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March 2012


By Employment Resources | No Comments

The month of October usually marks the beginning of open enrollment for American workers who want benefits. This is the time of year when employees are able to join, change or drop their benefits. Recent research shows that 80% of workers feel that the workplace is the key source for savings products and personal insurance. American workers are enrolling in benefit plans for life insurance, long-term care insurance and disability coverage. The amount of workers signing up for life insurance is well over 75%. However, the number signing up for disability coverage isn’t much higher than 60%. The amount of workers signing up for Long-Term Care insurance is less than 25%.

One of the most important things people considering benefits should do is take the necessary time to do research and consider their options. These steps are necessary in order to make informed decisions. Workers who are considering enrolling in plans should speak to a qualified agent to discuss their options and which ones are best. It’s also important to talk to partners and family members about long-term financial needs prior to deciding on benefits. There are several online tools that are valuable for determining individual needs. Many consumers are balancing various priorities and expenses in the tough economy. However, investing time in considering benefits is a vital step in the right direction. Taking control of financial security in the future is an important part of life that every working person should take seriously. Although nearly every person is aware of the importance of selecting benefits, less than 75% of Americans proceed as far as enrollment.

It’s not surprising that employees spend large amounts of time focusing on health care benefits prior to enrolling. Since the cost of health care is constantly rising, this is an important factor. Although it is an important consideration, it’s also crucial for employees to pay attention to securing enough coverage to protect themselves from the impact of long-term care or disability in the future. Research shows that nearly 30% of employees entering the workforce today will be disabled before reaching retirement age. Employers are a vital part of helping employees understand their benefit options. They are also needed to help determine which products are best for each individual. Employers must take all necessary steps to ensure that their employees are properly informed before making such vital decisions.

Research shows that several communication methods are used for conveying choices to employees. Workplace emails take the lead as the top choice. Group meetings during work hours and regular mail are also popular choices of communication. These three mediums are also the most preferred among American employees in the workforce. It’s important for employers to evaluate their individual workplaces to determine which communication methods are best for their employees. It’s best to choose the best one in order to avoid overloading employees with information. If this happens, they’re less likely to realize the value of what they’re being offered.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

I’ve coached many executives over the years. One of the questions I ask is whether they spend more time reading about other companies’ stories or creating experiments and stories of their own. More than half of the executives admit that they spend more time focusing on the outside than looking on the inside. To help executives, I encourage them to play social scientist.

  • Be a good observer. Step back and take a mile-high view of the environment. Look at the situation with fresh eyes. If you were a social scientist who walked into your company today, what would you observe about it? Simply being “present” in your situation is the best way to be an observer of it.
  • Conduct surveys. Social scientists love surveys. You can ask any question you want. Let your imagination be your guide. Consider creating a Survey Question of the Month all employees are required to answer. When this begins producing results, you might bump it up to two a month, or even one a week. Make sure that these surveys solicit ideas, as well as opinions.
  • Generate data. The next step is to translate your observations and survey results into data you can use. For example, what do your observations and survey results tell you are the 20% of critical factors that would generate 80% of the desired results? Usually this 20% consists of three things. What’s the data around it?
  • Run experiments to verify your data. Now that have some information, play with it. If employees tell you that what they want more than anything else are improved benefits, then dig deeper. Create experiments that compare the perceived value of improved benefits versus other equally attractive options.
  • Finally, publish your results. Educate your stakeholders on what you’ve learned and how using this valuable information can improve their career and the company. Of course, when you publish your results, you’ll be open to critical judgment, as well as praise and understanding. That’s what comes with sticking your neck out.

P.S. HR That Works Tools to consider using include a variety of employee surveys, HR department survey, benchmarking report, and tools.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

According to a Nielsen poll, here’s how Americans spend their time online:

Pie Chart

The chances are that when your employees access the Web at work, this is what they’re doing. The survey doesn’t break down the percentage of time in each of these categories that’s related to personal matters. However, you can assume that — unless you’ve encouraged or allowed your employees to go online for business purposes — most of their use is going to be personal.

