“There is no labor from which most people shrink as they do from that of sustained and consecutive thought; it is the hardest work in the world.” –Wallace Wattles
This issue discusses:
- Editor’s Column: Do We Work to Live or Live to Work?
- Accommodating Pregnancy in the Workplace
- In-N-Out Burger Sued for Discrimination
- Attracting and Maintaining Top Talent
- What Would You Do? (A Great Interview Question)
We have also provided you with the Form of the Month.
Please click here to view the newsletter in PDF.
Editor’s Column: Do We Work to Live or Live to Work?
“Wish for a hundred years of doing your duty.” The Upanishads (Ancient Hindu text)
We’ve all heard the question “Do we eat to live or do we live to eat?” My uncle told me that his goal was the latter; not surprisingly, he died of obesity and heart disease. Yet if we simply eat to live we can deprive ourselves of the glorious experience of sharing God’s gift of food with one another. Who doesn’t feel better about life after a great cup of coffee, a great meal or a slice of apple pie? Of course, the answer lies in the balance. Out of balance in either direction and we deprive ourselves of the fullness of life.
Now let’s think about work in these terms. Of course, we must work to live. It’s called survival and security. No surprise, the people who tend to survive and obtain security also tend to work the hardest. Like worker bees, we’re programmed to get it done.
Of course, that’s only half of the equation. We must live to work. As Victor Frankel reminded us, man searches for meaning. Meaning comes through our relationships with our friends and loved ones, with God, and with the work we do. As Shakespeare so eloquently stated, “To work we love, with delight we go.” Abraham Maslow defined this state as “self-actualization” – the highest level of being.
It feels as if so many of us are out of balance on the working-to-live side of the equation. Although a few are really going for it, living their work to its fullest; far too many people are stuck in the steady, depressing rhythm of stressful ho-hum work. As Joseph Campbell reminded us, “Work can be a life-draining affair.” How many of us leave the workplace telling ourselves “Whoa…that was an awesome day. I’d like to do that again tomorrow!”
I find that to get life out of our work, it helps to inspire ourselves. Inspire comes from ancient Latin and means to “breathe life into.” The best way to inspire ourselves is with a better story – a story where we can make a greater difference – where we bring more spirit to the work we do every day. I encourage you to watch the Spirit at Work Webinar I did for HR That Works members.
When it comes to both sides of the equation, we must ask ourselves how to work smarter, not harder. How can we manage our time in a way that generates additional value? I recommend that you study the Time Management Training Module on HR That Works. If you’d like information, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Depeche Mode sang, “Get the balance right!” When you do, you’ll have no doubt about your willingness to work hard, but you’ll also become far more excited about the difference you make every day. This holds true whether you’re in your 20s and entering the workforce, or in your 60s and contemplating retirement. The last thing you want to do is live a life of regret because you simply put X’s across your work calendar. Work to live – and you’ll enjoy a work experience without regrets.
Accommodating Pregnancy in the Workplace
Although many women work through their pregnancies without difficulty, some of them with physically demanding jobs or complicated pregnancies might seek accommodation at some point. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not define pregnancy as a disability or disorder, but as a natural process related to reproduction.
If pregnancy is not a disability, are pregnant women entitled to accommodation? What about women with pregnancy-related impairments? Are they covered by the ADA Does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) entitle pregnant women to the accommodations they need to continue working during pregnancy? Are there state laws that entitle pregnant women to accommodation? These are the types of questions are being examined by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and other women’s legal organizations. According to NWLC, both the ADA and the PDA often require reasonable accommodation for pregnancy.
Let’s start with the ADA. The regulations interpreting the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) state that pregnancy-related impairments can meet the definition of disability if they substantially limit a major life activity. Pregnant employees with impairments that meet the definition of disability will be entitled to an accommodation under the ADA. Because the ADAAA has broadened the definition of disability to include many temporary and less severe impairments, more workers with pregnancy-related impairments will now qualify for direct coverage.
In addition, the interaction between the PDA and the ADA will often result in a heightened duty to accommodate even pregnant employees who do not meet the ADA’s definition of disability. NWLC argues that the PDA requires employers to treat pregnant women at least as well as other employees with similar limitations in their ability to work. Because the ADA requires employers to accommodate a wider variety of medical conditions, pregnant women will often have similar limitations to people who are entitled to accommodations under the act – which means that they’ll be entitled to accommodations as well. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has made it clear that the ADA requires reasonable accommodation of a temporary back injury that leaves an employee unable to lift 20 pounds for a few months. Because pregnant workers must be treated as well as employees with similar work limitations, a worker who has been instructed not to lift weights of more than 20 pounds because of her pregnancy must also be accommodated, according to NWLC.
To ensure that employers’ legal obligations to provide accommodations are unmistakable, the NWLC and a broad coalition of groups from the health, disability, and women’s rights communities are urging Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) – draft legislation which states that pregnant women are entitled to reasonable accommodations that can be provided without undue hardship to an employer. These are the same types of accommodations that are available to people with disabilities under the ADA. In addition, some state laws already give pregnant workers’ rights to workplace accommodations, as described in a recent report by Equal Rights Advocates.
Accommodating pregnant employees is also in the financial interest of employers. The NWLC provides several sound business reasons why employers should accommodate their pregnant employees in the same way that they do for workers with disabilities. Data show that the costs of these accommodations are likely to be minimal, and that providing them will have bottom- line benefits to the employer: including reduced workforce turnover, increased employee satisfaction and productivity, and lower Workers Compensation and other insurance costs.
