Take simple steps to start going green at the office

At home, many of us have taken steps to become more environmentally friendly, such as carrying reusable grocery bags and switching to more energy-efficient light bulbs. When it comes to carrying that same green ethic into the workplace, it’s easy to get overwhelmed at the thought of taking on such a large project.

However, going green at the office can be a simple process to start and involves many of the same simple steps you take at home. Borrow a few of these ideas and take the first steps to turning your workplace into an eco-friendly oasis:
  • Buy plants. Plants not only brighten up the office, but also improve the quality of the air in your building. There a wide variety of plants that can flourish indoors. Talk to your local nursery about plants that would work best in your office.

  • Only print when necessary. Paper is one of the most wasted items in the workplace. When you want to print something, ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary to have a hard copy.

  • Print with eco-friendly ink. Soy-based toners offer an environmentally friendly alternative to the petroleum-based options. Using soy-based ink also increases the recyclability of paper, so that when you have to print, you know you’re doing it in the ‘greenest’ way possible.

  • Purchase recycled office products. From printer paper to the labor law posters along the walls, do your research and find the best recycled products on the market.

  • Consider using electronic forms. The recent changes to the Form I-9 turned into a green disaster after hundreds of companies threw out out stacks of old forms, only to be told to start using them again. Electronic forms allow you to print out the documents you need, only when you need them. No more wasted stacks of unused forms the next time laws change.

  • Turn it off. Turning off the lights when you leave a room is a simple way to make a positive impact on your energy costs. Take it a step further by shutting down your computer and switching appliances off when you leave the office at the end of the day.

  • Buy reusable utensils. Instead of going through boxes and boxes of plastic utensils every month, ask employees to bring their own from home or invest in a set of inexpensive silverware for the office. Switching to the real thing will not only reduce waste, but will also save you money.

With more organizations and manufacturers jumping on the ‘green’ bandwagon, creating a more environmentally friendly workplace is easier than ever before. With a little bit of creativity, going green in the office can be easy and fun.

Have any more ideas for going green at work? Leave a comment and let us know.

Read these related posts for more ideas:

HR survey reveals top green business practices

Commuter benefits a growing business trend

Want happy employees? Promote public transportation

Recycle your way to a ‘green’ workplace

Going green at the office? Start with your printers

Are your MSDS practices OSHA compliant?

Working with chemicals is a dangerous business. Employees have a right to know about the chemicals they work with and the hazardous effects those chemicals may cause.

Wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) can protect your body from a chemical’s potential hazards, but the information your Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) takes that protection one step further. An MSDS may become your lifeline when a disastrous event like an accidental spill, fire or explosion happens in the workplace.

An MSDS is a document that contains detailed information about a potentially hazardous substance including it’s potential hazardous effects, physical and chemical characteristics, and recommendations for protective measures. It is an integral part of every organization’s hazard communication (HAZCOM) program.

MSDSs are reference documents that basically serve as a “one-stop shopping source” for anything you may want or need to know about chemicals in your workplace. Employers must have an MSDS for each hazardous chemical they use.

The documents must be easily accessible to employees whenever they are in their work areas. There must be no barriers to access, such as a locked drawer, office door or having to ask for an MSDS.

While many employers keep their MSDSs in a centrally-located binder, it is acceptable to make the documents available electronically through the use of a computer with a printer, microfiche machine, Internet site, CD-ROM or Fax-on-demand system.

If you choose to use electronic MSDSs, employers must ensure that:
  • Electronic devices must be reliable and readily accessible to employees at all times,
  • Every employee is trained on how to use the electronic MSDS system,
  • A back-up system is in place in the event of an emergency, including power outages or equipment and online access delays,
  • And the electronic system is part of your overall HAZCOM program.

Remember, providing employees with MSDSs is just one part to complying with OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS). Along with developing your MSDSs, the HCS involves properly labeling hazardous containers and employee training.

Visit G.Neil’s HR Library for more information on hazardous materials safety, OSHA compliance and the tools to help keep employees safe on the job.

HR survey reveals top green business practices

More than half of employers incorporate environmental management into their business operations, according to a new survey conducted by human resource consulting firm Buck Consultants.

“Many employers now recognize that green programs in the workplace can promote social responsibility among workers and help retain top talent,” said Don Sanford, managing director of Buck’s Communication practice who directed the survey. “More than 60% of survey respondents have made environmental responsibility part of their organization’s mission statement.”

The survey found that 54% of the 93% U.S. organizations surveyed actively incorporate “green” practices into their daily business operations.

According to the survey:

  • 78% of respondents use Web or teleconferencing to reduce travel.
  • 76% promote the reduction of paper use.
  • 68% implement wellness programs to foster employee’s proper nutrition, fitness and healthy living.

