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June 27, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Energy Costs Push Utah to Four-Day Workweek

Filed under: General HR Buzz10:13 am

Hey, Utah made the headlines . . . Soaring energy costs has prompted the Utah state government to announce it is moving to a four-day workweek, making it the first state in the nation to do so and perhaps signalling the start of a wider trend. Gas prices racing past $4 a gallon has creating an unprecedented financial burden on many workers. Similarly electricity and natural gas costs continue to rise making it ever more expensive to keep the lights and machinery on and office buildings heated or air-conditioned.

On June 26, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman announced the Working 4 Utah initiative. Beginning in August, state government service hours will be extended from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. State administrative offices will be closed on Fridays, with the exception of essential public services.

“We live in a dynamic, ever-changing environment and it’s crucial that we take a serious look at how we can adapt and maintain our state’s unparalleled quality of life,” said Huntsman in a statement about the program.

Huntsman’s office estimates that 1,000 of 3,000 state buildings will be closed on Fridays, cutting energy costs by about 20 percent.

It’s only a matter of time before other state governments follow in Utah’s footsteps, says Susan Seitel, president of WFC Resources, a Minnetonka, Minnesota-based consulting firm.

“Minnesota is looking at this too,” she says. “This is absolutely the beginning of a trend.”

Many state governments, as well as companies, recognize that moving to a four-day workweek not only helps save energy costs but also appeals to younger workers, she says.

“It solves so many problems—it reduces the carbon footprint, saves on commuting costs, makes companies look more responsible and gives people more flexibility,” Seitel says.

Utah will evaluate the initiative for a year to allow for adjustments in the future.


June 26, 2008

Coffee Request Does Not Equal Sexual Harassment

Filed under: Harrasment9:44 am

According to a recent article in, a Pennsylvania federal judge has ruled that a company did not commit sexual harassment or retaliation against a female employee when she was fired for refusing to get coffee for the men in her office.

The woman alleged that her office was sexist, primarily because she was complimented on her appearance, invited to lunch and asked to get coffee for her male supervisors.

The court dismissed the case, concluding that “the act of getting coffee is not, by itself, a gender-specific act.” The court concluded there was no evidence of gender bias because the coffee-getting job had always been assigned to the receptionist position, even though only women had ever held the receptionist job at the company.

The former employee’s lawyer said they will appeal the decision because the federal judge erred by not recognizing that some tasks are “inherently more offensive to women.” This may sound like an odd case, but the emotions underlying it on both sides are obviously real and can lead to expensive employment law battles like this one.

My own approach to this kind of workplace problem is twofold and rather practical: I don’t drink coffee…and when I need a Dr. Pepper, I get it myself.


June 20, 2008

HRN Exhibiting at SHRM

Filed under: HRN News1:16 pm

Once again HRN will be an exhibitor at SHRM. This year the premier annual HRevent is being held at McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, IL June 22-24. Stop by Booth 3317 to visit with HRN product specialists, ask questions, and see a live demo of Performance Pro or Compease.


HR Fact Friday: The Wellness Value Proposition

Filed under: Benefits10:33 am

HRN was recently presented with the opportunity by a national fitness club to participate in their Corporate Wellness Program. This program provides discounted gym memberships and other fitness related perks to participating employees. The value proposition being presented was that by providing this comprehensive wellness benefit to employees, the employer would raise morale and improve the health and fitness of employees resulting in fewer sick days and lower health care costs over time.

This brought up a conversation between my boss and I that went something like, “If HRN were to provide an additional perk type benefit to our employees, what would it be? Is wellness the way to go at this time?”  Would the whole idea backfire if interest was low and the employees that didn’t want to participate resented the ones that did utilize the benefit?



June 19, 2008

No Surprise: Costs of Insurance Rising Faster Than Income

Filed under: Benefits8:14 am

A recent study released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has found that in recent years families’ health insurance premiums have increased 10X faster than their income. 

It reported that the amount paid for family coverage increased 30% from 2001-2005 while income rose just 3%. The average cost of family health insurance increased from $8,281 to $10,728 during the 4 year timeframe.  

Despite increased attention paid to the health insurance crisis these increased costs have taken their toll on the numbers of insured.  The study also found that fewer employees have private sector jobs that offer insurance, fewer have private health coverage, and there are more uninsured. 

The uninsured were estimated to be 47 million at the end of 2005.   Further information is available at


June 13, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Women Shrinking in Workforce – U.S. Lawmakers Get Flexible

Filed under: Work/Life Balance7:07 am

Discussions about flexible work arrangements are gaining momentum on Capitol Hill, and some say lawmakers may pass a bill on the matter in the next several months.



The U.S. is behind the majority of developed nations when it comes to having statutes in place to allow for flexible work arrangements, according to a study published in May 2008 by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law. Of the 21 “high income” countries examined in the study, the U.S. finished last.The reality of an aging workforce along with a confluence of other factors is just now instigating formal discussions about flexible work arrangements in the U.S., experts say.




