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April 30, 2010

HR Fact Friday: Employers Allowing Larger 401(k) Contributions

Filed under: Retirement — Tags: , , 8:32 am

Sixty-eight percent of employers report that their company allows employees to contribute 25% or more of their earnings into their 401(k) plan, according to a recent survey of 401(k) practices by BLR.

This is a significant increase over the 58% of organizations that allowed such 401(k) contribution levels in BLR’s Survey of Employee Benefits in late 2006.

While 22% of responding employers do not match employee 401(k) contributions, 32% match between 2% and 4% of salary, and 33% match up to 6%. Of those organizations that match 401(k) contributions, most (59%) match at least 50 cents on each dollar contributed.

The survey, conducted by BLR’s HR Daily Advisor in November 2009, received over 1,000 responses, of which 75% originated from companies with fewer than 500 employees. The responses were evenly divided geographically within the United States.

For detailed survey results, see the 401(k) Practices Survey Results.



April 29, 2010

Employment Law Training For Employees and Managers

Filed under: Employment Law — Tags: 10:20 am

In the past, employee legal training was generally limited to sexual harassment workshops. More extensive employment law training, if offered at all, was provided to senior managers. Recent court decisions, an explosion of employee lawsuits, and increasingly complex workplace regulations are changing that. More organizations are recognizing that employment law training at all levels of the company makes good business sense and hopefully acts as preventative insurance against potential costly legal nightmares down the road.

When To Train

Frequently, training is provided after a problem or lawsuit has occurred. While that may be a useful time to address issues that have surfaced or to underscore your organizational commitment, it is clearly not preventative and is only one part of the training solution. Training should be provided at various times in an employee’s career including:

  • Time of hire – It is a great time to reinforce the company’s commitment to a nondiscriminatory, ethical, and legally compliant workplace and to ensure that new employees are appropriately informed of various requirements.
  • Time of promotion or transfer – Employees are often promoted to managerial/supervisory positions based on their accomplishments, not managerial knowledge. Consequently, few of these individuals are familiar with employment law basics.
  • Ongoing – Establishing a culture in which training is ongoing underscores corporate commitments and ensures that employee knowledge deepens and stays current. No employee can possibly grasp the intricacies of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) or Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in one training session.
  • Periodic special training – New legal or regulatory developments may require focused, training sessions.

Who To Train

The days of limiting employment law training to HR and senior managers are over and shortsighted, especially when a company’s greatest vulnerabilities are likely to be at the supervisory level. While training topics and depth may differ depending upon an employee’s position, all employees should receive some form of training. Training should be mandatory, as the people most likely not to show up are probably the ones needing it the most.

Employee Training

Employees should receive training covering:

  • Company policies, practices, and procedures.
  • Specific examples of prohibited conduct, company standards, and expectations.
  • What types of conduct should be reported.
  • Practical, easy to apply concepts regarding appropriate behavior and respect (specifics about the law are hard to understand and apply or are simply irrelevant to many employees).
  • How and to whom to report violations of company policies and standards and inappropriate behavior. A full description of the company’s complaint procedure should also be provided.
  • The duty to cooperate in all investigations.
  • The prohibition of retaliation against persons who report policy or standard violations.
  • The company’s commitment to a workplace free of discrimination and harassment as well as its willingness to resolve any related problems that arise.

Manager Training

Managers should receive the same training as employees but in greater depth. It may be helpful to divide managers into several groups, since lower-level supervisors are often reluctant to participate or “look dumb” if their managers are present. In addition to basic training, managers should also receive further training on the following topics:

  • The need to involve HR as soon as they receive knowledge of a potential problem. HR should conduct/oversee all investigations.
  • A manager’s job is to report problems, not to investigate. HR should be well-informed and relied upon.
  • Reporting processes and procedures.
  • Open door policies and the need to encourage employees to report problems.
  • An understanding of investigatory and disciplinary processes.
  • The special responsibilities and accountabilities of supervisors.
  • The need to set an example and represent the company professionally.
  • Recognition of the high levels of confidentiality and professionalism required to deal with many of these sensitive issues, as well as the legal implications.

April 28, 2010

Guns in Employer Parking Lots?

Filed under: General HR Buzz1:52 pm

Over the last couple of years an increasing number of states have passed laws allowing employees to keep guns in locked vehicles on company property or nearby secure sites.   Fourteen states (Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Utah) currently have such laws. This trend is likely to continue.  Pennsylvania and Michigan have also been considering such legislation, although it has failed in several other states. The state laws differ considerably so employers should make sure that their policies and practices are in compliance.


