Posts Tagged ‘HR and Employees’

End of DOMA Means Changes for Employers

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

employee screening, employee background checkThe Supreme Court decision yesterday that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has some implications for employers, but not for those that already offer benefits to partners of gay workers or to spouses in same-sex marriages in the states where it’s legal.

For now, the ruling only affects employers in the 12 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal or will soon be. Benefits such as pre-tax health insurance payments, 401(k) retirement plans and pensions will change, in that spouses in same-sex couples will automatically be considered beneficiaries, unless the employee states otherwise. Prior to the ruling, only heterosexual spouses were automatically considered beneficiaries, which led to issues should a gay employee died without naming his or her spouse as beneficiary.

Employers will need to change benefit plan documents to ensure equal treatment of all married couples. They will not longer be required to treat the value of employer-paid health insurance provided to same-sex spouses as taxable income. And, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will also apply to caring for same-sex spouses. COBRA, flexible health spending accounts, and other spouse-related practices will have to apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Almost two-thirds of Fortune 500 firms already offer health benefits for domestic partners. Employers who don’t, in states where same-sex marriage is not yet legal, can get ahead of the curve by initiating domestic partner programs.

Nearly 300 major employers, including Johnson & Johnson, Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup signed onto a brief arguing that DOMA was bad for business, and urged the Supreme Court to strike it down. Prior to the decision, the employers were forced to treat differently those employees in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Even more conservative companies have seen that keeping two sets of rules and books and administrative duties is expensive. So are the legal mistakes that can easily occur. Apart from financial concerns, more companies are recognizing that being inclusive is great for employee morale and recruitment, and, as Paul Guzzi, the CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce said on National Public Radio, “Talent is talent.”

That may be why no companies filed a brief arguing that DOMA was beneficial for business and needed to stay in place!

Finding the Right Employee Takes Time

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

employee screening, background checksWhen it comes to adding the right people to your staff, there is no such thing as being too careful. But how do you know you chose well until you actually hire someone and they start working for you?

The interviewing and screening process is your chance to establish expectations, measure skills and abilities, and determine who is the best fit for the job and your company.

Screening starts with careful resume review. Be on the look out for:

  • Effective communication skills
  • Careful attention to grammar and punctuation
  • Large gaps in employment
  • Clear and concise statements

Even font and color choices can tell you a great deal about a candidate. Note also what is left out of a resume. What is he or she not saying? Are the skills and work experience you need mentioned in the list of qualifications, or not? If you need to measure skills through an assessment test, do so before going any further.

If you like what you see, a short screening call can tell you whether to continue to a face-to-face interview. Schedule the call ahead of time. Keep it to just a few minutes. Note whether or not the candidate is on time and prepared to speak with you. Ask candidates about their current positions, if they are currently employed, as well as why they are seeking a new job. Find out what they are looking for, and what sets them apart from others. Pay attention to the level of enthusiasm the person has, his or her ability to express what they do for their current employer, and whether they can sell themselves.

If you choose to continue in the interview process, it becomes more important that the candidate fits your company’s culture. Of course, that has to be well-defined first. But it’s hard to go wrong when you hire a person who is motivated, has a positive attitude, a great work ethic and ability to work well on a team.

Before you offer the position, be sure to run a pre-employment background check. Employee screening can limit your exposure to security breaches and safety issues, while protecting your company and staff from harm.

Finding the right employees leads to much greater productivity, less turnover and lower costs. It’s worth the investment of your time and effort.

The Potential Problems of Personal Mobile Devices

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

employee screening, employee background check, prescreen employeesAt first glance, whether to allow employees to use their personal smartphones and tablets for work purposes seems like a job for IT. But it can be a headache for the HR department and business owners, as well. Mobile devices are more popular than ever, enabling people to work from almost anywhere, around the clock. This is where it starts to get sticky from a personnel policy standpoint.

Non-exempt employees must be paid for any work they perform for an employer, whether or not they are onsite—and whether or not the employer knows about or authorizes their work. To avoid this potential nightmare, many firms have established policies against issuing company-paid devices to these workers and closely monitoring any use of personal devices. At minimum, a clear policy prohibiting the practice is required. Even exempt employees could be entitled to pay if they check messages or check in on projects while on vacation or a leave of absence, so be careful to communicate the policy at every opportunity.

