‘Encouraged’ nudity grounds for harassment?

On August 27th, employees at Lush stores across the country and overseas were "encouraged" to come to work nude to protest the overpackaging of so many consumer goods.

From a Lush press release -
New York, NY – Wearing nothing but aprons reading “ASK ME WHY I’M NAKED”, employees of LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics will lead a cheeky protest urging shoppers to go ‘naked’ by purchasing products free of packaging. The brave shop workers will educate passers-by on the devastating environmental impact of packaged goods sold in cosmetic shops, supermarkets, and other retailers.

Could encouraging your employees to come to work in the nude be considered harassment? It depends.

One attorney I spoke to asked if it were a quid pro quo situation ... (in other words, were their jobs connected to participation in the nude workday?)

At this point, I have no way of knowing if their job was directly dependent upon participation. But there are more subtle forms of quid pro quo harassment than an outright demand which could push someone into participating because of perceived risks of refusing. Peer pressure or culture of compliance on the job are also powerful tools for "forcing" someone to go along.

The event could also be considered a subtle form of sexual harassment, if it created a sexually charged or hostile environment. Characteristics would of this would include:
  • unfulfilled threats to impose a sexual quid pro quo;
  • discussing sexual activities;
  • telling off-color jokes;
  • unnecessary touching;
  • commenting on physical attributes;
  • displaying sexually suggestive pictures;
  • using demeaning or inappropriate terms, such as "Babe";
  • using indecent gestures;
  • granting job favors to those who participate in consensual sexual activity;
  • using crude and offensive language.
Would encouraging nakedness at work fall into a sexual activity category? It would seem that it could be so. If displaying sexually suggestive pictures is harassment, wouldn't nudity in the workplace be even a step beyond that?

What are your thoughts on it?

Workplace deaths down, OSHA proposes new PPE rule

On-the-job deaths in 2007 dropped to a historic low, evidence that worker safety and health programs are working, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last year there were 5,488 worker deaths, the lowest number the Bureau of Labor statistics has seen since they began tracking the statistic in 1992.
"This is continued evidence that the initiatives and programs to protect workers' safety and health, designed by and implemented in this administration, are indeed working," Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said.

The most dangerous jobs in the U.S. (fatal injuries per 100,000 workers) are:
  • Fishers and related fishing workers (111.8)
  • Logging workers (86.4)
  • Aircraft pilots and flight engineers (66.7)
  • Structural and steel workers (45.5)

In the private sector, the construction industry is the most dangerous, with 1,178 deaths in 2007, a five percent decrease from the previous year.

In related news, last week the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced in the Federal Registrar that it is taking public comments on a proposed rule regarding Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and training standards.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) clarifies that when OSHA requires an employer to provide PPE for an employee, the employer must do so for each employee subject to the requirement.

OSHA requires employers to use and train employees on PPE to reduce employee exposure to hazards. The new amendment clarifies that each unprotected or untrained employee may be considered a separate violation under OSHA penalties.

OSHA is accepting public comments on the proposed rule at the Federal eRulemaking Portal until September 18, 2008.

Don’t let patient records float away

The past several years have taught us that no building is safe from the wrath of Mother Nature ... not even a hospital. When your facility is threatened by a hurricane, flood, blizzard or tornado, the safety of your patients and staff is the number one priority.

Once arrangements are made for protecting the people, you need to protect the medical records. And while all businesses need to develop a plan to back up and safely store records, electronic files, and papers, the disaster preparedness needs for a medical facility are even more critical.

Critical and irreplaceable data – The paper and images stored in medical files and electronically are a matter of life and death to patients. When medical records are key to a diagnosis or treatment plan, missing records can dramatically affect the prognosis.

Confidentiality – Medical records are far more personal and private than any other type of business records. If these files abandoned, scattered or otherwise unprotected, patient privacy is unprotected as well.

Non-centralized storage and use – Medical records in a hospital do not stay in one place. At any given time, the records of a single patient could be in the lab, the floor nurses’ station, the surgical suite, and a dozen other places.

