Archive for October, 2009

National Work and Family Month: Balancing Work and Family is Good for Employees and for Business

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

work-and-family-month on employee screening blogThe US Congress designated October as National Work and Family Month to remind employers to consider employees’ family needs when making business decisions.

When your staff is stressed out about family issues, work performance will likely suffer.

So encouraging a healthy balance of work and life can increase productivity. It also reduces turnover and increases employers’ gain on the investment they make in hiring and training staff.

How can employers accomplish good work/life balance in their businesses?

Tuning in to your employees’ needs is important to maintaining a happier work place for everyone. Look for cues of discontent and listen when your employees are expressing their needs.

Don’t meddle into your workers’ personal lives. Do offer concrete solutions to employees’ family life challenges. If one staff member is experiencing trouble with a day care provider, or another wants to accompany his mother to a doctor’s appointment, help them find ways to get these needs met.

Improve your staff’s physical health and your business will benefit, too. Healthy employees have lower levels of stress, illness and injuries, miss fewer days of work, and are more productive. Encourage wellness with company-wide gym memberships, by installing bicycle racks, and awarding employees for walking or biking to work.

Try flex schedules, such as position sharing and work-from-home options. If you have two employees who want to work fewer hours, perhaps there is a full-time job they can share. Do you have employees who could work from home a day per week or month? Just reducing those employees’ commutes can add valuable hours to their home lives.

Encourage employees to go for a walk on breaks and lunch hours. Fresh air and movement can make a huge difference in a worker’s day. Don’t require employees to stay onsite for lunch. Getting away is healthy, and could help employees keep their lives in order by allowing them to run errands.

It’s up to both sides of the employment equation to keep things healthy: employers should be creative in helping staff members achieve a healthy work/life balance, and employees should communicate their needs and take advantage of their employers’ attempts to help.

Be sure to check out our Pre-Employment Screening services. Protect your business, increase your peace of mind and lower turnover by hiring smart!

Rethinking Employee Annual Performance Reviews

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

thumbs-up-or-downAnnual performance reviews can make everyone cranky—most employers don’t enjoy writing them, and employees would probably vote them off the island if they could. Still, many businesses use them as their sole means of communicating to their staffs.

One problem with once-a-year reviews is that the time between an employee’s offense and the manager’s opportunity to address it could simply be too long. That’s why police officers don’t wait until October to issue a ticket for speeding in July!

Immediacy has its advantages. Instead of making a note to add an employee’s offense to their annual review, try offering guidance when they make the error. If your company’s annual reviews consist of a laundry list of missteps and mistakes, it’s no wonder that the staff dreads them.

Some employers encourage employees to “rate the rater,” or evaluate their supervisors, during annual performance reviews. This practice is not likely to produce honest, workable results. Employees who receive high marks in their evaluation are not likely to bite the proverbial hand that feeds them. And pent-up frustrations are more likely to fly after a less-than-favorable review.

It is more productive for managers and bosses to check in regularly with their staffs. Encourage honest feedback by asking what they need, how you are doing as a supervisor, and what you can do differently.

After all, your employees are thinking about the answers to these questions, whether or not they are ever asked. And they are likely discussing their feelings with fellow staff members. Wouldn’t you rather hear about their ideas and suggestions directly?

These are a few ways annual reviews can be counter-productive. Consider giving your employees regular opportunities to offer feedback, and don’t wait until that magic yearly review to praise them for doing a job well—or to correct their mistakes.

Consistent communication is one key to productive, happy employees—and it’s more productive than the annual review that so many employees and employers dread!

U.S. DOL Hires 250 Investigators

Friday, October 16th, 2009

money-and-gavel on employee screening blogThe US Department of Labor announced last month the hiring of 250 investigators, tasked with looking into wage and hour violations by employers. The influx of investigators is partially based on a recent report compiled out of a 2008 survey of over 4,000 low-wage workers in three major U.S. cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. Researchers focused on more vulnerable workers, such as immigrants and cash employees, who often slip through the cracks of data gathering.

The goal of the survey was to produce accurate estimates of workplace violations, like minimum wage abuse and unpaid overtime.

According to the report, 26% of workers were paid less than the legal minimum wage; and 60% of them were underpaid by more than $1 per hour.

Of the 25% of survey respondents who worked more than 40 hours in the previous week, 76% were not paid the legal overtime rate. Employees averaged 11 hours of overtime that were underpaid or not paid at all.

Additional violations revealed were workers performing work off the clock, and not being paid for it (25%/70% respectively); workers who received no meal breaks or were required to work during their meal breaks (69%); and workers who received no documentation, such as a pay stub, of their earnings and deductions (57%).

The report goes on to describe employers who stole their workers’ tips, who forced workers to pay for damages to tools, and who retaliated against employees when they complained about working conditions. These are not the types of employers anyone would want to work for!

The report’s first recommendation for a solution is to “Strengthen Government Enforcement of Existing Employment and Labor Laws.” Thus, the hiring of 250 new DOL investigators.

Employers must be fully aware of labor and wage laws; if there is a question regarding a specific situation, researching the answer is pretty simple: the Internet, the IRS and the DOL have loads of information for employers. You can also check with a labor attorney. There is no excuse for breaking labor and wage laws; and violations will result in stiff fines and penalties.

Be sure to check out our Pre-Employment Screening services. Protect your business, increase your peace of mind and lower turnover by hiring smart!

Employee Cell Phones Mean Employer Liability

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Employees texting while drivingEmployers are liable for most of their employees’ actions, especially when they put others in harm’s way. Most employers know that having staff members driving company-provided vehicles, or their own vehicles if on company business, must protect themselves with proper liability coverage.

Over the past several years, distracted driving by employees has been named the culprit in several liability cases—and employers have had to pay big settlements. In these cases, the cause of distraction was the ubiquitous—and dangerous—cell phone; these employers where found to be liable for permitting employees to use cell phones while driving for business:

In Florida, a jury awarded $16 million to a woman struck by a salesperson who was talking on the phone while driving. The employer was found liabile.

A Virginia court allowed a claim against a law firm for $30 million when an attorney struck and killed a 15-year-old girl while talking to a client on the phone. The law firm settled for an undisclosed amount.

Another case involved International Paper Company, who paid a defendant over $5 million after she was rear-ended by an employee who was talking on a cell phone.

The IPC case is interesting because the company had a policy in place that only allowed employees to use hands-free phones in their company vehicles. Obviously, the policy didn’t protect the company from the lawsuit!

Several states have either banned or are regulating use of cell phones while driving. Employers everywhere are following suit, especially in light of several tragic mass-transit accidents where operators caused injuries and fatalities because of texting.

Last week, President Obama banned federal employees from using cell phones to call or send text messages while driving federally owned vehicles, using cell phones to conduct federal business while driving private vehicles, or using federally-owned cell phones in any manner whether driving public or private vehicles.

Well, that ought to cover it. Employers might consider using the federal ban as a guideline to protect their own companies, their employees, and the public from needless accidents and lawsuits. The important lesson is to institute a cell phone use policy, communicate it, and enforce it!