June 11, 2008

Tattoos “Un” Covered by ‘Freedom of Religion’?

Filed under: Title VII — Tags: , , , , , 7:42 am

I took an introductory marketing solicitation call yesterday from a very nice and knowledgable rep from ( In the course of our conversation I took a look at their website (which is relatively new having been launched early in 2008) and was duly impressed. So much so that I am offering the highest form of a bloggers compliment . . . I am re-publishing some content (giving full credit of course to — okay count em, that’s two plugs. See below for a recent HR Legal News posting on (three plugs) dated 6/10/2008 by Sam Narisi.

You’ve got a policy against facial piercings and visible tattoos. Sounds fair. But what happens when an employee claims to be a member of the “Church of Body Modification?”

That’s what happened to one employer when a worker claimed her religion required her to display “facial jewelry” at all times. The company said no. She spent most of her time dealing with customers and was bound by a strict dress code.

She sued, but the company won. The court ruled it was OK to require employees to look professional in front of customers (Cite: Cloutier v. Costco).

Going the other way

The keys to victory in that case: 1) business need, and 2) a consistently enforced policy. Not all companies have been so lucky in court.

In another case, an employee was told to cover tattoos he had on his arms. He refused, because they were religious symbols. He was fired, and he sued.

In court, the company claimed that he dealt with customers so it had a legitimate business reason to ask him to cover up. But the company had no written policy banning employee tattoos, and the guy had been working for six months before anyone mentioned the problem. The company lost the case and eventually paid a $150,000 settlement (Cite: EEOC v. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers).

What you need

So when can you ask employees to hide their tattoos, even ones with religious significance? When:

  • you have a consistently enforced policy
  • allowing exceptions to the policy would cause a hardship (such as when employees are visible to customers, or co-workers complain about body art that’s offensive), or
  • safety is an issue.

Finally, with all religious accommodation requests, it’s smart to take them seriously and treat all employees’ beliefs as legitimate — yes, even members of the Church of Body Modification get legal protection.


June 10, 2008

It’s a Sad, Sad Time for Ties and Panty Hose

Filed under: General HR Buzz7:02 am

Apparently, after decades of being an official workplace requirement for men, the tie seems close to death.  Once found in most offices, and a necessity for those working their way up the corporate ladder, skinny ties, fat ties, loud ties, and tasteful ties are now on the endangered list.  According to a Gallop Poll only 6% of men report wearing ties to work daily.  In fact even the tie’s trade group, the American Dress Furnishings Association, is shutting down.   Panty hose seems to be following a similar decline, although it’s not as close to extinction.  What are the ramifications of such radical changes?  Beyond the need for many organizations to change their dress codes to match what’s really happening, the old “which is worse, ties or panty hose argument” is no longer relevant.  There also seems to be a business opportunity for someone who can find another way for men to accessorize and look different.


June 6, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Aging Workforce – Myth vs. Reality

Filed under: General HR Buzz8:53 am

Are you at an age where you have started receiving annual notices from the IRS informing you how much you can expect to receive in monthly benefits if you retire at age 62, 65, 70 etc.? If I remember correctly I started receiving these notices around the time I turned 40.

I am now at an age where I pay much more attention to these notifications than I did say 5 years ago. I am a tail-end baby boomer. The lead edge of baby boomers (born in 1945-50) are beginning to hit ages 60-65 and the majority are currently in the 50 to 60 year old age range.

Numbers tell the story:  In 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, of 146 million people working full-time and part-time in the United States, only 13%, or 5.6 million, were age 65 and over. Of these about 20% or 1.1 million were still working full time.

More significant are the 36.4 million predominantly full-time workers currently between the ages of 50 and 64 – that’s GET THIS . . . one quarter of the U.S. workforce and growing. 1 out of 4 U.S workers is over the age of 50.



June 4, 2008

Update on Massachusetts New Health Insurance Law

Filed under: Insurance7:17 am

As employers, employees, and political candidates struggle with what to do about the country’s health insurance mess, results are beginning to come in from Massachusetts.  You’ll remember that Massachusetts passed a ground breaking law in 2006 that required nearly all residents to get coverage, created subsidized programs for poorer citizens, and established a Health Care Connector plan for the higher paid to obtain lower cost insurance.  Results of the program are good so far.  They include:

• The percentage of uninsured adults decreased from 13%- 7%.   The percent of uninsured poor citizens dropped the most, but significant drops were seen among wealthier individuals as well.
• Poorer adults were more likely to see doctors and dentists than they had in the past.
• 350,000 more people became insured.
• People have paid less for medically related out-of-pocket expenses.
• 95% of Massachusetts taxpayers have become insured.  Of the 5% who weren’t, over ½ were found to be financially able to buy insurance and were “fined” for not doing so.

More information can be found in a June 3 USA Today article found at: