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November 29, 2011

How Does Your Company Celebrate the Holidays?

Filed under: Management Practices,Work/Life Balance11:40 am

The holidays are indeed a festive time of year.  I find myself thinking about preparations for fall and winter celebrations long before the kids are even trick-or-treating.  Today, I want to talk about a few of the items that should be on your list this year as you plan how your company will celebrate.

Company Parties

Around this time, many employers have already begun planning for their annual holiday party.  A 2009 SHRM poll showed more than 60 percent of employers planned to hold either an end-of-year or holiday party for their employees.  Thoughts of liability in the form of harassment cases, or impaired employees injuring someone on the way home can quickly kill your holiday spirit.  Are you sensitive to different dietary needs?  Do you try to ensure everyone feels included?  See below for a link to our latest Whitepaper for a lot more great information.

Secret Santa (or Secret Gift Exchange)

We are all familiar with this game, so how can you make it interesting?  One year, participants in our office each contributed $10 to purchase “something” from a website called (what else?) The Something Store.  No one knew what they were going to unwrap, and we were allowed to swap gifts.

This year, we are adapting Secret Santa for the social media generation by using Elfster.  The site is free, and participants can ask anonymous questions to their recipients.  Recipients can also create wish lists.

Give Back

It makes no difference how large or small, every organization can do something.  Allow employees time off to volunteer, take donations to the food bank, or adopt a family.

How does your company give back to your community?  How do you celebrate?  Comment below, or email me at .  I would love to hear your ideas.

More Information:

Check out our latest Whitepaper, for tools to minimize your risks so you can enjoy the festivities, too.


November 28, 2011

FLSA Q&A’s – What Might Cause Exempt Employees to Lose Their Exempt Status Under the FLSA?

Filed under: General HR Buzz11:13 am

With our tummies full following Thanksgiving, certainly our brains must also be nourished.  So I am going to begin this Monday morning by posting a question regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  This has always been a complicated law and continues to be so.  For the next few weeks, I am going to be blogging on some of the questions that are commonly asked regarding various provisions of the law.  I welcome your feedback and would be happy to address any specific questions you may have, so please feel free to comment and post your questions!!

What might cause exempt employees to lose their exempt status under the FLSA such that they are eligible for overtime pay?

Docking an Exempt Employee’s Pay for Being Late or Absent. Generally, exempt employees must be paid on a salary basis that may not be reduced based upon the quantity or quality of work. Therefore, docking pay conflicts with the concept that an exempt employee be paid not for the time spent on the job, but for the services performed. Exceptions under which a company may “dock” an exempt employee’s pay without losing the salaried status may include:

  • The employee is absent for a day or more for personal reasons other than sickness or accident;
  • The employee is absent for a day or more due to sickness or disability if the deduction is made in accordance with a plan for compensating such losses and the employee is not yet eligible for sick leave or have exhausted the leave.
  • The employee is penalized for major safety violations.
  • Unpaid disciplinary suspensions of one or more full days that are imposed for serious violation of workplace rules.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) permits deductions from salary for absences due to reasons covered by the law where benefits have been exhausted. However this exception must be strictly and narrowly followed.
  • The employee did not work a full week during the first or last week of employment.

Requiring an Exempt Employee to Use Accrued Leave on An Hour for Hour Basis. The Department of Labor has taken the position that exempt employees’ accrued leave may be charged in less than 1 day increments as their salaries would be unaffected. However, several courts have taken the position that reducing leave in partial day increments (especially very small increments) may violate the salary basis test. Confusion still exists surrounding this issue.

Partial Week Absences Due to Jury Duty or Military Leave. Docking an exempt employee for partial week jury, witness, or military reserve absences must be avoided to retain the exemption.

Hourly Based Overtime and Incentive Pay. Extra compensation for exempt employees would threaten their exempt status. However, the DOL in its revised 2004 regulations made clear that providing compensation (in addition to the guaranteed weekly salary) such as commissions, bonuses, payments based on straight hourly amounts, time and one-half or other basis is acceptable.



November 23, 2011

Are You Spending Thanksgiving with Your Coworkers??

Filed under: Engagement,General HR Buzz,Work/Life Balance10:31 am

Many years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of having a minor accident shortly before Thanksgiving.  I escaped unharmed, but my car had to go to the shop and parts had to be ordered to fix the damage.  The loaner car the body shop gave me was a four-door Comet, brown in color.  My friends and I affectionately named it “Crash Comet.”  It was one of those cars with a personality which appeared at unexpected times, such as the back door flying open while driving down the street.  However, it served its purpose of getting me to my college classes and to work at the bank.

As Thanksgiving Day approached, I was told my car’s repairs were not going to be complete.  My family lived 200 miles away and obviously Crash Comet was not in any condition to make a roundtrip of 400 miles.  My budget was tight so renting a car was not an option.   A coworker came to my rescue and insisted I spend Thanksgiving Day with her family.  It was a wonderful memory I will never forget.  I was thankful to have a coworker, and friend, to welcome me to their table on Thanksgiving Day.

