Alcoholism in the workplace

Excessive alcohol use and alcoholism costs U.S. employers an estimated $134 billion in lost productivity. On average, nine percent of workers have drinking habits that contribute to absenteeism, higher health care costs and lost productivity.

Hospitality, construction and wholesale industries have significantly higher alcohol abuse rates and cases of alcoholism in the workplace, according to a recent report.

The findings are from a report on alcohol abuse by Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems at the George Washington University Medical Center.

Younger employees are also at risk. More than 18 percent of young workers between the ages of 18 and 25 have an alcohol-related problem, compared to just seven percent of workers older than 25.

Alcohol abuse poses a difficult challenge in the workplace because it is often hidden. With a small investment in effective prevention and treatment for alcohol problems, employers can reduce costs and help employees, according to Ensuring Solutions.

Ensuring Solutions has created a helpful calculator to help employers estimate the impact of alcohol problems and the potential cost savings to be gained through screening and intervention.

What can you do to help employees with alcohol problems at your office?
  • Teach the difference between safe and risky drinking.
  • Screen for alcohol problems.
  • Cover treatment through health insurance.
  • Support treatment and recovery.


Friday HR Humor - HIPAA/HIPPA

HIPAA - One of the most misspelled acronyms in the HR vocabulary.

What it stands for (if you don’t know already): Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

HIPAA or HIPPA? You say tomato, I say tomahto? Potato, potahto?

Instead of calling the whole thing off, here’s some ideas for what HIPPA could stand for:

For bureaucrats:

Help in Paper Proliferation Acceleration

Help Incompetents Push Paper Around

For cautious optimists:

Hopefully Inclusive Patient Protection Act

For realists:

Hopelessly Incomplete Patient Protection Act

For health care big business:

Healthy Individuals Push Profits Away

For the rest of us:

Hospitals Inspire Patently Pitiful Appetites

How is Paperwork Protecting Anybody

Hell’s Infernal Paperwork Proliferation Act

How Intelligent People Prevaricate Administratively

Possible jail time for noncompliant recruiting practices

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy can put recruiters in jail for workplace immigration law violations, as reported in a recent Workforce article.

Employers who have not fully trained their recruiters in new state regulations and federal I-9 compliance could be looking at stiff penalties and possible jail time, according to the article.

Until new federal legislation is enacted, recruiters are being caught up in the nationwide crackdown on undocumented workers.

The current Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy allows for criminal arrests for workplace immigration law violations. In 2007, ICE made 863 work-site criminal arrests of corporate officers, managers and contractors, and 4077 administrative arrests.

“ICE commonly stage raids at the workplace and then move straight to corporate headquarters.”

As of December 26, 2007, employers must be using the updated Form I-9 that was released by the Department of Homeland Security in November. Read previous HR Forum posts regarding the updated I-9 form.

Read our new Form I-9 FAQ for more information on the revisions.

The right to bear arms ... at work?

The “bring your guns to work” bill (H.B. 503/S.B. 1130), has resurfaced in the Florida legislature, and appears headed toward passage. The bill would make it illegal for businesses and other private property owners to have policies prohibiting firearms on their private property.

It would make it unlawful for an employer to “discriminate against” an employee for exercising their constitutional rights to bear arms and of self defense, when the gun is used only in a lawful, defensive way. The legislation protects customers, employees and anyone invited on the property.

Florida is not the only state to consider this type of legislation. There was a bill pending in Georgia and a bill is currently pending in Tennessee.

Like always, we’ll keep watching this and other bills that could affect your business. Keep coming back for updates.

For more detail on the “bring your guns to work” bill, read the full article.

Going green at the office? Start with your printers

If you can’t make the leap to a fully paperless office, start with printing less paper.

GreenPrint is a new software program to help you take the first few steps to going green at the office. The program is designed to analyze what you send to the printer, eliminating blank pages or pages with only a few lines of text.

“Saving money today, trees tomorrow,” according to the GreenPrint site.

Along with saving paper, you’re also saving on expensive toner. GreenPrint also allows users to exclude images from a print job, cutting back on ink costs. It can even turn documents in to PDFs, eliminating printing all together.

The best part, the software will track the amount of pages printed and money saved.

It could be one small way offices around the world can do their part to waste less and go green.

