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August 31, 2011

Weekly Wednesday Acronym – FMLA

Filed under: Employment Law,FMLA,General HR Buzz11:46 am

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is difficult for even the most experienced HR person to administer.  There are many pitfalls and opportunities to make mistakes.  One of the most confusing items is understanding eligibility – both for the company and the employee.   Below are some Q&A’s which define eligibility requirements.

1)       Do you really have 50 or more employees or 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius?

  • You must have had 50 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.  Therefore employees aren’t eligible for FMLA leave the day you “hit” 50 employees.
  • Employees on paid or unpaid leave are counted toward the “50” as long as they are expected to return.  Part time employees are also counted.

2)       Has the employee been working for at least 12 months (not necessarily consecutive)?

  • If he’s been on the payroll for any part of a week, including during paid or unpaid leave during which other benefits have been provided (e.g., worker’s comp or group health) then the week counts.  Time spent in active duty military service counts toward eligibility.

3)       Has the employee worked at least 1250 hours during the 12 month period immediately before the leave?

  • Whether 1250 hours have been worked is determined according to “compensable hours” standards of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • If accurate records aren’t available or if exempt employees are involved, then the employer has the burden to show that the employee hasn’t worked the 1250.

4)       Has the employee already exhausted the amount of leave available?

  • An eligible employee is entitled to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during a 12 month period or 26 weeks for Servicemember (Caregiver) leave.  How do you define your leave period?  Is it the best definition for the company?

By answering these questions, you should have a good understanding if your company falls under FMLA guidelines, along with individual employees.  The DOL has a great fact sheet that you may find useful:


August 30, 2011

Fantasy Football = Increase in Engagement?

Filed under: General HR Buzz,Work/Life Balance — Tags: 1:36 pm

At the risk of revealing myself completely as a novice, I will admit I had no idea until a couple of years ago how much fun fantasy football can be. I used to think that participation in fantasy sports was reserved for people (read: men) who enjoyed spending hours creating a perfect draft list. They gathered around in the host’s living room to choose their individual teams.  The advent of online leagues has made selecting your perfect team almost a no-brainer. As of 2008, the number of participants had grown to 27 million, with 20 million of that choosing fantasy football as their sport of choice.

Considering it is estimated that participants will spend an average of nine hours per week perfecting their team’s lineup, it is not surprising that many companies believe participation in fantasy football is a huge productivity drain. Although about half of companies simply look the other way, some choose to block those websites completely.

However, for those of you like me searching for a business reason to justify your fantasy football league, I present the results of a Challenger survey conducted in 2010: fantasy football does not negatively affect productivity! (I’ll give you a moment to reread that sentence before moving on.) I’ll go one better: the study also showed that companies who support or encourage fantasy football leagues could see increased retention as a result. Participating in these activities can also encourage networking and camaraderie among employees who otherwise wouldn’t choose to socialize.

Many of you are looking for lowand no-cost benefits to increase retention and engagement. Create a company fantasy football league. You might be surprised who signs up!

Tips and Ideas:

  • Eliminate the concern with gambling by offering prizes for the winners. Prizes don’t have to be just for the team with the best record – give prizes for the best team name, most original “smack talk,” etc. (Check with your attorney and tax adviser to be sure the value does not create additional concerns.)
  • Host a draft party after work. Invite participants to bring football themed snacks and drinks – drafting is hard work! (Take into consideration any possible liability issues with having the draft on-site at your company or at an off-site location.)
  • Allow employees to wear their favorite team colors or clothing representing their favorite teams in place of the usual “Casual Friday” attire.

Links for more information:

Challenger Gray: Study Finds that Fantasy Football Does Not Sap Workplace Productivity Free Fantasy Football

Yahoo! Sports Free Fantasy Football

Fantasy Team Names Tips

It’s not too late to create a league – the season starts September 8th… And to my fellow league opponents: watch out! I’m due for a winning season in 2011!


August 29, 2011

Meow, Meow, Woof, Woof – Does your Company Offer Pet Insurance?

Filed under: Benefits,General HR Buzz,Insurance3:23 pm

We all know that animals sometimes become part of our families.  Well, now more and more Americans are providing a benefit they typically provide their two-legged family members – insurance!  According to the website, Pet Insurance Review, more than 1 million American cats, dogs and other pets are covered by health insurance policies.  A growing trend in the employee benefit offerings of companies is pet insurance.  In fact, 25% of Fortune 500 companies offer pet insurance as a way to help their employees to reduce the financial cost of routine care and emergency care or illness for their four-legged friends.

Typically employees pay 100% of a group rate for the insurance, oftentimes going through payroll as a post-tax deduction.  As the cost of veterinary services continue to increase, it is a value-added benefit that companies can offer at virtually no cost to the organization.  So next time you take Fido to see the dr., you may also be able to file a claim with insurance to help absorb the cost.  If only we could claim Fido as a tax exemption!


