Happy holidays, everyone!

A hearty hello to all my HR friends out there in the big ol’ blogosphere. Just wanted to let you know that I will be “offline” for the next week or so, enjoying the holidays with friends and family. I hope you’re doing the same – and that the holiday season is a festive, fulfilling time for you.

Speaking on behalf of everyone at G.Neil, I appreciate you stopping by to read this blog, sharing your thoughts and working together to tackle your HR challenges, big and small. I look forward to continued dialogue in 2010 – delving deeper into the day-to-day issues and looking at solutions from G.Neil that can make your work life a whole lot easier.

Thanks, again, for all your support in 2009. Best wishes, and “chat” with you soon!

They're back! Employee benefits slo-o-o-o-wly returning as economy rebounds

Like a slumbering bear awakening from his long winter’s hibernation, the economy is showing signs of life again. It’s still a little sluggish, but it’s stirring and has stepped into the light of day.

That’s good news, as is the fact that more employers are bringing back the benefits they were forced to freeze during the worst of the recession. During tough times, many companies slashed 401(k) matches, merit-based raises and bonuses, and other employee perks to help cut costs. A recent USA today article, however, shares some encouraging results from a report from human resources consultancy Towers Perrin:

=> Nearly two-thirds of firms that locked in salaries last year will start offering raises again in 2010

=> Approximately one-third of firms that dropped 401(k) matches will increase or restart those company contributions next year

And many of these companies are reinstating these benefits for the best of reasons: To motivate and retain their most valuable employees, so they don’t walk out the door as the economy (and job market) strengthens.

"When you start coming out of a recession, people remember how they were
treated," says Fred Crandall, a Watson Wyatt senior human resource consultant. "Some people who feel like they've been given a raw deal will jump ship." USA Today

Yet many of these benefits won’t be as robust as they once were. Gone are the days of the usual 401(k) match of 50 cents on the dollar, up to 6% of pay. Many companies, like FedEx, will offer smaller matches. Other companies will look at certain factors when adjusting benefits, such as tying 401(k) matches to quarterly or annual financial performance.

And what about raises? They may return in 2010, but not in an across-the-board, one-size-fits-all fashion. Four in 10 employers in the Towers Perrin report stated that they will differentiate among employees when considering salary increases, doling out the highest raises to only the highest achievers. A weak employee may see no raise at all.

While these re-emerging benefits will be a welcome change to employees in the new year, employees shouldn’t assume it’s business as usual in 2010. Most employers will be extremely cautious when reinstating benefits, keeping a close eye on the economy’s recovery.

“More organizations are being much more clear that benefits such as 401(k) matches are discretionary,” says Brad Kimler, executive vice president of Fidelity’s Consulting Services business.

What about your company? Are you in a position to start bringing back some of the benefits you placed on the back burner in 2009? Do you see the economy - and your business - rebounding enough in 2010 to reinstate 401(k) matches, raises and other benefits? We'd love to hear what's happening in your corner of the world!


Inappropriate texting on company equipment a privacy issue - or a policy issue?

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear arguments in a case involving sexually explicit text messages sent by an employee using employer-provided equipment. After an employee of the Ontario, CA, SWAT unit was warned repeatedly for exceeding the number of texts sent per month, his employers reviewed the content of the texts, setting off a whole privacy debate. The court is to determine whether the employer violated privacy rights by reviewing the messages.

My knee-jerk reaction? Privacy shmivacy. When it comes to privacy vs. policy issues where employees don’t follow the rules, it’s hard to comprehend a reasonable defense.

“But judge, I didn’t understand the privacy policy.”

That’s the only possible explanation, in my opinion. As dim-witted as that may sound, it puts the onus completely on the corporation to defend itself. As HR specialists, it becomes your burden to first, create a comprehensive electronic usage policy that covers all the “what ifs” and then, to ensure every employee has reviewed and understood the policy. It only takes a few employees saying the rules and regulations were never explained to them, or that they didn’t understand what was explained, to create a leak in your airtight policy.

As unbelievable as this kind of court case may sound (the employee blatantly used a company phone to send racy messages!), it further demonstrates the importance of creating a thorough privacy policy review process that engages every employee. In the case of the Ontario SWAT unit, their policy allowed for a certain number of texts per month per employee. If employees exceeded the limit, it was their responsibility to pay for the overage amount. That’s a good policy and one that every officer understood. The issue arose when one officer repeatedly violated the limit policy, prompting his manager to audit the messages for personal use.

What was the purpose of the excessive texts and were they a detriment to the officer’s productivity on company time? Which begs another question: How detailed should your privacy policies be? Enough to cover all the bases. The Ontario SWAT unit was very detailed in their policy in some areas, but lacking in others. If the policy had clearly stated that excessive abuse of the monthly limits would lead to a review of the message content, employees would have been aware that their activities could lead to further scrutiny.

While this case seems cut and dried, it isn’t because it forces HR managers from coast to coast to review, revise and reinforce their privacy policy standards. At the very least, you may want to look at your privacy policies when it comes to corporate-supplied equipment to ensure you have an iron-clad and understandable position.

DOL and EEOC could receive major financial boost in 2010

The House approved a massive $447 billion spending bill that would provide a significant bump in funding for the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for fiscal year 2010. The Consolidated Appropriations Act (H.R. 3288), which combines six separate spending measures, passed by a vote of 221-202 on December 10. The bill is now with the Senate and must be passed by December 18 – or extended by a temporary measure to keep it afloat.

Here are a few highlights regarding the proposed funding:

=> $13.3 billion for the DOL, with $1.6 billion earmarked for worker safety and health programs ($121 million more than the amount provided in 2009)

What it means: More financial support for the enforcement and compliance initiatives of the Employment Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), Employment Standards Administration (ESA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) – including the hiring of 600 new, full-time employees. Employers could see a greater presence by OSHA, with more inspections, more audits of safety records and more enforcement of required safety standards.

=> $367 million for the EEOC ($23 million more than the amount provided in 2009)

What it means: More funding to ease the backlog of 70,000+ pending employment discrimination cases. The EEOC received 93,277 private-sector discrimination charges in 2009, the second-highest number in 20 years. Employers could see more employee lawsuits coming their way for discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion or disability.

So while we can’t be certain how this bill will play out in the coming months, we do know that President Obama's administration places a high priority on employment and labor law reform, particularly the enforcement of laws designed to protect employees.

Now, more than ever, employers need to step up their compliance and training programs to prevent costly fines and potential lawsuits. In light of this possible funding and renewed enforcement, you would be wise to:

1. Conduct procedural audits and other internal reviews to identify any issues that require immediate action.

2. Review and revise the employment policies in your company’s Employee Handbook and ensure they’re properly distributed. Be certain your policies reflect the many employment law developments in the past year, such as changes to the ADA, FMLA and COBRA.

3. Assess your internal complaint procedures (as well as your employees’ awareness of such procedures). Employees who cannot voice their concerns are more likely to feel powerless and as a result, take legal action against their employers.

4. Provide ongoing harassment prevention and anti-discrimination training to employees and managers. Your company must send a clear message that harassment will not be tolerated in the workplace – and support that message with education on how to recognize and prevent harassment.

5. Maintain up-to-date labor law postings and other specialized, employee-facing posters, which keep your company in compliance and act as a first line of defense in an employee-based lawsuit.

Snuggies in the workplace? Oh no you didn't!

Do HR pros really need to delve deep into dress code decorum to determine that “the blanket with sleeves” is NOT acceptable in the workplace? Should this even be debatable? It’s as absurd as men wearing pleated shorts that expose their sock garters in summer. You just don’t go there … EVER.

But apparently there are those who want to “fight for their right to Snug-gie!”, based on a lively discussion I encountered in a BLR forum. The responses were pretty hilarious.

Here’s the deal, as “IrisD” explains:

"Our facility manager lowered the thermostat to save money. We don't allow space heaters, so some of the women are wearing those "snuggy" blankets and even going outside with them for their smoking breaks.

This has caused kind of a rift between men and women in the office because the men are wearing sweaters and jackets to keep warm, not blankets. One male supervisor told the snuggy wearers to "wear more clothes, not blankets." Emails are flying.

Can we ban snuggys? Or should we? They really don't come under dress codes."

The general consensus, as you might imagine, was that fleecy robe thingys don’t belong in the workplace. Shocking, right? My favorite response:

"Honestly, if your dress code does not rule out blankets-as-clothing, there’s probably something wrong with your dress code. It’s not like this is a question about a man with makeup or a woman refusing to wear hose, or oxfords vs. polos. This is a person in a fabric zip-lock bag with sleeves."

Then there’s the issue of safety, as someone else pointed out: A long, flowy robe might get caught on objects and be a safety hazard for the wearer.

So what we have here is not only a serious fashion faux pas, but also a potential safety risk. And regarding your company’s dress code, I sincerely hope your employees use a little more common sense than those at Iris’ workplace. I know, I know, there’s always that one employee who will push the envelope with his or her wardrobe, but seriously? A brightly colored, one-size-fits-all, floor-length blanket?!?

