"I'd love a vacation, but I just can't ... "

It’s a catch-22: Employees stressed to the max could really use a vacation, but they have too much going on to take one. And without a healthy balance of quality downtime, stress levels continue to mount.

According to a “Wellness in Travel” study of 1,500 Americans by Westin Hotels & Resorts, more than half of workers failed to take all their vacation days. And even though 58% of respondents felt the need for vacation, 64% canceled plans due to work worries. What’s most unfortunate? Of those surveyed, 48% said they were happier and more positive at work and home after taking a vacation.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the owner of Westin Hotels, wants to help. A new campaign intends to educate consumers on vacation health benefits, while also giving them a chance to win free vacations. Rest-deprived workers can visit to learn more and sign a pledge to tap their remaining vacation days before year-end. Each pledge taker is entered to win one of 200 four-day vacations at a Westin Hotel in the U.S.

Are you following Westin’s lead and making it easier for employees to get away? It’s important to create a culture that supports a healthy work-life balance that includes well-earned time off. The last thing you want is employees thinking it’s more trouble than it’s worth to take a little R&R.

Beyond an employee vacation policy that outlines days off employees are entitled to, you should create a clear, consistent procedure for employees to request vacation time and receive approval. While it’s prudent to consider peak times for your business and the availability of others to absorb vacationing employee workloads, managers need to be responsive and collaborative with any requests. Throwing your hands in the air and groaning when a request comes in doesn’t send a positive message.

It’s time to encourage employees to take time off – for their benefit, as well as the company’s!


The "ICEy" grip of immigration enforcement felt by 500+ businesses

On September 15, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) doled out Notices of Inspection (NOIs) to more than 500 businesses nationwide. If a company receives a NOI, it has three business days to prepare for an in-person meeting with federal officials … and reveal its I-9 employment verification forms and payroll documentation.

According to ICE, these particular businesses are under scrutiny due to specific leads and allegations of hiring unauthorized workers, exploiting workers and paying unfair wages. The fines for I-9 errors identified in an inspection range from $110 to $1,100 per form – with greater penalties for knowingly employing unauthorized workers.

Would your employment verification practices pass inspection? Protect your business from damaging fines and even criminal arrests with a properly completed Downloadable Form I-9 for every new employee. And for expert answers to all your I-9 compliance questions – including how to prevent an I-9 audit - turn to the easy-to-browse CD-ROM, ComplyRight™ SolveIt Now™ Answers to All Your Questions: I-9 Compliance & Immigration Law.

Stand up to workplace bullies

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." If only that were true. As it is, words can be extremely hurtful, whether they're delivered by a surly schoolmate when we're young or a cocky coworker later in life.

According to a 2007 Zogby International survey, nearly 37% of workers (or about 54 million people), have been bullied or repeatedly mistreated at work. What’s worse, bullying is on the rise. ValueOptions®, an independent behavioral health and wellness company, reports a spike in people accessing the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) due to on-the-job bullying and other aggressive behavior.

“At work, bullying can be less obvious [then on the playground] and occur over a long period of time, resulting in extreme stress and anxiety for the employee,” says Rich Paul, vice president of Health & Performance Solutions at ValueOptions. The ongoing stress can lead to physical and mental health problems, a drop in job performance and more sick days away from the office.

The top five tactics used by workplace bullies are:

1. Falsely accusing someone of errors that weren’t made
2. Staring, intimidating or otherwise showing hostility
3. Discounting a person’s thoughts during a meeting
4. Using the silent treatment to isolate
5. Exhibiting unpredictable mood swings in front of a group

As with other forms of harassment, employers are responsible for taking a zero-tolerance position against bullying and just as important, educating employees on the words and actions that can get them in trouble. Prevent workplace bullying with Harassment-Free Workplace – Take Control, an engaging, easy-to-use, four-module DVD training program.

Anti-Muslim sentiment rears its ugly head in the workplace

With the recent resurgence of anti-Muslim attitudes surrounding the proposed mosque building near Ground Zero, it’s not surprising that claims of discrimination against Muslim workers are growing, too. Unfortunately, it seems that the lessons learned - and tolerance established – after the 9/11 attacks are quickly eroding.

In an article, “Muslims face growing bias in the workplace,” an attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shares how dire the situation is:

“There is hatred, an open hatred, and a lack of tolerance for people who are Muslim,” says Mary Jo O’Neill, regional attorney for the Phoenix district office of the EEOC. “I think the mosque in Manhattan seems to be a flashpoint, but it taps into feelings that preceded it.”

And the numbers underscore that point. According to EEOC figures, claims of bias against Muslims in the workplace rose to 1,490 last year from 1,304 in 2008 (compared to 697 claims in 2004). Even more alarming, last year’s total was higher than in the year after the 9/11 event, when claims amounted to 1,463.

Bottom line: Religious discrimination is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which also bans workplace discrimination based on sex, national origin, race and color. More specifically, it requires employers to reasonably accommodate the sincerely held religious beliefs of an employee or prospective employee, as long as it doesn’t pose an undue hardship for the business.

Although every situation is unique, easy accommodations that shouldn’t pose an “undue hardship” for most employers include:

• Variations to your dress or grooming code (unless it poses a safety hazard) to allow for religious garb, like a hijab
• Scheduling work activities around an employee’s religious needs
• Permitting voluntary job swaps
• Reassigning an employee
• Excusing employees from workplace programs that conflict with their religious beliefs
• Allowing the use of an empty room for prayer during break times

Beyond a collaborative approach toward workplace accommodations, it’s essential that you include diversity awareness and training in your anti-harassment initiatives.

Be sure to state in all written applications, postings and other materials that your company does not discriminate on the basis of religion when it comes to hiring, promotions, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment.

