How to recover faster from a disaster

Halloween is upon us, which means we're surrounded by all sorts of horrors: ghosts, goblins, bad Lady Gaga costumes and bottomless bowls of diet-wrecking candy.

But if the latest news stories are any indication, wicked weather is one of our bigger threats these days. We turn on the national news and witness vivid coverage of tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, severe storms, fires and other disasters wreaking havoc on homes, businesses and communities. And as we watch the destruction, we think, “Thank goodness it’s not me, my family or my workplace.”

As a responsible employer, however, you need to realize this simple truth: Disaster can strike any time. And the difference between lengthy down time and a quick recovery lies with proper emergency planning.

To ensure you’re never caught off guard in a crisis and can respond promptly, a basic plan should include:

• Emergency contact numbers. Keep a current database of employee and emergency service phone numbers in a safe place with easy access. Cell phones, with their separate networks, are good communication devices in emergencies.

• Detailed employee communication plans. How will top management deliver information to employees after a catastrophic event? It’s a smart idea to prerecord information on toll-free hotlines. And don’t forget the Internet as a way to connect with employees after a disaster.

• A list of critical tasks. Identify and distribute critical business operations (what keeps your company producing, selling, taking orders or providing services) to supervisors and employees. Also, think about limited or restricted work schedules, telecommuting arrangements and company transportation services for employees.

• An off-site meeting place. Designate an off-site location for top management and “essential” staff to meet in case your building is inaccessible.

• Customer communication plans. How will you communicate with customers on the status of their orders and deliver information to business clients?

• Data recovery plans. Natural and man-made disasters can easily wipe out hard drives and destroy databases. Keep critical back-up data at an outside location and have a plan on how to retrieve that information if disaster strikes.

• Employee health and safety. Health and safety become top priorities if you decide to keep your business open during and/or after a disaster. Refine your emergency response procedures and stock up on the appropriate first aid supplies.

Put your plan to the test ...

Once your disaster plan is in place, practice it and then practice it again. Train employees and supervisors on emergency procedures and what to do if they have limited or no access to the building.

Test your plan with emergency dry-runs and document the results. Look for ways to improve and update your plan wherever necessary. Schedule semi-annual meetings of emergency response teams to keep everyone in the loop and up to date.

The amount of lost time and productivity after a major disaster will ultimately come down to your preparations and training. With effective communication and employee cooperation, your business can keep recovery time to a minimum and your business standing after a crisis.

Are you steering clear of OSHA's top 10 safety violations?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently shared the 10 most frequent workplace safety violations for 2010 in a presentation to the National Safety Council.

Here are the 10 safety issues that made the list:

1. Scaffolding
2. Fall Protection
3. Hazard Communication
4. Respiratory Protection
5. Ladders
6. Control of Hazardous Energy – Lockout/Tagout
7. Electrical-Wiring Methods
8. Powered Industrial Trucks
9. Electrical – General
10. Machine Guarding

How safe and sound is your workplace? More important, what are you doing to build awareness and train your employees on proper safety procedures? With the right training resources, you can help prevent these top 10 safety offenses and avoid costly OSHA penalties.

American Heart Association switches CPR steps under new guidelines

In the past, the steps to administering CPR were 1) clear the victim’s airway, 2) deliver rescue breaths, and 3) start chest compressions. That has changed, however, under the American Heart Association’s new CPR guidelines. Now, chest compressions come first, followed by clearing the airway and giving mouth-to-mouth breathing.

The previous guidelines – last updated in 2005 – delayed getting oxygen-rich blood circulating throughout the body, which is essential in the critical first seconds of cardiac arrest.

“Every second without blood flow is associated with cells dying, so the faster you can start CPR, the faster you get blood flowing and the better you stave off the damage from cardiac arrest,” said Dr. Dana P. Edelson, director of clinical research for the University of Chicago’s Emergency Resuscitation Center and a co-author of the guidelines.

