Train managers on union-related dos and don'ts

As employers anticipate the new National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) poster they must display as of January 31, 2012, many are wondering how they can counter the pro-union message of this mandatory notification with their own union-free philosophy.

While there are many things you can do to achieve a balance, you'd be wise to start with your company's management.

Your supervisors and managers play a critical role in your business, contributing as much to a cohesive, satisfied workforce as they do to one that’s broken and disgruntled. Qualified, well-trained and supported supervisors go a long way toward keeping your company union-free. But you need to invest in their success.

Now, more than ever, you need to meet regularly with your supervisors to discuss any issues that may be brewing, as well as conduct periodic training workshops that address the latest trends in union organizing, red flags in the workplace and how to lawfully remain union-free. After all, “Union prevention is simply good management in action.”

An important part of any training program is outlining the dos and don’ts of unionizing efforts. Your managers and supervisors must be aware of protected and unprotected employee activity. According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) website, they may not:

•    Prohibit employees from discussing a union during non-work time, or from distributing union literature during non-work time in non-work areas, such as parking lots or break rooms
•    Question employees about their union support or activities in a manner that discourages them from engaging in that activity
•    Fire, demote, transfer, reduce hours or take other adverse action against employees who join or support a union or act with co-workers for mutual aid and protection, or who refuse to engage in such activity
•    Threaten to close their workplace if employees form or join a union
•    Promise or grant promotions, pay raises, or other benefits to discourage or encourage union support
•    Prohibit employees from wearing union hats, buttons, t-shirts, and pins in the workplace except under special circumstances
•    Spy on or videotape peaceful union activities and gatherings

Ideally, your company will never become vulnerable to this level of union interest and activity in the first place. But ensuring that management knows the rules of the game can protect you from additional, costly consequences.

Returning soldiers shouldn't have to fight for their USERRA rights

This past summer, President Obama announced that he will pull 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. And now, he is declaring that virtually all U.S. troops (approximately 39,000) will be returning from Irag by year's end, too.

“After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” Obama said. “The coming months will be a season of homecomings. Our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays.”

Home for the holidays ... and re-entering the workforce. With thousands of veterans stepping back into the work world, employers need to ready themselves for the impact this activity will have on their business.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) is the primary federal law that provides employment and reemployment rights for members of the uniformed services, including veterans and members of the Reserve and National Guard. You can read more about USERRA here, but the main points to remember are:

=> USERRA requires employers to reinstate employees upon completion of service

=> USERRA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees in regard to hiring, firing, promotion, training or any other terms of employment based on past, present or future military service.

=> When a service member returns from active duty of five years or less, that individual is entitled to any increases in seniority, promotions, pay and benefits that would have been received had he or she never left -- a legal concept known as the “escalator principle”


Happy Halloween at work -- It's not "witchful" thinking!

As kids, we couldn't wait to dress up as our favorite action hero or fairytale princess, parade through the neighborhood and collect scads of candy. And although we’re adults now, we’re still kids at heart, looking to capture a bit of that Halloween magic. Perhaps that’s why Halloween is the third-most-celebrated holiday after Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

What about your workplace? Will you be opening your doors to ghosts, goblins and good times this week? A Halloween “happening” may be just what your company needs to ease some tension and reconnect.

The benefits are sweet

“Why should we even bother with Halloween?” you may ask. In a word, because it’s fun. Now, more than ever, employees are feeling stressed and need permission to let their hair down and blow off some steam. Celebrating Halloween (and other holidays) at work is a perfect opportunity for promoting teamwork, improving morale and incorporating a little levity into the workday. These types of celebrations also foster a more positive company culture where employees enjoy coming to work.

Here are some ways to get creative and have some fun at the office this Halloween: 

 => Dress the part -- Hold a contest for the best decorated workspace, best group costume and best individual costume. Encourage each department to meet once or twice before the big day to brainstorm themes and determine the ideal costumes to complement the theme.