As we discuss in the Social Media Training Module, this is a battleground in the workplace. Employees are demanding greater and greater freedom, flexibility, telecommuting, multitasking, etc. It’s how they were raised. Older managers who try to control this new workforce closely find themselves causing dissatisfaction and non-productivity in the process. They also have to consider that dissatisfaction can spread like wildfire through mobile devices and might be protected by the National Labor Relations Act and a variety of other laws.

Here’s the solution: Have a dialogue with your workforce about the use of the Web, social media, mobile devices, etc. Acknowledge that, although the workplace has changed, productivity remains the bottom line. This is another reason why the ability to benchmark performance results is more important than ever. Do you really care if employees spend half their day on their mobile devices, if during the other half of their day they meet or even exceed benchmarks? Although this might rub us the wrong way, is it really something that we should worry us? For example, I use a number of independent contractors through programs such as Elance. I don’t police any of them. I’m simply hiring them to produce results — which is exactly what you’re doing, or should be doing, with your employees. The question is, to what extent is that result clarified? To what degree can inappropriate use of mobile devices undermine activities that enhance your bottom line? Just as important, which employees are using mobile devices in a way that’s helping to grow your business? How can you learn from those employees?

As mentioned, the Social Media Training Module offers a one-hour webinar on this topic, as well as a shorter update video that explains NLRA constraints on social media use by employees. The personnel forms also include sample policies on the use of social media and mobile devices.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Poll after poll describes how dissatisfied today’s workers are. For example, in a recent poll by Staples, 33% of employees said they feel unappreciated at work, while 38% were searching for a new job. Likewise, in the annual Education and Work poll conducted by Gallup, dissatisfaction with healthcare benefits increased 11 points in the past three years, followed by a seven-point increase in dissatisfaction over the potential for promotion at work. According to the poll, job issues causing the most dissatisfaction were: On-the-job stress (34%), Health insurance benefits (30%), compensation (30%), employer retirement plan (28%), chances for promotion (26%), vacation time (20%), recognition for work accomplishments (19%), job security (18%), and amount of work required on the job (17%).

What can we learn from this? Here are my observations:

  1. Half of employees are more satisfied at work than the other half. This is the way it always has been and always will be.
  2. Stressful financial times cause us to focus on productivity, efficiency, and running lean — which generates a lot of stress. As business owners and managers, we should do everything possible to acknowledge this stress and try to do something about it. For example, do you encourage your employees to take breaks or do you really keep your fingers crossed, hoping they’ll work through them at their desks? If you don’t already have a wellness plan, you should create one because it can help with stress management.
  3. Health insurance benefits have greater meaning to employees than straight compensation. In his book, Predictably Irrational, Daniel Ariely explains that health care benefits are a social contract, while compensation is an economic contract. Apparently, a dollar spent on benefits is worth more in total impact than a dollar spent on compensation — something that you should bear in mind when gutting your benefit plans.
  4. Years ago, the Gallup organization did the largest poll about employee retention ever conducted. It concluded that there were three main reasons for turnover:
    • The person in the job is a misfit; they don’t have the skills or personality profile to succeed in it. In a sense, both employee and employer are filling a gap that will be short lived.
    • A lack of perceived career growth or opportunity. Here’s where management has to step in with such tools as career ladders, career days, succession planning, and an overall discussion about finding the opportunity at your company.
    • The most important relationship an employee has is the one with his or her immediate boss. Guess what? Half of all bosses are above average and half of them are below average. Which half do you have managing for you? How much training do you offer managers on being better managers? Do yourself a favor and take advantage of the extensive training on HR That Works that will help them be better managers
  5. It’s essential for management not to crawl into a cave during stressful times. Rather, they need to stand out front, give honest information, and handle the tough questions. Unfortunately, at too many companies, people are surviving as individuals, rather than as a team.
  6. As Steven Covey says, begin with your circle of influence. Start right where you are and focus on those people you work with or manage directly.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