Despite the legal and financial arguments, some employers are still not accommodating pregnant employees. This is why the EEOC recently identified “accommodating pregnancy-related limitations under the ADAAA and the PDA” as a priority area for its enforcement efforts through 2016.
If you are an employee who was not accommodated during your pregnancy or you believe you were discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy, the NWLC would like you to share your story. Employers interested in sharing their experiences accommodating pregnant employees or in consulting about best practices are also invited to contact NWLC, at email@example.com.
Keep in mind that when it comes to providing accommodation ideas, Job Accommodation Network (JAN) consultants will brainstorm accommodation ideas for anyone with any type of limitation, including limitations related to pregnancy, whether or not the ADA covers the condition. So, if you’re an employer trying to accommodate pregnant employees, or a pregnant employee looking for accommodation ideas to offer your employer, feel free to contact JAN for assistance!
-Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant with comments from the National Women’s Law Center
P.S. Speaking of job accommodations, HR That Works members can join us for a joint webinar with JAN on Providing Accommodations for Employees with Mental Health Impairments, to be held March 20th at 1PM EST by going to https://www1.gotomeeting.com/ register/324256449.
In-N-Out Burger Sued for Discrimination
I have a confession to make: I love In-N-Out Burger. As with any type of fast food, you can’t eat it frequently, but it’s amazingly good when you do. Both of my sons worked for In-N-Out; and the company has some of the best employees and managers in the fast food industry. They pride themselves in being a well-meaning Christian company. They pay more than anyone else in the industry and treat their employees with respect. Unfortunately, two plaintiffs, both of whom are black and older than 40, were rejected for employment and, after seeing an attorney, filed a class action lawsuit.
Companies such as In-N-Out can face discrimination and disparate impact type claims because their statistics for hiring don’t match the general applicant pool. If this proves out to be the case is there in fact a bias? I don’t see it and doubt if the company practices any systemic discrimination. The only bias I can see is that In-N-Out demands a high level of performance from its employees. Very simply, if you’re too old to move quickly, you’re going to get run over by a quicker and probably younger employee. I would like to think that regardless of your age, race, or sex, if you can play team the In-N-Out Burger way and produce as efficiently as the other workers, you certainly deserve a job.
My favorite comment among all the comments posted about this case (with more than 90% pro In-N-Out) was:
“Actually, In-n-Out does discriminate…
…against lazy, shiftless, self-entitled whiners, which is why you see a lot of ambitious, courteous, and diligent Latinos, Asians, whites, and Samoans working there,
and which is why its service is so fantastic.”
Attracting and Maintaining Top Talent
I recently responded to the LinkedIn question “How can a company attract and maintain top talent?” in this way:
“Although you’ll get many responses about technique and strategy, in my experience that’s just the beginning of the answer. There’s a significant emotional aspect to the question. In the words of the Buddha, “What comes to you comes from you.” So that’s what I’ll focus on in this answer; the emotional blockages that stop things from coming to you. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you really willing to do what it takes to attract and keep great talent?
- Are you willing to hire somebody better than you? Or even better than their manager?
- Does driving towards excellence scare you? Are you prepared to hire the top 10%?
- Would you fit in this category?
- Is there such a thing as an “overqualified” applicant?
- Are you open to hiring and managing different types of people? Can you hire without baggage?
- Do you make a conscious effort to show people you care – or is this just your self-talk?
- Do you allow employees to make a difference? To stretch? To find the good in their work?
- Do you let go of poor performers, thus making room for more good ones?
- Does leadership give a hoot about people, or simply growing their bottom-line?
- Is this a fun place to work or is the attitude that fun and work don’t mix?
Most importantly, think about your own experience. Why would you work somewhere or stay there?
What Would You Do? (A Great Interview Question)
Let’s say that you’re working for a company at a retail counter with a great deal of public interaction every day. Suppose that your storefront is in the middle of an affluent neighborhood, right next to a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Sun Trust Bank. Now let’s say that because you have a poor landlord the flowers and front entrance haven’t been maintained for some time and are overgrown with weeds and unattractive. Efforts to get the landlord to clean things up have failed.
What would you do?
This can be a great interview question, providing valuable insight into the character of job candidates. Some people might suggest that you sue the landlord. Others would rather first hire a landscaper to fix things up, and then sue the landlord. Some would simply look the other way. Still others would prefer to stop by on a Saturday with a few plastic bags, a small shovel, a small rake, and a few crates of flowers – and just deal with the problem.
This is a true story. The retail operation in question was a North Palm Beach post office. I don’t know if it’s still in that condition but it amazes me that the employees of the branch would allow themselves to walk by this mess every single day and do nothing about it – for their own sake, never mind anyone else’s! When I asked them about it they were quick to complain but reluctant to simply fix the problem.
Any time that I’ve rented an apartment, home, or office, I’ve made an effort to spruce it up–because that’s who I am. I couldn’t stand to look at those weeds every day; it would drive me nuts. But of course, most people would rather point a finger and, if necessary, file a lawsuit than just step in and get something done.
What type of employees and managers are you looking for? Do you want people who will wait for somebody else to pick up their responsibilities and go first – or those who will just spend a few hours and get that nagging thing finally done? Try this as an interview question and you’ll find out which kind of employee will come to work for you!