=> Carve a pumpkin -- Don’t stop at costumes and decorations. Hold a competition for the best carved pumpkin, too. Distribute a pumpkin (and carving set) to each department prior to your workplace event, then see what funny, frightening or downright unusual designs they come up with. Display the pumpkins in a common area for everyone to enjoy.
=> Bring out the treats -- During lunchtime, set up a "Goodies Table" in the main lunchroom with Halloween-themed treats. In addition to the cookies and candy your company provides, request that interested employees volunteer their favorite sweets. Be sure to balance the sweet treats with some fresh apples, nuts and other healthier alternatives.
=> Award prizes -- Plan on having the management team judge all contests and at the end of the day, award prizes to the lucky winners. Store gift cards, a free lunch or a whimsical desktop award are all potential prizes. The more awards you can give out (1st through 3rd prize in each category, for example), the better.

A few words of caution …

On the one hand, Halloween is not connected with any particular religion so a diverse group of employees can enjoy the holiday. On the other hand, some religious groups take offense with the holiday’s pagan roots and reject it on that basis.

For this reason, you may want to call your workplace celebration a “Fall Festival” and make wearing costumes optional. More important, you’ll want to let employees know that revealing, offensive or off-color costumes are strictly prohibited. As an added precaution, specify these two additional costume rules: no masks and no toy weapons.

On the general safety front, discourage tricks, pranks and decorations that could scare others or pose a safety hazard.

Finally, it’s a good idea for HR to send out a memo or email outlining the guidelines for your Halloween celebration and stating that you expect all employees to be respectful and exercise good judgment.

Victims of domestic violence could take FMLA leave under proposed bill

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

Coinciding with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, a California Congresswoman is reintroducing legislation that would assist victims of domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Leave Act would allow employees to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to address incidents of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking -- whether directed at themselves, a spouse (including domestic partner and same-sex spouse), parent or child.

FMLA leave could be used for a variety of reasons:

... Seek medical attention for injuries
... Obtain legal assistance
... Participate in a legal proceeding
... Attend support groups or therapy
... Participate in safety planning

The affected employee could substitute paid leave for the leave available under this bill. And while an employer would be entitled to obtain certification that the employee is taking the FMLA leave for legitimate reasons, the employer would be held to strict confidentiality standards.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey pointed out that domestic violence is a widespread problem in our country, emphasizing that her bill "ensures that those who have suffered abuse have the time to recover, physically and emotionally, without losing their job or forfeiting the income that supports them and their family."

For fast, easily searchable answers to all your FMLA compliance questions, check out SolveIt Now™ -- available for immediate download or on CD-ROM.

8 important tips when hiring temps

For many small businesses, hiring temps is the perfect solution during seasonal upswings (the holidays are right around the corner!) or when extra help is needed because someone is out on maternity or disability leave. Or perhaps you’re looking to fill a recently vacated position but want to “test the waters” first: A temporary worker can be offered a full-time position if you’re happy with his or her performance after a certain period of time.

While there are many advantages to hiring temps, there are precautions to consider, as well. Keep the following in mind when hiring temporary workers:

Temporary employment involves a set period of time, such as days, weeks, months, the duration of a special project or the length of time a permanent employee is out. Generally speaking, an employee is either full-time or part-time, regardless of temporary status. This matters because certain federal and state employment laws apply to employers based on the number of employees – and may or may not count temps in the total.

When you work with a staffing agency, the agency is responsible for recruiting, screening, testing and hiring workers; handling timekeeping, payroll and related taxes; and providing unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance. If you decide to use an outside agency, you’ll typically pay a fee that includes the candidate’s hourly rate and the agency’s markup to cover the above services.

Even if the agency oversees the above services, you are considered the temp’s co-employer. As such, you need to be mindful of workplace issues like safety, preventing discrimination and harassment, and wage and hour compliance under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

If you hire the temp directly, you will need the individual to fill out an I-9 form and provide the appropriate documentation verifying his or her eligibility to work in the United States. The temp also must fill out a W4 so you can process the correct withholdings for payroll.

At the very beginning of the temp relationship, specify the pay rate, pay period, pay day, eligibility for benefits (if any) and length of employment. Remember that if a temporary, non-exempt employee works more than 40 hours in a workweek, he or she is entitled to overtime pay for those hours.

