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Monthly Archives

August 2011


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Today’s “squeeze economy,” in which we’re trying to get more out of everybody and everything, without having to pay for it, put managers under overwhelming pressure to perform. What can you do about it?

  • Keep growing and pushing yourself to work on your “highest and best use.” Focus on those “A activities” that produce bottom-line results. Next, delegate or outsource the B level activities (administrative functions) to the extent possible. Finally, ditch the C activities, which are simply time-wasters. Be a freak about doing this if you want to survive without burning out.
  • Become a great communicator. Whether you’re passing along the leadership vision, mission, goals, and values of your organization; working on an individual employee’s performance; or trying to learn more about what motivates employees, train yourself in communication. To be great at managing conflict, change, performance, engagement, career paths, strategic planning, and so forth without studying these disciplines, you’ll need more than experience or osmosis. So turn off your TV or computer game, ditch that fantasy league or online gossip, and pick up a book or program that will help you learn in these areas. Of course if you have access to the HR That Works program, the special reports, training modules and webinars would be a good place to start.
  • Learn what employees want from you:
    • Be clear with them
    • Don’t play favorites
    • Do what you say you’re going to do, when you said you’ll do it
    • Provide feedback on a regular basis
    • Help define their career path
    • Keep yourself emotionally balanced

Remember, a poor relationship with managers is one of the top three reasons for employee turnover. Managers also influence the other two reasons (hiring a misfit, or failing to provide career growth and opportunity).

A word to the wise …


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Here are four recent cases in which the Department of Labor went after companies for ADA violations. These settlements are far lower than if private counsel were litigating the suits and interested in a big jury verdict (which average more than $200,000):

EEOC Sues Tideland EMC for Disability Discrimination
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against the Tideland Electric Membership Corporation for not accommodating an employee, and then firing him because of his disability. The employee takes a legally prescribed narcotic medication to manage a chronic pain condition. After learning about this, Tideland EMC terminated the employee, without giving him time to change his medication regimen to keep his employment. The Americans with Disabilities Act outlaws discrimination against an employee based on a disability.

ENGlobal to Pay $100,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit
ENGlobal Engineering, Inc., a Texas-based engineering firm, will pay $100,000 and additional remedial relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit by the EEOC. ENGlobal unlawfully fired an employee because it mistakenly assumed that his multiple sclerosis would limit his ability to work.

Retailer Finish Line Settles EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit
Indiana-based retailer Finish Line, Inc. agreed to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit by the EEOC. Finish Line refused to grant an employee with a physical impairment a transfer to an available CSR position as a reasonable accommodation. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to accommodate employees reasonably with disabilities, as long as the accommodation doesn’t cause an undue hardship.

Surveying Company to Pay $77,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit
Fisher, Collins & Carter, Inc. (Ellicott City, MD) will pay $77,000 and other remedial relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC. The company illegally discriminated against and fired an employee of 15 years after finding out that the employee had diabetes and high blood pressure.

The first thing to notice about these cases is the breadth of claims: A change in medication, a perceived MS disability, a shoulder injury, and diabetes. What’s more, the courts rejected the employers’ argument that many of the workers involved were “poor performers.”

Bottom Line: Learn how to manage poor performers who might have a disability, in a way that doesn’t land you in court!


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Sales compensation can be a tricky affair to master. Any plan should answer these basic questions:

  • What’s your overall goal?
  • What is working and not working about the current plan?
  • What do you need to eliminate or improve and what should you exploit further?
  • Who is involved in designing the plan? Who can impact the plan and how will they be treated?
  • What math will you use to establish a base salary, commission, bonus, any caps on income, frequency requirements, etc. – a percentage of what, when, how, where, etc.?
  • How can you test the plan before you roll it out?
  • Where can the plan be manipulated or even sabotaged?
  • How does your plan compare to that of the competition?
  • Who can review or provide a second look at your plan?


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

In the recent case of In Re: the Compensation of Mary S. Sandberg, an Oregon court overruled the Workers Comp Board and held that a JC Penney decorator, who was allowed to work from home, was covered by her Workers Comp policy when she tripped over her dog unloading a van.