Form of the Month
How to Be an Excellent Employee (PDF) – Only the rare and excellent company sets forth a list of desired behavior. It’s essential to remain positive with your employees. Remember – you get what you focus on.
Click here to to listen to this month’s newsletter podcast.
REPRINT POLICY: Reprints are welcome! All you have to do is include the following notation with reprinted material:
©2013 Reprinted with permission from HRThatWorks.com, a powerful program designed to inspire great HR practices.
“If you are not prepared to be wrong you’ll never come up with anything creative.” —Sir Ken Robinson, author and educator
This issue discusses:
- Editor’s Column: Podcast Learning
- I-9 Employer Handbook
- How Companies Get Busted for Independent Contractor Violations
- Questions for Leaders
- Benefits and the Social Contract
- Inviting Employees to Leave
- IRAC – A Lawyer’s Way of Thinking
- EEOC Sues Trucking Company for Improper Pre-Hire Testing
We have also provided you with the Form of the Month.
Please click here to view the newsletter in PDF.
Editor’s Column: Podcast Learning
I’m a big fan of podcast learning. During the past four years, I’ve educated myself on a wide variety of subjects from business to personal growth, financial matters, and spiritual ones.
I would encourage all businesses to make their managers and employees podcast learners. For starters, your HR person should be listening to our monthly podcast. It’s not as fancy as the big guys’ podcast, but the information is there. I would then make sure all my managers listen to the Harvard Business Review podcasts, which provide an MBA-level education. They’re excellent — and they’re free. I would encourage you to consider TED videos and audios, which are outstanding. Pick out a few you think might apply to your business and encourage your team to watch them. They are 15 minutes long. Start one of your business meetings with one of them (maybe even every business meeting).
I also like the Stanford Entrepreneurial School podcasts. The Stanford graduate network has started more entrepreneurial businesses than anywhere else. Tap into this wisdom, even if you have a 50-year-old business. Podcast learning can stimulate thought and innovation at any company.
I’m most familiar with iTunes. Go there and check out all of their free podcasts. You can hire a high school intern to download about 20 podcasts each into a $50 player, so your employees can listen to them in their cars or at the gym. In the end, they will thank you for it.
Here are the links to the podcasts:
P.S. You can also develop a comprehensive leadership training program by taking advantage of the more than a dozen leadership webinars and podcasts stored on HR That Works. If you haven’t checked these out yet, do yourself a favor.
I-9 Employer Handbook
- Obtaining Forms and Updates
- Part One — Why Employers Must Verify Employment Authorization and Identity of New Employees
- Part Two — Completing Form I-9
- Part Four — Unlawful Discrimination and Penalties for Prohibited Practices=
- Part Five — Instructions for Recruiters and Referrers for a Fee
- Part Six — E-Verify: The Web-based Verification Companion to Form I-9
- Part Seven — Some Questions You May Have About Form I-9
Click here to access the handbook.
How Companies Get Busted for Independent Contractor Violations
Business owners love the idea of independent contractors. They afford flexibility, expertise, outside perspective, and of course, reduced insurance, benefit and tax burdens. Unfortunately, for these same owners, the Federal and state authorities are coming down big time on what they claim are independent contractor misclassification schemes. They don’t like the idea of you not collecting payroll taxes and not providing employees with Workers Comp, healthcare, and other benefits they might otherwise enjoy. Here are four of the more common ways employers get into trouble when they misclassify employees:
- They get hurt on the job– Guess what? Since these people are not considered employees, your Workers Comp policy doesn’t cover them; which means they can sue you directly for negligence, expanding their recovery potential dramatically. What’s more, you might face a fine for not treating them as employees and providing them with Work Comp coverage.
- They file for unemployment– A number of HR That Works Members have told us that because one person filed for unemployment, the authorities are trying to attack their independent contractor relationship with dozens of people. If a company in this situation comes out on the wrong side of a misclassification judgment, it could go out of business. Part of the thinking involved is that you can somehow “control” employees, but not independent contractors. For example, when I hire an independent contractor to paint my house, I pay them to get the job done and I don’t tell them how to apply the paint.
- They didn’t pay self-employment taxes– When the IRS comes knocking on an independent contractor’s door and asks them about their tax payments and the work they did, they tend to conclude that they were an employee and you should have been withholding that 14% annually. If they can’t collect this from the independent contractor, they’ll try to collect it from you — not to mention fines and penalties. Some states, such as California, have kicked this up a notch and are making it a criminal offense to engage in intentional misclassification. Unsurprisingly, these bills are introduced into the legislature by the plaintiffs’ bar, which makes sure that the legislation includes handsome attorneys’ fees for enforcement.
- Finally, the NLRB is getting interested too — Independent contractors don’t have the ability to organize the workplace, only employees do. This means that the National Labor Relations Board, which is very pro-union, doesn’t like it when you classify folks as independent contractors. Recently, because of one or two disgruntled employees, they ruled that independent contractors from a small orchestra were really employees, which will probably end up shutting down that business. I wrote an article about this called “The Day the Music Died.”
The bottom line: This fight is not about common sense or economics. It’s about political power, plain and simple. The pendulum has swung and employers have been pushed up against a wall. The problem is that they’re powerless to do anything about this situation and have to change the way they do business, even when they don’t think it makes sense to do so. That’s the beauty of living in a democracy.