Among other changes to the guidelines, the AHA recommends that rescuers administer at least 100 chest compressions per minute, and push the breastbone down at least 2 inches with each compression - both of which can lead to better outcomes. And for people who may be uncomfortable giving mouth-to-mouth breathing, the new guidelines encourage non-medical professionals to use hands-only CPR.

Educate your employees about the AHA’s new CPR guidelines with our fully updated Lifesaving CPR Poster and Lifesaving Choking Poster.

Employers can expect a spike in OSHA penalties under new policy

As part of a longer-term enforcement plan, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is moving forward with a new, stricter administrative penalty policy that became effective October 1, 2010. Many experts felt that OSHA’s penalties, which have been around since the early 1970s, were too low to act as a deterrent. A handful of penalty adjustments will have a much wider, harder-hitting effect on employers.

Under the new policy, the time period for reviewing an employer’s past history of OSHA violations – to determine a “repeat” violation and any penalty increases or reductions – will expand from three to five years. An employer who has been cited by OSHA for a high-gravity, serious, willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violation within the last five years will receive a 10% penalty increase, up to the statutory maximum. (At the same time, any employer who has been inspected in the last five years and has none of these violations will receive a 10% penalty reduction.)

Among the other adjustments with the new policy:

• High-gravity, serious violations under OSHA’s Severe Violators Enforcement Program (SVEP) don’t have to be grouped but, rather, can be cited as separate violations with their own penalties

• OSHA officers can consider the gravity of serious violations (the severity and probability of an injury/illness resulting from a hazard) to issue penalties ranging from $3,000 to $7,000

• Employers with 251 or more employees will not receive any penalty reduction for employer size

• Good-faith procedures will continue, where employers can earn a reduction if they have a solid safety and health program in place, and are clear of any high-gravity, serious, willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations

• Also retained is the 15% “quick fix” reduction for employers who immediately address any hazards identified in an inspection

• The minimum proposed penalty for a serious violation will increase to $500, and the minimum penalty for a posting violation will increase to $250 (if OSHA previously provided the company a poster)

In light of OSHA’s new penalty policy, you should carefully audit your safety and health program, remove all workplace hazards, enhance your safety practices, and properly document accidents and injuries. Check out our OSHA recordkeeping forms and tools for clear direction and easier compliance.

Statistics underscore administration's tough stance on immigration enforcement

According to a recent announcement by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Obama administration has achieved record-breaking immigration enforcement statistics in the past 20 months. Of particular note is the unprecedented number of convicted criminal aliens being identified and removed from the country.

Since January 2009, ICE audited more than 3,200 employers suspected of hiring illegal employees, debarred 225 companies and individuals, and imposed approximately $50 million in financial sanctions. In fiscal year 2010, ICE removed more than 392,000 illegal aliens (of which more than 195,000 were convicted criminals) … a 70% increase from the previous administration.

“This administration has focused on enforcing our immigration laws in a smart, effective manner that prioritizes public safety and national security and holds employers accountable who knowingly and repeatedly break the law,” said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Protect your business from damaging fines and even criminal arrests with a properly completed Form I-9 for every new employee.

Previous posts:

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

10 tips for surviving an I-9 audit

That knock on your office door may be Homeland Security

7 ways to rev up employee reviews

When it comes to managing employee performance, many companies miss the mark. And here’s why: Performance management means more than conducting reviews with employees once or twice a year.

If you only provide feedback at review time – sitting across a desk and going point by point through a rigid appraisal form – you’re overlooking many valuable opportunities to mentor, support and guide your employees.

For more relevant, results-driven performance management, you should:

1) Provide regular and immediate feedback year-round. To help employees learn from their mistakes and overcome their challenges, you need to share feedback that’s specific and timely. If you’re plugged into what your employees are doing day to day, and have worked to maintain an “open door” policy with them, confronting them with constructive criticism will be easier.

2) Set the right foundation at the beginning of the year. Create some structure around your expectations for the position and what a positive, productive year should look like. With the employee’s input, take the time to determine a handful of objective, measurable goals. Strive for goals that are challenging, but at the same time attainable.