Because she could not safely store all of the items in the vehicle at one time, she stored the excess items in her home garage. Her employer instructed Sandberg not to store these excess products at the studio, but to keep them at her home or any other place where they would be safe and dry. Thus, she used her home garage to store samples that from time to time she would need to exchange with other samples and materials that she kept in her van.

On the Saturday before the date of injury, a sale collection had ended, with a new collection beginning the next day. Because of the fabric sale change, Sandberg needed to remove the “old” fabrics from her van and replace them with fabrics for the new sale that were being stored in her garage. She was walking out her back door toward the garage to change the fabrics when her foot came down and she “felt something move.” Noticing that her dog was underfoot, she shifted to her other foot, lost her balance, and fell, sustaining a right distal radius fracture.”

Sandberg also regularly performed some work tasks, such as preparing bids and other paperwork, in her home. The employer denied her claim for compensation for the injury, a decision approved by the administrative law judge (ALJ) affirmed the denial, as did the Workers Compensation board.

When Sandberg appealed this decision, the court ruled that:

“In order to be compensable under Oregon law, an injury must ‘aris[e] out of’ and occur ‘in the course of’ a claimant’s employment; ORS 656.005(7)(a). Because the board did not determine whether claimant’s injury occurred in the course of her employment, that issue is not before us. The only issue on review is whether claimant’s injury arose out of her employment. Thus, our focus is on whether claimant established a causal connection between her injury and her employment, that is, whether claimant’s injury resulted from a risk connected to either the nature of her work or her work environment. ….

“[O]nce it is established that the home premises are also the work premises * * *, it follows that the hazards of home premises encountered in connection with the performance of the work are also hazards of the employment. [Editors Note: such as a dog lying around.]

” * * * That the employee is a telecommuter or other home-based worker should not, in and of itself, make any difference. Was the risk of injury a risk of this employment? So long as the employment subjects the employee to the actual risk of injury, the argument follows that the injury should be compensable.

“Here, claimant was walking to her garage for the sole purpose of performing a work task. She fell while moving about an area in which she had to move about in order to perform the work task, given the conditions of her employment. Therefore, we conclude that claimant’s injury resulted from a risk of her work environment. As such, it arose out of her employment.”

The bottom line for employers: make sure that telecommuting employees have safe workplaces and proper insurance coverages. HR That Works Members should use the Home Based Worker Checklist.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

By now, most of you who follow employment law have heard about and possibly read the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, which overturned certification of a class action sex discrimination case brought on behalf of 1.5 million current and former female Wal-Mart employees. (If not, our recent FR Alert on this case will bring you up to speed.) Although Dukes is a sex discrimination case, it will probably have a major impact on class actions in other areas of the law, including wage and hour lawsuits.

  • Dukes will likely make it more difficult for plaintiffs to argue that large classes should be certified absent concrete evidence of a common corporate policy or practice tying the claims of class-members together. This will be particularly important in cases where the actions of individual managers are at issue, such as plaintiff allegations that employees were required to work “off the clock” contrary to established policies.
  • It’s unsure how the courts will apply Dukes to collective actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Dukes decision dealt with a class action certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, which governs most class actions in federal court. In contrast, FLSA collective actions proceed under a different set of rules specific to the FLSA. The standards for certifying a class or collective action are similar – Rule 23(a)(2) requires questions of law or fact common among the class members, while a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) requires class members to be “similarly situated.” However, there are subtle but potentially important differences, and the standard for preliminary certification of a collective action is generally a lower bar than for certification of a Rule 23 class action. That being said, although Dukes might not apply directly to FLSA collective actions, it will probably exert a significant influence over courts’ analysis of such cases.
  • One likely effect of Dukes will be to push more wage and hour class action lawsuits into state court. Because Dukes governs class certification in federal courts, plaintiffs’ attorneys in states with more liberal class certification rules now have a strong incentive to file their cases in state court under state minimum wage and overtime laws, without reference to the FLSA and federal law. Although the impact of this shift will vary from state to state, federal courts are frequently regarded as a more favorable jurisdiction for employers than their state counterparts. Thus, while Dukes is a victory for employers, it might simply shift the wage and hour fight to less favorable ground.

