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March 30, 2012

HR Fact Friday: How Flexible Is Your Workplace – Part 1 of 2

Following is Part 1 of 2 from HRN”s March HR Industry White Paper. Part 2 will post on Friday, April 6.

Typically HRN refrains from posting our White Papers on our HR News & Views blog but this one is just too good not to share. Thanks to our very own Joyce Campbell for doing the research and writing.

To receive quality HR topical content like this each month [for no cost!] simply sign up at: .

How Flexible Is Your Workplace?
Work-Life Balance as an Effective Tool for Retention

Have you thought about how flexible your workplace is?  No, we’re not talking about how many yoga poses your employees can perform, but flexibility in terms of offering flexible schedules, job-sharing, telecommuting, etc.  As summer approaches, you may have requests from employees to work a flexible schedule due to changing day care arrangements; or you may have employees transitioning to a different phase in their work-life where they would prefer a part-time schedule.

As the challenge of balancing work and personal life is a reality for most working families, employees are attracted to companies which provide some flexibility in the workplace.  Although not a new challenge, the increase in dual career families, single parents, the “sandwich” generation of employees caring for both children and aging parents, and a stressed economy has accelerated the challenge into the forefront.  Work-life balance (WLB) has become an area of concern for both workers and their employers.  For employers, it can be a key component in attraction and retention of employees.



March 28, 2012

EAPs – A Benefit You May Want to Check Out

Monday’s blog alluded to the reality of the high cost of providing health insurance benefits to employees.  As a result, many medical insurance plans are being redesigned to include higher deductibles and copays to counteract the increase in premiums.  Employers still want to provide a well-rounded offering of benefits to employees, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so without affecting the overall budget.

A benefit worth checking out is EAPs – Employee Assistance Programs.  EAPs have been around for decades, but have generally been used as a resource to help workers with substance-abuse issues on a confidential basis.  That is no longer the case.  EAPs are getting a makeover, partly as a result of employers concern about everyday stress in employee’s lives.  According to Stella Antonakis, senior associate of total health management at Mercer, “It’s everything under the umbrella of behavioral and mental health.”

So how can an EAP help?  Below are a few of the services they provide:

  • Find affordable child care or elder care
  • Financial services, such as refinancing a mortgage
  • Sort through health care costs
  • Referral for tax accountant
  • Legal services
  • Planning a wedding
  • Health and wellness services
  • Management training

The reason EAPs are so attractive as an “add-on” benefit is that they are relatively cheap for employers, costing about $1 to $3 per month.  However, the utilization of services is only 2% – 6% of the employee population.

As an employer, if you have an EAP, it may be a good time to re-educate your employee population about the vast array of services that can be provided.  Many mental and behavioral issues in an employee’s life affect their worklife and productivity.  If you don’t have an EAP, it may be time to explore adding one as an additional inexpensive benefit which could provide valuable services to your employee population.  For more information, click here.

EAPs Modernize, But Employees Are Slow to Catch On


March 27, 2012

Hiring Trend Could be Invasion of Applicants’ Privacy

Filed under: Discrimination,Employment Law,General HR Buzz12:01 pm

Technology has gone a long way toward improving our productivity and networking abilities.  When a friend and I recently met for coffee, we shared a few tips and tools we’ve found in our smartphones (I would literally forget everything if I didn’t use the helpful reminders and calendar features).  However, we acknowledged that in some ways, we would also get so much more accomplished if we didn’t spend time browsing Facebook.

Facebook, and other social networking sites, such as Twitter, have brought us to a new level of intimate connections with many people we may not otherwise encounter.  By now, most of us are aware of possible implications if you “friend” a boss, or don’t take steps to ensure your page is private.  In fact one good example comes from one of my guilty pleasure indulgences, “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team.”  Several of the candidates were disqualified from the team, not for lack of ability, but for the photos and risqué behavior displayed on their Facebook profiles.