So let’s do our best to keep the temperature at a comfortable level this winter - and encourage employees to grab their favorite cardigan, blazer, hoodie, shawl - anything but their Snuggie - to fight the chill.

P.S. Did you know that Snuggie ads also suggest you wear this warm, cuddly garment at sporting events, movie theaters and, my personal favorite, night-time pub crawls? Please, unless you’re a college student in the middle of rush week, stop the madness!

P.S.S. I don't own a Snuggie. But now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, I think I could really use one. Royal blue, please. And I promise you, no one will ever see it except my husband and my two Jack Russell Terriers.


Fast-food giant "burned" for mistreatment of transgender applicant

Although it has a strict policy prohibiting any form of discrimination or harassment in hiring, termination or any other aspect of employment, a McDonald’s in Orlando, Florida, is eating its words due to a former employee who overstepped his bounds.

In a complaint filed by the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) before the Florida Commission on Human Relations, 17-year-old Zikerria Bellamy claims she was not hired by the fast-food restaurant because she was a transgender.

When Bellamy filled out the application at the Orlando location, she did not check off the box that asks whether the applicant is male or female (a voluntary question that states, “failure to respond will not subject you to adverse treatment”). Later, when she went in for an interview, she was forced to check off the box indicating her gender. And then, to make matters worse, she received this damaging voicemail: "You will not get hired. We do not hire (expletive). You lied to me. You told me you were a woman.”

McDonald’s quickly defended its position – and policies - forbidding this type of behavior:

"The behavior of the individual in question is not reflective of the employment policies in the organization. Further, this individual acted outside the scope of his authority and was not responsible for hiring.”

Not surprisingly, the individual in question is no longer employed by the restaurant.

Is your company doing enough?

According to the New York-based TLDEF, nearly 50 percent of transgender people in the United States have been fired or refused a job because of their transgender status.

While federal law clearly protects employees and applicants from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it doesn’t offer similar protections on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Protection runs deeper on a state level, however, where almost half the states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in public and private employment. And earlier this year, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) introduced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009, a proposed federal law that would prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

Legal requirements aside, many employers recognize that in today’s diverse environment, instituting policies and procedures that prohibit this type of discrimination is smart business.

Preventing sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace starts with understanding current laws, examining your policies and procedures, and training employees to abide by those policies.

For a quick overview of the issues, check out an earlier blog post, Sexual orientation, gender identity discrimination protections gaining legal ground, and the article in our G.Neil library, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection.

For specific guidance creating gender orientation policies and procedures, read our free whitepaper, Creating a Gender Orientation Policy for Your Workplace (pdf).

Uh-oh! Overtime oversight puts employer in the legal hot set

A few months back, I talked about how overtime lawsuits are on the rise (Can salaried employees receive overtime pay?), and that employers need to be especially careful with how they classify their employees (exempt vs. non-exempt).

Well, I just learned of a recent court case that highlights just how important it is to get this right. As the blog post, Court of Appeals affirms overtime ruling for non-exempt worker under FLSA, explains, “The Second Circuit has ruled in favor of a worker who was denied overtime pay, ruling that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not exempt workers whose job skills are not customarily the product of advanced educational training.”

Here are the details of Young v. Cooper Cameron Corp.: Andrew Young was a highly skilled “Product Design Specialist II” with 20 years of engineering-type experience when he was hired. His work at Cooper Cameron involved complicated technical expertise and responsibility, including designing hydraulic power units for oil drilling rigs. Like his fellow PDS IIs at the company, however, Young did not have any formal education beyond a high school diploma.

When he lost his job in 2004 in a reduction in force (RIF), he sued the company for the overtime he’d been denied due to his classification as an exempt professional.

The court ruled in his favor.

Why? The issue lies with the definition of “professional capacity,” a legal standard that exempts an employee from overtime pay under the FLSA. According to FLSA regulations, an exempt professional is someone “whose primary duty consists of the performance of work requiring knowledge of an advance type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized instruction and study.”

The judgment in Young’s favor was due largely to the fact that although Young had technical expertise, his job did not require a prolonged course of specialized intellectual study. Plus, none of the other product design specialists at Cooper Cameron had advanced degrees – they were all high school graduates with no college training.

Not a good day in court for Cooper Cameron. Young was wrongly classified as an exempt professional and as such, was entitled to overtime pay under FLSA. (To make matters worse, the court found that the company did not act in good faith when it classified Young, changing his job title from a non-exempt position to a title that “sounded” more professional.)

Don’t let the overtime rules overwhelm you! Check out the ComplyRight Now E-Guide Determining Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Employees, for help figuring out whether an employee is exempt or non-exempt – and to steer clear of FLSA-related employee lawsuits like this.

Does your bereavement policy ease their suffering - or add to it?

If you’ve ever experienced the death of a loved one, you know how devastating the loss can be – and how it turns your world upside down. When you’re feeling a new, raw emotion every few minutes, it’s hard to create any sort of normalcy, especially with your job.

That’s why you should take a considerate, compassionate approach to bereavement and do everything you can to ease an employee’s burden.

During this difficult time, an employee will hear these words again and again, “If there’s anything I can do – anything at all - please let me know.” Well, this is your time to show that you, as an employer, are not just talk when it comes to supporting your employees, during the good times and the bad.

Death, stress and struggling to move on

Based on the stress scale created by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe in 1967, the death of a spouse is one of life’s most stressful events, with the death of a close family member not far behind.

And the upheaval it creates is considerable. According to the online resource,

“Symptoms of complicated grief include intense emotion and longings for the deceased, severely intrusive thoughts about the lost loved one, extreme feelings of isolation and emptiness, avoiding doing things that bring back memories of the departed, new or worsened sleeping problems, and having no interest in activities that the sufferer used to enjoy.”

As you might imagine, this level of personal turmoil does not bode well in the workplace. An employee who was once upbeat and productive might become forlorn and distracted after a significant loss. What you do during those first few days and weeks can make all the difference to your grieving employees, and help them get back on their feet that much faster.

How your bereavement policies can boost morale

What types of bereavement benefits and resources can you provide to show you’re a company that cares about your employees and their well-being?

=> Funeral leave for a family member – As a matter of policy, most companies extend up to three paid days off for a full-time employee to attend the funeral of an immediate family member. But is it enough?

“Three days is a tragedy,” says Russell Friedman, author of The Grief Recovery Handbook and executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute. “Some companies are extraordinary and have big hearts when it comes to giving time off after a death, but many are stuck in the dark ages.”

He claims that employees need at least a week to deal with the details surrounding a death and funeral, especially since many people don’t live near their families these days. He also recommends extending your funeral leave policy to part-time employees.

Be sensitive to the fact that every situation is different. Managers should be allowed to adjust this policy to meet the needs of their staff. An employee who just lost a spouse of 25 years in a terrible accident might need more time off than an employee whose grandmother died peacefully at age 94.

=> Thoughtful support from management and peers – It’s not always easy knowing what to say to a grieving employee after a loss. But this is one of those critical times when managers need to push through their own discomfort and reach out to the employee. Now, more than ever, managers and supervisors need to be a stable influence, lending a helping hand and an open ear.

If you’re like most companies, you’ll give the employee a sympathy greeting card, send flowers or make a donation to a special charity.

Be sure to notify fellow employees of a death in a coworker’s family, as well. Share the news face to face with those coworkers who will be most affected by the news – and issue a simple e-mail or memo to the rest of the staff.

=> Remind the employee of your employee assistance program (EAP) – An employee’s need for support doesn’t end when the funeral is over. If your company offers counseling services, encourage the grieving employee to take advantage of them. And keep in mind that an employee’s work performance may be inconsistent in the first few weeks back on the job. If the employee was hard-working and dedicated prior to the loss of a loved one, he or she can get back to that place - with the right amount of support and assistance.

8 most stressful jobs on the planet

"What, me - stressed? Nah, I'm just a little amped up about the brain surgery I have to perform in an hour."

If you have a pulse and a job, chances are you feel some amount of tension in the average workday. But does it compare to the stress of being a surgeon or commercial airline pilot?

A recent msnbc article shares the most stressful jobs, as compiled by, a job search website. More than 20 stress factors were considered, the biggest being deadlines, life or death situations and physical demands.

Here are the top 8 high-pressure positions:

1) Surgeon - Sure, the average salary is high ($309,118) but with the hefty paycheck comes extreme physical demands, critical deadlines and almost daily life or death situations. Plus, surgeons work on their feet for long hours and have a wide circle of people depending upon them.

2) Commercial airline pilot - Think back to Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger safely landing a 162,000-pound plane loaded with passengers into the Hudson River and you get a pretty good idea of why this position comes in second. Pilots have only one chance to properly take off and land each flight, and the lives of often more than 100 passengers hang in the balance.

