thinking necessary to make this decision and that you do so with good intent. That’s what makes anybody trustworthy to me. They have the skills and desires I can trust.
  • Is it in alignment with our vision, mission, and goals? Sometimes there can be a true conflict among these outcomes. For example, NASA wanted to launch its shuttles in both a timely and safe manner. When the goal of timeliness overwhelmed the goal of safety, it resulted in an ethical violation and lost lives. Because it’s very hard to know if you’re in alignment if you haven’t clearly identified your vision, mission, or goals, you might want to throw in values, commitments, and anything else on which you intend to focus.
  • How has this approach worked for us or others in the past? There’s nothing much that’s new. Chances are, somebody has been in your position before and made a decision that either worked or did not. What method did they use? Can you copy it? Is the method you intend to use being modeled by anyone else with success, or failure?
  • How does the approach feel? Often we make poor decisions because we’re running so fast that we can’t feel what’s going on. This is one reason why I often sleep on major decisions, perhaps even for a few days, before making a major decision. If after three or four days it still feels right, I’ll go for it. Unfortunately, when I forget this lesson, I end up paying the price.
  • Is it legal? Are you sure or just guessing about it? What further research should you conduct?
  • Should I get outside advice? There’s no substitute for professional help when making decisions. People rely on the Worklaw® Network and I try to answer their Hotline calls as part of the HR That Works program. Knock on wood, but from what I can tell, not a single one of these calls has turned out poorly for a client who followed the advice. It’s important to be able to get outside your own head when making critical decisions.

Conclusion: Follow these steps and you’ll avoid a variety of risk management problems.

MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR PHYSICIAN APPOINTMENTS

By Life and Health | No Comments

An average visit with your doctor lasts about 15 minutes. The key to making the most of these precious few minutes lies in preparation. You will make a few short minutes as productive as possible, when you take steps to plan in advance. The payoff from sound preparation will be both to your health and your pocketbook. When you participate actively in the health care process, your chances of receiving the most appropriate medical care increases dramatically. Active participation includes providing all the necessary information to the doctor, as well as asking informed questions. A doctor’s ability to diagnose a medical condition correctly depends in large part on the description of symptoms and other information the patient provides.

Receiving appropriate care is not only good for your health, but it is cost effective, too. You avoid unnecessary procedures and piecemeal care, such as additional office visits and telephone consultations based on neglected questions and missing information. Here are some tips for making your doctor visit most productive:

  • Know your medical history, including occurrences and dates of illnesses, hospitalizations, and surgeries.
  • Know your family medical history. To some degree, determining appropriate care is based not only on your health, but on your blood-relation’s health as well. For instance, typically recommended schedules for screenings for certain types of cancers might be appropriate for an individual with occurrences of the cancer in his or her family.
  • Make a list of all medications you currently take, including dosages. Be sure to include over-the-counter medications taken on a regular basis (a point that becomes more important with a growing number of formerly prescription drugs moving to over-the-counter dispensing). You increase your chances of an adverse drug reaction if a prescribing physician is not fully aware of each and every medication you take. And, according to information published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, adverse drug interactions result in 100,000 deaths yearly, and are the fourth leading cause of death, ahead of pulmonary disease, diabetes, AIDS, pneumonia, accidents, and automobile deaths.
  • Do some research regarding the reason for your visit. For example, suppose you schedule a doctor’s visit for your child, who has developed symptoms consistent with asthma. Researching the condition will familiarize you with some of the terminology essential to an understanding of asthma. Then, if the doctor uses these terms during the office visit, you will be farther along on the learning curve for the condition than you would have been if hearing them for the very first time.
  • In assessing the reliability of information you gather through your research, consider the source. This is always good advice but particularly so in the case of the Internet, where information can easily be posted without fact-checking or other means of accuracy assurance. Information on sites maintained by organizations or facilities in the health care field, nonprofits dedicated to specific diseases, or government agencies inherently carry a level of trustworthiness and are a good place to begin Web-based research.
  • Prepare a list of questions for your visit. Many people become more anxious than usual when seeing a doctor. This anxiety, together with the time pressure frequently felt in the doctor’s office, makes it easy to forget questions you planned to ask.
  • During your visit, if the physician uses terminology unfamiliar to you, be sure to ask questions. Bring a notepad with you, and ask for the correct spelling of the term, write it down, and look it up when you get home, as a check on your understanding of what the doctor has said. If you think the doctor might present confusing information, consider asking a close friend or relative to come along and listen to what the doctor has to say.
  • Also during the visit, take notes covering the important aspects of what the doctor says, especially instructions involving scheduling of tests and follow-up appointments, dosages, and durations of new medications, and changes and/or limitations on activities or other lifestyle issues. Here again, a close friend or relative to serve as an extra set of ears could be helpful.