So, what is an employer to do?  One recent trend that raises a red flag is employers who ask for applicants’ Facebook password.  Three months ago, the Virginia State Police instituted a new practice when interviewing potential recruits: the applicant must sign a waiver, and then log in to any social networking site he or she regularly uses in front of an administrator.  Virginia isn’t alone.  Until just recently, the city of Bozeman, Montana, and the Maryland Division of Correction were asking job applicants to hand over their passwords.  The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill requires its student athletes to “friend” a coach or other designated individual, so that their activity can be continually monitored.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the practice of employers requesting access to social networking sites is relatively new, and has steadily risen over the last year.  Public sector employers could be violating applicants’ Fourth Amendment rights by requesting the passwords.  Another concern for any employer is that you could unintentionally create a disparate treatment situation by viewing an applicant’s social networking activity.  For example, in an interview, you have successfully avoided the questions you shouldn’t ask, such as “Do you have any children?”  However, by viewing social networking profiles, you can often discover this information.

As an employer, we want to take steps to ensure we are hiring the right person for the job, while also taking steps to minimize potential for legal issues with negligent hiring or harassment claims.  We have to balance that necessity with protection from possible discrimination claims from potential applicants.

Big Brother Wants Your Facebook Password


March 26, 2012

You Don’t Know What You Have…Until You Need It!!

Filed under: General HR Buzz7:00 am

Anyone who has children knows that some years may be better than others when it comes to health insurance utilization.  This year is not one of the better years.  But I hesitate to complain because I am fortunate to be in the position to have adequate health insurance coverage for my family.  I am reminded of that every time I read the Explanation of Benefits that outlines very clearly the actual cost of the medical services vs. what I actually have to pay.  And there clearly is a huge difference.  I sometimes become guilty of not appreciating the value and benefit health insurance provides until I need it.

Employers assist many of us by providing health insurance as an option, and also by footing a large percentage of the premium.  However, it is becoming more and more challenging for employers to continue to offer the rich benefits that once were standard and customary.  According to the 2012 Towers Watson/National Business Group on Health Employer Survey, employers plan to use different methods over the next several years to manage rising health care costs.  Interestingly, they also plan to engage in different methods to improve the health of their employees which is truly where we all can benefit.

The survey, which was completed by 512 employers between December 2011 and January 2012, represents 8.0 million employees.  The respondents, on average, spend $10,982 per employee on health care.   You do the math – 8,000,000 x $10,982 – this is BIG money and a huge budget line item.  No wonder it demands so much attention.  Following are some of the highlights of their findings:

  • Employers continued to confirm their commitment to providing health care benefits for active employees through 2015; however, this confidence declines over the long-term.
  • Nearly a quarter of employers will be reviewing health care benefits as part of their total rewards strategy, analyzing the effect changes have on items such as retention or engagement.
  • Health care vendors may be asked to provide more in the areas of transparency and accountability.
  • Account-based health plans – plans with deductibles offered together with a personal account such as health savings account – will continue to be on the rise.
  • Employers are committed to increasing their use of employee wellness programs and other incentives to assist in improving overall health and decrease health care costs.

Health insurance will continue to be in the headlines as we near the implementation of some of the additional regulations within the Patient Care Protection Act.  So stay tuned.  In the meantime, to read more from this survey click here.


March 23, 2012

HR Fact Friday: Court Upholds NLRB Posting Requirement

Filed under: Employment Law,Unions/NLRB6:00 am

A D.C. federal court has sustained the actions of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which last year imposed a new requirement that employers post a notice to employees informing them of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This new NLRB poster requirement was supposed to take effect as of November 14, 2011 but that deadline was later delayed until January 31, 2012 and then again delayed until April 30, 2012. The most recent delay resulted from the D.C. court’s request to postpone the effective date pending a legal challenge to the new requirement. The court also concluded that the NLRB could not make an employer’s failure to post alone an unfair labor practice but rather the NLRB would have to show that the failure to post actually interfered with employee NLRA rights.

If you want more information on the posting requirement, follow this link to the NLRB’s FAQ on this new posting requirement: A copy of the new poster is available both here: and by clicking here


March 20, 2012

Get a TO (Time Out), Baby!