3) Photojournalist - Whether they're covering wars, riots, four-alarm fires or soccer matches, photojournalists must get to the scene of an event quickly and make the perfect shot - often times risking their lives to do so.

4) Advertising account executive - Ad execs made the list largely due to the tough economy right now. With the media industry going through such upheaval - and execs depending on selling ad space to make sales commissions - you have a situation fraught with anxiety.

5) Real estate agent - The housing boom has gone bust, leaving agents scrambling for business. If they haven't joined the record number of agents abandoning the profession, many agents are feeling the crunch of the housing crisis.

6) General practice physician - Like their peers that topped the list, these medical practitioners face life or death decisions on a regular basis and put in long, demanding hours. And declining insurance reimbursements have left many physicians financially broken, even bankrupt.

7) Newspaper reporter - First, there's the massive layoffs in the newspaper industry. Then, there are the constant pressures of working under deadline and competing for stories. Put it all together and you have a work setting that would rattle even the most seasoned professional.

8) Physician's assistant - As general practice physicians sign up more patients, physician assistants are seeing their workload (and stress levels) mount. And without the higher salary that physicians command.

So if your profession made the list, you haven't learned anything new here. Hopefully, the job's perks outweigh the sweaty palms, racing heart and pit in your stomach you endure on a daily basis. After all, when it comes to stress in the workplace, one person's anxiety is another person's adrenaline rush.

And if your job didn't make the cut, aren't you thankful you've chosen such a serene, satisfying, stress-free livelihood?

Needed: Marketing manager who does computer programming, outbound sales and the tango

I’m used to seeing all the sobering statistics concerning our country’s dismal unemployment rate (just over 10 percent now!), but this headline caught my eye, “State’s jobless rate lets employers ask more from potential hires”.

While the article pertained to Washington, I’m sure the situation applies everywhere. It seems that the lingering recession and extreme competition for jobs have created a whole host of picky employers. The days of simple, streamlined job listings are over, as employers demand more and more from potential hires.

The Seattle Times article shares these examples:

=> Health-care clinic seeks someone who has both marketing experience and knowledge of computer-networking software

=> Environment nonprofit looking for someone to troubleshoot Apple computers, lift up to 50 pounds, work long hours and travel up to seven days at a stretch

=> Catering company needs an event planner who knows basic HTML and is willing to do “personal assistant tasks” for the owner

With companies having to stretch their resources thinner than ever and only cautiously bringing in new hires, this may be the new “normal.”

“Companies of all sizes are advertising such ‘hybrid jobs’ in an effort to save
money,” said Lanell Flint, Northwest vice president for Ajilon Professional
Staffing. "Everyone is trying to do more with less.”

The article states another possible reason for job listings demanding extensive (and sometimes random) job requirements and work experience: less time or money for on-the-job training. In lieu of training to fill in gaps or weaknesses for an otherwise qualified individual, employers want candidates who can “hit the ground running” on all counts.

This employment pickiness often makes for a longer, more drawn-out hiring process, too. It’s not unusual for employers to leave positions open for longer or bring people in for multiple interviews.

What about your company? How has your hiring process changed during the continuing recession? Have you revisited your job descriptions and what you need from new hires? And with more candidates to choose from, are you getting pickier with your selections?


Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?

My mother used to tell me, “You have two ears, but only one mouth. It’s more important to listen than it is to talk.”

But with all the chatter out there, it seems that most of us are enamored by the sound of our own voices – and are more comfortable running our mouths than opening our ears.

That can be a real problem – not only in our personal relationships, but in the workplace, too. Listening – really listening – takes considerable effort. Most people engaged in a conversation are more interested in what they will say next than what the other person is sharing.

But as Michael Nichols, author of The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships, explains, the essence of listening, "…can be achieved only by suspending our preoccupation with ourselves and entering into the experience of the other person."

So how do we dial down the self-absorbed chatter and listen more intently to the other person in the conversation? In her article, Hear This: Unleash the Power of Listening and Improve Business Relationships, Priscilla Kohl suggests the following tactics:

1) Give your undivided attention to the speaker. If you’re speaking face-to-face, maintain good eye contact. Even if you’re talking on the phone, stop everything that you are doing. Many of us have multi-tasking tendencies. However, our focus should be on the person talking, thus reassuring them that they have our full attention.

2) Be sensitive of the speaker. If they appear nervous, ignore the body language and instead pick up on the message and the words being expressed. Also, by helping speakers relax, you will find them growing more at ease with you. Normally, relaxed speakers convey more authentic or candid thoughts and views.

3) Avoid interrupting, giving advice or steering the conversation away from the point(s) being made by the speaker. A listener can make comments or express body language without interrupting the speaker. For instance, a good listener can be responsive by sharing an appropriate smile or a word or two that do not interrupt the flow. Simple body language techniques such as shaking one’s head or raising an eyebrow will connect the listener with a speaker. Simple words like "yes" and "go on" let the speaker know you are engaged.

4) Listen very closely to points that you may disagree with. A poor listener often has their mind made up and shows it. Instead, be open and take a na├»ve approach to what the speaker is saying. Acknowledge what they are trying to get across. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with or condone what is being said; it just means that you’re not constantly thinking about your next rebuttal.

5) Mentally collect and organize the speaker’s main points. Try not to think about something else while another person is talking. Also by mentally processing what the speaker is saying, a good listener avoids the trap of immediately reacting before it’s their turn to speak.

OSHA reveals its "top 10" safety violations for 2009

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) shared the 10 most frequent workplace safety violations for 2009 in a presentation to the National Safety Council last week. Unfortunately, these types of safety missteps have increased almost 30 percent from the previous year.

“The sheer number of violations gives us new resolve in raising awareness about
the importance of having sound safety procedures,” says National Safety
Council President and CEO Janet Froetscher.

Here are the 10 safety issues that made the list:

1. Scaffolding – 9,093 violations
Scaffold accidents most often result from the planking or support giving way, or to the employee slipping or being struck by a falling object.

2. Fall Protection – 6,771 violations
Fall protection is required for any work at a height of four feet or more in general industry, five feet in maritime and six feet in construction.

3. Hazard Communication – 6,378 violations
Chemical manufacturers and importers are required to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they produce or import, and prepare labels and safety data sheets to convey this hazard information to employees and customers.

4. Respiratory Protection – 3,803 violations
Respirators protect workers against insufficient oxygen environments, harmful dusts, fogs, smokes, mists, gases, vapors and sprays (all of which may cause cancer, lung impairment, other diseases or death).

5. Lockout-Tag out – 3,321 violations
"Lockout-Tag out” refers to specific procedures to safeguard employees from the unexpected startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities.

6. Electrical (Wiring) – 3,079 violations
Working with electricity poses certain hazards for engineers, electricians and other professionals who work with electricity directly, as well as office workers and sales people who work with electricity indirectly.

7. Ladders – 3,072 violations
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) lists falls as one of the leading causes of traumatic occupational death, accounting for eight percent of all occupational fatalities.

8. Powered Industrial Trucks – 2,993 violations
Employees may be injured when powered industrial trucks (PIT), or forklifts, are inadvertently driven off loading docks, they fall between docks and an unsecured trailer, they are struck by a lift truck, or they fall while on elevated pallets and tines.

9. Electrical – 2,556 violations
Again, working with electricity poses certain hazards for engineers, electricians and other professionals who work with electricity directly, as well as office workers and sales people who work with electricity indirectly.

10. Machine Guarding – 2,364 violations
Any machine part, function or process that may cause injury to the operator of the equipment (or through accidental contact) must be safeguarded to eliminate hazards.

How safe and sound is your workplace? More important, what are you doing to build awareness and train your employees on proper safety procedures? G.Neil makes safety training and OSHA compliance easy and affordable. From forklift training videos to eye-catching safety posters, our full selection of products can help you conduct the type of OSHA training that prevents these top 10 safety offenses.

"Keep your hands off my egg salad sandwich!"

It never fails. Every six months or so, HR is forced to send an e-mail that reads something like this:

"It has been brought to our attention that food is missing from the refrigerators in the Lunch Rooms. It is our hope that this is an isolated situation and will cease from occurring. Please be sure the food you take from the refrigerator is yours, and if it does not belong to you, that you not take it."

Every time I receive this e-mail, I am appalled that 1) coworkers would swipe each other's food and 2) HR has to remind a group of adults not to swipe each other's food.

What possesses someone to sneak into a lunch room, rummage through the refrigerator (looking over his or her shoulder the entire time) and then snatch another person's lunch? "Hmmmm, what am I craving today? Let's see ... an apple, a PB&J sandwich, a bag of corn chips ... ooooh, what's this, leftover lasagna? Yummy!"

I know times are tough and we're watching every penny, but c’mon. I would think most of us holding down full-time jobs can afford to pack lunches or go out for a midday meal. And if it's a case of the munchies, surely you have a few quarters laying around for a sweet or salty snack from the vending machines (which are located right next to the refrigerators reserved for food that's already spoken for!).

