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April 28, 2011

Obesity a Disability?

Filed under: ADA & Disability,General HR Buzz9:38 pm

Last fall, the EEOC filed suit against Resources for Human Development, Inc. under Title I of the ADA, alleging the company engaged in unlawful discrimination by terminating an employee because the employee was obese.
Up to this point, courts have ruled that obesity does not fall into the category of a disability under the ADA. However, with the passage of the ADA Amendments Act, the definition of what constitutes a disability has changed dramatically. It has become much easier for employees to prove that they meet the expanded definition of “disability”.
Employers are wise to take care when making employment decisions based solely on obesity until this suit is resolved. Employers should review job descriptions to ensure they detail the essential functions of the position. Job descriptions will be vital to an employer’s case to prove that an employee cannot perform the essential functions of the position, with or without accommodations.


April 27, 2011

Weekly Wednesday Acronym – USERRA

Filed under: General HR Buzz8:00 am

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) prohibits employment discrimination against a person on the basis of past military service, current military obligations, or intent to serve.   An employer must not deny initial employment, reemployment, retention in employment, promotion, or any benefit of employment to a person on the basis of a past, present, or future service obligation.  In addition, an employer must not retaliate against a person because of an action taken to enforce or exercise any USERRA right or for assisting in an USERRA investigation.

The pre-service employer must reemploy servicemembers returning from a period of service in the uniformed services if those servicemembers meet five criteria:

  • The person must have been absent from a civilian job on account of service in the uniformed services;
  • The person must have given advance notice to the employer that he or she was leaving the job for service in the uniformed services, unless such notice was precluded by military necessity or otherwise impossible or unreasonable;
  • The cumulative period of military service with that employer must not have exceeded five years;
  • The person must not have been released from service under dishonorable or other punitive conditions; and
  • The person must have reported back to the civilian job in a timely manner or have submitted a timely application for reemployment, unless timely reporting back or application was impossible or unreasonable.

USERRA establishes a five-year cumulative total of military service with a single employer, with certain exceptions allowed for situations such as call-ups during emergencies, reserve drills, and annually scheduled active duty for training.  USERRA also allows an employee to complete an initial period of active duty that exceeds five years.

Employers are required to provide to persons entitled to the rights and benefits under USERRA a notice of the rights, benefits, and obligations of such persons and such employers under USERRA.

USERRA applies to persons who perform duty, voluntarily or involuntarily, in the “uniformed services,” which include the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Public Health Service commissioned corps, as well as the reserve components of each of these services. Federal training or service in the Army National Guard and Air National Guard also gives rise to rights under USERRA. In addition, under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Response Act of 2002, certain disaster response work (and authorized training for such work) is considered “service in the uniformed services.”

Uniformed service includes active duty, active duty for training, inactive duty training (such as drills), initial active duty training, and funeral honors duty performed by National Guard and reserve members, as well as the period for which a person is absent from a position of employment for the purpose of an examination to determine fitness to perform any such duty.

USERRA covers nearly all employees, including part-time and probationary employees. USERRA applies to virtually all U.S. employers, regardless of size.

 For more information, including fact sheets and posting requirements, please visit USERRA’s website:


April 26, 2011

Prepare for Severe Weather Events

Filed under: General HR Buzz — Tags: 2:28 pm

Record numbers of tornadoes have hit the Midwest this season. Last Friday, and EF4 tornado ripped through neighborhoods and commercial areas, leveling homes, damaging businesses, shutting down the St. Louis airport and leaving wide areas without power for days. Having a severe weather policy and response plan can help your company respond when disaster strikes. The plan should address communication as well as roles and responsibilities in the event the workplace is damaged. Keeping a list of contact numbers for vendors and employees in a safe offsite location is one example of proactive thinking.
Employers should remember too that even if the work location does not have damage, employees may be impacted at home. Employees may need time off to clean up debris or deal with insurance companies. They may need to temporarily relocate until damage is repaired or power restored. Supporting employees in these circumstances is not only the right thing to do, but will pay dividends in employee morale and loyalty.
The CDC website has resources to help you develop a severe weather response plan that helps ensure the safety of your employees.


