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ACCOMMODATION IDEAS: COMMON SENSE, LOW COST

By Your Employee Matters

Here’s a list of inexpensive accommodation examples published by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN):

Situation: A production worker with mental retardation, who has limited fine motor dexterity, must use tweezers and a magnifying glass to perform the job. The worker had difficulty holding the tweezers.
Solution: Purchase giant tweezers. Cost: $5.

Situation: A teacher with bipolar disorder, who works in a home-based instruction program, experienced reduced concentration, short-term memory loss, and task sequencing problems.
Solution: At one of their weekly meetings, the employee and the supervisor jointly developed a checklist that showed activities for both the week’s work and the following. The company adapted forms so that they would be easy to complete, and developed structured steps so that paper work could be completed at the end of each teaching session. An unintended bonus to the company was the value of the weekly check-off forms in training new staff. Cost: $0.

Situation: A garage mechanic with epilepsy was unable to drive vehicles.
Solution: The employer negotiated with the employee’s union and reached an agreement that any qualified employee, regardless of job held, could drive the vehicles to the mechanic’s work station. Cost: $0.

Situation: An individual with a neck injury, who worked in a lab, had difficulty bending his neck to use the microscope.
Solution: Attach a periscope to the microscope. Cost: $2,400.

Situation: A catalog salesperson with a spinal cord injury had problems using the catalog, due to difficulty with finger dexterity.
Solution: The employer purchased a motorized catalog rack, controlled by a single switch via the mouth stick, and provided an angled computer keyboard stand for better accessibility. Cost: $1,500.

Situation: A field geologist who was deaf and worked alone in remote areas was unable to use two-way radio communication to report his findings.
Solution: The company installed text telephone technology which allowed the geologist to communicate using a cellular telephone. Cost: $400 plus monthly service fee for the phone.

Situation: A saw operator with a learning disability had difficulty measuring to the fraction of an inch.
Solution: The company gave the employee a wallet-sized card that listed the fractions on an enlarged picture of an inch. This allowed the employee to compare the card with the location on the ruler to identify the correct fraction. Cost: $5.

Situation: An accountant with HIV was experiencing sensitivity to fluorescent light, which kept her from seeing her computer screen or written materials clearly.
Solution: The employer lowered the wattage in overhead lights, provided task lighting and a computer screen glare guard. Cost: $80.

Situation: A custodian with poor vision was having difficulty seeing the carpeted area he was vacuuming.
Solution: The company mounted a fluorescent lighting system on his industrial vacuum cleaner. Cost: $240

Here’s the point: Accommodations don’t have to be expensive. Remember to engage in a true dialogue involving the employee, his or her physician, and any support you might need from the HR That Works hotline, Job Accommodation Network, or your own attorney.

 

FREQUENT ABSENCES FROM WORK DON’T NECESSARILY RENDER AN EMPLOYEE UNQUALIFIED UNDER THE ADA

By Your Employee Matters

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled recently that an employee who frequently missed time from work due to chronic fatigue syndrome had the right to present her Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claims to a jury. The Court found significant the fact that the employee had been accommodated in the past through a flexible work schedule that allowed her to work regularly.

Facts of the Case: In Valle-Arce v. Puerto Rico Ports Authority, the employee, who worked in the human resources department of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Her symptoms included insomnia, joint and muscle pain and weakness, and headaches.

To accommodate her insomnia, her doctor had suggested changing her work start time from the employer’s standard 7:30 a.m. start time to 9:00 a.m., and she communicated this to her employer. For two years, the employee’s supervisor accommodated her request by allowing her to come in to work later, as long as she completed the requisite 37.5 hours per week or accounted for any shortfall with vacation or sick leave.

Subsequently, the employee was assigned a new supervisor who began to question her flexible schedule almost immediately and monitor her entry and exit times. In addition, the employee alleged that her new supervisor harassed her by, for example, reprimanding her for late arrivals, telling her that insomnia was not an excuse for absences and, sometimes requiring her to obtain doctors’ notes covering absences of one or two days, when the employer’s policy required such notes only for absences of three days or more. Over time, according to the employee, her new supervisor’s alleged harassment caused her CFS symptoms to worsen, to the point that she needed to take two extended medical leaves.