However, that may not be the case of many individuals.  A recent survey by reports nearly one in five workers said they plan to celebrate the holiday with coworkers.  When coworkers were asked who they would rather spend Thanksgiving with, only 1% answered coworkers with 90% stating family, and the remaining 9% answered neither.  I’m assuming this survey’s responses are referring to those individuals who are spending the day with their coworkers because they have to, not because they are generously sharing their Thanksgiving table with them.  It is sometimes easy to forget the many occupations that never have a chance to have a day off, such as our hospital workers, policemen, and even cable television providers.  Heaven forbid our cable would go out during a Thanksgiving Day football game!

During the years, I have been fortunate to have coworkers that have become my very best friends.  I would welcome any of them to my Thanksgiving dinner table.  While my vote would still be with the 90% who prefer to spend Thanksgiving with family, I have also been in the 1% population spending Thanksgiving with a coworker.  I discovered there are reasons to give thanks, no matter who you are sharing this special day with.


November 22, 2011

Be Thankful, Be Happy

Filed under: Management Practices6:30 am

This weekend, my daughters and I took part in an annual walk/run event called the Turkey Trot.  Each participant was asked to bring one jar of peanut butter to donate.  When my seven year old daughter handed her jar to a volunteer, he leaned down to her eye level and asked her if she knew why they needed peanut butter.  He explained to her that they used the peanut butter to make sandwiches for the homeless.  The most touching part of the exchange: he sincerely thanked her for bringing the peanut butter.  Later, we talked about how many peanut butter sandwiches the jar she donated could make.

Tim Sackett blogs about 12 Things Happy HR People Do Differently.  No, it doesn’t mean you have to plaster your face with a smile all the time, but he and I share the feeling that happy people are generally, well… happy.  First on his list is expressing gratitude.  “When I let someone know how truly thankful I am for what they do, or did, it makes me feel happy, and I’m sure it makes them feel happy.”

It’s easy to forget how important small things can be in the big picture – bagels from the boss on a Friday morning, a coworker who offers to take some of the workload, a jar of peanut butter.  Do you always remember to thank someone for the small things they’ve done?

Take a few minutes and think about the small things you can be thankful for at work.  The little things add up over time, but are usually the things we take for granted.  Connect with your employees, tell them how much you appreciate what they have done (or are doing) to contribute to the company’s success.

Happy Thanksgiving!


November 21, 2011

Does Your Engagement Transfer from the Thanksgiving Table to the Workplace?

Filed under: General HR Buzz11:58 am

Around the dinner table Thursday, most of us will be gathering with family to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving feast.   If the same is true as in past years, our family and guests will be deeply engaged in eating.  And this engaging behavior will begin with the first bites of turkey and conclude with second servings of pumpkin pie.

It’s unfortunate we cannot transfer this engaging behavior to the workplace.  On October 28, Gallup posted an article with the headline “Majority of American Workers Not Engaged in Their Jobs.”   Some of the findings were rather disturbing and include the following information from Gallup:

  • Worker disengagement accounts for more than $300 billion annually in lost productivity in the U.S. alone
  • Only 1/3 of workers are enthusiastic about the work they do and feel they are contributing to their organization in positive ways
  • Middle-aged and highly educated workers are least likely to be engaged

Obviously, engagement is not enduring from the beginning of the work day with the first cup of coffee until the last meeting or conference call of the day.  We are certainly not exhibiting the same sort of engagement in our jobs as we do during outside activities, such as our Thanksgiving feasts.

So what is going on?  In my next blog we will talk about some insights from the American Psychological Association, and also explore what can be done.

To read more about the Gallup survey, you may visit these websites:




November 18, 2011

HR Fact Friday: Give Me My Coffee!

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

If you need that morning cup of joe every day to get you going, you are not alone.  According to a survey by Dunkin’ Donuts and CareerBuilder, nearly half of all U.S. workers (46%) claim that they are less productive without coffee.  (Note to office manager:  time to upgrade that coffee pot!)  Other key coffee consumption trends in the workplace include:

Coffee has helped younger workers, aged 18 to 24, with their careers by providing an opportunity to network with other coworkers.

The region with the most workday coffee drinkers is in the Northeast, with 49% of employees admitting to needing coffee while on the job. And for some, one cup is not enough!  The majority of coffee drinkers (61%) drink two cups or more each workday.



November 17, 2011

What Were They Thinking? 5 Funky Job Titles

Filed under: General HR Buzz9:30 am

Just call me Purveyor of Awesomeness.  Seriously, please call me that.

As much as I love that title, I am pretty sure I can’t convince my boss to officially change my job title around here.  It doesn’t say much about what I do here (except that I provide a general aura of awesome all day, every day), but that doesn’t stop some companies from coming up with titles that sound almost as offbeat.

Paul Lewis of, a business card printer, said that many businesses are looking for more imaginative titles for their jobs as a way to stand out in social media. recently released a list of some of the most creative job titles – he calls them “weird and wonderful.”