The Ninth Circuit, known as the most liberal and employee-friendly federal circuit in the nation, recently overrode an NLRB ruling on employee protections. In this case, an employee complained legitimately about working conditions, but lost his protection when he started berating his manager, calling him plenty of F-word names we cannot repeat here and also telling him that he was stupid, nobody liked him, and that everybody talked about him behind his back. During the employee’s outburst, he stood up, pushed his chair aside, and told the manager that if he fired him the manager would regret it. The manager then fired the employee.

The Court reminded us that in order for an employee to lose NLRA protections, it would consider these factors:

  1. The place of the discussion
  2. The subject matter of the discussion
  3. The nature of the employee’s outburst
  4. Whether the outburst was in any way related to a fair labor practice

The Board is required to balance those factors carefully. In the end, the Act permits some leeway for impulsive behavior, which must be balanced against the employer’s right to maintain order and discipline. As the Court reminded us, if an employee is fired for denouncing his supervisor in obscene, personally degrading, and/or insubordinate terms, the employee may lose the protection of the National Labor Relations Act. When the Court looked at the language, the physically aggressive nature of the employee, and his flat-out belligerence, they decided that he had lost his protections.

As mentioned in previous posts, the NLRB has now waded into social media waters with these conversations. So far, its decisions have been very pro-employee, as was the underlying decision in this case.

Click here to read the case.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

After being terminated, a plaintiff filed an FMLA retaliation claim; however, she could not prove any improper employer conduct, only improper conduct on her part. The plaintiff’s untimely documentation under the FMLA resulted in her eventual termination, which the court then upheld. It also rejected any argument of “intermittent leave,” because this was not indicated in the FMLA certification or by agreement.

A note from the court to the wise:

“Employers facing questionable certifications have two preferable options: 1) they can require the employee to obtain a second opinion from a different provider at the employer’s expense; or, 2) after granting the employee the opportunity to correct any shortcomings, they can obtain the employee’s permission to clarify or authenticate a questionable certification with the original health care provider. Although these measures are discretionary, utilizing them would avoid the factual disputes and questions of reasonableness that conceivably arise from the employer’s decision to classify an FMLA request as facially invalid without first working with the employee to resolve any discrepancies.”

Click here to read this case, a classic example of the FMLA gone wrong.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

The law is an evolving landscape. Here are some items to watch for in 2012.

  1. The continued influence of the NLRB over the private workplace — Not only is the NLRB continually making it easier to organize; it has also ventured into the social media arena, and has begun reviewing independent contractor issues (the board focuses on these issues because independent contractors can’t unionize).
  2. Continuing attack on the independent contractor classification — The IRS and state agencies want their tax dollars and are clamping down on 1099 misclassifications. See http://www.dol.gov/whd/workers/
    and http://www.1099timebomb.com.
  3. Increasing coordination among agencies — If you misclassified someone as an independent contractor, not only can they now organize your company, but the IRS and state agencies will probably be coming after you for back taxes, failure to supply Workers Compensation insurance, overtime, and other expenses. If you have independent contractors, I encourage you to look at the Independent Contractor Training Module, which includes a report, a checklist, and more.
  4. Continued rise in disability accommodation claims — Because more and more Americans are becoming disabled, you can expect a continued growth in disability accommodation claims. Last year, the EEOC was very aggressive on failure to accommodate claims. For example, Verizon had to pay handsomely because its no-fault attendance policies violated both the ADA and FMLA. As always, you can get help from legal counsel and use the resources of the Job Accommodation Network. http://askjan.org/
  5. An increase in benefits related claims — It seems as if every employer is looking for a plan to reduce its overall benefit costs. Over the year, we’ve been questioned about all sorts of carve-out schemes, the impact of putting employees onto somebody else’s payroll, giving one group one plan and another group of employees a different plan, asking people to use their Medicare instead of company benefits, and so on. This activity is sure to generate ERISA and discrimination claims. The DOL has just updated its Affordable Care Act pages. See http://www.healthcare.gov/law/index.html http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/healthreform and Frequently Asked Questions from Employers Regarding Automatic Enrollment, Employer Shared Responsibility, and Waiting Periods.
  6. Social media craziness — It’s only just begun. The risk implications can be severe and immediate. Not having a well-thought out policy is a big mistake. See the Sample Policy on HR That Works and have an attorney review it.
  7. Restrictions on background checks — The EEOC and state agencies are clamping down on employers’ ability to obtain credit and criminal background information. Make sure you use a background check company such as Global HR Research that knows the law.