High OSHA violations? You've been warned

Earlier this month the Occupational Safety and Health Administration notified 14,000 employers across the country that their injury and illness rates were considerably higher than the national average.

The notifications come as a proactive step to encourage employers to take action now to reduce and improve safety and health conditions in their workplaces. Read the full OSHA press release.

“A high injury and illness rate is costly to employees and employers in both personal and financial terms,” said OSHA Assistant Secretary Foulke. “Our goal is to make them aware of their high injury and illness rates and to get them to focus on eliminating hazards in their workplace.”

As reported in a previous post, the top OSHA violations in 2007 included:
  • Scaffolding
  • Hazard Communication
  • Fall Protection
  • Respiratory Protection
  • Lockout/Tagout
  • Powered Industrial Trucks
  • Electrical - Wiring
  • Ladders
  • Machine Guarding
  • Electrical - General


HR Legal Outlook: Hottest bills

Last week, HR professionals came together to hear the Society for Human Resource Management’s analysis of the hottest bills before Congress at SHRM’s 2008 Employment Law and Legislative Conference in Washington D.C. (Read the full article).

The key issues to watch, according to Michael P. Aitken, SHRM Director of Governement Affairs, are:
  • Employment eligibility verification
  • FMLA military leave
  • Proposed FMLA regulations
  • ADA restoration
A brief overview of the issues:

Employment eligibility verification - A new bill would make the current electronic verification system for employment, E-Verify, the permanent system for use by employers. If passed, employers would have to check each new employee’s work eligibility using E-Verify within three days of hire. Employers would have to verify work eligibility of previously hired employees within four years of the bill’s enactment.

Another bill on the same topic would create a new electronic verification system for employment within three years of enactment.

FMLA military leave - Signed into law in January, The National Defense Authorization Act expanded the FMLA act, allowing eligible employees to use leave when an immediate family member is called for active duty in the military or is injured in the line duty. (Read a previous HR Forum post on this topic)

Proposed FMLA regulations
- The proposed regulations address questions regarding notice requirements for employers and employees, medical certification requirements, privacy interest in health information, intermittent leave, medical certification, and what constitutes a "serious health condition" under the FMLA.

ADA restoration - the ADA Restoration Act of 2007 aims to redefine the term “disability” in the ADA to eliminate the requirement of “substantial limitation” of a major life activity. Under the proposed amendment, an ADA-qualifying “disability” would simply be a “mental or physical impairment.” Any impairment, regardless of how temporary, intermittent, or minor would be covered - including health conditions not previously covered. The proposed changes to the ADA would impact not just hiring, but all terms and conditions of employment, including healthcare plans.

(Read the full article here for more detail)

We'll keep watching these topics as they move through legislation. Visit the HR Forum often for updates.

March Madness Counterpoint: Team building

In order to keep the game fair, we must look at the counterpoint to a post from last week regarding how awful the March Madness basketball tournament is for employee productivity. Within reason, March Madness may actually benefit an office.

It’s important that employees work in enjoyable work environments. Office pools, and all the “my team is better” conversations can help build positive work relationships. As long as it doesn’t get too much in the way of work, you may just want to let March Madness run it’s course.

In a Workforce Management post this week, the author claims productivity lost to March Madness is just another urban legend.

“All of this talk about lost productivity because of March Madness is nonsense. I haven’t seen any credible research that supports the premise, and the ‘data’ that is used to make the point is soft and suspect.”

After covering the same topic last year, readers wrote to the author telling him that March Madness boosted employee bonding and office morale.

“There is no more evidence of workplace productivity losses because of March Madness than there is evidence of alligators in the sewers, Elvis living with aliens, or the Loch Ness Monster. I like fairy tales, but March Madness as a workplace problem is ridiculous.”


Workplace bullying more harmful than sexual harassment

Workplace bullying may inflict more harm on employees than on-the-job sexual harassment, according to a recent research study. Researchers presented their findings earlier this month at the Seventh International Conference on Work, Stress and Health.

Bullying includes persistently criticizing employees’ work, yelling, repeatedly reminding employees of mistakes, spreading gossip or lies, ignoring or excluding workers, and insulting employees’ habits, attitudes or private life.