After she returned from her first period of leave, the employee’s supervisor recommended disciplining her for mishandling the reasonable accommodation request of a coworker. The company eventually terminated the employee because she allegedly violated confidentiality rules in handling an employee’s reasonable accommodation request and used her work computer and other work resources for a personal matter during work time. At trial, the lower court granted the employer’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, finding that the employee was not a qualified individual under the ADA because attendance was an essential function of her job. The employee then filed an appeal.

The Court’s Ruling: On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated the lower court’s decision. Although acknowledging that attendance is an essential function of any job, the Court noted that the employee presented evidence that the flexible work schedule she had requested as an accommodation would have allowed her to fulfill the essential function of attendance. The employee testified that she had never been reprimanded during the time her former supervisor had allowed her to work a flexible schedule; and that the stress caused by her new supervisor’s alleged haranguing about her attendance led to her having to take extended medical leave, leading to the long absences on which the trial court based its ruling that she was unqualified.

The Court also held that a jury might have considered the employee’s testimony regarding poor treatment by her new supervisor to be evidence of disability discrimination or retaliation for her requests for a reasonable accommodation.

Finally, the Court noted, the employee presented enough evidence for a jury to question whether her termination was retaliatory, as she testified that other employees used their computers for personal matters and that she did not violate any agency policies in her handling of her co-worker’s reasonable accommodation request.

Practical Impact: The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 makes it far easier for employees to show that their health condition qualifies as a disability. In this case, the employee was accommodated under the regime of a prior supervisor, but her new supervisor was less willing to accommodate her request for flexible work hours.

Although new supervisors are generally free to enforce attendance standards that a prior supervisor did not, if the new supervisor rejects a prior accommodation that allowed the individual to meet the essential functions of their position, as was the case here, the employer could face liability under the ADA.

Article courtesy of Worklaw® Network firm Shawe Rosenthal (www.shawe.com).

Do Your Kids Need a Life Insurance Policy, Too?

By Life and Health, Your Employee Matters

Life insurance makes sense for you because it gives your surviving family members financial peace of mind if you were to die. However, do your kids need life insurance, too? November is National Adoption Month and a good time to consider this insurance option for your children.

Receive Lifetime Coverage

Pay the monthly premiums, and your children gain insurance for life. In many cases, they won’t even need a health exam when they’re older unless they want a death benefit increase.

Enjoy Low Rates

Most life insurance policies use age to determine premiums. You’ll pay less to insure your young children, and permanent policies lock in the premiums for the life of the policy.

Eliminate Health Exams

Most life insurance policies don’t require kids to undergo a complete medical exam. Since kids are usually healthier than adults, they typically won’t be denied coverage. This benefit is especially important if a serious medical condition like diabetes or heart disease runs in your child’s family.

Gain Cash Value

The premiums you pay for permanent life insurance cover the policy and build cash value. That cash could grow at a variable or fixed interest rate. By the time your kids turn 18, they could have a healthy accumulation of cash to pay for college, buy a house or save until they retire.

Cover Final Expenses

Parents don’t expect their children to die young, but accidents happen. Life insurance covers final expenses and protects your family’s finances.

Evaluate Your Budget

Despite the benefits; your budget may not stretch enough to include life insurance for your kids. After you ensure you’re adequately insured, weigh the benefits of life insurance for your children and discuss your needs with your insurance agent. He or she can work with you to find a policy that’s right for you.

Consider Alternative Saving Tools

Roth IRAs and 529 Plans assist parents in saving money for their children’s futures. Investigate these saving options as you choose the best way to provide for your children.

Whether or not you plan to adopt a child during National Adoption Month, November’s a good time to consider life insurance. Your agent can discuss your options with you as you adequately care for your children.

TOUGH DAYS AHEAD FOR MANAGERS WHO DON’T WANT TO BE LEARNERS

By Your Employee Matters

Today’s ‘pandemic’ 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).

Employee Benefits for Grocery Stores Employees

By Your Employee Matters

As a grocery store employee, you expect to get a regular paycheck. However, you may also be eligible for a variety of employee benefits for grocery stores employees. Here’s a partial list.

Healthcare

Access a variety of healthcare options, including:

  • Medical insurance
  • Prescription drug coverage
  • Group vision and dental plan
  • Flexible Spending Accounts
  • Group life insurance
  • Short-term and long-term disability plan
  • Mental health and behavioral health care
  • Free flu shots

Education

Whether you work as a cashier, stocker or manager, you could be eligible for education assistance, including tuition reimbursement or scholarships. Your employer may also offer a mentorship program or leadership development courses taught by your grocery store corporate management team or other trainer.