April 25, 2011

They’re Back!!! The SSA Resumes Issuance of “No-Match” Letters

Filed under: Compliance,Employment Law,General HR Buzz,Hiring & Jobs — Tags: , , 3:44 pm

After a hiatus since 2007, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that it would once again be sending “No Match” letters to employers.  The purpose of No Match letters is to advise employers that there is some discrepancy in the SSA records between the name of an employee and the Social Security number listed for that employee and the Social Security number listed on the payroll tax records submitted for that employee.

What should you do if you receive a No-Match letter?  The SSA advises you to do the following:

  • check your records to see if there is a discrepancy in the records submitted to SSA;
  • ask the employee to check his or her records to determine if the information was accurately recorded/reported;
  • instruct the employee to contact the SSA to resolve any discrepancy;
  • provide the employee a reasonable amount of time to resolve the discrepancy; and
  • document your efforts to resolve the matter.

That’s not all, however.  There is additional guidance from the Office of Special Counsel of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice which cautions employers not to terminate or take any adverse action against an employee based solely on receiving information on a No-Match.  Instead, employers should follow up, as also recommended by the SSA. 

Another challenge for employers is that receipt of a “No Match” letter may give the employer “constructive knowledge” that there may be an issue with an employee’s authorization to work in the United States.  The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) routinely requests copies of “No Match” letters during I-9 audits.  It is unclear whether documentation of an employee’s inability to resolve a discrepancy will satisfy ICE in the event of an I-9 audit.

So what action should you take?  It is recommended that you develop standard policies and procedures to address issues raised in SSA No-Match letters and that those standards be implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.


April 20, 2011

Weekly Wednesday Acronym – HSA

For those of you who work with benefits, you may be familiar with “Healthcare Savings Accounts” commonly referred to as HSA’s.  But you may find them somewhat confusing and difficult to explain to employees…or even your President & CEO as you consider options for medical insurance plan renewals.

What is an HSA?  In simplest terms, is a tax-free account that can be used by employees to pay for qualified medical expenses.  In order to have an HSA, the individual must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Must be covered by a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)
  • Must not be covered by other health insurance
  • Is not eligible for Medicare
  • Cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return

So why would it be of benefit for employees to have an HSA?

  • Money in the account earns interest and accumulates tax free so the funds can be used now and in the future
  • Contributions to do not have to be spent the year they are deposited (unlike a Flexible Spending Account)
  • If an employee changes jobs, they can take the account with them and continue to use it to pay for qualified healthcare expenses

Employers are somewhat split on their opinion of HSA’s.  Proponents believe they are a way to help reduce the growth of health care costs, as insurance premiums for HDHP plans are typically significantly lower.  Additionally, since the employee is paying for more medical expenses out of the HSA, they are being forced to consider treatment costs and alternatives more closely than with a traditional medical insurance plan.  However, other employers say they worsen, rather than improve, the U.S. health system’s problems as they may encourage healthy employees to leave insurance plans.   

In any case, it is an option worth considering and discussing with your insurance vendor / broker when it’s time for your annual medical insurance renewal.  And the best advice is always to stay healthy


April 19, 2011

BMW – Not just a fancy car!

You are out with your boss at a business luncheon.  As you sit down at the table, you begin to panic!  Which glass do you drink out of?  Is your bread on the left or right?  Here’s an easy way to remember:

BMW – Bread, Meal, Water.  As you sit facing your plate, your bread plate is to your left, your meal is in front of you and your water is to your right.

A few more tips:

  • Bread should be torn apart with your hands, not sliced with a knife.  Butter just one piece at a time.
  • Meats are also cut as they are eaten; do not cut your entrée  up all at once.
  • Salt and Pepper are “married” and should be passed together around the table, even if a table mate only asks for one.
  • If you do not care for coffee, turn your coffee cup over on the table.
  • Put your cell phone or mobile device away during the meal, checking it while you are dining tells others at your table that they are not as important as your text message, email or phone call.
  • Finally, when you are finished eating, place your silverware at 4 and 10 o’clock on your plate to signal to wait staff that you are finished.  Your napkin should be semi-folded at the left side of your plate.

Now, relax and enjoy your luncheon knowing that you have followed all the rules!


Who Works the Most?

Filed under: General HR Buzz10:06 am

How does the average American work day stack up against other nations? A recently updated study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that the US is pretty middle of the road.