April 26, 2010

$1 Million Restaurant Beef

Filed under: Employment Law — Tags: 1:55 pm

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced that it had settled a $1 million class action discrimination suit against Lawry’s Restaurants, a steakhouse chain.  Male employees had claimed gender discrimination, contending that for years the restaurant had only hired women for server positions. The EEOC had contended that since 1938 Lawry’s had not hired men for server positions.  Lawry’s responded that the female servers have been a long standing tradition and that they dressed in costumes from the 30’s and 40’s, creating a distinctive image. Lawry’s settled, agreeing to pay $300,000 for a hiring campaign, $500,000 to individuals in the class, and $200,000 for discrimination training.  The company also began hiring males as servers soon after the initial charges were filed.

It’s important to underscore that there are very few instances where an organization can successfully contend that such gender discrimination results from a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ).  Bathroom attendants and clothing models would be two examples where being female (or male) would be BFOQs.   Over the years many restaurants have made such claims, with limited success.  Other industries have also attempted such defenses (e.g., the airlines seeking only to hire women as attendants or TV stations desiring only male news anchors.)


April 23, 2010

HR Fact Friday: Higher Ed Faculty, Staff Finding Limited Opps for Advancement

According to HR Solutions, Inc., only half of those working in higher education have favorable opinions on promotions/career advancement opportunities at their institutions. As part of a three-year study, HR Solutions surveyed approximately 133,750 faculty and staff members from 38 different institutions concerning 19 separate dimensions ranging from job stress to training and development to productivity/efficiency and several others. Of the 19 areas measured, one of the lowest-scoring dimensions included that of promotions/career advancement; only 51% of faculty and staff members surveyed had favorable opinions on this topic. 37% of respondents said that promotions at their institution are based on performance; 33% believe that job promotions at their institution are fair and objective; 32% said they are satisfied with their future prospects for promotions.

While the faculty and staff members surveyed do not see themselves moving forward on paths toward promotions, they have observed themselves progressing in terms of professional knowledge and skills. 75% of respondents said they work at an institution that provides them with the opportunity to improve their professional knowledge and job skills. 77% answered either ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’ to the statement “My job responsibilities contribute to my professional development.”

“Institutions need to be aware that while many faculty and staff members see themselves progressing in their individual development at work, they do not see opportunities for promotions or career advancement,” says HR Solutions Cheif Executive Officer Kevin Sheridan. “Research has consistently shown that career development acts as a key driver in promoting engagement. In order to keep faculty and staff engaged and productive, institutions need to provide them with visible opportunities for advancement.”

Source: CUPA-HR, The Higher Education Workplace, Spring 2010, pg 4.


April 22, 2010

Is Everybody Really Above Average?

Filed under: Performance Management — Tags: 10:17 am

Appraisal inflation is common in many organizations. But lenient or overly generous appraisals can have unintended consequences and real costs. Some of those issues and what can be done about them are discussed below.

The Employee Is Hurt

  • Lack of accurate & meaningful feedback isn’t provided and the employee isn’t really made aware of his strengths or weaknesses.
  • There is no understanding that a gap may exist between how an employee views herself and how a manager views her.
  • Without true feedback the employee is unable to focus on what he needs to do to improve and to plan training or activities around that. An employee may have limited opportunity for advancement or development if she’s not aware of what she needs to work on.
  • An employee may be unaware that any problems exist.
  • There may be no motivation for an employee to change.




What’s the Best and Worst Job?

Filed under: HRN News7:10 am

Careercast undertook a study to determine the best and worst jobs of 2010. To determine the rankings, 5 key factors were considered including physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook.

What’s the top job according to their analysis?   Actuary.   The remaining top 10 jobs included:  software engineer, computer systems analyst, biologist, historian, mathematician, paralegal, statistician, accountant, and dental hygienist.

The worst job?  Roustabout (works on oil rigs).  The next worst were: lumberjack, oil worker, dairy farmer, welder, garbage collector, taxi driver, construction worker, meter reader and mail carrier.  The list can be found at:


April 19, 2010

Court Approves Largest ADA Settlement Ever

Filed under: ADA & Disability,Employment Law — Tags: 1:56 pm

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently announced court approval of a $6,200,000 settlement in the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) litigation between the EEOC and Sears, Roebuck & Co.  In its lawsuit against Sears, the EEOC had alleged that Sears had an inflexible workers’ compensation leave exhaustion policy and terminated employees instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations for their disabilities, violating the ADA.  The case resulted in the largest ADA settlement in a single lawsuit in EEOC history.