Questions for Leaders
The quality of our lives and of our companies depends on the questions we ask and the challenges we set for ourselves. For example, you might ask yourself “Do I dare to be great?” That’s a good question. You can also ask yourself what kind of nonsense would get in the way of believing that you can be great. That’s a good question, too! With this spirit in mind, here are questions that could open you up to higher thoughts.
- How clear is the vision for your company? Does everyone at the company know what it is? Have you branded it in your employee literature, on your intranet, on your walls, and so on? Would I know it simply by walking into your place or visiting your website?
- Is your vision for your company a big, hairy, audacious one? It’s better to really go for it and succeed at 50% than to shoot for average — and end up average.
- Have you played the movie forward to the end? If you got everything you had hoped for, what would it look like? How would it feel? How would your life be different?
- What personal sacrifices are you willing to make to create a great company or career?
- What personal sacrifices are you willing to ask others to make to build a great company or career?
- What effort have you made to guarantee you bring the right people on every seat of the bus?
- How do you stimulate your workforce to think for itself?
- How do you create an employee suggestion system that works?
- What have you done to eliminate the possibility of people making unnecessary mistakes?
- What “one big thing” could wipe out your business tomorrow?
- How could your business die from a series of 1,000 cuts?
- Do you really want to do this anymore? If not, what would you rather be doing instead?
- How could you stay in your business/career and reinvent how you work in it?
Have fun with the answers!
Benefits and the Social Contract
In his book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely provided two interesting observations related to employee benefits. First, he pointed out that benefits are more of a social contract than an economic one. The distinction between the two is very powerful. For example, if you have a department with 15 employees and someone walks in with a tray of 15 cookies and says that she baked cookies for the department today, under a social contract analysis, most employees would realize quickly that they should take one cookie each. However, if that was now turned into an economic arrangement in which the person stated that those cookies were baked for her child’s fundraiser, there would be no guilt or judgment associated with someone who proceeded to gobble up half the tray. Ariely reminds us that social contracts are much more powerful than economic ones.
Second, Ariely argues that asking employees to chip in for the payment of benefits or providing total compensation statements (something that we’ve recommended for years) diminishes the cohesiveness of the social contract.
These are provocative thoughts — and surveys about employee motivators mirror them to a certain degree. Although book after book after book talks about the “work experience,” in reality, most people go to work to be paid. The other motivational factors kick only after they feel they’re being paid a fair days’ wage. In today’s economy, employees rank benefits over compensation as their top concern. Benefits fulfill a security need more than does straight compensation. In a sense, the workforce is telling us that a dollar spent on benefits (which is a tax-free payment) is worth more than a dollar spent on straight compensation. Consider this if you’re considering a cut in benefits.
Inviting Employees to Leave
During the past year, I’ve read at least a dozen articles citing statistics that anywhere from a quarter to 42% of employees intend to look for new jobs once the economy recovers. My reaction to these articles: Seriously? Where are these folks going to go? To the companies where one-third of their employees are leaving? I wonder how much energy employees who plan on leaving are putting into their current job. My bet is that if they took the energy they’re using to think about employment elsewhere and applied it in their current job, they wouldn’t need to go anywhere!
Management should take these surveys as a sign of dissatisfaction — which shouldn’t come as a surprise. By definition, half of your employees are always happier in their jobs than the other half. The solution: Try to limit your hiring to these happy folks and to do everything possible to keep them that way.
Suppose you were bold enough to invite your dissatisfied employees to quit? Zappos does this with its new trainees. After they complete training, the company offers them a $3,000 bonus if they decide to quit. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh believes that he’s better off giving an employee who has only one foot in the door $3,000 to leave, rather than keeping them. Even if these dissatisfied workers were only 10% less productive than the other Zappos’ employees, this loss of productivity would cost the company far more than the $3,000 “quitting bonus,” over the long run.
Invite your employees to one-on-one conversations about job satisfaction. Chances are, if an employee believes something feels “unfair” in the relationship, you can deal with the situation like two adults who don’t need unnecessary dramas. If the employee would feel better leaving, that’s their choice. However, if they’d like to feel better about their job, and you want them to stay, make it clear that you’re willing to work with them.
As I discuss in the Victims, Villains and Heroes book, even though there are few real workplace victims today, there’s a growing victim mentality. Anyone who wishes to educate themselves and work hard can enjoy employment opportunities; your job is to keep only the best on the bus.
IRAC – A Lawyer’s Way of Thinking
At the beginning of law school, every student learns “the method” used to help clients solve problems. IRAC stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion.
- Issue: Issue spotting is a lawyer’s tool in trade. Never assume you know what the issues are without changing viewpoints or getting outside input. For example, HR executives not highly experienced in the law might assume the issue might relate to a Workers Comp return-to-work situation when in fact it’s also related to both the ADA and the FMLA. They might assume that the issue is getting rid of a poor performing employee when the real issue is what the manager did to create this poor performance. One reason that appellate tribunals consist of multiple judges is so that there can be a variety of viewpoints, especially when establishing the true issue. The ability to spot issues is one reason you should have a lawyer check your head when you have a serious problem.
- Rule: Rules come in many forms. There are hard and fast rules, such as those promulgated by legislatures and the court system. Then there are softer ones, such as those that relate to culture or values. In many cases, a whole host of rules can apply to a situation. You might have a contract, policy, procedure, habit, government requirement, vendor requirement, or some other rule that applies.