3) Keep track of daily performance. A performance log lets you jot down notes about an employee’s good or bad behavior, as you observe it or hear about it. This information can be a handy reference for weekly or monthly discussions and certainly, a much more reliable resource at review time than your memory!

=> => OK, you’re keeping the lines of communication open with your employees and providing thoughtful feedback on a regular basis. But like most companies, you also need to complete a written appraisal and conduct a formal, one-on-one review. Here’s how to make the most of it:

4) Be prepared. This should be obvious, but make sure you’ve thought through what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to say it, before sitting down with the employee. Whether you use a standard performance appraisal form or some other written format for rating key performance factors, you still need to talk through the contents and fill in additional details.

5) Lead with the positive. Performance reviews can be as anxiety-inducing for the employee as they are for the manager or supervisor. Reinforce the employee’s strengths (with specific examples, of course) at the beginning of the review to set a positive tone and help put the employee at ease.

6) Make it a two-way conversation. An effective performance review is not a one-sided monologue by a manager. Rather, it should be an open exchange that allows employees to voice their concerns and offer new ideas. Creating this dynamic will help employees feel you value their opinions, which goes a long way toward increasing employee engagement and morale.

7) Focus on what matters to the employee. Job satisfaction plays a huge role in an employee’s attitude and performance. Just as no two employees are exactly alike, there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach to reviews. An effective review should explore the issues that matter most to the employee, whether that means accepting new challenges, working on teams, taking on more responsibility or receiving additional training. If you know what makes an employee “tick”, you can tie more of those motivators into his or her goals and objectives.

More Americans using illicit drugs - How to keep your workplace clean

Based on a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the overall rate of illicit drug use in the United States rose from 8% in 2008 to 8.7% in 2009 (among Americans aged 12 and older). The higher numbers are believed to be the result of greater marijuana use.

The annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that other forms of substance abuse are on the rise, too:

Nonmedical use of prescription drugs - 2.8% in 2009 (from 2.5% in 2008)
Number of past-month ecstasy users – 760,000 in 2009 (from 555,000 in 2008)
Number of methamphetamine users - 502,000 in 2009 (from 314,000 in 2008)

Drug-Free Work Week is October 18-24, the perfect time to build awareness and take specific steps that will positively impact your company’s safety and productivity. Here are some ways you can make the most of it:

• Implement a drug-free workplace program – Make this the week you launch a program, if you don’t already have one. Employee handbook software can help you develop a solid, legally approved drug-free policy. You’ll also want to let applicants know your workplace is drug-free by applying drug-free applicant stickers to your job applications.

• 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 on their role in the workplace - Ensure supervisors understand your policies for handling substance abuse with a supervisor-specific handbook that outlines what they can and cannot do if they suspect abuse among their employees.

• Remind employees about the availability of employee-assistance services - These free, confidential services can help employees get the help they need to 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. Also, consider giving employees disposable 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.

• 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 with substance abuse 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 – Let employees know about Drug-Free Work Week with a notice that includes a list of resources available to them.

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

• 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.

Changing a job's "essential functions" - ADA loophole or sinkhole?

Ask Woodman’s Food Markets this question and you’ll probably get a resounding “sinkhole.” The Janesville, Wisconsin-based grocery store chain is being sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for firing a disabled employee who was restricted from lifting more than 10 pounds.

The snag is this: Kimberly McMillan-Goodwin successfully performed the job for years with the lifting restriction. But when she returned from an absence due to injuries in a car accident, she was placed on a one-year leave and then terminated. The company’s explanation? It changed the position, making McMillan-Goodwin no longer able to perform her job with the long-standing restriction. Plus, the company claimed it had no other positions to offer her.