One of the key findings of the survey revealed that when organizations appoint an individual to lead green efforts, employee involvement “dramatically” increases. Companies with at least three-quarters of their employees actively involved in green programs, 71% have appointed individual leaders. Only 29% did not appoint a green leader.

Some companies provide employees with incentives to encourage more green behavior around the office. The survey found that of companies that provide rewards, 77% provide special employee recognition, 36% give prize incentives and 14% offer monetary rewards.

“There is still much more that organizations can do,” Sanford said. “We expect to see future growth in green training programs, environmentally responsible investment options and recruiting employees with green skills.”


Stimulus plan subsidizes COBRA, expands unemployment insurance

President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus package into law yesterday hoping to provide a boost to the nation's continuing recession.

"I don't want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems, nor does it constitute all of what we're going to have to do to turn our economy around," said Obama, who signed the bill at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, underscoring its hope of creating environmentally-friendly jobs.

"But today does mark the beginning of the end; the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs; the beginning of what we need to do to provide relief for families worried that they won't be able to pay next month's bills; the beginnings of the first steps to set our economy on a firmer foundation, paving the way to long-term growth and prosperity." Read the full Boston Globe story.

The stimulus plan contains specific measures that will effect most businesses across the country, including a COBRA subsidy for laid-off workers, hiring incentives and new HR requirements.

Roughly $21 billion of the stimulus package is available to help workers who have been laid off to keep their employer-provided health insurance through COBRA, the federal law that gives unemployed workers the right to maintain their employer health insurance after a layoff.

The federal government will pay 65 percent of COBRA premiums for a period of nine months for employees who are laid off from September 1, 2008 through December 31, 2009. Employers will receive a payroll tax credit to offset the subsidy. Employers must notify former employees who are eligible for the new subsidy by March 1.

Documents will have to be updated as the new rule requires that information on the COBRA subsidy is to be included in employers' COBRA notices.

The stimulus also outlines tax benefits for hiring certain types of workers. If your company hires an unemployed military veteran or a person who didn’t finish high school, you could receive a $2,400 per employee tax credit as part of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. The two new classes of qualified workers were added to the “target group” of disadvantaged workers.

Other HR requirements included in the stimulus plan:

  • An increase of weekly unemployment benefits by $25.
  • An extension of the temporary emergency unemployment compensation program through December 2009. The program provides up to 33 weeks of extended unemployment benefits.
  • Unemployment compensation to workers who leave an employer for "compelling family reasons," such as domestic violence, illness or disability of an immediate family member.

As the Department of Labor releases more information on the compete details of the stimulus plan and what will be required of businesses, G.Neil's legal team will be there to help make sure your organization is fully compliant.

Please check back often or subscribe to our blog for the latest updates on how the stimulus plan impacts your business.

For more on how the stimulus package will impact your business, read:

USA Today - Employers fear cost of health insurance for jobless workers

HR Morning - Obama stimulus package contains 6 big paperwork changes for you

Boston Globe - Stimulus is signed as storm builds Human Resources - Economic stimulus package and COBRA

Cash incentives help employees quit smoking

Smokers are more likely to quit if they are offered a cash incentive, according to a new study offering the strongest evidence tying monetary rewards to behavioral changes.

The study, led by a team from the University of Pennsylvania and published by the New England Journal of Medicine, is one of the largest of its kind.

Researchers tracked 878 General Electric Co. employees from across the U.S. for 18 months in 2005 and 2006. Each employee involved in the study smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes a day. They were divided into two groups and all received information regarding smoking-cessation programs.

Members of one group received cash incentives for completing each step of the program: $100 for finishing a smoking-cessation course, $250 if they quit smoking within six months, and $400 for continuing to not smoke for another six months.

Almost 15% of the group who were offered money to stop smoking had quit within the first year of the study, only 5% of the other group had done the same. At the end of the 18-month study, 9% of the paid group was still not smoking compared to only about 4% of the non-paid group.

From the Wall Street Journal article:
Loretta Massie-Eaton, a 53-year-old administrative assistant who works for GE in Atlanta, said encouragement from her 14-year-old son, Harrison, was the main reason she decided to participate. But money was also a motivation, she said. "It was the satisfaction of sticking to the commitment and getting reimbursed for doing it," said Ms. Massie-Eaton, who says she hasn't had a cigarette since taking part in the study more than two years ago.

Ric Barton, a GE lighting specialist from Cleveland, said he had been thinking about quitting before the study. A smoker for four decades, the 62-year-old said finding places to light up had become increasingly difficult and he was tired of rising cigarette prices. "It was icing for me to get a monetary reward for something I was already planning to do," Mr. Barton said.