- Analysis: Now that you know what the issues are, as well as the rules, it’s time to do your analysis. As lawyers know, tough facts make for tough cases. There are times when applying a rule is not in your best interest. For example, the normal rule of the road is that you walk facing traffic; however, there might be a situation in which it’s safer to walk with traffic. In this case, complying with the law would generate an unsafe outcome. Experts make their money by knowing how to judge a situation for what it is, and not for what you’d like it to be. Their detached analysis is your best friend.
- Conclusion: Last, but not least, you need to make a decision. Of course, doing nothing is a decision in itself (sometimes this is the best course of action). In other cases, you need to take swift and immediate action. One of the main questions in deciding what path to take is to ask “Is there a way to get to the outcome we’re seeking that benefits all parties?” When we come to a conclusion, we must consider all stakeholders to a situation.
After answering questions from professors and law school exams for three straight years, IRAC becomes part of who lawyers are. There are many ways to “frame” a situation; IRAC adds one more arrow in your problem-solving quiver. May you use it well!
EEOC Sues Trucking Company for Improper Pre-Hire Testing
According to the EEOC’s suit, Celadon, a trucking company headquartered in Indianapolis, performed medical examinations on applicants for driving positions before making conditional offers of employment to them. The agency alleged that Celadon conducted these examinations in a manner inconsistent with the standards set by the U.S. Department of Transportation / Federal Motor Carriers Administration, and then used the results of those non-compliant examinations to reject qualified applicants Celadon thought were disabled.
Such alleged conduct violates the ADA, which prohibits employers from subjecting applicants to medical examinations before making a conditional offer of employment, and also prohibits discrimination based on disability or perceived disability. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc., Cause No. 1:12-cv-0275-SEB-TAB) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“Celadon and all motor carriers must conduct medical examinations in accordance with the ADA,” said Laurie Young, regional attorney for the Indianapolis District Office of the EEOC. “Under the ADA, an employer cannot conduct a medical examination of a job applicant until the employer has given the applicant a job offer conditioned upon the applicant passing the examination. The EEOC will enforce these obligations.”
The EEOC is seeking compensatory and punitive damages against the company, as well as other relief, including a permanent injunction to prevent Celadon from engaging in any further employment practice that violates the ADA.
Lesson to employers: If you’re going to do pre-hire physicals make sure to do so only after you make a conditional job offer. See the report and forms in HR That Works.
Form of the Month
Sage Advice for Managers and Leaders (PDF) – An issue of Volleyball USA shared sage advice from 12 of the top volleyball minds in the nation. As someone who has coached not only kids’ teams, but also many executives, I found valuable guidelines in this article that have helped me be a better manager and leader.
Click here to to listen to this month’s newsletter podcast.
Reprints are welcome! All you have to do is include the following notation with reprinted material:
©2012 Reprinted with permission from HRThatWorks.com, a powerful program designed to inspire great HR practices.
“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.” – Benjamin Franklin
This issue discusses:
- Editor’s Column: Big Time Liability for Small Company Harassers
- How Well is HR Doing?
- Three’s a Crowd, or Don’t Overload the Brain
- How Does Your State OSHA Plan Rate?
- Sexual Harassment and Young Workers
- Work is Hell
- Beware of FLSA Violations!
- Designing Your Office Environment
- OSHA Targets “Texting While Driving” on Company Business
- Future Risks
- Would You Be Prepared for an EEO Audit?
- Discrimination Claims Keep Coming
- Getting the Accommodation Right
- The Broad Scope of Retaliation
- Accommodation Ideas: Common Sense, Low Cost common Sense, Low Cost
- Career Ladders
- Tips on Communicating with Coworkers about Disability and Accommodations
We have also provided you with the Form of the Month.
Please click here to view the newsletter in PDF.
Editor’s Column: Big Time Liability for Small Company Harassers
In a case brought by the EEOC against the Fairbrook Medical Clinic, the plaintiff, Dr. Deborah Waechter, alleged four years of harassment by the sole owner of the family medical center in Hickory, NC. Apparently, the owner created a hostile work environment by routinely making vulgar and sexually explicit comments, repeatedly showing an X-ray of his torso; discussing his sex life, and telling Dr. Waechter’s patients that they could follow up with her when she “return[ed] from screwing.” There were also stupid comments about her breasts, and other rude behavior.
Interestingly, the company tried to defend itself by claiming that because the doctor was a jerk of a boss to all of his employees he didn’t discriminate against any of them.
However, most courts don’t buy this argument, especially if it involves gender-specific comments. The court held that even though the defendant was the plaintiff’s immediate supervisor and sole owner of the clinic, the HR manager and the office manager should have investigated the alleged misconduct. (In the real world, how can you punish your boss?)
My two cents: It’s important for business owners to understand that no matter the size of their company, they can face discrimination and sexual harassment claims at any time. Protect your business against any possible claim by making sure that you have EPL insurance.
On the other hand, I wonder why this professional woman continued to work in an environment where she was not treated properly for four years. The last time I looked, it was called work, not jail. Did she attempt to send out her resume during this time? Was she afraid that her skill set wasn’t good enough to get a job elsewhere? There’s a responsibility on her part, too.
A man once told me that his boss discriminated racially against him for three years. When I asked if he ever took his resume for a spin, he told me he had not. When I asked why he put up with the discriminatory conduct for as long as he did, he stated that “I didn’t want to leave the company because I loved playing on their softball team.” That’s how ridiculous some of these stories can get.