Keep in mind, too, that if you ever need to defend a harassment claim (religious or otherwise), your first line of defense will be showing that your company took measures to prevent it. To reinforce your anti-harassment and discrimination position, you should train your managers and supervisors on proper conduct with their employees and the importance of not retaliating against an employee who expresses concerns.

You should also distribute an anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure that expresses your stance against unlawful harassment and your zero tolerance for threats, taunts and any other inappropriate behavior.

Lessons learned from the recent HP sexual harassment scandal

In the aftermath of sensational headlines and Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd’s sudden resignation, one thing is painfully clear: sexual harassment covers more than just employees.

In the HP case, Hurd’s sexual harassment charge came not from a subordinate or other HP employee but from an outside contractor. This highlights the extended liability companies face when it comes to sexual harassment.

Going beyond “regular” employees

Companies are responsible for protecting a variety of people in addition to employees. This can include job applicants, vendors, temp workers and, of course, contractors. As the recent HP case shows, employees’ actions related to these non-employees can result in claims of sexual harassment.

That works both ways. Employees are also extended protection from harassment by non-employees. A female bus driver brought a case against her employer because she was assaulted by one of her developmentally disabled passengers. She won, in part, because the transportation company took no action even after the driver filed reports about the passenger exposing himself.
The current reality is that harassment of or by non-employees must be treated the same as that of standard employees.

The best offense is a good defense

Like many unwanted situations, the key to handling harassment is prevention. You can accomplish that by taking a few essential steps:

Develop a sexual harassment policy
Clearly define sexual harassment and the fact that your company does not tolerate it. Decide on disciplinary action (including termination) and explain it. Be sure to set up and include a specific procedure for reporting and investigating harassment.

Train your employees (and non-employees)
Administer annual training sessions on sexual harassment. Explain what it is, how to avoid it and what to do when and if it occurs.

Train your managers and supervisors
Conduct these sessions annually for managers and supervisors, too, but separately from employee training. It’s important that they understand the procedure for handling complaints, as well as their role in properly and speedily responding to complaints.

Know the climate
Consider talking to managers and employees (informally, of course) about the tone and mood of the work environment. Ask for their thoughts and feelings – and really listen. And be certain to keep an eye open for pictures, notes, printed e-mails, etc. that may be considered offensive.

Investigate all complaints thoroughly
By taking all sexual harassment complaints seriously, you’re more likely to minimize disruption in the workplace. An immediate investigation helps you get to the heart of the matter and communicates that your company doesn’t tolerate these actions.

Wage and hour lawsuits outnumber all other class actions combined

According to a 2010 survey of more than 1,800 legal and HR professionals, one-third of respondents were hit with a wage and hour claim in the past year. At the same time, more than half of respondents shared that their organization has increased spending for wage and hour compliance.

Shanti Atkins, the President and CEO of ELT, the workplace compliance training company that conducted the survey, explains the dramatic rise in claims: “Employers are being hit from two sides. On one, there is a better funded, more fully staffed Dept. of Labor (DOL) that has made fighting wage theft one of its key priorities. On the other side are aggressive plaintiff law firms that literally salivate at these easy-to-identify and easy-to-win, lucrative class actions.”

To complicate matters further, the DOL reports that more than 80% of employers are out of compliance with federal and state wage and hour laws! The top Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that get employers in trouble are:

• Misclassifying a non-exempt employee (eligible for overtime) as salaried/exempt
• Not paying overtime to non-exempt employees for all hours worked, including unauthorized overtime
• Making improper salary deductions from exempt and non-exempt employees

Go here for clear guidelines on how to comply with FLSA regulations – and practical forms and recordkeeping tools to keep you on track.

Tax perks under HIRE Act may push out another six months

If Congess approves the proposed legislation, the tax benefits for hiring unemployed workers under the HIRE Act will be extended by six months. These benefits include a 6.2% payroll tax incentive for unemployed workers hired from February 3, 2010, to January 1, 2011, and a $1,000 general business tax credit for each worker who stays with your company for at least one year.

The HIRE Now Tax Cut Extension of 2010 would allow employers hiring qualified employees from July 22, 2010, through June 30, 2011, to tap into the HIRE ACT benefits for an additional six months. The hope is that the legislation will advance the nation’s economic recovery by trimming the costs associated with hiring. Claim your payroll tax exemption under the new HIRE Act with Form W-11.

We will continue to monitor the situation, so check back here for updates.

Previous posts:

Are you clear on who qualifies for the HIRE Act tax benefits?

Hiring and firing and the latest legalities along the way

Hiring to get a boost with tax breaks for employers

The workplace after war: Are you ready to accommodate our returning troops?

Soon after declaring an end to the war in Iraq, President Obama withdrew the last of the U.S. combat troops from the Middle East last month – with a pledge to remove all troops from the area by the end of 2011. With thousands of our men and women heading home and stepping back into the work world, now is the time to prepare for the impact this may have on your business.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) is the primary federal law governing the employment and reemployment rights of uniformed service members. In general, USERRA requires both private and public employers to provide military leave for employees, and to eliminate or reduce any employment disadvantage resulting from participation. USERRA requires you to reinstate employees upon completion of service, grant seniority and applicable benefits to returning employees, and train or otherwise qualify returning employees for reemployment. Specifically, you may not discriminate in hiring, promotion, reemployment, termination or benefits because of past, current or future military obligations.

The law requires that you educate your employees about their USERRA rights. With Poster Guard® Compliance Protection, you can be certain you’re displaying mandatory USERRA information via the federal labor law poster. G.Neil also offers an easy-to-read, downloadable E-Guide that explains the USERRA regulations and your legal responsibilities.

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