Insights for Employers:

Although the esoteric procedural issues raised in Dukes will be of great interest to wage and hour litigators, what, if any, practical implications does the decision have for employers? Although the ruling does not usher in any sweeping changes for how employers conduct their day-to-day compliance activities, it does emphasize the importance of organization-wide policies and practices as both a tool for defending against wage and hour claims and a potential source of vulnerability.

Dukes strengthens the case for employers to adopt and effectively implement strong policies prohibiting wage and hour violations. For example, a company policy that strictly prohibits off-the-clock work and requires accurate recording of work hours, combined with an effective training and compliance program, might go a long way toward heading off class or collective action claims alleging that individual managers violated the policy by requiring or permitting off-the-clock work.

At the same time, Dukes might place an even brighter spotlight on cases based on a widespread company policy or practice. For example, claims alleging that an employer systematically misclassified specific job titles as exempt might have the necessary element of commonality among members of the class that the Supreme Court found lacking in Dukes.

The bottom line: Be sure to review and update your wage and hour policies, regularly, train supervisors, and audit compliance.

Article courtesy of Worklaw® Network firm Franczek Radelet.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

One of the career challenges HR executives face is being able to articulate the bottom-line difference they can make. In part, this is because very few of them focus on making those types of distinctions as their activities are non-strategic in nature. I recently became engaged to help hire a high-end HR executive who will make at least $150,000 per year. The reality is out of the 3,000 small to midsized companies that use our program, I’d be surprised if as many as five HR executives earn that type of income. Larger organizations justify the expense because they can spread it over a greater number of employees. Actually, the larger the organization, the lower the HR expense ratio per employee. According to Berntson and Associates, HR costs the average employer $1,000 to $1,500 per year. In a sense, if you have 50 employees, you have a $65,000 HR executive.

So here’s the challenge: Even if you’re a small to midsized company that doesn’t have $150,000 per year to pay an HR executive, you still need strategic HR initiatives! Otherwise, internal pressures will undermine your sales and marketing efforts.

If you doubt the return on investment of good HR practices, run your numbers on the HR That Works Cost Calculator. Even a conservative analysis will show the incredible opportunity available. However, you’ll need to make a commitment of both time and money to make it happen. Think of it this way: Suppose you remain “nonstrategic” in your HR practices. So what if you have poorly trained managers, below average employees, high claims, low productivity, and a ton of drama? Perhaps you’re familiar with this situation. In any case, there’s no reason not to “get” the importance of working on HR instead of just being in HR. Whether you have 10, 100 or 1,000 employees the need remains the same.

There are only three solutions:

  1. Use a program such as HR That Works and commit to a schedule to implement it.
  2. Hire a coach to help you implement a program such as HR That Works.
  3. Have third parties come in and do things for you (otherwise known as “fractional” HR).

What will be your next strategic HR objective – and how will you achieve it?


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

I recently went through an excellent session using the ZeroRisk HR assessment to help me become a better manager of my own employees. One of the most insightful things I learned was to distinguish when to direct employees, when to coach them, or when to delegate to them. This is a major distinction.

Direct – When you have an employee new to a job function or business in general, you might have to direct their activities until they meet the necessary learning curve. This is of course, a control-based approach to management that makes sense at times, especially if you’re a control freak or you’re managing people who have control issues. For example, Bob Hurley, the well-known coach of the St. Anthony’s High School basketball team in Jersey City, NJ, focuses on directing his young men, not just on the basketball court, but in their lifestyle in general. As a result, he has a 100% graduation rate – practically unheard of for an inner-city basketball team. The idea of directing employee behavior was the basic principle of Scientific Management made famous by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early 1900s. Because most jobs at that time were manual in nature and easy to perform, this approach used time and motion studies to analyze job tasks, and then told workers the best way to stack the bricks, shovel the coal, or pull the loom. Managers didn’t want employees to think for themselves. The Catch-22 today is that the person you can control you generally don’t want working for you – and the less you control, the more you accomplish! So use control as a management style only when absolutely necessary.