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Happiness Advocate
  • Master Handshaker
  • Word Herder
  • Problem Wrangler
  • Communications Ambassador

Reading these titles, I can’t help but think about the people who hold those jobs.  What do they say in a job interview when asked about these jobs?  Sure, I can figure out what some of these people do, such as the Master Handshaker (read: Greeter).  What kind of fires is the Problem Wrangler putting out?  It could be almost anything.

Lance Haun over at TLNT has some sage advice:

“Fun titles can be great for internal teams. It can help put a fun spin on being at work, especially at some of the less pleasant, white collar jobs that are out there.

But when it comes to dealing with people outside of the company, it is time to make a decision: do you communicate what you do clearly, or, do you avoid that and try to educate every single person you meet about that fun job title — only to have them forget what you actually do five minutes after they meet you? Or worse, you are mocked for not having a real title and people question your business skills and savvy?”

I suppose it is best to stick with my official title, although I might just tell my husband he has to call me by my preferred title from now on.  I think he’ll agree.


November 16, 2011

Weekly Wednesday Acronym – ROI

If you approach senior management with a plan to implement a wellness program in your organization, one of the first words out of his or her mouth will most likely be “How do you plan to measure the ROI?”  What ROI refers to is Return on Investment (ROI), a calculation which complicates executive buy-in of wellness programs as it isn’t always easy to obtain significant data of ROI.

We all know wellness programs are important and they have become a staple of many corporate benefit packages.  Some organizations start small, offering reimbursement to employees for gym memberships or holding a wellness fair once or twice a year.  Other organizations simply have a deeply engrained principle that forms the basis for decisions about health and wellness offerings.  And larger organizations may offer monetary incentives for participation in wellness initiatives.

No matter how exciting your wellness plan is or how well received it is by employees, ROI will most likely be the measuring stick for success of the plan in the eyes of your CEO.  Fortunately, some organizations have had plans in place that have been able to measure ROI.  One such example is a state program implemented in Delaware in 2003, appropriately named DelaWELL.  First year’s savings were estimated at $62,000 simply through the reduction of emergency room visits.  Currently, health insurance premiums haven’t increased for the last three years.

As wellness programs have now been in place for several years, we are hearing more about the success of these programs and the resulting ROI.  So although ROI may be a difficult measurement, it’s not impossible.  For more information and free resources, check out the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) by clicking here.


November 15, 2011

The Other Secret Weapon: Consistency

In a recent blog post, I discussed the benefits of having a comprehensive policy manual and employee handbook in your HR arsenal.  Specifically, I outlined some of the recent updates made to our solution, HR Suite.  There is a missing component that we did not discuss: the need to ensure that your company’s supervisors are applying policies consistently with all of their subordinates.  Without this key piece, you may as well not even have a policy manual or employee handbook at all.

Inconsistent application of a company’s policies can negate the best intentions of any policy manual.  Take this recent case as an example, Eaton v. Indiana Department of Corrections (7th Circuit Court, Sept. 9, 2011).  Ms. Eaton was a corrections officer who had been warned about her excessive absenteeism and had been advised if the situation did not improve, she would be reassigned to a different – and less desirable to her – work shift.

After being reassigned to the other shift, Ms. Eaton took leave under FMLA.  Upon her return, she was reassigned to her original shift.  She was then involved in a car accident that exacerbated a pre-existing back injury and was placed on work restrictions by her doctor; she did not report these restrictions to the DOC until later.  After she refused an overtime assignment, a hearing was held and she disclosed the back injury.  At one point, she was assigned different work duties, and she refused based on her back pain.

Although she repeatedly requested that her supervisor reassign her to work she could perform and stated that she did not want to quit, the supervisor asked her to turn in her badge.  She did, but a short time later her supervisor reconsidered and allowed her to return to work for the next scheduled shift.  By the time she reported to work for that shift, the supervisor had again changed his mind and would not allow her to enter the facility for work.  She never returned.

She dropped the ADA claim, but instead pursued based on sex discrimination.  This came as a result of her discovery that a male corrections officer who reported to the same supervisor and had refused a work assignment.  In that instance, the male officer refused, became angry and quit.  He returned to work less than an hour later and was not subject to any disciplinary action.

In summary, the Court ruled that there were sufficient similarities in their conduct: both had refused an assignment from the same supervisor, both left, both returned quickly to the facility.  If anything, Ms. Eaton’s conduct could be considered less egregious due to the fact that she advised her supervisor she did not want to quit.

This case serves as an important reminder to organizations to ensure that supervisors carefully consider their disciplinary actions to ensure consistent treatment among their employees.


November 11, 2011

HR Fact Friday: Employment Termination 101

Filed under: Discipline & Termination,Legal Issues6:00 am

No one likes to do it, but pretty much everyone has to do it once it a while.  There probably are lots of things about which this statement is true, but certainly for employers it is true about having to fire an employee.  There are many questions regarding what legal risks there are related to terminating someone’s employment.  Of course, the facts of each situation are important and help determine the risk analysis.  However, there are basic considerations that apply to almost every discharge. Here are some helpful tips for your review.  Tips for Termination.


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