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December 26, 2008

Holidays Present Challenges and Opportunities

Filed under: General HR Buzz10:08 am

In a recent telephone survey of 534 workers, one in 10 employees has felt excluded during holiday celebrations at work.

Christmas, the Jewish holiday Hanukkah, the African-American holiday Kwanzaa, and occasionally the Islamic Ramadan occur in December, often within weeks of each other, making the holiday season a challenging time for U.S. employers.

The challenge is how do you have an enthused workforce and be faith-friendly and faith-neutral and not violate any laws?

Cindy Wigglesworth, founder and president of Texas-based Conscious Pursuits suggests that employers need a new goal.  “The old goal was not getting sued. I’d like to add another goal: to embrace what matters to people,” she says.

When it comes to religion- or faith-based holidays, start by considering your workplace demographics.  As an alternative to having no recognition of the holidays or a totally secular approach to the holidays, consider the holiday season as an educational opportunity.  Focusing on the faiths and religions of your employees and your community can be an interesting topic for diversity training.

Also, remember to be sensitive while planning holiday parties and exercise flexibility for those employees requesting time off for religious holidays and days of remembrance.


December 23, 2008

Company Pays Holiday Bonuses “Lottery-Style”

Filed under: Salaries & Pay2:44 pm

At a time when employers are scaling back on pay raises and looking for ways to maximize the impact of their reward programs, one Florida company is making headlines.

For the last four years, Infinite Energy has opted to pay big prize money to a few employees in lieu of paying holiday bonuses to all. Each of the 300+ employees get one entry for every year of service. Executives and others who receive bonuses are not eligible to participate.

This year the grand prize was $50,000. The company also gave out two runner-up prizes of $10,000, four prizes of $5,000 and four $2,500 prizes.

Upon hearing his name called, this year’s winner said, “It’s the best year of my life. I got married. We just bought a house. I love my job. This is an amazing way to end it.”

Now that’s one happy employee. No word from the non-winners.

Read the full article here


Employees to Share More of Benefits’ Cost in 2009

Filed under: Insurance10:53 am

According to a study conducted by the consulting firm Mercer, employers struggling to deal with escalating health costs will increasingly shift benefits’ expenses to employees.

This is a continuing trend. In fact between 2003 and 2007 the
median family deductible in preferred provider plans increased from $1000 to $1500. Mercer found that of those organizations that were going to pursue cost reductions, 60% indicated they would raise deductibles, coinsurance, copayments, and/or out-of-pocket maximums.

Another 19% reported that they will add a high deductible plan and employee spending account such as a health savings account (HSA). It’s estimated that heath plan costs will increase by 8% in 2009. Small employers’ costs could go up 10%. In response more small employers are discontinuing their plans or not instituting them in the first place.


December 19, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Employers Cut Pay Raises in 2009

Filed under: Salaries & Pay — Tags: , , , , 8:41 am

The Wall Street Journal reported on 12/16/08 that employers have done a sudden about face in regard to projected pay raises for 2009.  Many who as recently as October said they were barely modifying their salary budgets in 09, have now changed their tune bringing projected annual pay raises for some workers to a 30 year low.

Overall, workers are now projected to receive average annual merit increases of 3% in 09 according to a new survey by Hewitt Associates. When polled just 2 months ago, employers said they had already lowered their budgets to 3.6% from 3.8% in July.

Pay for some workers may go as low as 2.5%, a clear signal that companies are concerned about managing their fixed costs during such a challenging worldwide business climate.

Hewitt competitor, Watson Wyatt Worldwide found similar results in a yet to be released report surveying 119 large U.S. employers representing 1.6 million full-time workers. Their report states that 61% of employers recently made 2009 salary budget alterations bringing their average projected workers merit increase to 2.3%.

The 3% mark has been the unwritten psychological threshold that companies have not been willing to dip below for pay raises for solid performing employees. Not any more.

There is a slight gap in favor of blue collar workers over white collar workers. The average annual merit increase for blue collar workers is projected to be 2.6% with 2.5% for white collar workers, versus 2.2% for executives.

This data represents the smallest employee income growth data since Hewitt began tracking the data in 1976. It”s also below the 3.1% level employers reported offering in 2001 folowing the Sept. 11 attacks.

Other data includes: Workers in education and financial services are projected to receive annual merit increases of 2.3% and 2.9% respectively. This is down from 3.5% and 3.9% in July.

Workers in the construction, engineering and pharmaceutical industries are projected to see above average salary increases — as high as 4.5% in construction and engineering. Research and development professionals can also expect increases of about 4.0%.

