One in three employees is ready to walk

"Hello, I must be going." With employee loyalty hitting a three-year low, this might be the rallying cry of more and more employees in the coming months.

In its 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends, MetLife reports that one in three workers hopes to find a new job in the next 12 months. And they're confident they'll be successful in their search. According to another study (this time a survey by,  four in 10 self-employed, full-time and part-time workers believe it's "likely" they will secure a job that matches their experience and salary in the next six months.

Many factors are to blame for the morale free-fall, including stagnant wages, busted bonuses, longer hours and heavy workloads. The combination is stressing employees out and testing their loyalty to their current employers.

"Businesses are understandably focused on expenses," says Ronald Leopold, vice president of MetLife's U.S. business."But they're taking their eye off the ball with human capital issues, notably what drives employee satisfaction and loyalty."

So now what? Do you resign yourself to the situation at hand -- or get serious about boosting employee satisfaction? Are you ready to tip the balances in favor of your employees, especially those you'd hate to see leave?

Let's dip into the HR Forum vault for some great ways to boost employee morale no matter how tight the budget:

First, give 'em what you can. Even if it's a 1% raise or a one-time bonus, let the hard-working double-duty working employees you still have know you are stretching the limits to give them SOMETHING. Remember, a flat wage means your employees are actually losing money year after year. (A caveat -- make sure your pay increases for senior management are just as flat as those in the rank-and-file. They will find out, no matter how closely you try to guard that secret!)

Second, reward them with cost-free pats on the back. Let them take some time (during work hours, and of course, paid) to learn a new software, take a personal interest class at a local college or community center, or volunteer for a favorite charity. For the parents, make school assemblies, musical productions and end-of-the-year award ceremonies something they can attend without using their leave time. Boost their paid vacation time by one day, or declare their birthdays (or the next working day after it) a paid holiday for each employee.
Next, work on what they're called. Give them a title that honors all that they do, even if the pay isn't there just yet. Of course you have to make sure the titles don't get your business into trouble with FLSA rules, but even within those guidelines, there is plenty of room for more impressive (and morale boosting) job labeling.

NLRB expected to be extremely active in coming year

Today's post comes from G. Neil's HR News Weekly:

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is already on most employers’ radar as we await the status of a proposed rule that would require all private employers to post a notice informing employees of their union-organizing rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

But that’s not the only NLRB activity worth watching in the coming months.  As it enters an extremely active period, the NLRB is expected to represent new cases and tackle controversial issues that could lead to policy changes for many businesses. Recently, the NLRB has threatened to sue four states, claiming that state constitutional amendments dictating how employees choose union representation are illegal.

Specifically, the NLRB says that states can’t override federal law giving workers the option of the card-check method of organizing – a practice unions favor but many employers oppose. You’re probably aware of the “Facebook firing” case, too, where an employee was reinstated after being fired for criticizing her employer in a Facebook post. The case challenged what is considered “concerted  activity” and, as such, is protected even on social networking sites like Facebook.

We shared this quote in a previous HR summary, but it bears repeating. According to NLRB Chairman Wilma Liebman: “The most significant ‘emerging trend’ at the NLRB is that the agency is coming back to life after a long period of dormancy.”

If you haven’t already, be sure to register for our FREE Union Avoidance Webinar on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. You’ll gain valuable insight on how to preserve your union-free status under the revived NLRB, plus you’ll get a FREE attorney-approved Union Avoidance Poster.

HIPAA violations pack a hefty punch for Maryland-based clinics

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a civil monetary penalty for violations to the Health Insurance Portability and Affordability Act (HIPAA). And the price tag is significant -- a whopping $4.3 million!

The unlucky recipient of this substantial penalty was Cignet Health Center, a group of clinics based in Prince Georges County, MD. The organization received the multimillion-dollar penalty for two key reasons: 1) Failing to share medical records with patients who requested them and 2) Failing to cooperate with an HHS investigation.

The case dates back to September 2008, when more than 40 Cignet patients came forward with complaints about not being able to get copies of their medical records to share with new doctors. The HHS Office of Civil Rights, which enforces HIPAA's privacy rule, gave the organization's executives two years to comply with the request to release documents and resolve the issue.

In spite of this and numerous other prompts by the agency (including letters, orders, multiple deadlines and hearings), Cignet didn't budge. Not until April 2010, that is. Without any explanation of its prior lack of cooperation, Cignet sent 59 boxes of medical records to the U.S. Department of Justice -- records that included those of the 41 patients, as well as 4,500 other patient whose records should have remained private. The damage was already done, however. Cignet levied a two-part fine: $3 million for not cooperating with the investigation and $1.3 million for not turning over the medical records requested by patients.

According to Rachel Seeger, spokeswoman for the HHS agency, "Cignet's failure to respond to the investigation was unprecedented."

This case sends a clear compliance message to all health care professionals: Follow the privacy rules and fully cooperate with investigations by the HHS ... or pay the price.