Click here to read the case.
How Well is HR Doing?
Measuring HR success isn’t easy. You can and should run your HR figures on the HR That Works Cost Calculator, a tool that will probably show the variance in your HR practices to be at least 10% of payroll. So, if you have $1 million in payroll, the variance will be at least $100,000. That’s one way of looking at HR dollars. Another approach is to determine “HR costs per employee.” These costs might include compensation, benefits, recruitment costs, outsourcing costs, as well as office space and equipment. Many companies will look at revenue per employee. Although this is certainly important, it also includes many variables that have nothing to do with HR effectiveness. For example, in a poor economy, revenue per employee will initially go down and then after cost-cutting, layoffs, etc., might well rise past previous levels. Consider what happened during the recent recession. Ultimately, the question remains, what information are you seeking and what will you to do with it? HR That Works members should review the Benchmarking Worksheet to generate some ideas.
Three’s a Crowd, or Don’t Overload the Brain
An article in the September/October 2010 Scientific American Mind discussed research that explains why multitasking doesn’t work. When test subjects had to deal with two activities, the brain divided the work between each hemisphere. The study explained this is precisely why people are notoriously poor at doing three or more things at a time. “After two tasks, we run out of hemispheres.”
How Does Your State OSHA Plan Rate?
OSHA conducts an annual evaluation of the 27 approved State Plan States each fiscal year. See how your state stacks up here.
A survey by Men’s Health magazine, asked 20 corporate bosses (including the likes of Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks) to rank which employee time-wasters upset them the most. Number one was “clicking out of a screen just as I walk by” (71.6%). When an employee did this to me, I chose not to confront him because I wanted to trust him. Stooopid! Turns out he was running his own business on my dime and failed to deposit required tax payments, which was part of his job. I should have addressed his actions immediately and placed monitoring software on his computer. Keeping employees honest is even harder when they’re on their iPhone or other smart-phone, rather than your computer. How can you monitor this? In fact, controlling today’s worker is a struggle you can’t and don’t want to “win.” The only alternative is to invite them into the conversation, set reasonable expectations, and create a culture of excellence in which employees police each other. Also, make sure that a third party is double-checking your books!
Sexual Harassment and Young Workers
We’re seeing more teenagers than ever reporting sexual harassment cases. In New York State, a telemarketing company had to pay more than $500,000 in damages and interest to satisfy a claim brought by 13 women, most of whom were teenagers. The managers made numerous sexual jokes and remarks and, on occasion, promised a raise in return for sexual acts.
Because the company was an “affiliate franchise,” the franchisor argued that the affiliate was not part of the company. The Second U.S. Court of Appeals rejected this argument and affirmed the jury verdict, including an award of punitive damages.
Lesson to learn: Have managers and employees trained in sexual harassment issues and make sure they know where and how to complain. You might go one step further and distribute the Employee Compliance Survey.
What’s more, franchisors that traditionally have stayed away from employee relations to avoid “co-employment” liability will have to offer their franchisees HR training. This is both a legal and a competitive issue.
Work is Hell
I’ve noticed a rash of victimization hitting center stage. Business Week recently ran a long article about workplace bullying. The Obama administration has become adept at finding workplace victims like never before. How is a business owner or manager supposed to deal with all of this? Don’t let employees play victim on you! Challenge them to participate and come up with solutions to known problems. Allow them to become directly responsible for what they can control. It’s hard to cause problems when you’re responsible for making things happen. Nobody has time for emotional nonsense at great companies.
Beware of FLSA Violations!
Have you audited your practices for these common wage and hour exposures?
- Exempt vs. non-exempt. Have you classified your exempt employees properly or are you risking an overtime exposure?
- Rest and meal period violations. Is the employee truly relieved from work and are your time-keeping clocks tracking meals accurately?
- Travel time. Many workers who start from their home and then go to multiple locations fall under “portal-to-portal laws.”
- 1099 misclassification. As indicated on the blog site, www.1099timebomb.com, this is a significant exposure. The IRS and state agencies are looking to find as many people as they can who are classified as employees.
- Failure to pay prevailing wage. If you’re working a government or quasi-government project, make sure you’re complying with all wage requirements.
Designing Your Office Environment
An article in the September/October 2010 Scientific American Mind discussed why some office spaces alienate office workers, while others make them happier and more efficient.
The bottom line: Let your employees have input in “decorating” their environment. According to survey responses, giving workers a say in the physical aspects of their workspace reduced the negative effects of noise and distractions. The article also warned employers that efforts at making “hangout rooms,” etc. will fail if you don’t include employees in designing these environments.
OSHA Targets “Texting While Driving” on Company Business
A recent OSHA press release advised companies that an employer who requires employees to text while driving or organizes work so that “texting is a practical necessity” are violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act. In its news release, OSHA further states that it will investigate complaints about these practices promptly and if it concludes that an employer has compelled employees to text while driving, issue citations and penalties to end the practice. OSHA explains that employers have the “responsibility and legal obligation to create and maintain a safe and healthful workplace” – and this includes having a clear, unequivocal, and enforced policy against the hazard of texting while driving. Companies are violating the Occupational Safety and Health Act if, by policy or practice, they require texting while driving, create incentives that encourage or condone this, or they structure work so that texting is a practical necessity for workers to carry out their job. Employers who have not already done so should set a policy on the use of electronic devices while driving and make sure employees understand that texting while driving is prohibited.