August 26, 2011

Common Errors Managers Make When Appraising Employees

Filed under: General HR Buzz,Performance Management5:03 pm

When done right, the performance appraisal process can be very effective.  Managers and employees both have an opportunity to give and receive valuable feedback.  Reviewing past performance and planning for future growth can engage and motivate your employees.  When done wrong, the process can create a number of problems in an organization.  Here are 3 common errors managers make when appraising employees:

The Halo Effect:
Allowing one highly favorable (or unfavorable) employee behavior or characteristic to affect judgment about the entire appraisal while ignoring other employee strengths and weaknesses.

An employee may have outstanding customer service skills. The manager may have even received compliments or letters from customers telling how professional, helpful and courteous this employee is. However, the manager would not want to let this very positive skill overshadow problems the employee may be having in other areas (e.g., perhaps tardiness is a problem or deadlines are not met). Likewise a manager would not want to let a single employee problem, perhaps a quality or teamwork issue, cloud judgment regarding everything an employee does. Recording critical incidents (discussed earlier) can help appraisers avoid the Halo Effect.

Bias or Prejudice:
We all have our biases. However, allowing personal biases or prejudices to influence the appraisal process can make evaluations unfair and inconsistent. Know your biases.

Be careful to check personal biases or prejudices. Perhaps an appraiser simply does not like an employee’s personality or elements of his/her personality. Some appraisers are biased against certain types of workers (e.g., older workers or students). Be aware of biases to make sure appraisals are clearly job-related. 

It is helpful to take a moment to consider the feedback you are giving your employees.  Ask yourself, “Why is this behavior or performance trait a benefit or detriment to our company?  What core values does this exemplify or counter? How does this positively or negatively impact our department or company as a whole?”  Considering the business reasons behind the feedback you are giving will help to remove personal biases.

Not Knowing Employees:
Unfortunately, many supervisors don’t really know their employees or the quality of their work. Such evaluations aren’t credible.

It is impossible to give honest, direct feedback when you are uninformed.  Make sure enough information and specific examples are available regarding an employee’s performance before an evaluation is completed. Appraisals are more meaningful and more accepted by employees if the appraiser takes the time to interact with the employee on a regular, day-to-day basis.


August 25, 2011

Proposed Amendment Would Expand FMLA Coverage to Grieving Parents

Filed under: Employment Law,FMLA11:13 am

Most of us are familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees of covered employers. Since its inception, FMLA has expanded to include care for military service members. I can remember the relief I felt when I learned that I would be eligible to take time off to spend with my newborn daughter in 2001. The existence of FMLA has provided a measure of security for many Americans.

In 2004, Kelly Farley was a grieving father who realized his employer would not allow him to take protected FMLA leave due to the death of his daughter. Instead, he applied for leave to care for his severely depressed wife. Out of his sorrow, the Grieving Dads Project was born.

Together with Barry Kluger, a fellow grieving father, Farley began a petition calling for an amendment to FMLA that would allow a parent to qualify for leave after the death of a son or daughter. The petition now has a total of over 12,000 signatures.

Senator John Tester (MT) introduced S1358, the Parental Bereavement Leave Act of 2011 in July. The bill has been referred to committee at this point.

This amendment would give grieving parents an option to take time off work without fear of losing the security of knowing the job will be there when they are ready to return. If you support this amendment, take a moment to sign the petition and contact your state senators.

More Information:

The Grieving Dads Project

Petition for the Parental Bereavement Amendment

Family and Medical Leave Act

Contact Your Senators!


August 17, 2011

Weekly Wednesday Acronym – ENDA

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is not a new acronym.  In fact, it has been included in some form of the bills considered by Congress in every session since 1994 except in the 109th Congress (January 3, 2005 to January 3, 2007).  So what is ENDA?  Simply stated, it is a proposed federal law that would prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the workplace.  The bill is closely modeled on existing civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Currently, 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 15 states and D.C. also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.  Although these laws provide important protections, according to a 2002 General Accounting Office (GAO) report, relatively few complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation have been filed in these states.

Although there isn’t currently a federal law in place, as of March 2011 87% of the Fortune 500 companies had implemented non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and 46% had policies that include gender identity.

Currently the bill was introduced in the 112th Congress on April 6, 2011 in the House, and on April 13, 2011 in the Senate.  With the current makeup of the House and Senate, politicians are predicting that the proposed ENDA may pass.  Stay tuned for further updates.


August 15, 2011

Rudeness in the Workplace

If it seems like people at work aren’t treating each other as nicely as they used to, you may be right.  According to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, there is a growing problem with “workplace incivility.”  This new term is described as “a form of organizational deviance…characterized by low-intensity behaviors that violate respectful workplace norms.”  The study indicated that 86% of workers at 3 Midwestern firms reported incivility at work.

So why the increase?  Probably a number of factors contribute including doing the same or more with less workers, longer hours, and higher demand.  Rude behavior, insults, and bad manners do not contribute to a positive morale in the workplace and can also effect productivity.