While we don’t know the outcome of the lawsuit yet, the case deserves our attention because it pertains to whether an employer can change the essential functions of a job under the ADA and in turn, fire a disabled individual who was previously qualified. There is a fear that for particularly crafty employers, this could serve as a legal loophole, allowing them to sidestep the accommodation duty under the ADAAA’s expanded definition of “disabled.” Simply change the job description to shut out disabled candidates or existing employees who no longer meet the job’s requirements.

The EEOC’s position in the”changed jobs” case is more clear-cut. “It is unfortunate that some managers still act as if it’s acceptable to deny jobs to people who are ready and able to work, simply because of a disability – especially when the people they put on the street have a history of
long, loyal successful performance,” says John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District. “It really runs against most people’s sense of fundamental fairness and, beyond that, it violates federal law.” (

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. In its support for disabled employees, the DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is promoting the message:

“Talent has no boundaries – Workplace diversity includes people with disabilities.”

Are you doing your part to open doors when hiring and promoting workers with disabilities? Just as important, are your workplace policies in sync with last year’s amendments to the ADA, including making reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals?

Caution! Pulling back the social media curtain could lead to hiring discrimination

The social networking explosion has created an “Age of Transparency” for individuals who share their lives – the good, the bad and the ugly – for the entire world to see. As of January 2010, there were more than 500 million global subscribers to Facebook, with 103 million residing in the U.S. – a leap from 43 million a year earlier or an annual increase of 145 percent! Even more astonishing: The growth rate within the 35-54 age bracket is up 328 percent in the U.S. over the same period. It’s safe to say nearly everyone is doing it.

The ubiquitous use of Facebook and other social networking websites creates opportunities for hiring managers and HR professionals to “peek behind the curtain” with potential hires. While a helpful resource, social networking sites may also pose an HR risk if discrimination comes into play during the screening process.

To make sure you don’t cross any legal lines, consider these tips before scouring social networking sites:

1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Photos appearing on social networking sites often depict individuals having fun with friends and family and may not always be flattering. Judge candidates on how they present themselves during face-to-face interviews. It’s their professionalism in an office environment that you are concerned with most.

2. Check out LinkedIn for the professional point of view. While Facebook is a friends and family communication portal, LinkedIn is its professional counterpart. Reviewing LinkedIn content will give you a much better perspective of an individual’s career history, skill set and professional presentation.

3. Avoid out and out discrimination. Some managers may dig deep into a prospect’s past, and, in turn, uncover spiritual, political, social or sexual preferences in the process. Using this information and other protected categories to discriminate in the hiring process is unlawful. Some states, like California and New York, have privacy laws preventing employers from interfering with employees’ private lives.

4. Social networking sites don’t always present the facts. Many people provide inflated details about their personal lives to hide certain information or to paint a desirable picture to friends and family. Focus your hiring decisions on resumes, interviews and references to avoid relying on disinformation.

5. Add social networking rules to your company policy. The best practice to avoid misuse of social networking sites is having a written policy that clearly informs hiring managers about what information can and cannot be considered in the review process.

OSHA gets involved to discourage distracted driving

The fight to discourage texting while driving just gained new momentum. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) are partnering to build awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and reduce worker fatalities from vehicle crashes.

“It is imperative that employers eliminate financial and other incentives that encourage workers to text while driving,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “It is well recognized that texting while driving dramatically increases the risk of a motor vehicle injury or fatality.”

Texting while driving is already a hot topic for much of the country. On the legal front, President Obama signed an executive order last year prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving, and more than 20 states make it a primary offense to text and drive. And this past spring, Oprah Winfrey and Harpo Studios declared April 30 the nation’s first “No Phone Zone Day.”

As part of its multi-pronged strategy, OSHA will launch an education campaign for employers during “Drive Safely Work Week” in early October, post an open letter to employers on its website to advance the “no texting while driving” initiative, and align with the National Safety Council and other organizations to reach out and support employers in their efforts.

What are you doing to help put the brakes on distracted driving? You can take two important steps to deter this dangerous practice: 1) Distribute an employee policy forbidding cell phone use while driving and 2) Display a workplace poster to reinforce your message.

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