Would your HIPAA practices receive a clean bill of health? Be certain you're meeting all mandatory HIPAA laws, including recent changes made by the HITECH ACT, with the necessary forms and support materials.

"Achoo," too bad for you: The politics of paid sick leave

Do you offer your employees paid sick leave or some sort of paid time off (PTO) bank? If not, the debate over paid sick days now unfolding in Washington, state capitals (like Connecticut and Massachusetts) and cities (like Philadelphia and New York City) could change all that.
Advocates of mandatory paid sick leave say it’s a critical benefit that builds good will and loyalty among employees, while eliminating the stress of missing a day’s pay when you’re under the weather. There’s also the health aspect: Sick workers who are experiencing fever or a nagging cough are highly contagious and as such, unnecessarily expose coworkers and customers to their germs. Obviously, the risk is that much greater for service workers who have contact with the public, including restaurant workers, school bus drivers, home health aides and janitors.
But opponents claim this is the last thing strained businesses need during these difficult economic times – that many employers would be forced to offset the cost of such a benefit by cutting positions, hours or other benefits.
Regarding the proposed Healthy Families Act in Washington, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has expressed its opposition, stating:

"A paid sick leave mandate as outlined in the Healthy Families Act would limit an employer's flexibility in designing a benefits package that meets the needs of their unique workforce, resulting in significant costs for employers as well as a potential loss to employees who prefer other benefits rather than paid sick leave."
But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Businesses that already offer sick pay --  84% for management, professional and related occupations, and 42% for service workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics --  are able to manage costs by:
=> Requiring employees to have been employed for a certain length of time before they are eligible to earn sick leave
=>Accruing sick leave at a certain rate per month or per the number of hours worked
=>Limiting the total hours employees can accrue each year

So what do you think? If you already offer paid sick leave, how do you keep the costs in line? And if you’re not a paid sick leave provider, what are your biggest concerns?


White House gets behind the issue of bullying and how to prevent it

Bullying has grown much bigger than a few mean-spirited taunts from kids on the playground. It has become a type of emotional and verbal warfare that is fought at any age, in any social circle and in virtually any setting (workplaces included). And sometimes the consequences are devastating, as we saw with the tragic stories in 2010 of beleaguered teens taking their own lives to escape the near-constant mocks and insults.
What’s even clearer is that bullying is not some sort of harmless “acting out” that can be brushed aside. Because of electronic mediums and networks like email, texting, Facebook, YouTube videos and more, bullying can become much more pervasive than we ever imagined. We even have a term for it: cyberbullying.
Putting some political muscle behind the issue, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention last Thursday, March 10. It brought together educators, experts, politicians and other concerned individuals to explore how bullying affects American communities and what can be done to minimize it.
"If there is one goal of this conference, it is to dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up," Obama said in a speech.  
So what about bullying in the workplace? Is it really that big a deal? Unfortunately,  yes! And we’re learning that it’s just as likely to be delivered by females as it is men. According to a nationwide poll by the Employment Law Alliance, 45 percent of American workers say they’ve experienced workplace abuse, and 40 percent of these bullies are women (with women bullies picking on other women more than 70 percent of the time).
Left unchecked, bullying can deal a dangerous blow to workplace productivity, as well as the individual’s health, causing headaches, loss of appetite, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression and panic attacks.
To deal with being bullied at work, Dr. Michelle Callahan in an article at recommends:  
  1. Don't get emotional. Bullies take pleasure in emotionally manipulating people. Stay calm and rational to diffuse the situation.
  2. Don't blame yourself. Acknowledge that this is not about you; it's about the bully. Don't lose your confidence, or think you are incapable or incompetent. They are usually beating you at a mind game, not based on your actual work performance.
  3. Do your best work. The bully's behavior will seem more justified if you aren't doing your best work, or if you do things like come to work late, take long lunches, turn in work late, etc.
  4. Build a support network. Instead of allowing the bully to make you retreat into your office, work on building your relationships with your coworkers so that you have support and the bully doesn't turn them against you as well (although she will try and may even be successful).
  5. Document everything. Keep a journal (on your personal computer or in writing, but never leave it in the office) of what happened when (and who witnessed it) so that if you need to escalate this problem to Human Resources, you have the information you need to make your case. Keep emails and notes.
  6. Seek help. If you think you're being bullied, it's time to start talking to others who can help you manage this situation. Try a mentor, advocate, seasoned/experienced friend, even a legal advocate who specializes in bullying and inappropriate or discriminatory behavior in the workplace.
  7. Get counseling. It will help you deal with the stress, especially if the bullying is already affecting your physical and mental health. You have to take care of yourself.
  8. Stay healthy. Maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle outside of work to help you cope with the madness at work. Work out, get a good night's sleep and eat a healthy diet.
  9. Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about bullying, your company's policies on inappropriate behavior and occupational law regarding this kind of experience. The more you know, the better your chances of successfully dealing with this situation.
  10. Don't expect to change the bully. Real behavior change is difficult and it takes time. You have no control over a bully's willingness to accept that they have a problem and to work on it. You can do your best to manage the situation, but it's really the company's responsibility to be observant and responsive to the needs of their workers and the general work environment.
Regarding the 10th suggestion, there are many things you can do as an employer to support a more inclusive corporate culture and prevent bullying and other types of harassment. On-site training can go a long way toward spreading the message that workplace bullying will not be tolerated – at any time and in any form.