Both sexual harassment and bullying will create negative environments at work, but bullying may create the most negative of the two. Employees who experienced bullying were more likely to quit their jobs, have lower well-being, be less satisfied with their jobs and have less satisfying relations with their bosses than employees who were sexually harassed, according to the researchers.

Bullied employees also reported more job stress, less job commitment and higher levels of anger and anxiety.

“Bullying is often more subtle, and may include behaviors that do not appear obvious to others," said lead author M. Sandy Hershcovis, PhD, of the University of Manitoba. “For instance, how does an employee report to their boss that they have been excluded from lunch? Or that they are being ignored by a coworker? The insidious nature of these behaviors makes them difficult to deal with and sanction.”

How do you deal with and document harassment in the workplace? The “Ask an HR Expert” section of answers the question.

First, take a preventative stance and have a strong “zero-tolerance” harassment policy. Train managers and employees on the specifics of your policy. If harassment does occur, start an investigation immediately.

See the full entry.

Workplace harassment and civil rights, comply or pay

Last week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the settlement of a race and national origin harassment lawsuit for $1.9 million against Allied Aviation Services, Inc. The lawsuit was on behalf of African American and Hispanic workers who were targets of racial slurs, graffiti, cartoons, and hangman’s nooses at a the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. Read the full press release.

According to the EEOC’s charges, African American and Hispanic employees of Allied were verbally harassed in a racially hostile work environment on a daily basis. The harassment included racial graffiti, clearly visible on fuel tanks, employee restrooms and written on aircrafts. A manager kept an offensive cartoon, belittling a Hispanic worker, under glass on their desk for months. In addition to those offenses, an employee in a mixed race marriage was subjected to racial abuse.

“It is appalling that racial harassment remains a persistent problem at some job sites across the country in the 21st century, more than 40 years after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act,” said EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp. “Employers must be more vigilant and make clear that race discrimination, whether verbal or behavioral, has no place in the contemporary workplace.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans discrimination in any aspect of employment because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It covers employers with fifteen or more employees, but many states have comparable laws covering companies with fewer employees.

In “Workplace Danger: Harassment,” the rules regarding Title VII are explained further along with ways to stop harassment now in your workplace.

G. Neil in the News

G. Neil's very own compliance attorney, Ashley Kaplan, was quoted today in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

A Pennsylvania company recently settled with the state's Attorney General's office for fraudulent marketing practices. After confusing companies into thinking it was a government agency, Mandatory Poster Agency Inc. has agreed to pay $10,000 in civil penalties, another $10,000 toward future protection and will offer refunds to more than 400 companies that bought its food service compliance posters.

Posting compliance in the service industry may sometimes be confusing because of changing laws in the industry.
Ms. Kaplan's advice [when buying labor law posters] is that employers should make sure they are dealing with a reputable firm, which they can check with the Better Business Bureau. They also should make sure the company from which they are buying posters has attorneys on staff to research the posting requirements and they should make sure the posters they put up meet the requirements in terms of font size and colors.
Read the full article.

Please also read our recent post regarding the temporary FMLA poster and fraudulent claims.

Do English-only workplaces discriminate?

Are English-only workplace policies discrimination? An article on SHRM today examines the issue.

Many U.S. employers support English-only rules as a way to ensure good employee relations and a safe work environment. But recently such rules have become a political lightning rod.

Some employee advocates have accused employers of enacting English-only policies to discriminate against immigrants.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal rules associated with this issue. The Commission allows U.S. employers to require English in the workplace, but the policy can not be in response to a certain group and must be for a specific business-related reason.

“Prohibiting people from speaking their primary language at all times can create an atmosphere of intimidation and inferiority,” according to an EEOC spokesman.

The article points out situations that would justify an English-only rule:
  • Communications with customers, co-workers or supervisors who speak only English.
  • Emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety.
  • Cooperative work assignments in which the English-only rule is needed to promote efficiency.
  • To enable a supervisor who speaks only English to monitor the performance of an employee whose job duties require communication with co-workers or customers.
The EEOC recommends that before employers adopt an English-only rule, weigh business justifications against all possible discriminatory effects of the rule.

Does your company have a workplace language policy? Do you think English-only policies are discriminatory or unfair?

