With summer comes warmer weather ... and more workplace risks

While most of us look forward to the longer, warmer days of summer, this time of year can pose unique challenges for many businesses – especially in the hospitality and entertainment industries. From dress code issues to properly managing a seasonal workforce, you need to be certain you’re towing the legal line during the summer months. This includes:

1. Planning around vacation requests so you’re sufficiently staffed. See Vacation Request & Approval Form (Calendar Format)
2. Preventing sexual harassment when clothing choices — and employee behavior — relax. See Harassment Training Program, “Harassment-Free Workplace: Take Control” and Gradience Handbook Manager software
3. Upholding legal dos and don’ts when hiring temporary summer employees. See The HR Answer Book
4. Understanding child labor issues surrounding teen employees. See SolveIt Now™ Answers to All Your Questions: OSHA Compliance
5. Making the necessary staffing adjustments when employees call out “sick”. See Yearly Vacation Planner
6. Keeping employees safe when the temperatures soar. See Extreme Heat Exposure Kit (Poster & Notifications)

Through thick and thin, it's the people who matter most

We talk a lot about employee morale on this blog. We stand behind the notion that happy, engaged employees are more positive, more productive and your most important resource. So when Robert Half Management Resources posed the question, “Which one of the following is the greatest lesson you have learned from the recession?”, we were pleased that the #1 response was, “Place greater focus on maintaining employee morale.” Ding, ding, ding – employee morale gets top billing!

Participating in the survey were 1,400 chief financial officers from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees. The other top responses from the CFOs:

• Take decisive measures more quickly to avoid multiple rounds of cost-cutting — 22%
• Make sure we have enough staff to maintain productivity — 22%
• Implement more detailed succession plans — 15%

But back to employee morale. How encouraging that people in high places recognize the importance of employee morale – no matter how rough the waters. And let’s hope they’re not "all talk and no action" when it comes to this belief. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Once the recession lifts, employees will remember how they were treated. Will your best employees stick around as the economy improves, or will they dust off their resumes and hit the job boards?

Happy employees are good business. “Without a motivated workforce and adequate staffing levels, companies can be ill-equipped to take advantage of improving market trends,” said Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. “They may also risk losing top employees as the job market strengthens.”

What about your business? Did you make employee morale a priority during the tough times of the recent recession? Are you confident that you treated your employees right … and will be rewarded with their continued loyalty?

Survey reveals heavy financial burden of class action lawsuits

Based on the sixth annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report by Seyfarth Shaw LLP – a leading law firm handling complex employment litigation – employers should be aware of several key trends that occurred in federal and state courts last year:

• Class action filings seeking recovery for unpaid wages and 401(k) losses increased. More age discrimination and Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) lawsuits were filed, too, due to workers being displaced in layoffs.

• Wage and hour litigation outpaced all other types of employment-related cases, especially in CA, FL, IL, NJ, NY, MA, MN, PA and WA.

• The Obama Administration’s renewed focus on regulation and enforcement, mostly through the DOL and EEOC, continues to increase exposure for employers.

• Massive settlements were seen in several nationwide class actions, as plaintiffs’ lawyers pushed for greater damages. The top 10 employment discrimination settlements in 2009 totaled $86.2 million, while the top 10 wage and hour settlements reached $363.6 million.

Just one major, costly lawsuit could be devastating to your business. Stay on the right side of the law and reduce your risk with legally compliant products and services – from Poster Guard® Compliance Protection to the latest FMLA, FLSA, OSHA and HIPAA compliance materials.

OSHA cracking down on careless employers who endanger workers

In an effort to reduce the number of workers seriously injured or killed while on the job, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently developed the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). The program will take aim at employers who “have demonstrated indifference to the OSHA obligations by willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations.” How they’ll do this is through increased and more aggressive worksite inspections, follow-up inspections and greater penalties for safety violations.

Employers of all sizes will fall under the scrutiny of the SVEP, with the following incidents drawing particular attention:

1) Fatality and/or catastrophe situations resulting in three or more hospitalizations or the death of an employee
2) Non-fatality and/or catastrophe situations where you’ve exposed an employee to one of the most severe workplace hazards, including “high-gravity serious violations,” such as fall hazards, combustible dust hazards and lead hazards
3) Hazards due to the potential release of a highly hazardous chemical
4) Any violation considered “egregious” (conspicuously bad or offensive) under current OSHA obligations

The consequences for an employer on the SVEP list are equally severe. First, if just one of your facilities has come under fire, OSHA may order a nationwide inspection of all your facilities. There will be mandatory follow-up investigations at every facility, and OSHA will publicize your citations and violations.