Japan, Korea and China lead the way with the longest paid work day. Belgium, Denmark and Germany have the shortest.
The study also looked at unpaid work time such as cooking, household chores and shopping. Mexico had the overall longest day when factoring in paid and unpaid work.
Results showed that the people in the US spend the least amount of time cooking each day (30 minutes). Incidentally, the US also has the highest obesity rates.

You can read more about the study here:,3746,en_21571361_44315115_47567356_1_1_1_1,00.html


April 18, 2011

Don’t Forget – Administrative Professionals’ Week / Day!!

For most organizations, the central hub of our company’s operations depends on our administrative professionals.  Administrative Professionals Week (April 24-30) and Administrative Professionals Day (Wednesday, April 27) call attention to the important workplace role of administrative professionals. 

The recession has hit everyone in the office. Downsizing has forced all of us to pull together and work harder, not just the administrative professionals in the workplace. This year’s theme recognizes everyone’s contribution and is aptly titled ”Celebrate All Office Professionals”.

Observed since 1952, Administrative Professionals Week is originated and solely sponsored by the International Association of Administrative Professionals.  Over the years, Administrative Professionals Week has become one of the largest workplace observances. The event is celebrated worldwide, bringing together millions of people for community events, educational seminars and individual corporate activities recognizing support staff.

A few interesting statistics about administrative professionals:

  • There are more than 4.3 million secretaries and administrative assistants, along with 1.4 million supervisors of office and administrative support staff working in the United States (U.S. Dept. of Labor 2010)
  • This occupation continues to grow as it is estimated nearly 500,000 administrative assistant and secretarial positions will be added in the U.S. between 2008 and 2018, representing growth of 11 percent. (U.S. Dept. of Labor).

Most Salaries Expected to Rise this Year

While salaries took a hit last year due to the recession, this year most salaries in the administrative profession are showing a modest increase.

  • $40,030 – Average 2008 annual earnings of U.S. executive secretaries and administrative assistants (U.S. Dept. of Labor)
  • 2.5 percent – Expected average salary increase for an administrative assistant in 2011 (OfficeTeam 2011 Salary Guide).
  • 1.4 percent – Expected average salary increase of an entry-level administrative assistant (OfficeTeam 2011 Salary Guide)

So let’s all stop and mark our calendars to “Celebrate All Office Professionals”, and say “Thank You” to all in recognition of the vital part they play in our organizations.



Service Quality Strategies with Olivia

Filed under: Communication,Management Practices9:45 am

Every company has a product. Imagine your favorite restaurant. Why do you go back again and again? Instead of considering one reason, it is probably a favorite because of the whole of the experience: the food, the atmosphere, and the staff’s high level of service.

Consider your company’s HR department. The product is the service you give to your customers, the employees. In an organization with service as its product, the quality of the service the customer receives is one of the most significant indicators of success. One way to evaluate the quality of service delivered to customers is to compare the customer’s original expectations and needs to their perception of the received service. Potential gaps in the service process, whether part of design or delivery, have the potential to affect the quality of service received.

There are seven factors to consider in closing the gaps in the service process. The ultimate goal is to close the gap in Service Quality as much as possible, as this is the most critical. One strategy to lessen the gaps is to institute forms of measurement for service quality. In the coming months, we will discuss each of the Service Quality Gaps and strategies for closing those gaps.

The Knowledge Gap

The Knowledge Gap is the difference between what the HR department believes employees need and desire, and what they actually do need or want in a service.

In addressing this gap, consider ways that you can get to know your customers’ needs. Some suggested strategies:

  • Employee Opinion surveys that include an effective method for addressing concerns
  • Focus groups that include a cross-section of employees
  • Encourage ongoing communication between management and the front-line employees

HRN is ready to assist you! Our consulting services can help you with administration of employee opinion surveys, management training, and more. Contact us at 800-940-7522.

Next month: addressing the Policy Gap



April 13, 2011

Weekly Wednesday Acronym – BLS

Filed under: General HR Buzz2:51 pm

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the principal fact-finding agency for the Federal Government in the broad field of labor economics and statistics. They are responsible for providing economic data regarding pay and benefits, inflation and prices, spending and time use, unemployment, employment, workplace injuries, productivity and international information.

Some of the items you are probably familiar with include Consumer Price Index (CPI) and wages by area and occupation. But did you know they also have information regarding:

Employment costs, Earnings by demographic, Earnings by industry, County wages, Benefits, How Americans spend time

You might be surprised what you find! Their website can be found at:

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