Coaching – This is more about empowerment than micromanagement. The best coaches ask questions and allow employees to discover the answers for themselves. When they attempt to frame the employees’ efforts, they do so from “their side of the line,” providing insight as opposed to control. This is akin to teaching people how to fish. The best coaches expect and foster taking action and moving past blockages. They know when to push or to back off. Remember this: If your coaching feels too much like control to employees, you’ll generate a flight or fight response – even if everything you are trying to say is completely logical.

Delegation – Over the years, I’ve learned to delegate effectively. This is one of the most important skill sets for a manager. Of course, the danger of delegation is that the employee will make a mistake and suffer the consequences. I try to mitigate the possibility of mistakes by delegating through writing, otherwise known as a standard operating procedure (SOP). I won’t just write down what I do, but my best practice on how to do it. I then make sure that the employee understands the SOP and see if they have any questions. I’ll also provide them with any time and training necessary. When I delegate, I have a “one-mistake rule.” Because I learned my skills by making mistakes, I realize that my employees will have to do the same. However, there’s absolutely no reason to make the same mistake twice. Allowing employees to do so is a management failure.

The work we did with Zero Risk coaching went into these areas far more deeply and challenged us in other areas as well. This process produced some of the most effective communication with employees I’ve worked side-by-side with for many years. To learn more about the ZeroRisk HR program, contact Mike Poskey (Mike.P@zeroriskhr.com) or call him at (800) 827-5991.


By Life and Health | No Comments

Today’s society carries an unrealistic expectation, if not demand, for individuals to fit more and more into their lives. The often teetering balancing act between work and everyday life causes many to defer sleep to get everything that’s expected of them done. Late nights and early mornings can be a recipe for a health disaster. The problem is that sleep isn’t something that can be brokered and traded for supposedly more important tasks.

Most people are fully aware that getting enough sleep is something that’s beneficial to their mind and body, but did you know that getting too little sleep could actually increase your risk of an early death from cardiovascular disease, stroke, and heart attack?

A new study published in the European Heart Journal analyzed data from fifteen different sleep studies that involved adults from various countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Israel, and Japan. The research followed almost 475,000 adults for up to 25 years and found that having sleep disrupted or sleeping less than six hours a night resulted in a 48% chance of dying from or developing cardiovascular disease. The chance of dying from or having a stroke was 15%.

The researchers recommend that six to eight hours of regular nightly sleep is optimum to protect one’s health and reduce their risk of developing chronic illnesses. They also warn that people get into trouble when their sleep is less than five hours per night since this causes problems the next day from being tired and steadily increases the risk of developing a chronic illness in the future.

According the study, chronic sleep deprivation can cause an array of changes to the human body, such as the production of chemicals and hormones that increase the risk of developing strokes and heart disease. For example, cytokines, which are chemical inflammation markers for hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), can be activated by chronic sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation also increases the risk of developing hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity, which are ironically also known risk factors for heart disease and stroke. For example, hormone changes can lead to certain markers for type 2 diabetes, such as insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.

On the other hand, the study’s authors also caution against getting too much sleep. Over nine hours of sleep could have negative implications and be an indicator of a number of underlying illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease or depression.

Although the study does indicate that sleep deprivation should be considered a lifestyle risk akin to sedentary lifestyles, alcohol abuse, and tobacco use, some experts caution that there’s still a lot unknown about the mechanism and causation when it comes to the association between sleep disorders and the increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

In the meantime, those that would like to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke might consider integrating the American Heart Association’s key health factors into their daily lives – reducing blood sugar, controlling cholesterol, managing blood pressure, smoking cessation, weight loss, eating better, and being more active.


