Does this job make me look fat?

We can now count obesity among the harmful side effects of the lousy economy and stressed-out working conditions. A study by the University of Rochester Medical Center focused on more than 2,700 employees of a large manufacturing facility in upstate New York – an employer that, like many others throughout the country, has experienced layoffs and its fair share of recessionary fallout.

The study revealed that chronic job stress, combined with lack of physical exercise, is a big contributor to weight gain. Alarmingly so. In the case of this particular study, up to 75 percent of the employees were overweight or obese. (Most of the study participants were middle-aged, white, married, highly educated (college degree or more), relatively well-paid (earning more than $60,000 a year), with an average of almost 22 years at the company.)

Stress, whether it’s coming from home, work, the daily commute and anything in between, hurts our health directly and indirectly. Directly, it affects the neuroendocrine system and can lead to the unfortunate storage of abdominal fat. Indirectly, it is linked to bad habits like scarfing down on double-fudge brownies and nachos, or plopping down on a cushy chair instead of hitting the gym.

For the New York workers, a typical evening after a day of stressful meetings and sitting at their computers was “vegging out” in front of the TV for two or more hours. During times of staff cuts, the vending machines were quickly cleared of the snacks highest in fat and calories. And certain workers claimed they didn’t take the time to eat well or exercise at lunch because they were afraid to leave their desks for too long.

"In a poor economy, companies should take care of the people who survive layoffs and end up staying in stressful jobs," says Diana Fernandez, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the URMC Department of Community and Preventive Medicine. "It is important to focus on strengthening wellness programs to provide good nutrition, ways to deal with job demands, and more opportunities for physical activity that are built into the regular workday without penalty." (ScienceDaily)

The concern, of course, is that this upstate New York facility reflects the health of most American workplaces.

So what can you do to discourage your employees from “stress eating” on the job, de-prioritizing their fitness goals and feeling burned out?

Wellness programs that support healthy eating (and back it up with better snack alternatives at the cafeteria, food carts and vending machines) are a good start, as are walking programs, discounted gym memberships and onsite, stress-reduction workshops. Good health isn’t something you shut off at the start of another hectic workday. Healthier lifestyles should be encouraged at work, for the benefit of both the employer and the employee.

Related posts:

Obesity linked to more expensive workers’ comp claims

Wellness investment yields better than 1:1 return

Employees hit the road for National Start! Walking Day

Limited healthy snack options test workers’ waistlines


Breaks for breastfeeding workers under the health care reform act

Due to the exhaustive coverage in the past week and a half, most of us are well aware of the key changes that will occur under the recently signed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But with all the attention the sweeping changes are getting, some of the smaller, less controversial, developments are flying under the radar.

Take breaks for breastfeeding mothers, for example. Under the new health care reform bill, employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), must provide “reasonable” breaks to mothers to express milk for their infants up to one year old.

The FLSA amendment also requires employers to furnish a private space, other than a restroom, for mothers to express milk. (Employers with fewer than 50 employees, however, may be excused from this requirement if it would “impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense.”)

While many states already require unpaid breaks and private areas for breastfeeding mothers, the health care reform bill will make it a federal requirement for employers.

For advocacy groups like the National Women’s Law Center, this is an important development for working women. As Kelli Garcia, a Fellow with NWLC and contributor to its blog, shares:

Not all mothers are able or want to breastfeed. Sometimes, it’s because there are too many barriers that make breastfeeding challenging for new mothers. Thanks to this law, fear of losing your job because you need to take a break to pump or fear of exposing yourself to your co-workers because you cannot find a private place to express breast milk will no longer be among those barriers.

Garcia adds that although it would be even better if employers were required to provide paid breaks for mothers to pump, the law is a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, lawmakers are working to define what is “reasonable” break time and appropriate private space, as well as the penalties for violating the requirements.

What about your company? Are you in a state that already requires this benefit to breastfeeding mothers? And if so, what have you done regarding scheduling and space to make these requirements a win-win for you and your employees?

Step up to the plate with your company's spring training

For two months every year, Major League Baseball teams gather in the sunny states of Florida and Arizona to work out the kinks and prepare for a new season. It’s a time to refine their skills, make adjustments to their mechanics and practice, practice, practice … all before opening day in April.

Is it time for some spring training for your company team? Do your pitchers, catchers and position players need to get off the bench and hone their techniques for competitive play?

To borrow some thoughts from the Training Time rule book, you should start with a list of last year’s training – taking a good, hard look at what worked and what did not. Consider:

=> Which two training classes or programs got the highest ratings from participants? Which two or three garnered the lowest participant ratings?

=> Which training programs had the fastest participant sign-up rate? Which had the lowest?