Although preparing for a doctor’s visit involves some work, consider the time a well-spent investment in your health — and in your health care dollars.

GAIN AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE ADVANTAGES OF LIFE INSURANCE

By Life and Health | No Comments

You’re older now, your children are grown, and you have a plenty of assets, including a healthy retirement portfolio. So, should you ditch that Life insurance plan? Many people reach a point in their lives when they begin to question the necessity of Life insurance. Obviously, your situation has changed quite a bit since you initially purchased the policy. More than likely, you no longer have young children who rely on your income. By now, your children are probably out of the house and earning their own income. If you were to die, your spouse would be covered by income from your retirement investments.

However, there are still plenty of compelling reasons for you to hang on to that Life insurance policy. For one, it offers financial peace of mind. As a matter of fact, the more Life insurance coverage a person has, the more confident they are about their financial security, according to a 2008 Journal of Financial Planning survey. Of course, financial confidence isn’t the only benefit of Life insurance. Before you run out and cancel that policy, consider the countless advantages Life insurance has to offer at any age. Here are five good reasons to hold onto that policy:

Advantage #1: It prevents financial loss for your loved ones. If any of your loved ones would suffer from a financial loss if you were to die, you definitely need to keep your Life insurance policy. Life insurance is critical for the following people:

  • Couples in their peak earning years
  • Parents of non-adult children or grown children with special needs
  • Retirees who will lose a substantial portion of income if one spouse dies
  • Families with a large estate that will be subject to estate tax
  • Business owners and business partners
  • People who want to pass monetary assets on to their heirs tax-free

If you fall into one of these categories, you still have a significant need for Life insurance.

Advantage #2: It ensures a comfortable retirement for your spouse. You might assume your retirement investments would provide plenty of income for your spouse if you were to die. However, it’s important to ask yourself a couple of critical questions: If I were to die tomorrow, would my spouse be able to maintain his or her current quality of life? Would he or she still be able to save up for a comfortable retirement? Probably not. Suddenly faced with a smaller income, your spouse might end up cutting back on retirement contributions to make ends meet. That could put his or her retirement years at risk. However, if you were to hold onto that Life insurance policy, the proceeds could give your spouse enough income to cover every day expenses, allowing them to continue to build up a nest egg.

Advantage #3: It offers quick cash for your family. Life insurance death benefits can provide fast cash for your surviving loved ones. As long as your policy is up-to-date and in order, your beneficiary could collect the death benefit as quickly as a couple of weeks after your death. This money could be essential at that time, as your spouse could be facing massive medical bills, outstanding debts, taxes, probate costs, and other final expenses.

Advantage #4: It helps to shield your estate. If you own a successful small business or have a high net worth, your family could be subject to estate taxes after your death. Depending on the value of your estate, these taxes can be steep — and this could create serious financial hardship for your loved ones. Without Life insurance, many or all of your assets could be liquidated to pay your estate taxes. You can prevent this from happening with a Life insurance policy.

Advantage #5: It allows you to leave behind a legacy. Life insurance also enables you to leave behind an inheritance to your children or grandchildren. This money could help pay for your son’s graduate school expenses or your granddaughter’s wedding. Even if they don’t need this money, you might want them to have it. It might be worth it to give up some of your income now to make sure your loved ones receive a special gift later.

On the other hand, you could use the proceeds from your policy to make a significant contribution to your favorite charity. If there’s a special charity that’s near and dear to your heart, you could continue to pay just a little into a Life insurance each month so you can leave something behind to the cause.

Of course, whether you choose to keep your Life insurance policy after retirement is entirely up to you. There is no “right”� answer — it all depends on your unique situation. If you’re struggling to make this decision, discuss the pros and cons with one of our financial advisors.