Bonus pools have remained intact because these funds are tied to performance and perhaps the only mechanism left to send a message to high performers.

Source: WSJ, 12/16/08, Pay Raises Seen Taking a Hit by Sarah E. Needleman.


December 12, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Holiday Office Party Do’s and Don’ts

Filed under: Management Practices — Tags: , , 7:27 am

Planning to attend the office Christmas, er, I mean Holiday party this year? Please do yourself a favor and read on.

I couldn’t have said it any better myself, so I am reprinting  a posting by a fellow HR professional named Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. ( So with that said let’s get right to it . . .
Going to the company office holiday party this year? You can take advantage of the office party to have some fun and advance your career or misbehave and cripple your career. Here are some basic rules to survive and thrive at any company-sponsored party.



December 11, 2008

California Labor Laws Affect Other Western States

Filed under: Legal Issues — Tags: , , , , , 8:51 am

Think you are safe from California’s employee-friendly labor laws just because some of your employees who sometimes work there don’t actually live there? Think again!

Like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Present, California’s laws may come to haunt you in the here and now if you’re not careful. A recent decision from the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over California has ruled that California’s overtime laws may apply to employees who lived in Arizona and Colorado, but who worked for temporary periods of time in California.

The employees were trainers for a large computer company who trained California clients for time periods ranging from several weeks to several months. Their employer also had a corporate presence in California and other employees who lived and worked there.

The federal appeals court concluded that these facts were enough to subject the visiting employees to rules like daily overtime pay for work in California of a day or longer. Consider the implications of this decision as you send your employees off to work in California.


December 8, 2008

HR Fact Monday: Bah Humbug! Christmas Party Takes a Holiday

Filed under: General HR Buzz — Tags: , 11:54 am

Who says Paul is the only one with access to all the meaty HR workplace and trends data . . . Just in time for the holidays I submit the following bit of office trend information that many of you can file in the “tell us something we don’t already know” folder.

Across the nation, companies are canceling annual end-of-the-year holiday bashes to cut costs, or in some cases just to blend in with the rest of a world that’s too worried about money to feel like a party. The trend is having a ripple effect on caterers and event coordinators who say that calls canceling parties have spiked in the past few weeks.

Two annual holiday-party surveys back up anecdotal evidence that a record number of companies have dropped holiday parties this year—more even than in 2001 after the September 11 terrorist bombings—while others are scaling back how much they spend, what they serve or how many people they invite.

In its survey of 100 companies, outplacement consultant Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. found that 23 percent of companies elected not to host a holiday party this year, compared with only 10 percent in 2007. New York executive search firm Battalia Winston Amrop found in its survey of 108 firms that 19 percent will forgo a party this year, the highest percentage in the poll’s 20-year history.

And in a separate study of more than 1,200 executives by Towers Perrin, 58 percent of all organizations polled acknowledge they are somewhat or very likely to scale back this year’s holiday party and other employee events to save money.

Source:, Michelle Rafter


December 5, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Pregnancy Discrimination Claims Increase

Filed under: Title VII — Tags: , , 1:44 pm

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that employment discrimination claims based on pregnancy have increased significantly from 1992 to 2007. Pregnancy claims increased sixty-five percent during the last fifteen years and hit a record high in 2007.

Interestingly, a large part of the increase came from filings by women of color:

Black women pregnancy claims were up 45%
Claims by Hispanic women up 135%
Claims by Asian women up by 90%
And by Native American women up 109%

Pregnancy Discrimination expands the gender-protected class by prohibiting employment discrimination against women based on pregnancy and related issues. Because the threat of pregnancy discrimination claims is an increasing risk factor today for employers, wise employers will review their policies, practices and procedures to try to minimize this risk.


December 2, 2008

Ten Commandments of Performance Appraisals

Filed under: Performance Management11:53 am

A recent article in the New York Law Journal outlined the following ten commandments of employee performance evaluations:

1. Don’t let the time slip, if it is an annual review, do it on an annual basis
2. Tell the truth
3. Remember the audience and be accurate but professional…now is not the time to “Donald Trump” someone
4. Do not over-praise, give the highest grades only to those who deserve them
5. Do not be afraid to be candid
6. Do not speak in code or corporate jargon
7. Avoid meaningless buzzwords like “bad attitude” or “not a team player” and instead give specific examples of problem behavior
8. Don’t let a good or bad evaluation be a surprise, communicate on issues throughout the year too
9. Get rid of non-performers after they have had notice of problems and a fair chance to improve performance
10. Word gets out, and you will be judged in the recruiting market by what your former employees say about your review system, so do it well and professionally.