And while I've never been the victim of a ham-sandwich heist, I know how upset I'd be to find my lunch missing. Not only would I be irritated because I'm starving, my blood sugar is plummeting and my lunch is nowhere to be found, but I'd also seriously question the judgment of my coworkers. If someone is capable of lifting a lunch, what else is considered "fair game"? Do I have to worry about Bill or Sandra visiting my office and "borrowing" a pen, a few paper clips or the frames around my family photos? Shouldn't we be able to assume "what's mine is mine" and that someone's workspace is not an office supply closet - and a communal refrigerator is not an open buffet?

Again, I don't know what's worse: someone pilfering another’s chicken panini - or HR reminding employees to keep their hands off my brown bag!

Texas oil refinery receives record-breaking OSHA fine

A mind-boggling $87,430,000. That's the amount the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is proposing in penalties to BP Products North America, Inc. The reason? Failure to correct potential hazards to its employees.

BP's Texas City, Texas, refinery experienced a massive, fatal explosion in March 2005 that killed 15 workers and injured 170. In September of that year, BP entered into a
settlement agreement, committing to corrective actions that would eliminate the types of hazards responsible for the 2005 incident. Yet, after a recent six-month inspection,
OSHA is not satisfied with BP's efforts and has now issued this record-breaking $87 million fine.

"When BP signed the OSHA settlement from the March 2005 explosion, it agreed to
take comprehensive action to protect employees. Instead of living up to that
commitment, BP has allowed hundreds of potential hazards to continue
unabated," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.

Solis also shared this stern message regarding BP's safety oversights:

"Fifteen people lost their lives as a result of the 2005 tragedy, and 170 others
were injured. An $87 million fine won't restore those lives, but we can't let
this happen again. Workplace safety is more than a slogan. It's the law. The
U.S. Department of Labor will not tolerate the preventable exposure of workers
to hazardous conditions."


Watch out for witches at work today ... and every day

In fun-loving, Halloween-celebrating workplaces across the country, employees showed up today dressed as blood-sucking vampires, lumbering zombies, mischievous clowns and full-grown babies. Donning elaborate makeup, masks, outfits and accessories, many of us get a kick out of this once-a-year opportunity to shed our normal persona and “try on” an alter ego.

But this got me thinking. How different, really, are some of the characters we're seeing today from what we see daily at work? I don’t know about you, but I’ve encountered vampires, zombies, clowns and babies in the workplace on many occasions. They're just cleverly disguised in office attire and regular routines. On good days, these creatures can create an interesting, challenging work environment; on bad days, they can be downright frustrating and confusing. But people are people, so we all have to learn to get along no matter how ghoulish the circumstances. In smart, well-functioning workplaces, it definitely pays to play off each others' strengths (while understanding weaknesses) to keep peace and productivity humming along.

According to author Francie Dalton, founder and president of Dalton Alliances, Inc., a Maryland-based business consulting firm specializing in communication, management and behavioral sciences, most coworkers fall under these general personality types:

Curt and controlling, commanders don't waste time on niceties. While they don't mean to offend, they often forsake tact to get their point across. As bosses, commanders often fail to delegate important assignments and as subordinates, they can seem overly aggressive. “Value and validate commanders for their ability to overcome obstacles, to implement, and to achieve results,” says Dalton.

Averse to structure, drifters often have trouble with rules, work hours and deadlines. They lose track of details and can neglect to see a project through to completion. While they're warm and affable, their disorganization can be off-putting. “Value and validate drifters for their innovation and creativity, their ability to improvise on a moment's notice, and their out-of-the-box thinking,” says Dalton.

Ill-tempered and contemptuous, attackers can have a dampening effect on workplace morale. They tend to criticize others in public, believing themselves to be superior. “Value and validate attackers for their ability to take on the ugly, unpopular assignments no one else has the mettle to do, and for their ability to make unemotional decisions,” says Dalton.

Considerate, sociable and friendly, pleasers rarely deny the requests of others and think of colleagues as extended family members. They have trouble coping with conflict, avoiding it as much as they can. “Value and validate pleasers for the way they humanize the workplace, and for their helpful, collaborative work style,” says Dalton.

Witty, charismatic and outspoken, performers engage and entertain others in the workplace. They are skillful at promoting themselves, taking credit - even when it's not due - for successful projects and appearing to be in a rush to get important things done. “Value and validate performers for their ability to establish new relationships, and for their persuasive and public speaking skills,” says Dalton.

Clinging to the status quo, avoiders shy away from increased responsibility because they fear it will make them more visible and accountable. Reticent and reserved, they thrive when working alone and establishing safe, closed-off environments. They do as they're told and do not take initiative. “Value and validate avoiders for their reliability, for their meticulous attention to your instructions, and for getting the job done right the first time, every time,” says Dalton.

Meticulous, thorough and cautious, analyticals can get mired in details. When presented with a new idea, they tend to focus on the reasons why it will fail and should not be pursued. They feel compelled to check, doublecheck and triplecheck their work for any inaccuracies. “Value and validate analyticals for their commitment to accuracy, and for their ability to anticipate and evaluate risk far enough in advance to allow risks to be reduced,” says Dalton.

So here’s wishing you all a Happy Halloween – and a workplace where attackers and analyticals, witches and werewolves, can put aside their differences and get along! Wouldn’t that be a treat?

Home Depot employee fired over "politically driven" pin that violated dress-code policy

In yet another real-life reminder of why it’s so important to maintain an employee handbook with crystal-clear workplace policies, a Home Depot employee claims he was fired for expressing his personal beliefs though an American flag button he wore on his apron. The former cashier of the Okeechobee, FL, store says he had the right to wear the “One nation under God, indivisible” button, while his employer argues that he DID NOT – and the reason being the company’s written dress-code policy forbidding it.

Whether you feel the pin and its message was religious, political or just patriotic (and as such, acceptable in the workplace) is a matter of interpretation. And it’s because of this sort of interpretation that employee policies exist.

“The issue is not whether or not we agree with the message on the button," says
Craig Fishel, a Home Depot spokesperson. "That's not our place to say, which is
exactly why we have a blanket policy, which is long-standing and
well-communicated to our associates, that only company-provided pins and badges
can be worn on our aprons."

While the employee’s lawyer is suing Home Depot for religious discrimination, the case probably won’t go very far. As Michael Masinter, a civil rights and employment law professor at NOVA Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, explains:

"Because it's a private business, not one that's owned and operated by the
government, it doesn't have to operate under the free speech provisions of the
First Amendment."

He clarifies the matter of religious displays and expression, too, for those who feel Home Depot’s pin-banning action was a form of religious discrimination:

“But we're not talking about religious displays here," he said. "This sounds
more like a political message ... Wearing a button of that sort would not easily
be described as a traditional form of religious expression like wearing a cross
or wearing a yarmulke."

As a private business, Home Depot has a right to protect its image by not promoting different employee opinions via pins and badges - opinions that might offend customers who are as diverse as the employees serving them.

Some important details in this case: The employee was first asked to remove the pin. He refused. He was also offered a company-approved pin that said, “United We Stand,” but he declined.

It would appear that Home Depot did everything right, from an HR standpoint, in this situation. They based their actions on company policy, they confronted the employee first (and hopefully documented the exchange) and when all was said and done, the employee refused to cooperate with policy. Thus, the employee was fired.

What do you think? Do you agree with Home Depot’s actions? Please leave a comment - I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

New Federal EEOC poster released - All covered employers must post to comply!

On October 23, 2009, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released the revised “Equal Employment Opportunity is the Law” poster, which includes the new Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and ADA Amendments Act regulations. The EEOC posting change is mandatory for all covered employers.

Effective November 21, 2009, GINA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from:

• Using genetic information to discriminate against an individual through hiring, firing, compensation, promotions and other employment decisions

• The collection and disclosure of genetic information

• Retaliation against individuals who exercise their rights under GINA

Now is the time to get into compliance with this mandatory posting update, as well as learn more about GINA and its impact on your business.

When you enroll in Poster Guard® Compliance Protection, you’ll enjoy the promise of complete, worry-free posting compliance – immediately, with the revised EEOC poster and in the future, with automatic posting replacements anytime mandatory changes affect your federal or state postings.

For an overview of GINA and clear explanations of how it affects you as an employer, download the ComplyRight™ Now E-Guide: New Genetic Discrimination Law: What It Means for Employers.

Tricked-out job titles: Creative morale booster or unprofessional fluff?

What if we gave all those stuffy, vague job titles the boot and let people craft new titles that capture what they’re really about?

That’s what many businesses are doing these days – and their employees couldn’t be happier about it. In his blog post, More death to job titles, Alexander Kjerulf (Chief Happiness Officer, incidentally), argues that job titles are “a waste of time and contribute nothing to our productivity, creativity or happiness at work. In fact, job titles can be the source of a lot of disputes and bickering in the workplace.”