Personal devices also leave companies at risk for a variety of lawsuits. The proliferation of texts and social media posts present the potential for liability, from sexual harassment to consumer retaliation. It’s important to maintain the same control over text messages as any written communication—even through texts are often viewed as less formal, and therefore not subject to established policies on sexual harassment and public statements.

Finally, employees’ personal devices can be conduits for sensitive company information. When staffers with access to such information are terminated, big problems can ensue. Even though it can wreak havoc if placed in the wrong hands, employers may not be entitled to access an employee’s personal device, either to capture information for use in legal proceedings or to wipe it clean. It’s best to limit access whenever possible, but that’s not always practical. When developing a personal device policy, include a release that workers agree to allow the company to recover data from their smartphones or tablets when they leave the company under any circumstances.

Be sure to include these issues when writing your company’s policy on workers using their personal devices at work. And if you haven’t yet instituted such a policy, you should consider making it a priority.

California Court Says Employees Can Work Through Lunch

Friday, April 13th, 2012

employee screening blogCalifornia employment laws have long stated that employers must provide employees with a meal break. But the law was unclear regarding whether employees are prohibited from performing work during that time, or if they may work if they choose to.

A San Diego Superior Court decided that they may indeed engage in work during their meal breaks. The court ruled that employers fulfill their obligation when they give employees a 30 minute break and relieve them of all duties, give up control of their activities and when the employer gives a “reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so.”

If the employer does all that, and employees still want to work, they have the right to do so. The unanimous ruling was seen as a victory for employers. Another part of the decision specifies that employees must get one meal break for every 10 hours of work, rather than a break for every five hours, as some employee advocate groups had argued.

Employers will no longer be required to “babysit” employees, say some. As long as they make meal breaks available and encourage employees to take them, they are not liable for claims brought by employees that they didn’t receive them.

Employers are not allowed to apply pressure or provide incentives to work without breaks. And they must pay employees for any work performed. However, they are liable only for straight pay, not overtime pay—unless the extra 30 minutes puts the employee in an overtime situation.

The ruling came as a result of an eight-year legal battle against the company that owns Chili’s restaurants, for allegedly requiring employees to work through meal and rest breaks. Employees claimed that they were made to clock out for breaks, but to continue working through them.

Are You Vulnerable to Employee Theft?

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

employment screening, employee background check, pre-employment screeningLast week, we reported on employee theft in retailing, and a recent report that stated that more losses occur due to employee theft than to than to shoplifters.

Any business is vulnerable to theft by employees, whether you’re selling widgets or washing machines. You don’t even have to be in the business of selling merchandise to be victimized by employees who steal.

Here are some examples of what dishonest employees may take out the door:

Trade Secrets: Employers who build successful businesses have done so because they do things a certain way, or offer a service or product that people want. If you’ve “built a better mousetrap” by instituting procedures or systems that work, your competition will likely want to know how you did it. What better way to find out than through an employee or former employee? And often, employees leave to start their own competing businesses, built on the successful model someone else worked hard to create.

Unearned pay: Employees with access to payroll systems can falsify work records to generate higher paychecks for themselves or their buddies.

Sensitive Data: Your company files are a treasure trove for identity thieves. Sensitive information like social security numbers, credit card numbers, birthdates and family information can help identity thieves access credit and wreck your or your employees’ finances.

Money: Countless businesses are victimized by employees—from unscrupulous bookkeepers to petty thieves—who skim cash out of the bank account or cash register. Watch for issues around drug or alcohol abuse, or complaints about not getting paid enough. If an employee’s lifestyle changes, with frequent purchases of expensive items or vacations, take a close look at your books. Be careful to conduct all due diligence before making any accusations.

Productivity: If your employees are average, they may be visiting social media sites or conducting personal business on the clock, causing you a loss of productivity.

Workplace theft is a serious problem for employers. The best guards against it are strong policies and procedures that are backed up by action. Stay on top of what’s going on in your business and immediately deal with any infractions of your theft policies. When other employees see theft is not tolerated, they’ll get the message.

Should Businesses Hire Just Because it’s the Right Thing to Do?

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

employee screening, employee background checkAs the economic recovery slogs on without a significant change in employment, some HR experts and recruiters are advocating a push in hiring as a way to reduce poverty and homelessness. Instead of awaiting the perfect candidate, businesses can hire the next best person and provide training to bring them up to speed. Companies with one full time opening could hire one-and-a-half workers. Extend and reach a little, and change a life—or two.