Filed under: Communication,EEO,Management Practices9:36 am

Last week, I wrote a blog about March Madness at work.   Because my team is headed off to St. Louis Friday for the Sweet Sixteen, I thought it appropriate to continue the March Madness theme.  Today, we’re going to talk about time-outs.

Plato and Aristotle both believed that reasoning could be the arbiter in making a decision.  When a team is faced with a choice between one play or another, they take a few minutes to plan their next move.  When my two-year-old pulls her big sister’s hair, she sits down next to the wall for 2 minutes.  When I’m trying to tackle a particularly difficult question, I lean my head back and close my eyes for a minute.  Every once in a while, everyone needs to take a time-out and gather our thoughts.

Sometimes it seems we’re all being asked to make split-second decisions.  Some of these decisions are what we could classify as “right-wrong,” meaning that one answer is ethically right, and one is ethically wrong.  In the February issue of Academy of Management Journal, the result of a study was published titled “Contemplation and Conversation: Subtle Influences on Moral Decision Making.”  Among the study participants, researchers found that individuals who were asked to contemplate a decision were five times more likely to make an ethical choice than those who were asked to make an immediate decision.

We’ve also been talking a lot lately about the EEOC’s increase in enforcement: in 2011, retaliation claims reached an all-time high at 37,334.  When an employee makes a seemingly false claim about discrimination, an immediate supervisor’s initial reaction may be to strike back.  As we well know, this can open the organization up for a retaliation claim.

  • Make sure you have a strong anti-retaliation policy, and train supervisors to effectively handle tense situations.
  • In your policy, mandate a “cooling-off” period.
  • Consider including a multiple-level structure of approval for making significant decisions.

Love him or not, Dick Vitale often gives this good piece of advice: “Get a TO, baby!”  Every once in a while, everyone needs to take a time-out and gather our thoughts.

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!


March 16, 2012

HR Fact Friday: EEOC Issues New Guidance on ADA and USERRA Issues

Filed under: ADA & Disability,EEO — Tags: , , 9:03 am

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a new guidance for employers regarding the interplay between the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The guidance explains how protections for veterans with service-related disabilities differ under the ADAAA and USERRA, and how employers can prevent disability-based discrimination and provide reasonable accommodations. You can read the new guidance here:


March 15, 2012

It’s Time for the Big Dance – Are You Ready?!

Filed under: Compliance,Management Practices9:27 am

Even if March Madness hasn’t hit you, it can seem nearly impossible to avoid it anywhere, including at work.  The first qualifying round finished up yesterday, and starting about noon Eastern Time the first of 17 games will be played today.  Thanks to CBS, you can watch every game on television, on your computer, and on your mobile device.

Drain on productivity?

In short, it’s a great time to be a college basketball fan, but not necessarily a great time to be in HR.  All the instant access could threaten employee productivity over the next few weeks, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.  Challenger estimated that during the 2011 tournament viewers would spend 8.4 million hours watching games during normal working hours.  Lest you think I’m a wet blanket when it comes to March Madness, we’ll put it into perspective: Challenger goes on to say that also during the tournament, 108 million workers logged more than 11 billion hours of work.  Those 8.4 million hours don’t sound quite as bad anymore.

What about those bracket pools?

Aside from the drain on bandwidth and lost productivity that can come this time of year, you may have some legal issues to consider.  According to a Careerbuilder survey of 7,000 workers, at least one in five surveyed said they have participated in March Madness pools in the workplace.  Additionally, 17 percent said they spent more than an hour checking scores while on the clock.

Do you know the specifics of your state’s gambling laws?  In terms of practicality, law enforcement typically has better things to do with their resources than track down your office’s low-stakes sports pool.  But consider this case: a management –level AT&T employee was arrested for operating an office football pool in which he took a 10 percent cut.  He had advertised the pool in office emails, and a fellow employee turned him in.  In the end, he faced the possibility of up to five years in prison.

If you decide that gambling should be prohibited, there are some things you need to think about:

  • Define gambling or the type of behavior that will be restricted.
  • Acknowledge that gambling is illegal, and can interfere with employee productivity.
  • Be consistent and fair in the application of the policy, coordinating with your progressive discipline policy.