You are not required to provide paid time off (vacation, sick or personal days) to temporary employees. You don’t have to extend health insurance either. Many employers consider this a significant cost savings - and benefit - to hiring temps.

Whether you’re working with an agency or hiring a temp on your own, it’s important to explain the job, the skills needed and your basic expectations. Take the time upfront to work through these details to ensure a good fit and avoid problems down the road.

This should go without question, but always treat your temp workers with the same respect and care you do your permanent staff. Tammy is not “just a temp,” but an important part of your workforce, if even for a short amount of time.

DOL wants you to know ... there's an app for that

They may never compete with the popularity of Google Maps, but the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is getting in on the smartphone apps game. First, the DOL launched a mobile Timesheet app in May to help employees independently track their hours. Since then, they've rolled out an OSHA Heat Safety Tool and a Labor Statistics app.

While somewhat controversial (because it relies on the accuracy of the user), the Timesheet app lets employees track the hours they've worked and determine the hours they're owed. The app also provides links to web pages of the DOL's Wage and Hour Division. Ultimately, it could make employers more accountable for maintaining accurate employment records, especially if their records are called into question in a Wage and Hour Division investigation. The DOL is quick to emphasize, however, that the app is designed as a reference tool only, and that it doesn't include every possible situation that comes up in the workplace.

The OSHA Heat Safety Tool lets you calculate the heat index for your worksite and display a risk level to workers, based on the results. At the same time, you can get reminders about the proper measures for protecting workers from heat-related illnesses -- from scheduling rest breaks to monitoring each other for signs of heat distress.

And finally, the Labor Statistics app is a great little resource for perusing the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Employment and Training Administration, including Unemployment Rate, Consumer Price Index, Average Hourly Earnings and more.

It remains to be seen how popular these apps will be among employers, but the DOL deserves credit for entering this technological arena. As Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis says,
"The Labor Department is continuously exploring how to share important information using the fastest, simplest, most wide-reaching means available ..."


IRS gives businesses a chance to correct worker misclassification

While it's not always easy determining whether an individual is an independent contractor or employee, there's a lot at stake if you get it wrong. An employer, of course, has to withhold income and other taxes, as well as pay unemployment taxes and half of an employee’s Social Security and Medicare taxes. But you don’t have to do any of these things when you hire an independent contractor.

In recent years, however, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has stepped up worker classification audits to try to reduce the tax gap caused by the disconnect between what the IRS should be collecting and what it's actually collecting. And now, to help ramp up compliance even further, the IRS has announced a new program to encourage businesses who may be getting the classification wrong to voluntarily reclassify independent contractors as employees.  

The Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) was rolled out on September 21, 2011. Eligible employers get a break from the sizable employment tax liability, penalties and interest they would have faced from reclassifying workers, whether voluntarily or due to an audit.

To qualify to participate in the VCSP, you must:

=> have consistently treated the workers as independent contractors and filed all required Forms 1099 for the previous three years

=> agree to extend the statute of limitations by three years for employment tax assessments for the first three years beginning on the date the VCSP closing agreement is signed

=> not currently be under audit by the IRS, the Department of Labor or any state agency regarding worker classification 

Keep in mind, too, that you must apply for the VCSP at least 60 days before the date you plan to reclassify the workers.

For additional insight on the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program, check out the FAQs on the IRS website.

Rudeness on the rise! How to banish bad attitudes in the workplace

Today's post was plucked from G.Neil's oh-so-plentiful HR Library. It's a terrific resource for the most up-to-date and useful HR news and insights from the experts at G.Neil.

Stressed out is one thing. Downright nasty is another.

Though some employees are able to keep a cool head when tensions mount, others are cracking under the pressure and taking it out on their coworkers. As a result, “workplace incivility” is on the rise, according to researchers at a recent American Psychological Association conference. And what, exactly, is “workplace incivility”? Basically, it’s disrespectful behavior in the form of rudeness, insults and generally crummy manners.