If this describes a situation in your workplace, some things you can do to encourage civility include the following:

  • Meet as a team to establish guidelines and expectations for relationships within the workplace.
  • Conduct “lunch and learns” focusing on hypothetical situations, discussing how to resolve disputes in the workplace.
  • If workload is high, discuss if there are alternate methods to reduce the workload and the stress associated with it.



August 11, 2011

Narrowing the Pay Gap

The U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs wants your opinion. The OFCCP is currently considering developing a new data tool that will collect salary and benefit information paid to employees of federal contractors and subcontractors. The tool would ideally improve the OFCCP’s ability to gather the data that is used to search for indicators of discrimination. The department recently published a notice of the proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register to solicit public feedback on the proposed tool.

The OFCCP enforces Executive Order 11246 which prohibits companies that do business with the federal government from discriminating in employment practices on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, or religion.

In addition to collecting data for the OFCCP to facilitate investigations, the proposed tool would include a self-assessment facet to help employers evaluate their own compensation practices. “Today, almost 50 years after the Equal Pay Act became, law, the wage gap has narrowed, but not nearly enough,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.

View the proposed document and submit your comments by going to the page.

HRN is ready to assist you! Our consultants are available to answer your questions about providing structured salary administration, performance management, and more. Contact us at 800-940-7522 for more information.


August 9, 2011

Preventing Workplace Theft

Filed under: Privacy,Safety1:46 pm

Since the onset of the current recession, police departments all over the United States are reporting increased instances of theft, burglary, and robbery. According to the Police Executive Research Forum, 44 percent of police departments have reported such increases.

If you are at all like me or most people if they would admit it, you leave personal belongings out in the open at least occasionally. Have you walked away from your work computer for any length of time without locking it? Are you certain your office building secure from outside visitors? This gives criminals easy access to walk in to your office, and walk out with a variety of stolen goods.

In addition to the company’s laptop that disappears, consider the loss to the company’s intellectual property – proposals, proprietary notes and reports, and other confidential information. Consider, too, your employee’s sense of safety and trust that their employer can take care of them.

Many of these thieves watch office buildings and know when the opportunity is just right. Using common sense and training your employees on what to do can go a long way in preventing these thefts.

  • Don’t let someone “tailgate” (follow behind you) to gain access to your building. Card readers are there for a reason: to prevent unauthorized people from getting in.
  • Leave your personal items (purse, keys, etc.) in a locked drawer – be sure to take the keys with you! If you don’t need something, leave it at home.
  • Use visitor badges to identify strangers that are supposed to be in your office, such as the telephone maintenance person. Anyone without a badge will stick out and raise suspicion. Keep it simple – the badges don’t have to be anything special, just something that identifies individuals as visitors.
  • If you see a stranger in your office, you don’t have to confront him or her yourself. Call the police or your security officer. If you choose to confront him or her, asking something as simple as “Can I help you?” is sometimes enough to deter the person.
  • If you are the last person to leave your office at the end of the day, check your co-workers’ computers, copiers, and critical files to be sure they are all secure.

Above all, communicate this to your employees and explain the reasons for your safety measures. If everyone is held to the same standards, this could help them recognize a shady character lurking about. For more information, and a security quiz, check out the USDA’s Office of Procurement and Property Management,


August 8, 2011

Can You See Clearly Now??

Filed under: General HR Buzz11:51 am

As children across the country return to school, safety is foremost on our mind.  An area that we may not think about, however, is their eyecare.  As August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, it is timely to think about eyecare.  Most eye problems in children can be corrected if they are detected and treated early.  Some of the problems that children may have relating to their eyes include amblyopia (lazy eye), color blindness, conjuctivitis (pink eye), diabetes, and refractive error just to name a few.  Many of these issues may affect their ability to learn in the classroom, so it is very important to correct these problems early on.

If your mom was like mine, she was always protective of my eyes.  Some of her “beliefs” may not be supported by fact, even though her intent was always in my best interest to take care of my eyes.  Below are some of the common myths that you may be familiar with. 

Myth:  Reading in dim light can damage your eyes.

Fact:  Reading in dim light can cause eye strain, but it will not hurt your eyes permanently.

Myth:  Eating carrots will improve your vision.

Fact:  While it is true that carrots, as well as many other vegetables are rich in Vitamin A, which is an essential vitamin for sight, only a small amount is necessary for good vision.  A well-balanced diet, with or without carrots, provides all the nutrients the body needs.  In fact, too much Vitamin A, D or E may actually be harmful.

Myth:  Reading fine print for too long will wear out or damage your eyes. 

Fact:  This is one of the most widely held myths about vision.  Some people are concerned that they should not read too much because it will wear out their eyes.  Although extensive or prolonged reading of fine print can cause eye strain, there is no evidence to suggest that it will damage or wear out your eyes.

Myth:  An eye examination is necessary only if you’re having problems.

Fact:  Everyone should follow proper eye healthcare, which includes regular eye exams, whether or not you are having any noticeable signs of problems.  Children should be tested at birth, at 6 months of age, before entering school and periodically throughout the school years.

I hope you are able to see clearly now and for many days to come.  Let’s make a commitment to take care of our eyes, as well as our children’s.

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