Statistics show that helping employees quit smoking is worth the investment for companies. Smoking costs employers $3,400 per smoking employee per year in health-care bills, reduced productivity and absenteeism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers not involved in the study commented that the latest findings show that incentives work and give employers hard evidence that incentive programs can help companies save money on employee health-care costs.

“You’d prefer not to pay them, but it’s worth it,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health professional organization.

Related posts:

Help employees quit smoking, participate in the Great American Smokeout

Workplace smoking policies: When employees lie

New research suggests exercise makes you smarter

We know that regular exercise can help the human body ward off a slew of physical ailments including heart disease, obesity, certain types of cancer, diabetes and hypertension. Now, along with the benefits to our bodies, new studies show that exercise can be just as beneficial to our brains.

Until recently, the only link scientists had to connect exercise and brain function was the fact that aerobic activity increases the amount of oxygen flowing to the brain and nourishes brain cells. A recent study is suggesting that exercise helps brain cells form new connections, increasing the brain’s capacity for knowledge, according to an article at HRGuru.

Neurologist Scott Small from the Columbia University Medical Center and Fred Gage of the Salk Institute co-authored the study that illustrates how exercise could improve our ability to learn and develop.

Here’s a breakdown of what happens to your brain as you exercise:

  1. As you exercise, your muscles contract.
  2. This releases chemicals, including a protein called IGF-1.
  3. IGF-1 travels to the brain and stimulates the release of several chemicals, including brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF).
  4. Regular exercise increases levels of BDNF.
  5. BDNF stimulates neurons (brain cells) to branch and connect in new ways.
  6. New junctions between neurons are the basis of learning.

“Bodies that exercise regularly stimulate brains to have higher levels of BDNF; brains with higher levels of BDNF have greater capacity for knowledge,” explains author Kristin Wehner, “Healthy & Wealthy” columnist at

If you’ve been looking for more reasons to encourage employees to start exercising, you can now add knowledge to the list. It may involve a small investment, but promoting exercise with an employee wellness program will pay itself back in reduced health care costs, a boost in productivity, and an even smarter workforce than what you have now.

FMLA changes: Survey shows employers lack communication

Less than one third of employers have discussed the recent changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) with their employees, according to a survey by and

Survey respondents revealed that:
  • 40% had not communicated the FMLA changes to employees.
  • 32% said while they haven’t communicated the changes yet, they plan to do so.
  • 28% said they had already communicated the recent changes to the FMLA to employees.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published the new FMLA rules on November 17, 2008 and they became effective on January 16, 2009. The changes to the FMLA regulations introduced a slew of changes that employers and employees need to be aware of.

Many of the changes were designed to improve communication between employers and employees. The new FMLA ruling includes clarifications and new requirements on how and what employers must communicate to employees. It also includes clarifications and new requirements on when and how employees notify their employer on their need for FMLA leave.

The final rule includes benefits for some military families that give special job-protected leave rights to family members of injured service men and women, and also helps families of members of the National Guard and Reserves manage their affairs when the service member is called to active duty.

For a more detailed breakdown of the changes to the FMLA, read this earlier post: FMLA regulations, what employers need to know.

To avoid the most common mistakes when interpreting the new FMLA rules, take a look at the ComplyRight Now E-Guide: New 2009 FMLA Regulations - What Employers Need to Know. This downloadable guide provides a complete overview of the new rules and employers’ responsibilities under the FMLA.

DHS postpones new Form I-9 to April 3

Beginning Monday, February 2, 2009, all U.S. businesses were scheduled to update their Employment Verification practices to incorporate new standards for documentation and newly updated I-9 Forms. However, late in the day on Friday, January 30, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended another 30-day comment period for the new rules and pushed back the scheduled update by two months, instructing businesses to resume their use of the previous guidelines and I-9 Forms.

This move caused confusion among hiring managers and Human Resources departments across the country. Within just the past few weeks, businesses had been scrambling to receive and distribute the recently released updated I-9 Forms to meet the February 2nd deadline. In doing so, many have discarded the previous forms believing them to be outdated.

Completing an I-9 Form is mandatory for all new employees hired to work in the United States and the scheduled update reflected several changes in the acceptable documents employers can use to verify an applicant's eligibility to work. The retraction and re-instatement of the old forms has employers once again scrambling to respond and replace forms thrown away last week.

Ashley Kaplan, Labor Law Compliance Attorney for G.Neil, received the DHS announcement Friday evening and immediately recognized the potential challenges.

“We worked overtime last week to ship out the updated forms to our customers to begin using on February 2, and now need to get back to them with new instructions,” Kaplan explains. “We’re providing a free pdf of the previous I-9 Form and instructions to our customers who purchased the updated forms. We’ll also closely monitor the extended review period in case further changes occur before the April 3rd deadline.”

Learn more about the most recent changes in our new Form I-9 Q & A.

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