With researchers suggesting that 75 to 80 percent of workers have experienced ugly behavior while on the job, clearly workplace incivility is more than a few, isolated incidents. What about your workplace? If your employees’ stress levels are through the roof, chances are it’s showing in their actions and attitudes. Here’s what you can do to reduce some of that tension, while also encouraging more respectful, responsible behavior:

Confront the irritable individuals. In some cases, the problem may be specific to one or two “Sour Sallies” or “Cranky Carls.” Like with any other behavioral or performance issue, it’s up to the manager or supervisor to point out the problem and set expectations for change. If the employee is normally pleasant and productive, take a more sympathetic stance and try to get to the bottom of the matter. What can’t be tolerated, however, is if the employee is mistreating others to the point of harassment. This type of conduct needs to be addressed swiftly and thoroughly.

Allow telecommuting and other flexible options. Loosening the reins on a rigid work structure can make a big dent in employee attitudes. Consider letting employees telecommute, work a compressed workweek or leave early one day a week (if they’re meeting their obligations otherwise). Not only will most employees appreciate having to spend less money in gas every week, but they’ll also feel more productive and less burned out.

Extend more “thank yous” and compliments. When raises and other perks aren’t possible due to tough economic times, it is imperative that leaders and managers ramp up their recognition efforts. Heartfelt words of praise and encouragement have a way of immediately lifting spirits. Look for ways to call out a job well done, whether it’s submitting an error-free report, staying on task with a high-profile project or working well with others on a team initiative.  And remember: Though it’s great to recognize the “big wins,” it’s also important to call attention to the smaller, everyday achievements. Tune into the “quieter” contributions that still make a difference in the business.

Roll out an employee wellness program.It’s widely recognized that regular exercise improves health and reduces stress. Even better, healthier employees make fewer trips to the doctor, reducing medical costs and insurance rates. Some idea to get employees moving: Organize a weekly walking program, offer mid-day yoga or meditation in a large meeting room, or arrange a deal with a local gym for discounted employee memberships.

Foster a more positive work environment. Is your corporate culture tired and draining, or vibrant and energizing? It starts with your leaders and managers and trickles down from there. What messages are they sending regarding the business and the role employees play in the company’s ongoing success? Especially during trying times, employees need to be kept informed and to know that “we’re all in this together.”

For other ways to boost corporate culture, display inspirational and motivational posters throughout the building, introduce team-building or motivational games as a part of staff meetings, and provide occasional social events on company time to strengthen camaraderie among employees and management.

Compliance update: Deadline extended for new mandatory NLRA posting

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) just announced that the posting deadline for the new NLRA poster has been extended -- from November 14, 2011, to January 31, 2012. The Board stated this extension was necessary for additional education and outreach for employers, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses.

The postponement will not affect the final rule that led to the NLRA posting, or change the actual content of the poster. 

Check back here for continued updates on this mandatory labor law posting. 


New federal NLRA poster required -- Are you in compliance?

On August 25, 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a final rule requiring most private-sector employers to notify employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Under the final rule, employers must display the new federal posting by November 14, 2011, to remain in compliance. Failure to post the notice will be considered an unfair labor practice.

In addition to providing examples of unlawful employer and union conduct and informing employees how to contact the NLRB with questions or complaints, the notice states that employees have the right to:

   => organize, form, join or assist a union
   => bargain collectively to improve wages and working conditions
   => discuss terms and conditions of employment with fellow employees
   => take action with those fellow employees to improve working conditions
   => strike and picket

It does not matter if your business is non-unionized, as the new posting requirement applies to union and non-union workplaces alike. The only exceptions to the requirement at this time are agricultural, railroad or airline employers -- or the U.S. Postal Service. Additionally, some very small employers and retailers may be exempt.

If you are already a Poster Guard® Compliance Protection member, you are guaranteed complete compliance with mandatory federal and state labor law postings through timely updates whenever a posting requirement changes.This means you will automatically receive the NLRA posting when it's finalized.

If you're not a Poster Guard® Compliance Protection member, sign up today to ensure compliance -- with the new mandatory NLRA posting and any future posting changes.

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