By Life and Health | No Comments

The Council for Disability Awareness began conducting annual reviews of United States disability claims in 2005. In 2011, the CDA reviewed quantitative and qualitative data gathered during a survey conducted in 2010 and used the results to compose a report. The purpose of the report is to identify trends in disability claims and use these trends for evaluation of the U.S. system.

Findings of the Survey. According to the CDA’s survey, insurance companies with CDA memberships made approximately $8.3 million in long-term disability payments during 2010, which represents an increase of 1% from 2009. Fifty-six percent of the companies participating in the survey reported an increase in claims since 2009, mainly because of the recession.

Companies participating in the survey reported that 0.6% fewer employers were offering Disability insurance programs to employees during 2010. They also reported that the number of people insured decreased by 0.8% as a result of job loss, decreased participation in plans, and a lower number of employers offering plans to workers.

The 2010 CDA survey also showed that insurance companies with membership in the CDA were remitting disability payments to 587,000 disabled individuals in the U.S. This number is 0.3% higher than the result from the 2009 survey. In 2010, more than 95% of the long-term disability claims made were not work-related. Seventy-two percent of the individuals receiving long-term disability payments also qualified for SSDI during 2010.

Reasons for Disability Claims. The CDA report also seeks to determine the main causes for long-term disability claims. According to the report, conditions of the connective tissue and musculoskeletal system were the leading causes for newly approved disability claims in 2010 and accounted for 30% of new disability claims. Cancer is the second most frequent reason for new claims, though its overall incidence decreased in 2010.

The number of new disability claims caused by complications from childbirth and pregnancy decreased in 2010. There were also fewer claims resulting from injuries during this year. However, new claims caused by parasitic diseases, infections, and disabling mental disorders increased in 2010.

Despite the overall increase in long-term disability claims, the majority of companies participating in the survey stated that the incidence of new claims was better than expected for 2010, given the uncertainty of the economic climate. However, disability claims are lasting longer than they had in previous years. Most companies believe that this is due to the severity of the recession and the high unemployment rate in the U.S. Approximately 50% of companies participating in the survey expect a slight increase in new claims next year, while the other 50% expect no change.

SSDI Data and Trends. Approximately 152 million U.S. workers were covered under the SSDI program in 2010, which represents a slight increase from 2009. More male workers were covered than female workers. 8.2 million individuals were receiving benefits in 2010, and disabled individuals received a total of $115 billion from the Social Security Administration during the year. The total number of disabled workers is growing steadily with musculoskeletal disorders as the most common cause for claims. For the first time ever, more than 1 million new SSDI awards were made during 2010.

Long-Term Trends in SSDI. Ten percent more workers were covered under SSDI in 2010 than in 2000. The amount of female workers covered has grown more rapidly than the population of covered males, and the average age of covered workers has increased. In the past decade, new applications for SSDI have more than doubled, and the number of approved workers has increased by 63%.

The overall disability rate is increasing for both genders, but it is increasing faster for women than men. New awards for connective tissue and musculoskeletal disorders are increasing, while the incidence of new awards for circulatory diseases is decreasing. Injuries, which are typically believed to be a predominant cause of disability, account for only 5% of new SSDI awards.