The EEOC found that 235 individuals were eligible to share in the settlement.  The average award was approximately $26,300.  The EEOC has indicated that it intends to go after incidences of significant systemic discrimination.  This certainly is evidence of that.


April 16, 2010

HR Fact Friday: Tall Women Earn More Than Short Ones

Filed under: General HR Buzz — Tags: , , , 6:00 am

Want a Raise? Better don your stilettos and stand up straighter. Tall women earn more than shorter ones, according to a new British study reported in the Daily Mail. Women who are five feet eight inches or more are twice as likely to earn $46,000 and above annually, which comes out to $8,000 more than their shorter colleagues.

For the study, 1,461 women over age 16 were asked questions about their height and their salary. Some 20 percent of the participants who were in the “tall” category reported annual earnings of $46,000, compared to just 10 percent of women whose height was under 5 feet eight inches.

The study also showed that the taller a woman is, the more comfortable she is with her body. And a quarter of the tall women reported not wanting to change anything about themselves.

Yet 90 percent of the shorter women reported being unhappy with their appearance, according to the research, which was done for the clothing chain, Long Tall Sally.

“Research shows that tall people are consistently more successful in the workplace,” Arianne Cohen, author of “The Tall Book: A Celebration of Life From On High,” told the Mail.

“Research shows that tall people are consistently more successful in the workplace. Not only do they earn more but they’re more likely to be in leadership positions.”

Source: New York Daily News, Rosemary Black


April 15, 2010

Signs That Your Performance Appraisal System isn’t Working

Filed under: Performance Management — Tags: 10:12 am

Most organizations use some form of employee performance evaluation tool in their workplaces. They are critical communication devices, important pieces of documentation, and may be integral to compensation systems.  However, many times appraisals or related processes are poorly designed or implemented.  A few signs that an evaluation program isn’t working are discussed below.  If you recognize any of these signs it may be time to consider a new solution. State-of-the-art, Internet-based automated programs, such as HRN’s Performance Pro, solve many of the problems that have haunted company employee performance management programs in the past.

Some Signs of Problems Include:

    1. All employees are evaluated on the same factors or competencies.  Should a receptionist and a CFO really be appraised on the same criteria?
    2. The differences between poor, average, and outstanding performance aren’t defined. Shouldn’t an employee and his appraiser be able to objectively determine what constitutes great vs. mediocre performance?
    3. Evaluations are very inconsistent among appraisers. A good program should promote consistent evaluations across appraisers and departments.
    4. Terminated employees have received good or even great ratings. Your appraisals should support not undercut your corrective action decisions.
    5. Your best employees’ ratings aren’t much better than everyone else’s. Most organizations have a few incredible employees whose contributions far exceed their numbers.  For your appraisals to be meaningful there should be “daylight” between their scores and the others.
    6. Everybody is above average. Appraisal “inflation” is a common problem. If everybody is above average then some employees may wonder why they should work hard and try to distinguish themselves. Or why should a mediocre performer try to improve?
    7. Appraisals are not completed on time. Failing to complete evaluations on time may mean that they aren’t considered important or are just too time consuming
    8. Appraisers consistently evaluate employees the same (e.g., all very high or low). Such a manager either:  needs training, doesn’t take the time to individualize appraisals, or isn’t taking the process seriously.
    9. Like situated” employees are treated differently. Consistent treatment is a key to avoiding discrimination claims and creating a climate of fairness and credibility.
    10. Appraisals are historical only. A good performance management system should not only be able to effectively evaluate past performance but be used to develop employees.
    11. Employees have no input. How can an employee be expected to “buy into” the appraisal system if he or she has no input?  Using self appraisals can be especially useful to promote communication.
    12. Not customized to the individual. Cookie cutter comments and generic goals that aren’t tailored to an individual employee’s position, strengths, weaknesses, or career path aren’t particularly useful.
    13. High performers receive about the same pay increases as above average performers. If your appraisal system doesn’t effectively distinguish your employees’ performances then pay may be viewed more as an entitlement than as a reward to distinguish top performance. Some employees will be paid more than they deserve and truly outstanding employees will be paid less than they should.
    14. Promotions are viewed as unfair or arbitrary. Unless promotion decisions are seen as based on objective criteria and documented they may not be viewed as being given to the most deserving staff members.
    15. Morale is low. Most people compare themselves to what others do and receive. A less than meaningful appraisal system, or one that is perceived as unfair, can leave people unmotivated and resentful.
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