Employee Assistance Program

If you face a personal emergency, take advantage of the employee assistance program. It can pay a personal bill or provide other assistance.

Some companies also offer assistance with child or elder care. You may also receive free or discounted legal consultations and financial planning.

Time Off

Enjoy paid vacation, sick and holiday time off. The amount of paid time off you receive depends on your employer, the number of hours you work and your specific benefits package.

Future Funding

Grocery stores like Publix give employee stock ownership. Your company may not offer a generous option like this, but do take advantage of their 401(k) retirement savings plan and matching funds.

Payday Perks

Every week or two, you’ll receive a paycheck. Opt into direct deposit in one or more checking or savings accounts, allowing you to customize your paycheck the way you want.

Other payday perks could include a free credit union membership where you can access higher than normal interest rates. Some companies also offer:

  • Quarterly bonuses
  • Annual holiday cash bonuses
  • Bereavement pay
  • Jury duty pay
  • Premium pay for overnight, weekend or holiday shifts

Miscellaneous Benefits

There are a variety of additional benefits that supplement your paycheck and offer personal and professional fulfillment. They include:

  • Service awards
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Flexible work schedule
  • Holiday exchange (get the day off of your choice when you work on a holiday)
  • Discounts on local attractions or events
  • Adoption assistance
  • Discounts on home or auto insurance
  • Cellphone discounts
  • Gym membership
  • Free food or discounted groceries
  • Product tastings
  • Free uniforms and shoe allowance
  • Free parking
  • Annual review
  • Annual survey to give feedback to your supervisor

These are a few examples of employee benefits for grocery stores employees. Check with your particular employer as you take advantage of all the benefits you’re eligible to receive.

 

How to Hire the Best Employees

By Your Employee Matters

Hiring the best employees means your business succeeds. Good hiring practices can also save you up to $50,000, the cost of finding, interviewing, training and equipping an employee. It can be challenging to choose the most qualified candidates, though.  Consider tips that show you how to hire the best employees.

    1. Capability

      In addition to easy jobs, the best employees tackle hard tasks that require effort, creativity and perseverance. Evaluate a potential hire’s willingness to learn, grow and take on additional responsibility as needed.

    1. Character

      In addition to skills, your employees must have a good character. They should be honest, truthful, selfless, a team player and respectful.

    1. Commitment

      Employees do occasionally move on to other jobs and careers, but you don’t want to hire a chronic quitter. Examine a candidate’s resume, job history and references for a pattern of commitment.

    1. Compatibility

      Your business culture is an important part of your success since employees work harder and smarter when they get along with each other. Be sure a potential employee is compatible with your existing employees, supervisors and clients before you hire them.

    1. Compensation

      When an employee receives the compensation they deserve, they feel appreciated and motivated to perform to the best of their ability. It’s always a good idea to double check that an employee candidate is comfortable with the compensation before you send an official job offer.

    1. Competency

      The best employees have the skills needed to do the job they’re assigned. Check education and experiences, too, as you ensure your new hire is competent for the position and duties.

How to Evaluate Potential Employees

During the interview process, an employee can create a persona that gets your attention. You have to comb through their application carefully to ensure you know exactly what kind of employee you’re getting.

First, read the cover letter. It gives you a good idea of the candidate’s passion, past performance and future potential.

Next, get creative during the interview. Applicants can easily rehearse traditional questions and hide their true potential, leaving you without a real look at their capabilities. Creative questions like, “How did your first job prepare you for this position?” can help you see a candidate truthfully and discern how they will act when faced with an unexpected challenge.

Finally, talk to former associates including supervisors, co-workers and subordinates. Discover the truth about how the candidate performed their job, treated others and stepped up to the plate.

To build a better company, you must know how to hire the best employees. Use these tips during your next hiring event to reveal the employees who will best help your company succeed.

529 Plans Versus Life Insurance for College Savings

By Your Employee Matters

Many parents purchase 529 plans that allow them to save for their children’s’ college education. Life insurance is another savings vehicle for children, so compare both plans as you choose the best option for your child’s future education.