Why? As one former recruiter says, there is a value in simply employing people. To give them hope, while keeping families intact and off the street. Illustrating the reality of family life for a large number of Americans today, is a recent 60 Minutes piece, following up on a story done a year ago about the large number of homeless kids in central Florida. Having lost their homes through eviction or foreclosure, many were then living with their families in motels. One year later, some of these same families are now living in their cars.

The story featured parents who once enjoyed full-time jobs and were able to support their families. Now, they’ve been out of work for months or years. Friends and family can no longer offer their extra rooms and couches, and the families have nowhere to go. Kids get ready for school in the morning in gas station or convenience store bathrooms. School systems hire homeless child specialists to help kids deal with the many problems associated with sleeping and living in cars.

If you’re an employer, are you in a position to hire someone and lift him or her out of poverty? Could you make a lasting difference in a family’s life by giving them the means to put a real roof (not a car roof) over their heads?

If you don’t need any workers, you can still strengthen your community. Why not donate a scholarship in your business’s name to your local technical or community college? Giving a student in need the chance to obtain an education is a life-changing act. Programs offered at these schools typically teach the skills most needed by local industry.

Imagine what would happen if 25% of the businesses in America each hired one worker. With approximately 6 million firms with employees in this country, that’s 1.5 million new jobs. While it might be a nice idea that goes nowhere, it’s worth thinking about—especially at this time of year.

When You Suspect an Employee is Under the Influence

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

employee pre screening, employee background check, credit check employeeMost employee manuals are clear about using alcohol or drugs (other than prescribed medication) on the job: it’s a big no-no. That doesn’t mean employees don’t have problems with alcohol or drugs to the point that they use during working hours. If you’re an employer, you will likely run into this problem, if you haven’t already.

What can an Employer Do When an Employee is Using Drugs or Alcohol on the Job?

  • Don’t ignore the problem. If it’s happening, other employees probably know about it. They are probably uncomfortable about it. At the very least, it is creating a negative environment; in any case, it is a potential safety issue and your customers, employees, and the public are at risk of harm. So if you smell beer or marijuana on an employee, see red eyes, notice they’re having trouble concentrating or walking in a straight line—that is the time to act.
  • Have the conversation. As difficult as it may be, if you have reason to believe an employee is using drugs or alcohol on the job, or coming to work under the influence, by all means ask. Do it discreetly, in private. Make sure you have someone else in the room with you, besides the person you’re questioning.
  • Use whatever disciplinary action you have available. If the employee manual states that drinking or using drugs on the job is grounds for termination, then you have a decision to make. Does the use directly affect others? Does it put others or the employee in danger? What about customers and the general public? What is the affect on the company if the employee’s actions have the worst outcome? Note: If the employee manual does not address employees who come to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you probably need to expand on that topic.
  • Show you care, but don’t preach or give advice. Remember, it’s your responsibility as the employer to enforce the rules and keep everyone safe. It’s not your job to provide counseling. If your company has an employee assistance plan, refer the person to HR for more information.
  • Beware: employees with chronic drinking or drug problems may be covered under the American with Disabilities Act. Be sure you have sound legal counsel when dealing with this situation. For example, you may not be able to terminate an employee for being an alcoholic; however, an employee’s inability to meet productivity standards is a different story.
  • Similarly, drug testing is a sticky area for employers. You need to be keenly aware of the laws in your state to avoid any illegal testing or violating privacy laws. Seek legal advice before doing any drug testing.

Oregon Considering Ban on Pre-Employment Credit Screening

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Oregon on employee screening blogOregon’s Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit pre-employment credit screening unless it is relevant to the job. Hawaii and Washington have enacted similar limits.

The proposed bill allows banks, credit unions, and public safety agencies to continue screening applicants’ credit histories; for the rest of the state’s employers, credit checks could be a thing of the past. Other pre-employment background checks, like criminal records, education verification, and reference checks would still be allowed.

Those speaking in favor of the bill’s passage cite the floundering US economy, saying it’s unfair to conduct credit screening during a recession. Proponents also claim no connection between bad credit and unethical workers.

While the recession has certainly increased the numbers of applicants with questionable credit histories, the Oregon bill seems to assume that employers do not consider anything but credit checks when deciding whether or not to hire an applicant. The employers we hear from use credit screening for cash-handling positions, to protect sensitive confidential data, and as an indicator of judgment and responsibility.