Article courtesy of Worklaw® Network firm Shawe Rosenthal (www.shawe.com).
In a Business Week interview, Vinay Mistry of AON stated that the company’s management team covers more than 370 risks, from nanotechnology through climate change. They have designed and implemented realistic disaster scenarios for the top 20 exposures, from hurricanes to plane crashes and earthquakes.
The emerging risk areas discussed included synthetic biology, digital risk and cybercrime, “space risk,” which is based on the impact the solar cycle has on satellites, as well as the impact of climate change.
What can we learn from this? First, identify the dozens of risk exposures that apply to your company. Work with your insurance broker and legal counsel to make sure you do this the right way. Then focus on the most likely scenarios and have a plan for preventing and dealing with each of them. The risk exposures your company faces are both insurable and non-insurable and include, but are not limited to:
- IT systems and their ability to handle hurricanes, power outages, hacking attempts, etc.
- Employment Practice Liability exposures
- Errors and omissions exposures
- Health and safety exposures
- Work Comp exposures
- Product Liability
- Environmental liabilities
- Rapid loss of clientele
- Poor vendor or supplier relations
- Economic pressures, including diminished markets
- Exposure to competition, including offshore activity
- Financial exposures lacking proper checks and balances
- Lack of available capital
- Cyber-liability and social media exposures
- Turnover and morale problems
This is, of course, a short list that applies to most companies. If you’re an HR That Works member, take comfort in knowing that we can help you with your HR risks!
Would You Be Prepared for an EEO Audit?
Click here to see a typical request from an EEOC office when investigating a claim of discrimination. To what degree would you be able to comply with, or fear such a request? Just looking at the amount of information requested can make your head spin.
P.S. If you ever get such a request, contact your employment law attorney and insurance company immediately!
Discrimination Claims Keep Coming
An EEOC press release has announced an increase in discrimination claims in FY 2010. This comes as no surprise, given record unemployment rates, and the fact the commission invites more claims than ever and has expanded its jurisdiction. Here’s the point: Be prepared! Have the right policies and procedures, basic training for managers and rank and file, Employment Practices Liability Insurance (ask your broker about EPLI), and legal support when you need it. The HR That Works program provides all of these tools.
Getting the Accommodation Right
Dept. Fair Empl. & Hous. v. Avis Budget Group (Reed)
Complainant Eleanor Reed was a customer service representative for Avis Budget Group (Avis) at its San Francisco Airport location. In June 2006, she requested a reasonable accommodation of a six-hour shift for her mental disability (post-traumatic stress disorder). She previously had been granted the accommodation without any problems, and had succeeded in performing her essential functions with the accommodation. Avis decided to place her on unpaid leave and thereafter requested medical documentation. Reed provided the documentation requested, including the diagnosis, the reasons for the accommodation, and why it would allow her to perform the essential functions of the job. However, she refused to agree to a blanket release of her medical records, including several years of psychiatric records that detailed decades of sexual and other physical and mental domestic abuse, or to provide unfettered access to her treating psychiatrist.
Avis decided that the doctor’s documentation was inadequate, and requested that she provide the full medical records release and access to her doctor or submit to the company’s physician for evaluation. Avis did not engage with Reed about the purported inadequacies or give her an opportunity to augment the doctor’s information to support the request for accommodation. Approximately five months after placing Reed on unpaid leave, Avis finally obtained an independent medical opinion that agreed with the opinion of her doctor. Even though it provided no further information as to the reason for the accommodation, Avis finally accepted the opinion and agreed to grant an accommodation. However, it looked at its “seasonal” need and placed Reed on a severely reduced work schedule that removed her from eligibility to bump another employee with less seniority when Avis laid off four employees, including Reed, the following month.
The Fair Employment and Housing Commission ruled in favor of the Department and against Avis for unlawful inquiries about the employee’s disabilities, failure to engage in the interactive process, denial of reasonable accommodation, and failure to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination. The Commission ordered an award of $89,863.70 ($14,863.70 in back pay and $50,000 in emotional distress damages to Reed; and $25,000 in an administrative fine to the General Fund), plus affirmative relief of postings and training for management personnel on reasonable accommodation.
Lessons to learn:
- Limit the medical information you request or receive to that which relates directly to the accommodation issue. Asking for anything more only invites problems.
- Never, ever, give up on the accommodation dialogue. Whoever quits first loses.
- Make sure not to “penalize” someone who has requested an accommodation.
- Realize that there is often “something else” going on with a person that’s none of your business! Focus on their productivity and disability, not the cause of their disability.
Click here to read the case.
The Broad Scope of Retaliation
In Smith v. Hy-Vee, Inc., Drew Smith brought sexual harassment and retaliation claims due to conduct caused by Sheri Lynch, a tech cake decorator, who engaged in rude, vulgar, and sexually charged behavior toward Smith, and apparently all the other employees. The court stated that since Lynch did not seem to be “sexually motivated” toward Smith or any of the other employees, but simply out of control with all of them, there was no sexual harassment. (Many courts or juries will conclude otherwise – see the “Editor’s Column” in this newsletter.) The issue in the case, however, was whether or not Smith had a reasonable belief that it was against the law and if the company retaliated against her because of her complaints. The court ruled that because she had to show the “good faith” nature of her belief, the facts from the underlying claim would be admissible at the retaliation trial. (What lawyers call having to “try a case within the case.”)