529 Plans

529 Plans are a unique way to save for your child’s college education. The money grows tax-free, and distributions are not subject to federal income tax. You can open an account with a 529 Plan manager or your financial planner. Consider these facts about 529 Plans.

Uses: Spend 529 Plan funds on tuition, books and other college expenses at a qualified school, including vocational schools, colleges and universities. If you withdraw the money for something other than education, you will owe penalties and taxes on the distributions.

Fees: Expect to pay a 529 Plan fee based on your portfolio. Additionally, you may owe a broker fee if you purchase the policy through a financial advisor.

Investment Return: When you invest in 529 Plans, you choose the portfolio in which you invest your funds. There is no limit to your return potential, but you also aren’t guaranteed a return since you invest in mutual funds, bond mutual funds or money market accounts.

Financial Aid: While 529 Plans allow you to pay for college, they do affect your child’s financial aid package. Your child could lose up to 5.64 percent of the 529 Plan’s total value in college financial aid.

Life Insurance

Cash-value or whole life insurance policies accrue cash over time. Buy a policy when your child is born, and it could pay for your child’s college education in 18 years. These policies grow tax-deferred. Understand several facts about using life insurance for college.

Uses: Life insurance is flexible since you can use the accrued money for any expense. Your child can withdraw the funds for college or buy a car or house or vacation if they get a full scholarship or decide not to attend college.

Fees: Expect to pay regular premiums for your life insurance policy. You’ll also owe the insurance agent a commission.

Investment Returns: The type of life insurance policy you buy dictates the returns you receive. On average, you could see a three to six percent return over 10 years.

Financial Aid: Borrow money from your cash-value or whole life insurance policy for school, and you don’t have to claim it as income on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. Overall, it will minimally impact your child’s financial aid eligibility.

When paying for your child’s education, start saving early. If possible, invest in 529 Plans since they’re specifically designed for education.

Best Ways To Protect Your Vision When Your Work At A Computer

By Your Employee Matters

Up to ninety percent of people who use a computer at work for even as little as two hours experience eye strain or computer vision syndrome (CVS). That strain can range from minor irritations and red eyes to decreased vision. Computer use can also cause physical fatigue, work errors and decreased productivity, so take these steps and reduce eye strain.

Cut the Glare

Bright light can increase eye strain, so close curtains and dim interior lights or use low-intensity bulbs. You can also install an anti-glare lens on your monitor or eyeglasses.

Improve Your Display

Select at least a 19-inch high-resolution monitor that features a liquid crystal display rather than a cathode ray tube. This display technology reduces glare and image flicker, two factors that can cause eye strain.

Adjust the Display Settings

The settings on your monitor can affect your vision, so make several adjustments.

  • Match the brightness to your surroundings.
  • Increase the text size and contrast.
  • Use black print and a white background.
  • Reduce the color temperature to lower the blue light.

Change your Workstation

Several ergonomic adjustments at your workstation can reduce eye strain. When looking from paper to the monitor, place the paper on a raised stand so it’s even with the monitor. Then set the chair and monitor to the correct height. The computer screen should sit 10 to 15 degrees below and 20 to 24 inches or an arm’s length away from your eyes. You should also clean your screen regularly to remove fingerprints and dust that affects your view.

Take Breaks

Set your timer and look away from your computer screen every 20 minutes. Focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds to give your eyes a break.

Also, remember to blink. When using a computer, you’re one-third less likely to blink, but your eyes need the moisture.

You can step away from your workstation and stretch, too. These breaks reduce muscle fatigue and tension, and you will return to work ready to focus on your screen and work again.

Purchase Computer Glasses

Modified eyeglasses with lightly tinted or photochromic lenses reduce blue light exposure. Ask your optometrist about silicone hydrogel contact lenses, too, the most comfortable contact lenses for many computer users.

Get an Eye Exam

Use your vision insurance coverage to check your eye health. Tell your doctor how often you use the computer and get tips for reducing future eye strain. You may also need artificial tears to correct dry eye and reduce irritation.

As you work at your computer, take these steps to reduce eye strain. They protect your vision and improve your work productivity.

Ways To Improve Focus In The Office When Spring Fever Strikes

By Your Employee Matters

A rise in temperatures this month can signal spring fever in your office. Your human resources department staff can improve focus and keep everyone on task in several ways.