Alexander’s post inspired the Web Marketing Director at Quicken Loans so much that he challenged his Web Marketing Team to come up with new job titles that express who they are and their impact on the business and their teammates. The results? Whimsical titles like:

• Royal Storyteller & Propaganda Minister
• Supreme Challenger of the Status Quo & Wicked Web Site Innovator
• Innovation Maven and Revenue Raiser
• Mastermind of Possibilities, Visual Linguist, and Czar of the High Fiber Revolution
• Art Juggler
• Flasher
• Idea Launcher
• Conceptologist
• Head Brother In Charge of Chat
• Reality Check Provider

What do you think? Is this something that can work in the right environment, allowing for greater self-expression in the workplace? Or could titles like these backfire, leading to more confusion than clarity? According to one person’s comments to Alexander’s blog post, “Job titles are important in my opinion. They should be concise, professional and define what the person does. If I got an email from someone and in the signature it said they were a Conceptologist or a Wicked Website Innovator, I would not take them or their company seriously …”

Perhaps a compromise is in order. In What’s In A Job Title? More Than You’d Think!, a recent survey by Pearl Meyer & Partners is cited, where 95% of respondents said that job titles were important, whether for conveying corporate hierarchy or for recognizing valued employees when funds are limited.

But there’s a twist. According to the survey, many companies assign formal, “official” job titles, while also allowing the use of alternative, “working” titles. Managers and their employees can customize these less-traditional job titles to reflect an individual’s responsibilities, preferences and just as important, personality. Many employees will then take it upon themselves to create business cards with these alternative job titles or use the tweaked job titles on social networking pages such as LinkedIn.

So maybe your company isn’t quite ready for titles like “Propaganda Minister” or “Innovative Maven”, but how about something a little more descriptive than “Creative Director” or “Communications Coordinator”? Your employees are unique and multi-dimensional - why shouldn’t their job titles be, too?

Flex time: How far are you willing to bend?

The traditional, 9-to-5 workplace model is going the way of the typewriter, shoulder pads and pocket calculators. Flexible workplace scheduling - whether letting employees telecommute, work part time or leave early one day a week - is becoming more commonplace.

In fact, nearly all of the 1,100 companies polled by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute in a 2008 report provide at least one type of flexible work option. The Families and Work Institute considers flexibility “a way to define how and when work gets done and how careers are organized”. For employees, this may include:

• having traditional flex time (setting daily hours within a range periodically)
• having daily flex time
• being allowed to take time off during the work day to address family matters
• being able to take a few days off to care for a sick child without losing pay, having to use vacation days or make up an excuse for the absence
• being able to work some regular hours at home
• being able to take breaks when one wants to
• having a work shift that is desirable
• having complete or a lot of control over the work schedule
• being able to work part-time (if currently full-time) or full-time (if currently part-time) in one’s current position
• being able to work a compressed work week
• being able to work part-year in one’s current position

It’s no surprise that employees support flexible scheduling, where the payoffs include higher job satisfaction and commitment to their work, coupled with lower stress and job burnout.

"We know from the research that if you have choice or autonomy and you have the
support to make those choices and you're held accountable, those are the
things that most affect how you feel about your employer, as well as your
health and well-being," says Ellen Galinsky, President of the Families and
Work Institute.

To promote flex time in your workplace, Ilyse Shapiro, founder of the job search website, recommends:

1. Make sure your organization’s culture supports work/life initiatives. “Flexibility” shouldn’t be just a catchphrase but a concept embraced throughout the organization.

2. Effective work/life balance programs should be nondiscriminatory, available to all employees, male or female, with or without children, regardless of income level, job title, exempt/nonexempt status or marital status.

3. Career advancement and training opportunities should be offered to those with flexible schedules as well as to those with traditional schedules.

What type of flexible work options do you extend to your employees? What are the challenges, if any, you’re facing? Post a comment and tell us more.

Happy Boss's Day! - 7 attributes management and employees love about leaders

Long gone are the days when dictatorial management delivers top-notch results. Sure, CEOs want leaders who boost the bottom line, but they also want mentors who develop the next generation of leaders by showing employees how it's done. Employees, on the other hand, want a player's coach, someone who understands them as a person and creates an environment in which to thrive. Is a combo of the two possible? You betcha!

According to Jim Collins in his best-selling book, Good to Great, the most effective bosses fall into the category of "Level Five Leaders". These managers recognize their personal strengths and weaknesses, hire/place employees in roles where they shine, and set really high (and achievable) long-term goals that employees believe in. The key to success for these leaders? They inspire employees to willingly and passionately do more with less, which makes CFOs downright giddy. Here are seven characteristics that make bosses great to both management and employees:

1. Great bosses understand corporate goals and skillfully explain them to their teams – “this is why we're here, this is what we need to do and this is how we're going to do it.” Setting a clear vision and informing employees that they will be held accountable for the task at hand sets expectations everyone can rally around. It also helps employees keep each other accountable.

2. Great bosses listen more than they talk. Leaders who employ Stephen Covey's mantra "seek first to understand before being understood," will always serve their employer and employees better than know-it-alls. The best ideas to improve efficiency or enhance products often come from line employees. Bosses who listen, listen, listen are the ones who can move great ideas through the pipeline quickly.

3. Great bosses take an interest in each employee as an individual. They get to know the person and his or her personal life. They spend time understanding employee career goals and guide them on a path to get there. They remember birthdays and anniversaries and they ask, "How'd your son do in his Little League game last night?"

4. Great bosses hold employees accountable. When goals aren't met or deadlines are missed, the issues are addressed immediately to find out the whys. Inspired bosses always look for ways to improve and move forward, rather than punishing in the moment. They also move quickly to dismiss under-performing employees, which always makes management happy. Staff members are thrilled, too, with quick assessment and action, because they usually recognize poor performance before managers do.

5. Great bosses don't seek personal accolades. They never take credit for the work of the team and are always looking for ways to recognize and reward their staffs. They write hand-written thank you notes and recognize superior efforts with tickets to the ball game or an afternoon off.

6. Great bosses manage individuals based on strengths rather than weaknesses. Collins calls this "putting the right people in the right seats on the bus." Having people do what they do best always enhances productivity and efficiency. Too many managers spend months trying to shoehorn people into roles they're not prepared for or skilled in, rather than finding someone with the right skill set for the task. Managing to strength is a win-win for the company, the boss and the employee.

7. Great bosses hire people who are better than them in the areas where they don't perform well. Bosses who are good with strategy and not execution are always better served in surrounding themselves with doers, and vice versa. They also go out of their way to acknowledge their deficiencies rather than cover them up: "I wouldn't be successful without your contributions."

If you have leaders in your company who exhibit these traits, consider yourself extremely lucky! And go out of your way today, National Boss’s Day, to let them know how much you appreciate them.

Recession is lifting - competition for jobs isn't

While most economists believe the recession is over and recovery has begun, unemployment rates remain alarmingly high. As a result, the number of U.S. job seekers competing for a single opening has reached the highest point since the recession began.

“There are about 6.3 unemployed workers competing, on average, for each job
opening, a Labor Department report shows. That's the most since the department
began tracking job openings nine years ago, and up from only 1.7 workers when
the recession began in December 2007.” (

The msnbc article states that the employment crisis will most likely get worse as companies remain sluggish to hire. In fact, many economists expect a “jobless recovery,” which will lead to added pressure on President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats to stimulate job creation.

"Fewer people are facing job loss," said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at Economic Policy Institute in Washington, "but once you have lost your job, you are in serious trouble.”

Shierholz says the economy faces a "jobs gap" of almost 10 million — the 7.2 million jobs lost plus the roughly 125,000 per month that would have been needed since the recession began just to keep up with population growth.

To close that gap and get back to pre-recession levels in two years would require more than 500,000 new jobs per month, a pace of job creation that hasn't been seen since 1950-51, Shierholz adds.

What about your business? How much of your workforce did you have to cut during the recessionary downturn? And are you feeling enough of an economic boost to start replenishing those positions – or even adding new positions? Or are you sitting tight and not hiring until the recovery is more robust?

Substance abuse in the workplace, Part 2: Honoring Drug-Free Work Week

In our last post, we looked at the destructive effects of substance abuse in the workplace. That was the bad news. But today, we’ll focus on the good news: What you can do to protect your company from the dangers of substance abuse – and in turn, help preserve employee productivity, morale and safety.

Drug-Free Work Week is October 19-25, which means now is the perfect opportunity to launch a successful drug-free workplace program. Here are some ways you can make the most of it:

Implement a drug-free workplace policy – A workplace policy is the foundation of any drug-free workplace program. If you don’t already have one, you should create a policy that addresses how your organization defines substance abuse, what behavior is expected of employees, who is covered by the policy, when the policy applies (work hours only or at after-hours events, too?), who is responsible for enforcing the policy, and whether the policy includes any form of testing for alcohol or other drugs.