Internet monitoring "Madness"

March 16 is Selection Sunday for the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. You may be wondering what is this post doing on a blog for HR topics? There’s good reason, keep reading ...

This year CBS has made it easier than ever for your employees to watch games from the comfort of their desk chairs. If you’re the owner of a small or midsized company, you should be concerned with more than just employees slacking off. When a large number of employees are streaming live video of the basketball games, they will slow or even crash your computer networks.

Starting next Tuesday, all but one of the 63 tournament games will be available online for the first time. First-round games fall on Thursday and Friday during business hours. CBS is setting up links to the games from more than 200 websites, including ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports and Facebook.

We all trust that employees will remember to record the games on their TiVos and hold back from watching basketball at work. But, if you’re worried about high bandwith use and low employee productivity, maybe it’s time to invest in filtering technology for your network.

We would like to hear your feedback on this present and growing workplace issue regarding employee internet monitoring and filtering.

What’s your opinion on internet filtering at work? How does your company handle inappropriate internet use by employees?


Mental Health Parity Bill passes House, on to negotiations

On March 5 the House of Representatives approved a bill designed to boost mental health benefits, called the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007. The legislation now moves to House-Senate negotiations to decide on a final bill.

The proposed bill would require group health plans offering benefits for the treatment of mental health and substance addiction disorders to provide the same level of benefits for those conditions as they do for physical illnesses.

The bill also includes provisions for the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2007, passed in April 2007, that would ban discrimination by employers and health insurers against employees on the basis of genetic information, and would prohibit insurers from requiring genetic tests.

On the same day the bill passed the House, the Bush Administration issued a statement indicating its opposition to the mental health and addiction act. The Administration said the act would “effectively mandate coverage of a broad range of diseases and conditions and would have a negative effect on the accessibility and affordability of employer-provided health benefits and would undermine the uniform administration of employee benefit plans.”

Check our blog frequently for further news as the bill travels through the legislative process.

For more information read this article on SHRM.

401(k) Education: Taking plays from the NFL

Three weeks after joining the NFL, young recruits are sent for training off the football field and in the classroom. Each year, over 100 NFL players participate in college-level programs on various business topics. The programs are designed to teach players how to manage their money so they can still live comfortably once their football career is over.

“It's a way for the league to help ensure financial stability for these players beyond their primes,” according to a recent Forbes article.

While employees at corporations across the US generally make a small fraction of the money a NFL player would, it’s just as important they know what to do with their money. Automatic enrollment in the company’s 401(k) plan isn’t enough anymore.

In 2007, 34 percent of large employers offered automatic 401(k) enrollment. The average employee contributed 4.5 percent of their salary to a plan, which may not be enough for a comfortable retirement.

Some of your employees may need a little extra coaching when it comes to a retirement plan. Strongly encourage your employees to contact the financial organization that handles your plan for advice. If you’re up to the challenge, hold your own workshops during to educate employees on the best way to manage their money.

Don’t just assume your employees know exactly what to do with their 401(k). Many employees would be surprised to know how much more they would retire with if they contributed a slightly higher salary percentage than leaving it at the automatic level. You signed them up for the program, now show them how to use it.

Take a lesson from the NFL playbook and educate your employees on how successfully managing their 401(k) will score a touchdown when their prime is over.


Get ready for Diabetes Alert Day - March 25, 2008

Here’s a chance to kick-off or jump-start your employee wellness program - the American Diabetes Association’s 20th Annual American Diabetes Alert Day is Tuesday, March 25, 2008.

The Association created the “one-day wake-up call” to motivate the country to take the initial steps to finding out if they are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. They even offer free, downloadable materials on their site to help you promote the event at your workplace.

Diabetes is only one of many health issues facing our employees today. With the direction health care costs have been moving in recent years, it’s time for companies to step in and help their employees.

Improve your employees’ overall health and you may cut down on your health care costs. Invest just a small amount of resources into an office wellness program and they will pay you back.

Surveys have proven that when offered, wellness programs are popular with workers. And, experts in the health care industry suggest that companies that implement wellness programs are showing returns on their investments, mainly in the form of lower health care costs.

You won’t see the money in your pocket tomorrow, but stick with a workplace wellness program. Over time you may find that you’re spending less on health care and those who matter the most, your employees, will cash in on the greatest benefit - their health.


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