=> Which training resulted in the largest impact on your employees' behavior, performance or productivity?

=> Which training was a complete flop? This could be people falling asleep, disappearing after breaks, daydreaming, texting under the table, negative behavior not changing or truly awful evaluations by participants. Be honest. Even if it was your absolute favorite session, if it flopped, it flopped.

=> Which training was the hands-down best for 2009? Again, be honest. Maybe it was one you hated or it was a pain to put together. But it worked and it worked well.

Finding the common factors

Now review your list and pinpoint the things your really good training sessions had in common. (And, of course, the things your really bad training sessions shared.) Look at:

Technique - Was it a lecture, video, activity, panel discussion or brainstorming session? Define the way information was conveyed.

Topic - Categorize your training sessions into a few topics. Management skills, productivity, legal issues, etc.

Training location - Where was the training presented? In a conference room, on the factory floor, offsite?

Teacher(s) - Who presented? Was it an individual or a team?

Tools - What tools were used in the training? Computers? Game show-like elements? Toys? Paper and pencil?

Timing - When was the training presented? First thing in the morning or right before quitting time? Over lunch or during a busy time of day? And how long did it last? An hour? All day? All week?

The hard part is over: You’ve identified the superstars and the minor leaguers. Now it's time to make changes in your training game plan that will improve play and lead to more wins.

COBRA subsidy extended once again

It keeps going … and going ... and going.

The House recently passed legislation to extend the 15-month, 65% COBRA premium subsidy another month, until April 30, as well as emergency unemployment insurance benefits until May 5. (In early March, President Obama signed the Temporary Extension Act of 2010, which extended the COBRA subsidy until March 31 and unemployment insurance benefits until April 5.)

In the meantime, the Senate has passed a more comprehensive bill – the Tax Extender Act of 2009 - that would push these benefits out to year’s end, which the House is expected to pass. But if the vote comes after these latest deadlines have passed, another “stopgap” extender bill may be necessary.

Are you keeping your involuntarily terminated employees informed of these extensions, and their possible eligibility?

The Department of Labor (DOL) has released recommended language for communicating the COBRA extension to your employees. To keep things simple (and legally compliant!), check out our COBRA poster, employee notices and other recordkeeping resources.

Getting better versed about E-Verify

As you already know, E-Verify is the free, Web-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). It compares employee information from the Form I-9 against federal databases to confirm that new hires are legally authorized to work in the United States.

But do you know some of the latest developments surrounding this federal program? Here are the top four:

1) It is mandatory for federal contractors

As of September 8, 2009, all federal contractors and subcontractors (including those who receive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds) are required to use E-Verify to check a worker’s employment eligibility. The rule applies specifically to contracts of more than $100,000 and subcontracts of more than $3,000.

2) Nearly ¼ of our states require E-Verify

While largely a voluntary program, E-Verify is required for public and/or private employers in 13 states (ten through legislation and three through executive orders).

3) Participation in E-Verify is growing rapidly

More than 182,000 employers are currently enrolled in E-Verify, with more than 8.7 million queries generated in 2009. As of mid-January, the number of queries in 2010 had already reached 3.6 million.

In addition, the number of registered employers is growing by more than 1,200 per week.

4) E-Verify participants must comply with posting requirements

In addition to following specific procedures for new hires, E-Verify users must clearly display both the English and Spanish Notice of E-Verify Participation and the Right to Work Poster. Together, they explain the employer’s use of E-Verify and the rights of employees.

Keep in mind that even if your business outsources I-9 compliance and employment eligibility verification (and E-Verify is part of that process), you must display these postings in the workplace.

When work stinks ... literally

To you, it’s a lovely little air freshener that smells like spring rain. To your colleague down the hall, it’s a reeking time bomb that makes her feel lousy every time she catches a whiff of it.

According to WebMD, more than 2 million Americans suffer from fragrance allergies or sensitivities. For them, the products that make us nicer to be around in crowded elevators, such as colognes, perfumes, moisturizers, soaps, deodorant and aftershave, can be downright sickening. If they use fragranced products, they may develop a rash with redness, itching or blistering. And if they’re near someone who uses these products, whether on their body or in their environment (in the case of air fresheners), they may experience any number of symptoms – from sneezing, a runny nose and watery eyes, to headaches, difficulty concentrating and dizziness.

Needless to say, not a good scenario for getting your work done. Which is why more and more workplaces are encouraging their employees to be considerate of their fragrance-sensitive coworkers – and keep the aromatic body and room “fresheners” to a minimum.