Promote your drug-free workplace program - Once you have a program, you’ve got to get the word out and get employees involved. Hand out Substance Abuse Fact Sheets to remind employees about the effects substance abuse can have on the workplace.

Train supervisors and educate workers - Be certain supervisors understand your policies (as outlined in a supervisor-specific handbook) for addressing substance abuse. In addition, provide guidelines and support materials that help supervisors deal with substance abuse legally and effectively.

Remind employees about the availability of employee-assistance services - These free, confidential services can help employees overcome substance abuse problems.

Offer health screenings - Let employees know about the resources available to them
to evaluate whether they have a substance abuse problem. Consider giving employees breathalizer alcohol detectors during holiday breaks when alcohol consumption is more likely and encourage them to test alcohol levels before driving.

Review your health insurance policy - Employees are more likely to seek help if your policy includes coverage for substance abuse treatment. Consider the cost benefit of adding such coverage over the cost of an accident and lost productivity.

Allow employees time to volunteer in community drug-prevention efforts - Organize a team of volunteers to help support local drug-prevention programs, or grant time off for employees who are involved in other drug-awareness and prevention efforts.

Create a drug-free workplace display - Dedicate an area of your workplace, such as a breakroom bulletin board, for raising awareness of your drug-free workplace policy through informative posters.

Feature Drug-Free Work Week in the employee newsletter or intranet - This feature can contain helpful information about the impact of drugs on the workplace, sources of help, and things workers can do if they think a colleague may have a substance abuse problem.

Distribute a payroll message listing helplines or a reminder about Drug-Free Work Week for employees - Include a message reminding employees about Drug-Free Work Week that contains a listing of resources available for them to learn more about substance abuse in the workplace.

Hold a social event celebrating safety and health - Put together a pizza lunch or other worktime activity to help reinforce the message that drugs and alcohol aren’t necessary to relax.

Substance abuse in the workplace, Part 1: How big a problem is it?

While certainly not pleasant to think about, the reality is that at this very moment, some of your employees may be high, drunk or hung over. And because of it, their work performance is suffering - as is your business.

According to the Department of Labor, 73 percent of all current drug users aged 18 and older are employed, which includes 6.7 million full-time workers and 1.6 million part-time workers. Construction workers (15.6%), sales personnel (11.4%), food preparation, wait staff and bartenders (11.2%), handlers, helpers and laborers (10.6%,) and machine operators and inspectors (10.5%) reported the highest rates of current illicit drug use.

The destructive, far-reaching effects of substance abuse in the workplace are well-documented. Substance abuse:

Lowers productivity –
Problems related to substance abuse cost businesses around $81 billion in lost productivity in one year.

Employees who abuse substances function at about 67% of their full potential.

Causes accidents and injuries -
Nearly 40 percent of industrial fatalities and 47 percent of injuries are associated with substance abuse.

Employees who use drugs are 3.6 times more likely to get in a workplace accident and 5 times more likely to file a workers’ compensation claim.

Increases absenteeism and turnover –
Approximately 500 million workdays are lost annually due to alcoholism.

Employees who use drugs are 2.2 times more likely to ask for time off or to leave early, 2.5 times more likely to report absences of eight days or more and 3 times more likely to be late to work.

Raises an employer’s medical costs -
Employees who use drugs cost their employers about twice as much in medical claims as non-drug-using employees.

In less than two weeks, October 19-25, employers across the country will be honoring Drug-Free Work Week. If you haven’t already, now is the time to implement a drug-free workplace initiative that will have a positive effect on your company’s safety and productivity. Check out our next post to learn more about what you can do to keep your employees and your workplace “clean.”

The DOL encourages all employers to address workplace substance abuse because:

“Taking steps to raise awareness among employees about the impact of substance
use on workplace performance, and offering the appropriate resources and/or
assistance to employees in need, will not only improve worker safety and
health, but also increase workplace productivity and market competitiveness.”


Closer OSHA scrutiny requires more careful accident recordkeeping

Due to unusually low incidence rates in traditionally high-rate industries, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) will be cracking down on recordkeeping violations in the coming months. On October 1, OSHA announced a national emphasis program (NEP) on recordkeeping to assess the accuracy of injury and illness data recorded by employers.

The underreporting of workplace injuries and illnesses is a serious issue, one which OSHA hopes to change through this program.

“Accurate and honest recordkeeping is vitally important to workers’ health and
safety,” said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab. “This
information is not only used by OSHA to determine which workplaces to inspect,
but it is an important tool employers and workers can use to identify health and
safety problems in their workplaces.”

Inspections will include a review of records, employee interviews and a safety and health inspection of the workplace. While the focus under the NEP will be on high-rate industries that OSHA suspects is underreporting incidents, all organizations should be on alert regarding their accident recordkeeping practices.

Are you confident your injury and illness records are in full OSHA compliance? OSHA requires you to record incidents on these three forms:

300: Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. Log each recordable occupational injury or illness on this form within seven working days of learning about it.

301: Injury and Illness Incident Report. On this form, you describe each incident in greater detail. Fill it out within seven days of learning about an incident. An on-the-job injury or illness must be recorded if it results in any of the following: death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness. “Significant” injuries or illnesses, as diagnosed by a licensed health professional, also must be recorded, even if they don’t result in days away from work or any of the other conditions listed above.

300A: Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses. This form, which summarizes the number and nature of on-the-job injuries and illnesses for a calendar year, must be posted in a conspicuous place by February 1 of the following year and remain on view through April 30. Although the 300A may not need to be posted for a few months yet, filling it out won’t be easy unless you’ve been keeping up to date with the other forms.

Texting while driving a big no-no for federal employees - But how will it be enforced?

President Obama signed an executive order Wednesday night banning federal employees from texting while operating government vehicles or driving their own vehicles on government business. State and local governments are encouraged to pass similar laws against “distracted driving”.

We’ve all seen it. People pecking away on their cell phones while sitting at traffic lights or worse, while hurtling down the highway at full speed. And as long as they’re looking at their cell phones, they’re not watching the road.

A Los Angeles Times article shares a startling statistic: Distracted driving delays reaction time as much as a blood alcohol content of 0.08%, according to research by the University of Utah.

In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 15% of driver deaths in the U.S. last year were a result of distracted driving. While it’s uncertain how many of these incidents were related to texting while driving, many experts consider it a growing problem - including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"To put it plainly, distracted driving is a menace to society,” says LaHood.

Now the hard part. While most of would agree that distracted driving is bad and that any efforts to curb it are good, how will the new ban be enforced? Will federal employers develop an official HR policy on the ban and if so, how will they apply it consistently to all employees? And regarding enforcement, how will cops identify someone texting while driving (especially if the person holds the phone below the window line)? Should cops be allowed to peruse a person’s cell phone to see if it was being used at the time of a traffic violation or accident? And what sort of privacy issues could all this raise?

Even if the ban IS just semantics, perhaps it will act as a deterrent. And perhaps it will lead to more people sharing LaHood’s point of view:

"Driving while distracted should just feel wrong - just as driving without a seat belt, or driving while intoxicated, seems wrong to most Americans."

Keeping workplace tensions from turning deadly

While many of us consider the workplace a safe haven in a sometimes uncertain world, the reality is that violence can strike at any time, anywhere. Consider the recent tragic death of Yale graduate student Annie Le by an animal lab technician at a medical research building where they both worked. A senseless crime possibly motivated by an earlier dispute between the colleagues.

From the msnbc article:
“Since 2008 there has been a rise in workplace violence due to increasing pressure in the workplace,” said Sara Begley with Reed Smith, a law firm representing employers. “Drastic reductions in force, fewer people to perform same workload, no bonuses, economic downturn, lost 401(k) accounts. While workplace homicides have declined, assault, threats, bullying, cyberbullying and sexual harassment and stalking have increased.”

Combine these pressures with certain high-risk occupations and you have a recipe for disaster. Especially vulnerable are occupations that involve exchanging money with the public, delivering goods and passengers (like taxi drivers), or working alone or late at night (like nurses).

But regardless of occupation, the bottom line is that any workplace can become the scene of violence at the hands of a disgruntled or unstable employee. That’s why every employer needs to be proactive and train employees on how to spot early warning signs and report potential problems. The importance of prevention through proper education and training cannot be overemphasized! The Workplace Violence Kit provides comprehensive training and helpful support materials (like reinforcement quizzes and posters) to keep your workplace safe and out of the headlines.

EEOC has beef with meatpacking company that violated civil rights of Muslim workers

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that the U.S. unit of Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS SA violated the civil rights of more than 100 Muslim Somali workers in plants in Colorado and Nebraska, unlawfully harassing them and firing them based on their religion.

According to the Reuters article,

"The dispute began last year during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when the
workers walked off the job after managers denied them a prayer break at sunset.

Supervisors had initially agreed to adjust work schedules to accommodate
the requests by Muslim workers but later reversed their decisions after
non-Muslim workers protested the changes.”