1. Provide New Challenges

Your employees may feel distracted in part because they’re bored, so provide challenges. Ask them to work in a different department for a day, take on a special project or work with a high school intern. The challenge can provide a welcome distraction and jumpstart focus and concentration.

2. Offer a Class

Give employees the opportunity to learn a new skill. You can poll your staff for suggestions or offer foreign language, management or coding classes. While learning something new, your employees will focus on something other than the nice weather.

3. Promote Exercise

Physical activity improves focus, an excellent reason to host a fitness class over lunch, offer discounts to the local gym or encourage employees to bike or walk to work. As your staff members add more exercise into their daily routines, they also focus better on their work-related tasks.

4. Encourage Breaks

Remind employees that breaks can improve their mental health, productivity and focus. Set a timer for hourly stretch breaks, and share the value of regular lunch breaks away from the desk.

5. Change the Scenery

Hang colorful artwork around the office or commission a floral mural in the break room. You can also allow employees to meet at a local coffee shop, play disc golf during lunch or hold walking meetings outdoors. Employees will appreciate the opportunity to enjoy the warm weather, and the change of scenery boosts creativity, productivity and motivation.

6. Stock Healthy Snacks and Beverages

Fill your break room with healthy food and beverage options, including fruit, veggies, whole grains and water. These snack options boost mood and creativity and improve your employees’ overall health.

7. Play a Game

Challenge employees to participate in a March Madness basketball bracket, host a chili cook-off or reward teams who reach productivity goals. Games keep employees entertained and as a bonus, you’ll see a stronger spirit of cooperation.

8. Bring the Outdoors Inside

Plants can purify the air and improve mood. Arrange plants around the office as you bring a bit of the outdoors inside your office.

9. Adjust Work Hours

If your employees can arrive early and leave work early, they get to enjoy the warm, sunny afternoon weather. Adjust work hours, if possible, and allow employees to indulge their spring fever while completing their work.

Spring fever might try to curtail productivity in your office, but you can improve focus with these steps. Everyone will be happier and work smarter thanks to your efforts.

Top Topics To Avoid Discussing At Work

By Your Employee Matters

After spending 40 hours a week together at work, you and your coworkers may become close friends. Unfortunately, certain conversation topics can cause awkward situations and increase stress, decrease productivity, motivation and performance, and threaten your job. Protect your health and career when you avoid talking about these topics.

Politics

Whether you avidly follow or purposely avoid politics, political conversations should be off-limits at work. The subject ignites tempers and undermines team spirit.

You may announce that you vote. However, avoid candidating for a specific party, and change the subject if your coworkers introduce the topic.

Pay Rate and Benefits

Under federal law, you may openly discuss your pay rate, insurance coverage and other benefits with coworkers. These discussions may benefit others if they lead to equal pay for equal work, but they could also cause hard feelings and hinder cooperation.

Discuss your paycheck and benefits only if the conversation will benefit your team, and never brag about or belittle someone else’s paycheck. Always err on the side of respect.

Personal Relationship Problems

Maybe your spouse stopped sleeping with you or your child is bullied at school. Share these personal relationship problems at work, and you undermine your authority as a supervisor or manager. The information could also fuel the rumor mill or anchor a sexual harassment complaint.

Restrict personal conversations to neutral topics. Then discuss and resolve your personal relationship problems outside of work.

Health Concerns

You may decide to tell your coworkers about your struggle with chronic pain or depression, especially on challenging days. Consider how your health concern affects your reputation and even your ability to promote, though.

If you must share health information, don’t talk daily about your challenges or discuss every detail. Rely on your family and friends for support and focus on your job when you’re at work.

Career Aspirations

Career aspirations can motivate you to better yourself. Your coworkers may question your loyalty or resent you, however, if you share your goals with them.

Tell your boss privately that you want to move up the ladder. Then do your best work every day as you demonstrate that you’re a team player and committed to the company’s success.

Religion

Faith is a personal and sensitive subject. Even an innocent comment about church or a holiday can make your coworkers feel uncomfortable.

While you can mention your faith, avoid in-depth religious conversations. Take care to never belittle or disagree with someone else’s beliefs, and don’t try to convert anyone.

The conversations you have at work influence your job performance, reputation, success and health. Aim to promote respect, cooperation and peace as you talk to your coworkers.