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October 13, 2011

Communicating Employee Benefits

Filed under: Benefits,Communication,General HR Buzz2:57 pm

Your company likely invests a great deal of time and effort in evaluating, implementing, and delivering employee benefits programs.  Your HR staff and benefits professionals must research the alternatives, determine what is best for the organization, and then communicate the value to the employees in a way that keeps everyone informed and satisfies the letter of the law.

Granted, summary plan descriptions are a good start, but reading one leaves me with the same feeling I have after reading the list of precautions that comes with a prescription antibiotic – do I really need this?

Employers need to evaluate whether they are truly communicating benefit information in a meaningful way – or, just checking the box.  Eric Parmenter, Vice President of Consulting for HighRoad, suggests the following, “Read some of the federal guidelines on health reform and you will see what not to do. SPDs are the primary source of information for plan participants. SPDs are not just conveying the information—it’s conveying information so the audience not only understands the topic, but also understands the impact on them.”

Eric also suggests that employees must take greater responsibility for knowing the details of their benefit plans.

Read  Eric’s five steps for better employee benefit communications here.



Shy Bladder Syndrome to Get Out of a Drug Test?

Filed under: ADA & Disability,EEO8:17 am

For as long as employers have required drug tests, there have been drug users who have tried to beat them, or avoid them all together.  Have you heard the excuse that the individual can’t urinate on cue?

Before you dismiss this person as a drug user trying to get out of taking the test, take note: in a response to a citizen’s letter, the EEOC indicated this situation could constitute a need for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADAAA).  The condition in question – Paruresis – is commonly known as Shy Bladder Syndrome.  A person afflicted with this anxiety disorder is unable to urinate in public places or in close proximity to others.

Under the ADA, an individual has a disability if a physical or mental impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities.  With the recent amendment, it is significantly easier for an individual to meet this standard.

There are certainly individuals who have Shy Bladder Syndrome.  There are also certainly individuals who would say they have it in order to get out of a urine drug test.  So, what can you do?

Jonathan Segal, who blogs for the Duane Morris Institute suggests establishing drug-testing policy that states when an individual is unable to provide a urine specimen for testing, he or she must undergo a hair specimen test as an alternative.

The big picture message here is to be aware as an employer of your responsibilities under the ADAAA.  The goal in the process is not to determine whether the employee has a disability; it is to have a dialog with the employee to accommodate their needs.

From an interview with Segal:

“Regardless of whether someone’s depression rises to the level of a disability, make a reasonable accommodation. It’s not the end of the world. A lot of times that’s good business, to try to help an employee without getting into an overly legalistic approach. It’s really important for employers to make it clear that they’re making the accommodation without making a determination of whether there’s a disability.”

For more, read Segal’s blog here and Don Tennant’s blog .  Also, read the “informal” letter from the EEOC here.