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, country of origin, race and color), employers must reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer. Some reasonable religious accommodations that employers may be required to provide workers include leave for religious observances, time and/or place to pray, and ability to wear religious garb.

Yet in the past 15 years, claims of religious discrimination filed with federal, state and local agencies have doubled – spiking a record 15% in 2007. Perhaps as surprising, these numbers are growing faster than claims based on race or gender.

With workplace disputes over religion on the rise, it’s essential that you include diversity awareness and training in your anti-harassment initiatives. Be certain you’re taking active steps to prevent religious discrimination and harassment in the workplace and when necessary, are accommodating employees’ religious beliefs and practices.

New HIPAA Breach Notification Rules kick in today

With medical data breaches on the rise, the federal government is taking action to help stem the problem. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued new regulations requiring health care providers, health plans, and other entities covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to notify individuals when their protected health information (PHI) is breached. The HHS regulations came two days after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued regulations outlining similar requirements for personal health record (PHR) vendors, PHR-related entities and third-party service providers.

“This new federal law ensures that covered entities and business associates are
accountable to the Department and to individuals for proper safeguarding of the
private information entrusted to their care. These protections will be a
cornerstone of maintaining consumer trust as we move forward with meaningful use
of electronic health records and electronic exchange of health information,”
said Robinsue Frohboese, Acting Director and Principal Deputy Director of OCR.
(HHS Press Release)

Under the new rules, businesses must immediately notify individuals of a breach, as well as the HHS (or the FTC) and the media when a breach affects more than 500 individuals. This new notice requirement is designed to help consumers make informed decisions when their health information is released to unauthorized users, while also prompting companies to enhance security. Businesses are also required to update their HIPAA policies and train employees on new procedures.

What is a breach?

A breach occurs when 1) there has been “unauthorized” access, use or disclosure of PHI, which violates the HIPAA Privacy Rule and 2) the disclosure “compromises the security or privacy” of the PHI, which means that it “poses a significant risk of financial, reputational or other harm to the individual.”

Let’s say, for example, your company sponsors a group health insurance plan and a laptop containing enrollment information constituting PHI is lost or stolen. You most likely would be required to notify the affected individuals. Or perhaps you operate a HIPAA-covered medical practice and a staff member impermissibly downloads patients’ PHI to his personal computer. Again, you would need to notify the affected patients.

The effective date of the new HIPAA Breach Notification Rules is today, September 23, 2009. However, HHS has stated it will not impose penalties until February 22, 2010.

USCIS issues User Manual to clarify E-Verify for federal contractors

In the August 3 post, DHS strengthens employment verification, contractors must use E-Verify, we discussed the federal contractor rule that, as of September 8, 2009, requires all covered federal contractors and subcontractors to use E-Verify to verify the work eligibility status of their employees.

To clear up any confusion regarding the specifics, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has released an E-Verify User Manual for Federal Contractors. The 68-page (!) supplemental guide covers:

• applicable regulations
• instructions on verifying new and existing employees via Form I-9
• E-Verify enrollment and participation as a federal contractor
• exemptions and exceptions for qualifying contractors, subcontractors, independent contractors and affiliates
• enrollment instructions for organizations that qualify for exceptions
• enrollment instructions for contractors not yet enrolled in E-Verify
• instructions for contractors already enrolled in E-Verify

According to the Wall Street Journal, about 169,000 federal contractors and subcontractors (who employ approximately 3.8 million workers) will be affected by the new E-Verify federal contractor rule. The WSJ article explains the key steps regarding the program:

1) After an E-Verify provision is put into its contract, a federal contractor or subcontractor will have 30 days to enroll in the E-Verify system
2) Each employer must sign a memorandum of understanding with the government to use E-Verify
3) Contractors will use a secure Web site to check the legal status of workers involved in a government project, except for some who are exempt because of security clearances
4) In about 97% of the cases, contractors will receive an immediate electronic response confirming the employee's eligibility to work
5) In other cases, contactors will receive a "tentative non-confirmation" notice; contractors and employees will then have eight days to try to address any problems with the Social Security Administration or immigration officials

Unpaid internships: A rip-off or legitimate resume booster?

It seems that Mark Cuban has stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest with his recent post about unpaid internships. He’s already received 90 comments, ranging from wholehearted approval of his argument (pro unpaid internships) to outright disgust that he’d support such a notion.

He explains:

“This summer, in response to the changing sports media landscape, I wanted to
create a “media pool” for the Mavs. I wanted to assemble a group of unpaid
interns that would acquire video, write game reports, track unique stats, do
interviews, interact with fans, and then compile all of this incremental media
and provide it free to any and every outlet we could think of.”

His justification for taking the unpaid internship route was this:

“One silver lining of a “great recession” that we are now in is that there are a
lot of incredibly talented people without jobs, or who have lost their jobs. I
didn’t care if they were 18 years old or 73 years old. I thought we could
assemble a talented group who would enjoy the internships and could also gain
valuable experience to add to their resumes.”

But his plans were quickly halted when he heard back from his HR department. He learned that to be legal, interns must be paid, unless they are performing work that is of no value to the organization. This didn’t sit well with Mark - that whether or not the trainee would welcome the “on the job” experience, or be willing to work for no pay, does not come into play.

To be clear, the U.S. Department of Labor has developed specific criteria for determining an internship’s pay status. For an internship to be unpaid, it must meet these six legal tests:

1. It must be an educational experience, the equivalent of vocational school
2. It must primarily benefit the trainee
3. The trainee cannot do work that would otherwise be done by a paid employee, and must work under the close supervision of a manager
4. The employer cannot derive immediate advantage from the trainee’s work or profit from it
5. The employer must not promise a paid job at the completion of the training period
6. The employer and trainee must agree (ideally in writing) that no wages will be paid during the training period

On one side of the ring are the people who feel that an internship is a great way for someone to try out a particular industry and gain practical experience – and if that person is willing to get a “foot in the door” for free, more power to him. (A risk vs. opportunity scenario.) On the other side of the ring are the people who feel that it’s wrong for an individual to work for a company, in any capacity, and not get paid. That no one should do the work of a paid employee, no matter what the possible pay-off later, for free.

What do you think? Should the guidelines surrounding unpaid internships be loosened? How does your business handle the matter of unpaid vs. paid internships – and how do you make the most of the employer-trainee relationship so that everyone benefits?


How healthy is your medical leave policy? It may be time for a checkup

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a class-action lawsuit against UPS for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it terminated an employee with multiple sclerosis. According to the lawsuit, this particular employee (as well as a whole class of disabled UPS employees) was unfairly treated under the company’s 12-month leave policy.

Some details regarding the case: The employee took a leave of absence from her job when she started experiencing symptoms that were later diagnosed as multiple sclerosis. She came back to work for a few weeks after the 12-month leave period, but then needed additional time off to deal with the negative side effects of her medication. It was at this point that UPS fired her for exceeding its 12-month leave policy.

From an EEOC press release:

“One of the main goals of the ADA is to provide gainful employment to qualified
individuals with disabilities. However, policies like this one at UPS, which set
arbitrary deadlines for returning to work after medical treatment, unfairly keep
disabled employees from working. Sometimes a simple conversation with the
employee about what might be needed to return to work is all that is necessary
to keep valued employees in their jobs.”

UPS is defending its 12-month leave policy, calling it “one of the more generous and flexible leave policies in corporate America.” The company claims the employee never asked for an accommodation under the ADA – and that after returning from a year’s leave of paid absence, she basically “abandoned” her position 18 days later, without providing any medical documentation justifying additional time off.

What about your company’s leave of absence policy? Could it pass this sort of ADA scrutiny? Are you prepared to handle and properly administer requests for reasonable accommodations? A quick checkup of your leave policy and ADA administration practices may be in order to ensure they are healthy, stable and could stand up in court.


Courts "weigh" in on controversial employee lawsuit involving injury and obesity

“An Indiana court has ruled that a pizza shop must pay for a 340-pound employee's weight-loss surgery to ensure the success of another operation for a back injury he suffered at work,” says the Huffington Post.

Under the Indiana court’s ruling (and an earlier decision by the state’s worker’s compensation board), Boston’s The Gourmet Pizza must pay for lap-band surgery for the plaintiff. The employee, who weighed 340 pounds at the time of the accident in March 2007, was accidentally struck in the back by a freezer door. He was told by doctors that he needed surgery to alleviate his severe pain, but for the surgery to be successful, he’d first need to lose weight (which rose to 380 pounds after the accident).

While his employers agreed to pay for the back surgery, they declined covering the recommended $25,000 weight-loss operation, pointing out that the employee was already obese before the accident. The courts saw it differently, however. They concluded that the surgery should be covered, since the employee’s weight and the accident had combined to create a single injury.

"There's actually a string of cases across the country that have reached similar conclusions," says the employee’s attorney, Rick Gikas. He cites cases in Ohio, California, Oregon, Florida and South Dakota, including some dating back to 1983.