By Life and Health | No Comments

Many people fail to realize that when they accomplish goals like earning more money and achieving a higher standard of living, they increase their need for Life insurance. That’s because Life insurance provides support for your dependents if you die prematurely. It allows your family to maintain the same standard of living they have become accustomed to, even after you are gone.

If you stop and think of the many ways your family depends upon your income and what would happen if it were suddenly taken from them with no replacement, you will begin to understand the importance of life insurance benefits. If you have a stay-at-home spouse, they may need the death benefit proceeds from a policy to pay the mortgage or save for your children’s education. The money your spouse receives from the death benefit can help them continue to care for your family in the interim while looking for a job. Without that financial cushion, your spouse might have to sell the house or your children may have to delay going to college.

To be certain that you adequately provide for your dependents, you should increase your Life insurance as your salary increases. The ratio between your coverage amount and your salary decreases, as your salary gets higher. So if you begin with a policy providing a death benefit equal to ten times your salary, by the time you reach 50 years old and are earning twice as much money, the coverage amount will have decreased to only five times your salary.

Another misperception regarding Life insurance is that once you turn 65 and your children are grown, you no longer need it. Remember, most people live up to every penny they earn. As their income increases, they tend to increase their standard of living via expensive new cars or second homes, so that at age 65, many of them could still conceivably be carrying mortgages or auto loans. In order for the surviving spouse to maintain their current lifestyle, the insured would have had to increase their coverage to keep pace with their spending.

When considering Life insurance needs, there is also the issue of longevity. Today people are living into their eighties and beyond. If the insured dies at 65, the surviving spouse could live another twenty to thirty years, in which case they would need the death benefit proceeds to cover living expenses.

It is not difficult to see that there is a real need to have your Life insurance keep pace with your salary. You should review your life insurance with your agent on a yearly basis to develop a plan to ensure your dependents will remain financially comfortable after your death.


By Life and Health | No Comments

Although most Americans with Health insurance are covered under an employer’s plan, there are still many employers that don’t have Health insurance offerings. Workers of companies not offering insurance are left to find and purchase their own private individual health insurance directly from an insurer.

There are actually several advantages to purchasing private individual health insurance:

  • Unlike those covered under an employer’s plan, you won’t just have a limited number of plans that were pre-selected by someone else to choose from. You, instead of your employer, get to determine what plan features are desirable and pick the plan that you see fit. By having a variety of plans available to you, such as those that don’t cover services you don’t want and that have higher deductibles, you can take advantage of lower premiums.
  • Since private health plans are under your control, not your employer’s control, you also won’t have to worry about losing your coverage if you ever want to change jobs. As long as you pay your premiums when they’re due, the coverage is yours to keep and the insurer can’t drop you.

However, there are also several disadvantages to private health plan coverage, for example:

  • Even if paying the same premium rates, individual plans usually provide less coverage than employer plans because individual policies have a larger percentage of the premium dollars going toward paying operational costs.
  • The premiums for private health insurance plans increase as you age in most states. Since renewal rates tend to be higher than new policy rates, you can avoid the rate hikes for awhile by changing plans as rates become higher. However, this isn’t a long-term solution. Eventually, your age will make it more difficult to find an insurer and your individual policy will become more expensive.
  • Group plans are typically required to insure all employees and their family members. On the other hand, if an applicant of an individual plan doesn’t have an ideal health status, then the insurer can reject the applicant.

You will also want to keep a few questions in mind to ask your agent as you compare plans:

  • What are the plan’s monthly premiums, coinsurance, and deductibles?
  • What benefits does the plan offer?
  • What pre-existing conditions affect my coverage?
  • Is the doctor or hospital I want to use covered under the plan?
  • If I use out-of-network providers, will there be additional fees or charges?
  • How does the referral system operate?
  • How is care handled should I need medical services when I’m away from home?
  • Does the plan have a maximum amount it will pay over my lifetime or per year?

In closing, purchasing private market insurance isn’t as complicated as it might seem, but getting the right policy will take a little effort on your part. Remember to approach it just as you would any other major purchase – research all your options, do price and benefit comparisons, and seek expert advice and assistance.