If you believe that March Madness can actually enhance productivity or encourage camaraderie in your workplace, but you have concerns about legal issues, have the company fund the contest by awarding a prize to the winner.  Be sure to check your state’s gambling laws to be sure this method helps you avoid the appearance of illegal gambling.

Finally, in case you wonder where my loyalty lies: I bleed crimson and blue, through and through!  Here’s a shout-out to my team, the Kansas Jayhawks, who are headed to their 23rd straight appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Rock Chalk!


March 14, 2012

Personal Touches Still Do Matter!

Call me old fashioned but I still enjoy getting a handwritten letter in the mail from a family member or friend.  There’s nothing like going to my mailbox and after sifting through the junk mail finding a personal letter or thank you note.  I love being able to post the personal note to my bulletin board, read it again and again, or save as a special memory.

In the world of employment, it sometimes seems that personal touches have been replaced with electronic means.  Practices which used to be considered absolutes are no longer the norm.  Resumes are entered on-line and thank you notes following an interview are either done electronically or not at all.  Cover letters are often absent when accompanied with a resume.  However, a recent survey by OfficeTeam indicates that more than nine in ten (91%) of executives polled said cover letters are valuable when evaluating job candidates.  I can attest to that as an interviewer.  Many times I might have overlooked a resume had it not been for a well-written cover letter.  The cover letter, if written effectively, allows the candidate’s personality to come through and provides an opportunity to highlight key accomplishments.

OfficeTeam offers five tips for writing cover letters.  Many of these can apply to writing business letters in general.  They are:

1)    Follow directions.  Refer to the job posting number and the position you are applying for.

2)    Start smart.  Address the letter to the hiring manager by name.

3)    Create a hook.  Use a strong introduction to catch the attention of the reader.

4)    Keep it short and to the point.  Two or three brief paragraphs are generally enough.

5)    Get it right.  Proofread, proofread and have someone else proofread!

So whether it is a cover letter or a thank you note, the personal touch is still important.  That makes this old fashioned gal happy.  For more information, click here.


March 13, 2012

Politics in the Workplace: What’s Your Vote?

Filed under: Discrimination,EEO,Employment Law,Title VII12:15 pm

At one time or another, we’ve all heard this advice: “Talk about anything – except religion and politics.”   Many of us could also say that at one time or another, our parents or grandparents told us to be even more careful in discussing those issues at work.  Employers walk a fine line between respecting employees’ rights to freedom of speech and protecting those employees from discrimination or harassment that could arise from those discussions.

In a recent Careerbuilder survey, one third of respondents said they discuss politics at work.  Forty-three percent also said they expected to discuss the upcoming presidential election at work.  The sample of 7,000 full-time workers also revealed:

  • Men are more likely than women to engage in political discussion at work (44% men, 23% women).
  • 23% of workers admit that they have been involved in a political discussion that became heated with a co-worker, or in some cases, a boss higher up in the organization.
  • Men are also more likely (25%) than women (19%) to admit to an altercation with a co-worker over opposing political views.
  • 10% of workers said that their opinion of a co-worker changed – often for the negative – after learning of his or her political views.
  • Although the statistics were fairly even across age groups, people age 55 and older were the most likely (43%) to discuss politics at work, and people ages 18-24 were least likely (25%).

Political views often mix with religious views as well, and a company could easily find itself in the middle of a discrimination or harassment claim.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides a few tips for employers on stopping religious harassment:

  • Make sure you have a well-publicized – and consistently applied – anti-harassment policy.  Make sure it is clear to employees how they should file complaints, and quickly and thoroughly investigate any complaints.
  • If you discover harassment has occurred, address and end the conduct, even if you don’t think it rises to the level of unlawful activity.  Allowed to continue, the conduct could become more pervasive or severe.
  • Intervene if you learn of possible Title VII violations, even if no one files a complaint.
  • Allow religious expression among employees to the same extent that you would allow other forms of personal expression that are not harassing or disruptive.

More of the EEOC’s tips can be found here: Employer Best Practices – Religion

Careerbuilder Political Survey

How do you handle political discussions in your workplace?  We want to know!

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