As you might imagine, cases like these are especially concerning for employers – on both a legal and an emotional level. One, because of the cost implications with workers’ compensation claims and court cases. And two, because it’s easy to conclude that obesity is the employee’s “fault” and that it’s not fair for an employer to foot the bill for expensive weight-loss procedures.

But are these concerns significant enough to influence how you treat overweight individuals in the workplace – not hiring an obese candidate, for example?

"Legally, you cannot refuse to hire this 350-pound person because they're 350
pounds. That's illegal. But you might find some other reason not to hire them,"
says Tom Lynch, CEO of Lynch, Ryan & Associates, a consulting firm that
helps businesses manage workers’ compensation.

With one-third of Americans now considered obese (a body mass index of 30 or more), weight (and weight bias) in the workplace are issues that can’t be ignored. After all, what an employer might overlook or dismiss with obesity-related issues, the courts will not.

When weak management pushes top performers out the door

Steady Eddy. He’s reliable, hard-working and never complains. He’s also very predictable. What you see is what you get – and not a bit more. Then there’s Soaring Sally. She’s a real go-getter – sharp, ambitious, highly motivated. But she’s also impatient and restless, especially when she disagrees with her manager or the company’s decisions.

Chances are, you have a combination of these employees in your company: the “pluggers” and the “top performers.” In his blog, I Quit-Now What?, Steven DeMaio makes an interesting point about the latter:

“… top performers spend most of their time living with the day-to-day decisions
of their direct managers. What distinguishes a top performer is that she often
has the talent to do her manager's job and a keen ability to assess her
manager's choices. That makes her more likely than other employees to seek a
change in her work situation if she perceives those small matters as hindrances
to her performance, even if the big factors pass muster.”

He goes on to list the things top performers deem job drawbacks with management (and that may ultimately lead to their departure), including:

• Managers who “drop the ball” regarding various workplace priorities and expect their employees to pick up the slack and keep these balls in play
• Managers who ignore the tough questions, which can come across as a sign of weakness or poor reasoning regarding the bigger issues
• Managers who rely more on data (“number crunchers”) than a fair assessment of all the factors at hand
• Managers who are uneasy with their employees’ leadership potential, or worse yet, unwilling to groom them to advance

So no surprises here. While a “one-size-fits-all” management approach may keep your pluggers cranking along, it can also squelch the efforts and attitudes of your strong performers. To keep the bar high with your superstars, the bar needs to be that much higher with the managers who are guiding and, hopefully, inspiring them each day.

Dethroned former Miss California USA sues for religious discrimination

It’s been said that, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” And with former Miss California USA Carrie Prejean suing pageant officials this week, so are claims of religious discrimination. Prejean is suing for libel, slander and religious discrimination, asserting that officials told her to stop mentioning God even before her controversial comments regarding gay marriage.

Prejean was fired from her position as Miss California USA in June, just months after the Miss USA Pageant where she spoke out against same-sex marriage. When asked whether she believes in gay marriage, she replied:

“We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite. And you
know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a
marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there,
but that's how I was raised."

Was it this response that cost Prejean her crown – and ultimately led to her firing? While pageant co-director Keith Lewis claims Prejean’s termination was due to violation of contract (specifically, unwillingness to make public appearances), Prejean’s attorney, Charles LiMandri, says otherwise. He states:

“Over the past two months we have worked hard to provide overwhelming evidence
that Carrie Prejean did not violate her contract with Miss California USA and
did not deserve to have her title revoked by Keith Lewis. We will make the case
that her title was taken from her solely because of her support of traditional
marriage. Keith Lewis has refused to clear her good name or even to admit any
wrongdoing. Therefore, Carrie Prejean is left with no alternative but to take
her case to court where she expects to be fully vindicated.”

Do you think Prejean has a legitimate case here? Was she truly wronged for expressing her traditional religious beliefs? Or is this a carefully orchestrated publicity stunt that will meet its demise in court?

Regardless of your opinion of the “fallen” beauty queen, when it comes to religion in the workplace, the law is clear: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals because of their religion in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. Yet in 2009, EEOC received 3,273 charges of religious discrimination, resolving more than 2,700 of these charges and recovering $7.5 million in damages.

As an employer, you must accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and take active steps to prevent religious discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Start with a careful review of the current laws and your internal policies and procedures. Then, be sure you’re holding all employees and managers accountable for adhering to these policies.

The Carnival of HR is in town! Welcome!

Step right up! We have an amazing carnival for you today! Experience the thrills of new opportunities, the heartbreak of termination. See the magic shows, costumed clowns and daring feats on the high wire. Welcome to the Carnival of HR!

Staging the show

A great carnival depends upon everyone doing their part to make the show great. And not everyone can be the stage manager. Learning how to be an excellent cast member is the subject of Dan McCarthy’s post on 10 Ways to be a Great Follower

Clowns get to hide behind make-up and costumes, but in our online world, should bloggers get to do the same? Trisha McFarlane explores the concept of anonymous bloggers in her post.

Then blogger Lance Haun deals with other side of the issue in his post on the Workplace Implications of Facebook Friending/Defriending, where he suggests that a little bit of costuming might be preferable to the complete transparency of a Facebook connection with coworkers.

That theme is echoed in Jessica Miller-Merrell post about maintaining a Social Media Mullet (business in the front, party in the back) whenever we connect with colleagues online. And Melissa Prusher serves up advice on using Twitter as a part of that online conversation with clients and colleagues. (No sign of the popcorn and cotton candy, yet, Melissa. Sorry!)

What's your show about?

Every carnival needs a description of the shows, performers and events. And the same applies to the workplace. Creating clear and accurate job descriptions is critical to the success of the show as well as the performers, according to blogger Becky Regan in her post The Single Most Important Tool You Need to Practice Sounds HR Management.

One of the keys to a successful carnival is keeping it fresh. Problems need to be addressed as they arise, shows need to be reviewed and plans need to be made. That on-going process of adjustment works for your employees, too, according to Louise Barnfield in her post on transforming the dreaded annual review into a constantly updated tool for growth.

The cast and crew

Before you accept your role in the carnival as a given, Steve Boese’s HR Technology blog offers advice on getting a better deal at work. We may not be famous athletes or even the star of the show, but his post “Help You, Help You” offers suggestions about applying the techniques professional agents use to negotiate the big bucks.

Everyone wants to be a star, right? Wrong! Some people are choosing to pass up a chance at that management position, especially when they see current managers struggling with insufficient resources, lack of training and minimal support from higher-ups. That's the subject of HR Bartender Sharlyn Lauby post. (Oh and thanks for the mention in your post! Like all performers, we like seeing our name out there on the marquee...or at least in a post or two.)

We all know there's no show without the performers, right? No matter what their position, making sure your people are committed, content and creative is the message behind Melanie Quinn's post on Keeping Your Employees.

When the show goes wrong

Even in the best of carnivals, shows will flop, rides will break and even the clowns will cry. PunkHR blogger Laurie Ruettimann offers advice on seeing these as chances to grow and develop character in her post Coulda Been a Contender.

And when that crash takes the form of a termination, Gautam Ghosh offers some advice on exit interviews, and why they can't tell as much as we think.

Feeling like your safety net is full of holes? Grab on to your trapeze and fly over those job gaps, lay-offs and career changes with grace, thanks to the advice being offered up in Amit Bhagria’s post on managing resume dilemmas.

Stage directions and union rules

Even in the world of carnivals, there are rules and procedures that keep the rides going and the games stocked with unidentifiable stuffed animals (is it a bear, a dog or a…duck?) The same is true in our HR world (minus the ducks), as we try to stay on track with ever-shifting federal and state rules and regulations.

Blogger Giressh Sharma offers some advice on determining FMLA eligibility amid a fun-house of regulatory changes and employee recordkeeping.

PseudoHR's April Dowling brings us an example of a rule gone mad, in her story of exempt employees required to punch a time clock. Risks of legal repercussions aside, she explains why sometimes what looks like a little rule can do big damage to morale.

Tricks of the trade

Everyone knows that side shows rely on smoke and mirrors to perform their magic. Blogger Wally Brock thinks the current hype around the concept of employee engagement would fit right in with those ever-popular acts.

Jon Ingham offers a different view, with the mirrors stripped away, and a clear spotlight on the value of employees in his post on The People Factor.

Kelly Dingee's post on finding time for sourcing even when there is no time available goes beyond advoce to recruiters, and offers something we all need to do if we want to succeed -- Find the time to do what needs to be done to take our careers, companies and clients to the next level.

When the lights go down

After the crowds leave, it's time to count the money. Cathy Missildine-Martin thinks that even after the economic recovery, CEOs will be expecting a lot more counting and numbers from HR, as the focus on metrics continues.


We're stepping out of the ring for now. Enjoy the show, visit all of the talented performers who contributed posts, and let us know what you think.

Thank you all for coming to our carnival. We appreciate the participants, and you the readers. Y'all come back now, you hear?

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