For city workers in Detroit, MI, they’re more than “encouraged” not to wear fragranced products. It’s more like warned, thanks to a federal lawsuit filed in 2008 by a city employee who claimed a colleague’s perfume made it challenging for her to do her job. (

Warnings now appear in the employee handbook, in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) training and via postings that appear throughout city buildings.

In the case of my own company, the issue wasn’t as urgent, but one that needed to be addressed, nonetheless. Our Human Resources Manager sent a company-wide e-mail explaining fragrance sensitivity and asking everyone to be aware of it and take steps to “keep the air as breathable as possible at work.”

So what about your workplace? Have you had to address this issue and if so, how did you do it? For the extremely sensitive employee who lets you know about a fragrance allergy, could you be looking at a “reasonable accommodation” under the expanded ADA?

Until there are more hours in a day ...

This Sunday, March 14, Daylight Saving Time begins. Every year, as I’m adjusting the clocks scattered throughout my home (in the hall, by my bed, on the microwave, on my cell phone, on my laptop, etc. etc. etc.), I’m struck at how easily we can manipulate time. Yesterday, it was dark when I was leaving work; today, by the turn of the hour hand, it’s still light!

Which makes me think: On those days when the items on your to-do list are in the double digits, wouldn’t it be nice to just add an hour or two to the daily 24? There, I got all my work done AND I still have time for me, my family and a full night’s rest.

But until we can bend time (or freeze it so we can get “caught up”), we’re left to manage it. Like the clock-adjusting scramble every spring, it requires tweaks and changes that will help you stay one step ahead of your to-do list while keeping your sanity intact.

From an article on workplace productivity in G.Neil’s HR Library here are some tips:

Put it in writing. Write everything down and post it in a highly visible place to help clear your mind and allow more creativity to flow.

Prioritize. Organize your to-do list in order, with the most important tasks at the top of the list and those that can wait toward the bottom.

Just do it. If something on your to-do list can be completed within two minutes, do it right then and there for an immediate sense of accomplishment.

Be aware. Do your best to focus on one task at a time and be fully conscious in whatever you’re working on.

Find your best time to work. Tackle the most important tasks during the time of the day when you are most productive.

Guard yourself. Shut the door to your office, schedule a meeting with yourself or put on headphones to block out any unnecessary distractions.

Take a break. When you start feeling stressed or tired, step away from your desk or workspace and go for a walk.

Work with what you have. Accept the fact that there will always be something left on your to-do list at the end of the day. Go home, relax and deal with that task tomorrow.

Enjoy your time off. Use your days off to regroup and refresh. Time away from work is healthy and will improve your productivity when you return to the office. (See earlier post, Take your vacation days – you need ‘em! )

The top 10 jobs of 2010

Based on their research of 200 different positions, has ranked the “best” jobs for the new year. The Jobs Rated report compared careers across a variety of industries and took into account a handful of factors, including stress, working environment, physical demands, income and hiring outlook.

And in case you think you’re going to be “wowed” by this list, the article on the CareerCast site explains:

“ … top careers in the Jobs Rated report typically don’t stand out as the most glamorous, highest paying or most noble. Instead, they are the jobs that offer the greatest chance of enjoying a combination of good health, low stress, a pleasant workplace, solid income and strong growth potential.”

So with that being said, here’s the list:

1. Actuary
2. Software Engineer
3. Computer Systems Analyst
4. Biologist
5. Historian
6. Mathematician
7. Paralegal Assistant
8. Statistician
9. Accountant
10. Dental Hygienist

For more information, check out the article here.

Does your harassment training cover mistreatment of men?

Workplace harassment can rear its ugly head in many different forms. The stereotypical image of harassment as the overbearing male boss making advances on a young, attractive female is a narrow-minded view. And if your training takes this same narrow-minded view, you could be tip-toeing around some legal landmines.

Take male harassment. Last year, the percentage of lawsuits the EEOC filed on behalf of male victims reached an all-time high – amounting to 14% of all cases.

A Seattle Times article explains:

While some cases allege harassment by female supervisors or co-workers, most charges involve men harassing other men. Sometimes it's unwelcome romantic advances. Other times, men are picked on because they are gay, perceived as being gay or not considered masculine enough for the work setting.

As the EEOC handles more lawsuits involving men, it’s also reinforcing the message that this type of harassment is unacceptable and unlawful. Case in point: Last November, the Cheesecake Factory agreed to pay $345,000 to six male employees who claimed they were sexually assaulted by a group of male kitchen staffers at a Phoenix-area restaurant.

Another case in point, this time involving women making unwanted advances toward men: Last year, the Regal Entertainment Group agreed to pay $175,000 to a male employee who claimed a female co-worker repeatedly grabbed his crotch.