Preparing in advance to protect your patients

Start with the location

In many hospitals, the medical records are stored at the lowest level in the building. This puts them at the highest risk of destruction, whether from flood or building collapse. If possible, select a new location that is:

  • Above flood level
  • More likely to be accessible following building collapse. Basement locations are often completely inaccessible once filled with the material from the former building.
  • Fireproof
  • In an area with two or more access points. Single door rooms can quickly become blocked and inaccessible because of debris

Develop and practice a disaster preparedness drill and recovery process

Long before the first hurricane watch or blizzard alert is issued, your facility needs to have a thorough and tested disaster preparedness plan and disaster recovery plan.
  • Designate a representative from each department or area of the hospital. Have them designate a backup in the same area.

  • Have a meeting with the representatives to determine their data and file responsibilities.

  • Develop a 72, 48 and 24 hour plan for each area in the hospital. Detail the steps personnel would take to gather and secure medical records. Be clear on who does what ... great procedures are of no use if everyone thinks someone else will do it!

  • Test your procedures under a variety of possible situations ... full notice, as with a hurricane, short notice, and emergency evacuation. Make adjustments as needed.

  • Develop a post disaster recovery plan for data bases, electronically stored records and paper records. Test this also under a variety of scenarios.

  • Make sure the plan is:

    • Understood
    • Accessible
    • Updated, as needed

Backup records electronically

Paper charts, lab reports, daily notes, and other hardcopy materials can be scanned directly into a centralized data base. Most radiological results are already in electronic format. Store the records onsite, and in a remote location far from your facility’s geographic location. Be sure your data base is secure ... HIPAA laws require you to protect confidentiality of records in all formats, even in a crisis.

Encourage virtual file checkout

Encourage the hospital staff to check out patient files virtually on a secure intranet. This allows the main paper files to remain in your secure area while doctors, therapists and other professionals use the files throughout the hospital. Not only does it protect your files from loss, it means that updates are instantaneous and accessible to all members of the medical team. Again, make sure HIPAA rules are followed in protecting patient information.

Disaster preparedness is not optional

Disaster preparedness and disaster recovery plans are critical to your hospital, and to the patients you serve. Make sure your facility is ready for anything.

Online tool measures impact of retiring employees

With one quarter of the U.S. workforce nearing retirement age, conversations about a potential “Baby Boomer brain drain” have been heard across the HR world. Transferring corporate knowledge, talent shortages and phased retirement plans have all become growing issues for worried companies.

It’s estimated that by the end of this year, 17% of the Baby Boomers holding executive, administrative and managerial positions in the private sector are expected to have retired.

“The problem is, HR often doesn’t have the data to back up the belief that their companies will be affected as the baby boomers leave the workforce, experts say.”

To back up those beliefs, AARP created the Workforce Assessment Tool to help business owners gauge how much of an impact retiring employees will have on your business. The 80-question online tool is confidential, free to use, and takes about 30 minutes to complete.

After answering questions about the composition of your workforce, workplace practices and company benefits, the tool generates an individualized report. The report outlines how the aging workforce may affect your organization, recommends how to better accommodate workers of all ages, maps out your current employment practices and areas of improvement and creates an inventory of your workplace strengths that could enhance your employer brand.

Try out the Workforce Assessment Tool today and find out how much of an impact retiring employees may have on your business.

Telecommuting on the rise say top corporate execs

The number of telecommuting employees is on the rise, according to a recent survey of top executives by an independent research team and leading staffing service OfficeTeam.

Telecommuting is currently popular among companies, with more than two-thirds (69%) of executives saying it is common for their companies’ employees to work remotely. Of those polled, 82% of managers said they expect the number of telecommuting employees to increase in the next five years.

The survey, based on telephone interviews of 150 senior executives from some of the largest U.S. companies, examined the current state and outlook of telecommuting in America.

“Rising fuel prices are causing people to look for alternatives to lengthy commutes, and working from home or at locations closer to home are attractive options,” said Dave Willmer, executive director of OfficeTeam. “Technology has also made it easier for employees to work remotely when traveling for business.”