Smart employers take into consideration every aspect of an applicant’s skill, education, and character. In many cases, the credit check is the last step before hiring. Many employers use it as a guide and communication tool for applicants that have already passed several steps in the hiring process. A few blips on a credit report due to medical expenses and job loss would be excused by many employers—and a bad economy doesn’t mean the information should not be available to employers who need it.

Employers need all the tools available to them to make good hiring decisions. Credit checks help many thousands of employers protect their companies, their existing staff and the customers they serve by ensuring only properly screened employees handle cash and sensitive data. Banning credit checks will not lead to higher employment.

A Targeted Approach to Hiring Employees

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Hiring employeesHuman Resources pros and business owners are facing unprecedented numbers of applicants for limited—or zero—job openings. It’s nearly impossible to review every single resume, and it’s not efficient to even try.

Hiring has become more about recruiting than passive receiving of applications and resumes. Some employers are avoiding the resume onslaught by eliminating job postings altogether, preferring to use outreach strategies instead. Here are some tips to target your employee search and avoid the time-waste of reviewing hundreds of resumes:

  1. Go online! is the go-to professional social networking site. If you’re unfamiliar with LinkedIn, do yourself a favor and join. It’s free (they do have a paid option), and it’s a great place to “meet” other professionals from across the country—or across the ocean. Start building connections, join appropriate groups, and let everyone know when you’re looking for new talent. LinkedIn even has a search-by-industry feature.
  2. Check out your industry’s continuing education opportunities. Whether you’re looking for an accountant, a finance professional, support staff, or a marketing manager, you’ll find online and face-to-face training courses geared toward them. Find out where and when they are happening, and let the course or workshop leader know you have a hiring opportunity. People who are working on improving their skills could make great employees.
  3. Ask around. Talk to your vendors: they probably know lots of companies in your industry. They may know a fantastic worker who just left one of them. Talk to your employees. Chances are very good their friends and family members know someone who’s looking for a job.
  4. Be social. Attend local business events and networking opportunities. Hand out cards, make new contacts, and let folks know what you need. Your next recruit could be right in front of you. If not, you’ll make valuable contacts who might send someone your way in the future.
  5. Be social online. Twitter is probably the fastest way to send word around to the largest group of people. You can’t set up your account and instantly have thousands of followers (unless you’re Bill Gates or Oprah), but it’s a great way to build connections over time. When you need those connections, they’ll be ready to help you find a good employee.

Next time you’re hiring employees, try a more targeted approach—and spare yourself the time you would have spent reading all those unacceptable resumes, hoping for the right one to jump out of the pile!

When Economy Recovers, Will You Have an Employee Exodus?

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

help wanted on employee screening blogCatherine is a business owner we know who recently shared a concern that’s been on her mind; a fear that other employers probably share. Her staff of six has weathered the bad economy with her, through layoffs of a few of their friends, no raises for themselves, and increased job responsibilities. Catherine has expressed her appreciation for their sacrifices, but was also proud that she was able to keep six people employed through such a difficult time.

Catherine’s business looks like it will come through the recession in pretty good shape—and she will be relying on her seasoned staff to bring it back to its former level of profitability. Her main concern? That her staff will abandon her for other job opportunities, just when she needs them most.

Catherine’s story is not unique, and she’s smart to be thinking about this possible problem before it begins. Worrying about it, however, will not accomplish much. But what can Catherine and other employers do to keep good employees around after the economy recovers? How does an employer prevent a mass employee exodus?

First, recognize the reality: a survey last summer reported that nearly half of employees surveyed plan to seek a new job after the recession ends. 30% were already actively seeking new work. Generationally, the Xs are least likely to stay with their current employer, while the older Baby Boomers are most likely to stay.

Assure your staff of their job security. If your business is strong, let your workers know. Eliminating the unknown may be enough to keep your employees from bailing on you. Job security is the number one reason for employees to seek a new job. It’s not the increase in job responsibility or too much work for each staff member—employees do not see those as reasons to leave your company.

Find out what your staffers want. Now is a great time to sit down with your employees, either in a group brainstorming session, or one-on-one, and really understand what they want from their relationship with your company. Then, realign your procedures and retention strategy to match their most important wants and needs.

Employers don’t have to face the economic recovery by losing good employees. If retaining your best workers is important, find out what they need to stick around!

The best pre-employment screening process includes employee background checks, employee credit checks, and criminal background checks. You’ll know you’re hiring safe when you screen employees before offering a position.