While male victims may be less inclined to come forward with their harassment claims for fear of being judged or ridiculed, they shouldn’t be expected to suffer in silence either.

“All sexual harassment victims feel humiliated, lacking control and power," says Mary Jo O'Neill, a regional attorney in the EEOC's Phoenix District office.

How inclusive is your harassment training? Are you taking a broad view of every type of harassment that can surface in your workplace? And more important, are you educating your staff on the attitudes and actions against women and men that can get them in trouble?

Life's a "breach" if you mishandle protected health information

In late August 2009, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued new regulations requiring entities covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to notify individuals when their protected health information (PHI) is compromised. Specifically, the HITECH Act requires businesses to report breaches affecting 500 or more individuals to HHS within 60 days of discovering the breach. It also requires that HHS post on its website a list of these reported breaches.

The “Breach Notification Rule’ is now in full play. Last week, HHS posted a list of breaches of unsecured PHI that affected 500 or more people. As summarized in the report, 27 of the breaches resulted from thefts of paper or electronic records. Other breaches were described as “Hacking/IT Incident,” “Loss,” “Incorrect Mailing,” “Unauthorized Access,” “Misdirected Email,” and “Phishing Scam.” The breach affecting the largest number of individuals was reported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee. There, a theft of hard drives resulted in breaches of unsecured PHI affecting half a million individuals.

Does the new rule apply to you?

It does if you’re a HIPAA-covered entity or business associate, including most health care providers, health plans and health care clearinghouses. Employers who act as sponsors of group health plans may also be covered entities, depending upon their level of involvement.

What is a breach?

A breach occurs when 1) there has been “unauthorized” access, use or disclosure of “unsecured” PHI that violates the 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.”

“Unsecured” PHI is any information that has not been rendered unusable, unreadable or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals through the use of a technology such as encryption and destruction.

Encryption - Proper encryption should use an algorithmic process to transform data into a form that is meaningless without a confidential process or key (which also must be protected).

Destruction - Hard copy PHI, such as paper or film, needs to be thoroughly shredded or destroyed so that it cannot be read or reconstructed.

Beyond enhancing your data security efforts, you have a responsibility to:

=> notify individuals when their health information has been compromised
=> update your HIPAA policies and procedures
=> educate employees on new procedures

Cover all the bases with our HIPAA Forms CD-ROM and Poster Bundle. It includes all the HIPAA compliance materials you need - from an Employee Information Poster and HIPAA Privacy and Security Policy to a Breach Incident Log and other essential forms - to stay in compliance.

For additional direction with your compliance questions, go to HIPAA FAQs.

Under proposed bill, hiring an illegal worker could land you in jail

Last week, Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland introduced a bill that would increase prison terms and fines for employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. While current law imposes penalties if an employer shows a pattern of violations, the “Criminal Penalties for Unauthorized Employment Act of 2010 (H.R. 4627)” would expand the penalties for employing unauthorized aliens as follows:

Criminal Penalties
First offense: A fine of $2,500 and/or imprisonment up to one year
Second offense: A fine of $5,000 and/or imprisonment up to two years
Third offense: A fine of $10,000 and/or imprisonment up to five years

Civil Penalties
First offense: A fine of between $1,000-$5,000
Second offense: A fine of between $5,000-$10,000
Third offense: A fine of between $10,000-$20,000

Under current law, criminal penalties for knowingly hiring an illegal alien only kick in after an individual with direct hiring authority shows a “pattern or practice of violations.” The proposed bill would be more hard-hitting by authorizing imprisonment for any offense, as well as increasing the maximum terms of imprisonment, criminal fines and civil fines. Keep in mind, too, that these proposed fines and prison terms are per violation, with penalties increasing for repeat violations.

“Employers who hire illegal immigrants are not only breaking the law, but they are also undermining the legal immigration system, creating an unfair advantage over employers who are playing by the rules, and hurting American workers,” said Rep. Kratovil. “We can’t make progress toward reducing illegal immigration until we get serious about cracking down on the bad actors who are creating the incentives."

As we’ve warned countless times on this blog, this is no time to take chances when verifying an employee’s eligibility to work in the U.S.! Homeland Security is already stepping up inspections and enforcement for I-9 Form violations. And if this bill were to get passed, the impact for non-compliance could be that much more costly and crippling to your business.

For guidance with your I-9 practices and to protect your business from a potential audit, check out our latest podcast, Employment Verification Guidelines and Tips. Grab a cup of coffee, sit back and listen as employment law attorney Lillian Mojica covers the current employment verification guidelines and tips for ensuring every I-9 Form is completed properly.

Labels :

Copyright (c) 2010. Blogger templates by Bloggermint