In related news, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Telework Improvements Act of 2008, that would require the head of each federal agency to establish a policy allowing “eligible” employees to telework a portion of the workweek.

If passed, federal agencies would be required to allow authorized employees to telework at least 20% of the hours worked in every two administrative workweeks. Under the bill, federal employees would be authorized to telecommute the maximum amount of hours possible without diminishing employee performance or agency operations.

The bill points out some positions will not be eligible for the telework option due to the nature of the work including situations where employees must be at the job-site to perform their work of if the job requires face-to-face time with the public.

The proposed legislation now moves on to the Senate. We will continue watching the status of this bill and will share information as it becomes known.

How to beat stress in the workplace

Stress in the workplace can have a more dangerous impact on employee heath than employers realize, according to research presented yesterday at the annual conference of the American Psychological Association.

Ohio State University researchers found that stress negatively affects immune responses and the time it takes the body to heal itself. Long-term stress can increase the risk of obesity, insomnia, digestive problems, heart disease, depression, memory impairment and physical illness.

Stress on the job is one of the top reasons why workers are unhealthy, according to a new poll by work/life experts at LifeCare. The poll revealed that the top factors having the most negative impact on employee health are:
  • Lack of exercise (24%)
  • Stress about finances (22%)
  • Stress in personal/family life (20%)
  • Stress on the job (14%)
  • Lack of sleep (8%)
Not only is stress harmful to employee health, it hurts business in the form of increased job turnover. The top reason why people quit is because of excessive stress, according to a Watson Wyatt study.

Promote employee wellness and reduce job turnover with the following stress-beating tips:

  • Make to-do lists. Along with day-to-day tasks, write down your long-term career goals and the small steps you can take to reach them. Thinking long-term will help you get through mundane, daily tasks by knowing you’re going somewhere.
  • Take a break. Stretch, go for a walk or grab a coffee whenever you start to feel stressed out. Taking short breaks throughout the day can help reduce stress and improve productivity.
  • Get organized. A cluttered desk is a stressful desk. An organized desk will help you find things faster, feel less stressed and be more efficient.
  • Have a laugh. Laughter is a known stress reliever, so lighten up and smile more. Talk to a friendly coworker or call a family member to make you day more enjoyable.
  • Sleep better. Make a conscious effort to get more sleep at night. Along with reducing stress at work, a good night’s sleep will give you more energy and increase your concentration.
  • Squeeze something. Keep a fun squeeze toy, like Dilbert below, on your desk for those times you need a little stress relief. Reduce built-up tension and squeeze the stress away.


Employee wellness best practices: Offset the rise in health care costs

Health care costs are projected to rise more than 10 percent next year, according to a survey of insurers by Aon Consulting Worldwide.

While the double-digit rise may seem large, it’s actually the smallest increase Aon has seen in the past six years, hinting that employee wellness programs may be paying off.

If you want to offset the rise in health care costs, business should spend more money on employee wellness programs, according to a Workforce Management article from earlier this year. Health care industry experts suggest that companies that have implemented wellness programs have seen lower health care costs.
“CFOs have always viewed health care as an expense, but rarely as an investment” said Jerry Ripperger, director of consumer health at the Principal Financial Group. “But improving the health of your employee base, rather than simply providing reimbursements, is an exercise in risk management with a true ROI.”

Companies that have implemented employee wellness programs have seen an average reduction of $2.45 in medical claims for every dollar spent developing the program, according to a recent Principal study. Most companies started seeing results after about 18 months and the longer a wellness program is in place, the more health care costs can be reduced, according to Ripperger.

The Wellness Council of America, an organization devoted to employee wellness programs, has developed seven employee wellness best practices. To develop and maintain a program in your workplace, follow “The Seven C’s” for success:
  1. Capturing CEO Suport
  2. Creating Cohesive Wellness Teams
  3. Collecting Data To Drive Health Efforts
  4. Carefully Crafting An Operating Plan
  5. Choosing Appropriate Interventions
  6. Creating A Supportive Environment
  7. Carefully Evaluating Outcomes
Download a free copy of WELCOA’s Seven Benchmarks of results-oriented workplace wellness programs.