Then there’s the financial hit. Over the next couple of months, the maximum penalty for a violation causing death or serious physical harm will increase from $7,000 to $12,000 – and the maximum penalty for a willful violation will increase from $70,000 to $250,000. (Penalties have increased only once in 40 years, despite inflation.)

June is National Safety Month. Are you doing everything possible to create a safer, OSHA-compliant workplace? Meet OSHA safety standards and prevent injuries year-round with G.Neil’s training and compliance solutions.

Don't let your employees leave without learning why!

What goes around comes around. According to MRINetwork, one of the largest recruitment organizations in the world, employers should expect as much as a 50% increase in employee turnover as the economy picks up again. So while it's good that you'll be able to lift your hiring freezes in the coming months, it's not so great if you find yourself saying goodbye to quality employees walking out the door in search of greener pastures.

When it comes to employee turnover, parting can be such sweet sorrow ... AND a unique learning experience. That is, if you take the time to conduct an exit interview and find out why an employee is packing her briefcase and hitting the road.

“Most companies routinely conduct exit interviews,” said Tony McKinnon, president of MRINetwork, “but unfortunately few of them use the information they garner for the company’s benefit. And yet, a poorly delivered exit interview can affect the morale of the existing employee population and undermine the company culture.”

McKinnon adds that the primary aim of the exit interview is twofold: 1) To learn the reasons for the person's departure, on the basis that criticism is a helpful driver for organizational improvement; and 2) to allow the organization to transfer knowledge and experience from the departing employee to a successor or replacement.

In other words, ask probing questions to find out the good, the bad and the ugly from the departing employee (and be prepared to listen when the news is less than flattering) and then, use that information to improve upon the position (and the corporate culture) for the person filling the departing employee’s shoes.

For additional direction, check out the article, Exit Interviews Reveal What Went Wrong in the G.Neil HR Library. From the article:

It’s important to gather profiling data on employees such as age group, length of time employed, department, division, and job classification or title. This information helps you identify the typical high-risk turnover candidate.

Understandably, most employees won’t want to level with you about their reasons for leaving. Some are merely ill at ease; others may fear reprisals from ex-supervisors. Nevertheless, you’ve got to encourage them to supply enough details to let you pinpoint the main reasons why most people are quitting. It’s the only way to get to the root of the problem. Your discussion should focus on these topics:

• Salary
• Benefits
• Opportunity for advancement
• Training
• Relationship with supervisor
• Relationships with coworkers
• Reasons for leaving that aren’t related to the job or company

Help put the brakes on distracted driving

Last Friday (April 30) was the nation’s first “No Phone Zone Day,” developed by Oprah Winfrey and Harpo Studios to build awareness around the deadly habit of distracted driving.

Did you know that distracted driving – or talking on your cell phone or texting while driving - takes the lives of nearly 6,000 Americans a year? With the support of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and other leading transportation safety organizations, individuals and companies are taking a stand against cell phone-related auto accidents.

“I’ve made it my mission at the DOT to end distracted driving,” says U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “We know that if we can get people to put away cell phones and other electronic devices when they are behind the wheel, we can save thousands of lives …”

Bottom line: Your company could be held liable for an employee causing an accident while using a cell phone in a company vehicle, or while conducting company business in a personal vehicle. Raise awareness and communicate your policy with our Texting While Driving Poster and Policy Kit. Or download and print a Text Messaging and Cell Phone Use Policy now for immediate use.

To learn more about the dangers of distracted driving and what you can do - personally and professionally - to curb it, check out the No Phone Zone website.

Previous post:

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

Unpaid internships a "no-no" with Department of Labor

While job openings are certainly scarce during these recessionary times – and companies are looking for ways to cut costs - those aren’t excuses for doling out unpaid internships to young people eager to get a foot in the door. Federal and state regulators are concerned that employers are abusing internships and using them, in a sense, for free labor.

In fact, the DOL plans to crack down on employers who offer unpaid internships, taking the position that interns are entitled to wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). And to support that position, the previously flexible interpretations of whether or not to pay interns are about to get much stricter.

"If you're a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren't going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law," said Nancy J. Leppink, director of the Department's Wage and Hour Division.

In general, for an unpaid internship to be lawful under the FLSA, the intern must be properly classified as a "trainee" rather than an "employee." To help you determine this, the DOL has developed a six-factor test.

Interns are likely to be deemed “trainees” if:

1) The training is similar to what might be offered in an academic institution or vocational school.
2) The training is for the benefit of the trainees.
3) The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under their close supervision.
4) The employer derives no immediate benefit from the training, and occasionally the employer's operations may be impeded by the training.
5) Trainees are not entitled to a job at the end of the training period.
6) The employer and trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for time spent in training.

In the meantime, legal experts offer this advice: Assume that all unpaid internships are unlawful, and carefully tailor your training programs for new or prospective employees to avoid liability.

Previous post:

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

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