OSHA issues new guidelines on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) compliance

Today’s post comes from G. Neil’s HR News Weekly:

A new directive issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – titled Enforcement Guidance for Personal Protective Equipment in General Industry – will assist enforcement personnel in determining whether employers are in compliance with PPE standards.

Effective Feb. 10, 2011, the directive replaces Inspection Guidelines for 29 CFR 1910 Subpart 1, the revised Personal Protective Equipment Standards for General Industry issued in June 1995. It clarifies what type of PPE employers in general industry, shipyard employment, long shoring, marine terminals and construction must provide at no cost to workers. This typically includes goggles and face shields that fit properly without restricting vision; earplugs and earmuffs that reduce noise to acceptable levels and cost less than administrative and engineering controls; and respirators that protect workers from exposure to air contaminants.

The directive also addresses the types of PPE exempt from the employer payment requirements. Lastly, it covers PPE enforcement policies based on court and review commission decisions.

Learn more about OSHA safety standards and recordkeeping guidelines here.

No excuses! Employees can't dodge a well-defined employee attendance policy

No matter how compelling the reason (and employees come up with loads of them), missing work without permission is unacceptable.

In a recent appealed court case, Matter of Rivers v. Commissioner of Labor, the ruling stands that an employee’s unapproved absence was properly deemed misconduct and as such, made the employee ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The employee, an automotive technician, requested time off to spend time with his son returning from Iraq. He was approved for one day. But when he decided to extend his family visit two additional days without approval, he opened an unintended door. When he returned, he was fired for misconduct and as a result, couldn’t file for unemployment.

If we were to step out of the “employer’s advocate” arena for a moment, we might feel an emotional pull regarding the employee wanting to reconnect with his son. But rules are rules. Most employers have a clear employee attendance policy that outlines the request/approval process … and specifies that a “no show” is grounds for disciplinary action or termination. That’s your first line of defense. Your second line, regarding using “misconduct” as a basis for denying unemployment benefits, is showing that the employee deliberately and willfully engaged in activity that showed a complete disregard for your workplace standards and policies.

This employee overstepped his bounds on both counts … and suffered the consequences.

Private-sector jobs took a robust turn in February

It’s up. It’s down. It’s up again. Tracking the U.S. employment climate can be a little bit like following a Hollywood celebrity’s career. But for today, the news is good.

Private-sector employment jumped 217,000 in February – with medium businesses adding 104,000 jobs; small businesses, 100,000 jobs; and large businesses, 13,000 jobs.

The speed of gains is accelerating, too. From December 2010 through February 2011, the average gain was more than 200,000 – compared with an average gain of just over 60,000 during the previous six months.

"Looking at the ADP numbers over the last five or six months, the trend is clearly toward stronger private sector employment and we should see that trend going forward," said Steve Blitz, senior economist for ITG Investment Research in New York.


The comments are in … is an NLRA posting on union rights forthcoming?

Today's post comes from G.Neil’s HR News Weekly:

As we indicated in an earlier post, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was accepting comments through Feb. 22, 2011, on a proposed rule by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The rule would require all private employers to post a notice informing employees of their National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) rights.

Of the more than 4,000 comments received by the OMB a week before the deadline, many of them questioned whether the NLRB has the authority to issue this rule since the NLRA contains no provisions regarding a mandatory posting. A good portion of comments also questioned the actual content of the poster, particularly the fact that it doesn’t address the negative aspects of joining a union.

In related news, a House subcommittee recently held a hearing to examine the direction of the NLRB, including certain decisions and initiatives that may have overstepped the agency’s boundaries. In addition to criticisms against the role that organized labor has played in recent years, a prevailing theme at the hearing was the appropriateness of the proposed NLRA posting. Many of the unfavorable comments echoed those received by the OMB during the 60-day comment period.

After the hearing, NLRB Chairman Wilma Liebman stated:

“The most significant ‘emerging trend’ at the NLRB is that the agency is coming back to life after a long period of dormancy. … We are actively seeking input from practitioners and from the public, by inviting briefs for important cases that are under review, and by using the process of federal rulemaking to seek comments on one potential change intended to inform American employees of their statutory workplace rights.”

Now that the comment period is over, the NLRB has 90 days to review the public comments and issue a final rule. Stay tuned for continued updates on the proposed rule and whether a mandatory Federal poster is released as a result (most likely by this summer).

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