New passport card acceptable in Form I-9 process

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is informing the public that the new U.S. Passport Card may be used to verify employment eligibility in the Form I-9 process.

The new passport card was created as a less expensive and more portable alternative to the traditional passport book. Its purpose is to speed up document processing at U.S. land and sea ports of entry for U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

While the card may not be used for international air travel, it is a valid passport certifying U.S. citizenship and the card holder’s identity. The new passport card may be used to verify work eligibility in the Form I-9 process and employers participating in the E-Verify program.

The passport card is classified under “List A” documents to prove the identity and work eligibility of a newly hired employee when completing the I-9 form. Review the lists of acceptable and unacceptable documents new hires may use to verify work eligibility.

In related news, the House of Representatives passed the Employee Verification Amendment Act of 2008 on July 31, that would extend the federal E-Verify program for five years.

The act includes a provision that would authorize two Government Accountability Office studies to investigate the impact of the program on small businesses.

The bill continues through to the Senate, but no action is expected until September when legislators return from their August recess.

Read more about the E-Verify extension.

Remodeling morale at Home Depot

In the midst of a struggling economy, home improvement giant Home Depot is remodeling from the inside out, with employee morale and sense of ownership at the top of their “fix-it” list. HR chief Tim Crow has his hands full renovating training programs, expanding cash bonuses and increasing employee/customer face time.

In a recent Q & A with Workforce Management, Crow talked about the difficulties Home Depot has had to face while the country suffers through the “weakest housing market in more than 25 years.” This year company profits fell over 60%, forcing the company to halt expansion plans and close stores, impacting the lives of 1,300 employees.

While the company and country struggle financially, Crow has kept his focus on creating a sense of ownership among employees, improving employee product knowledge and strategically using rewards and recognition programs to revitalize morale.

Home Depot’s morale building strategies include:

Success Sharing. If stores make their sales goals, everyone gets a cash bonus. In 2007, Success Sharing bonuses totaled $63 million.

Homer Badges. Badges, named after the company mascot, to recognize store associates for living the company’s values. If employees earn three badges, they get a cash bonus.

Aprons on the Floor. An company-wide initiative encouraging employees to find new ways to cut costs so Home Depot can spend more on staffing. The company cut its HR staff by more than half, with four HR managers overseeing 6 to 10 stores each.

Read the complete Workforce article on how Home Depot is keeping training and employee morale high priorities during tough economic times.

More sick employees reporting to work

Financial pressures are a big reason more sick employees are reporting to work, even if they have paid sick leave, according to a new poll of two presidential swing states.

National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health compiled Heath Care and the Economy in Two Swing States: A Look at Ohio and Florida, examining how financial issues have affected citizens in the two presidential swing states. Soaring health care costs and medical bills have taken a bite out of family finances, forcing people to report to work even though they may be ill.

Of those surveyed, 44% of employees in Florida and 50% in Ohio go to work sick because they’re worried about the financial consequences went to work sick.

“The general level of economic anxiety that workers have today, I think, is evident in these polls, and employers might want to be cognizant of their workforce being very worried about paying their bills,” Kaiser’s vice president of public opinion and survey research Maryann Brodie told SHRM Online.

The data, she added, “should make everyone pause and think how this economy and economic anxiety are affecting the people around them and the people who are working for them.”


House passes Paycheck Fairness Act

As expected, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Fairness Act on July 31, 2008. The new act would help close the gap between women’s and men’s pay differences by “adding some teeth” to the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

If approved, the bill would enhance remedies in cases where women and men are not paid equal wages for doing equal work.

Among other enhancements, the bill would allow women to sue for compensatory and punitive damages in Equal Pay Act cases, require the Department of Labor to strengthen training and outreach efforts that help employers eliminate pay disparities, and create a new grant program to help women develop stronger negotiation skills.

The bill now moves on to the Senate, where we’ll continue watching its progress. Check back for updates on the bill and how it may affect your business.

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