This case carries two lessons for employers:
- If the crazy facts in this case are even slightly true, how did an employee like Sheri Lynch stay employed at Hy-Vee? Smith stated she reported incidents of harassment to at least 12 different managers and co-workers, making 66 to 101 complaints to management. Interestingly, Hy-Vee denies Smith ever complained. The company claimed that there were a number of incidents in which Smith herself did not act appropriately or questioned the authority of supervisors. She was also written up for making mistakes in cake and bagel orders during her final weeks of employment.
- Although rude, vulgar, and obnoxious bosses might not end up generating a harassment or discrimination claim, they easily can trigger a legitimate retaliation case and expensive litigation. (Think about it — thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees over cakes and bagels.) Remember that when employees bring these underlying complaints, they don’t have to use magic words like “harassment,” “discrimination,” or “retaliation” in order to trigger protection.
Accommodation Ideas: Common Sense, Low Cost
Here’s a list of inexpensive accommodation examples published by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN):
Situation: A production worker with mental retardation, who has limited fine motor dexterity, must use tweezers and a magnifying glass to perform the job. The worker had difficulty holding the tweezers.
Solution: Purchase giant tweezers. Cost: $5.
Situation: A teacher with bipolar disorder, who works in a home-based instruction program, experienced reduced concentration, short-term memory loss, and task sequencing problems.
Solution: At one of their weekly meetings, the employee and the supervisor jointly developed a checklist that showed activities for both the week’s work and the following. The company adapted forms so that they would be easy to complete, and developed structured steps so that paper work could be completed at the end of each teaching session. An unintended bonus to the company was the value of the weekly check-off forms in training new staff. Cost: $0.
Situation: A garage mechanic with epilepsy was unable to drive vehicles.
Solution: The employer negotiated with the employee’s union and reached an agreement that any qualified employee, regardless of job held, could drive the vehicles to the mechanic’s work station. Cost: $0.
Situation: An individual with a neck injury, who worked in a lab, had difficulty bending his neck to use the microscope.
Solution: Attach a periscope to the microscope. Cost: $2,400.
Situation: A catalog salesperson with a spinal cord injury had problems using the catalog, due to difficulty with finger dexterity.
Solution: The employer purchased a motorized catalog rack, controlled by a single switch via the mouth stick, and provided an angled computer keyboard stand for better accessibility. Cost: $1,500.
Situation: A field geologist who was deaf and worked alone in remote areas was unable to use two-way radio communication to report his findings.
Solution: The company installed text telephone technology which allowed the geologist to communicate using a cellular telephone. Cost: $400 plus monthly service fee for the phone.
Situation: A saw operator with a learning disability had difficulty measuring to the fraction of an inch.
Solution: The company gave the employee a wallet-sized card that listed the fractions on an enlarged picture of an inch. This allowed the employee to compare the card with the location on the ruler to identify the correct fraction. Cost: $5.
Situation: An accountant with HIV was experiencing sensitivity to fluorescent light, which kept her from seeing her computer screen or written materials clearly.
Solution: The employer lowered the wattage in overhead lights, provided task lighting and a computer screen glare guard. Cost: $80.
Situation: A custodian with poor vision was having difficulty seeing the carpeted area he was vacuuming.
Solution: The company mounted a fluorescent lighting system on his industrial vacuum cleaner. Cost: $240
Here’s the point: Accommodations don’t have to be expensive. Remember to engage in a true dialogue involving the employee, his or her physician, and any support you might need from the HR That Works hotline, Job Accommodation Network, or your own attorney.
According to a nationwide Gallup survey on the reasons for turnover, the second-leading reason for losing employees was lack of a career path (i.e., I’m OK today, but where’s my future in this job?). The DOL has done an excellent job of creating a tool that can create competency models for different careers, as well as supporting career ladders or lattices. You can use these resources (click here) for recruitment and hiring purposes as well as career planning. We also provide a number of career ladders created by the South Florida Manufacturers Association, which you can use as templates for any job. You’ll find them at the end of the hiring forms in HR That Works.
Tips on Communicating with Coworkers about Disability and Accommodations
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from telling coworkers anything about an employee’s disability, including the fact that an employee is receiving an accommodation. However, in some cases, the employee might want to educate coworkers voluntarily about the disability and accommodation, especially if their coworkers are going to notice the accommodation anyway. For example, if an employee with a disability is using a service dog at work, it might be useful to educate coworkers about service dogs. Or, suppose an employee has severe allergies and needs to avoid inadvertent exposure at work. Here are some general guidelines for employees with disabilities communicating information about their disability and accommodation to their fellow workers:
- Keep the conversation work related.
- Let coworkers know why you’re telling them about your disability.
- Don’t assume that they know anything about your disability; be prepared to provide general information if relevant.
- Let coworkers know what you need from them and why you need it.
- Explain to them what accommodations you’ll need and how they will help you perform your job.
- Be positive and open, but limit the information you provide to the amount that you’re comfortable sharing.
- Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant, Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
Form of the Month
ADA Compliance Flowchart (PDF) – This tool helps identify the step-by-step process to follow when managing an ADA accommodation.
Click here to listen to this month’s newsletter podcast.
Reprints are welcome! All you have to do is include the following notation with reprinted material:
©2011 Reprinted with permission from HRThatWorks.com, a powerful program designed to inspire great HR practices.