The threat of wage and hour lawsuits is troubling employers more and more these days. I know first hand about this issue. In 2006, I was working for Costco in Utah and received a letter from an attorney’s office asking me to fill out a questionnaire regarding my overtime hours and mandatory breaks when I worked for the company at previous location in California over a several month period in 2004. I filled it out truthfully, I did work a lot of overtime and Costco paid me well for it, but I did miss out on quite a few mandatory breaks that I was entitled to. Several months later, after I had completely forgotten about the questionnaire, I got a check in the mail for about $1000. I though to myself, “Ouch! This really hurts for Costco.” I spoke to several other coworkers about the award and most of them made out a whole lot better than I did.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), scores of cooperative claims of employee misclassification as exempt or not exempt from overtime pay, like the one I was involved in, have spiked by an incredible 77 percent during 2000-05. What’s very interesting is that these figures have actually exceeded claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for equal employment opportunity. It’s critical for an employer to be aware that these FLSA claims are yielding verdicts in the hundreds of millions of dollars for employees who were owed overtime pay or misclassified as exempt.
According to the US Department of Labor, as many as 70 percent of employers are not in compliance with the FLSA in some way. Employers, like Costco, need to find out where they are making their biggest misclassification mistakes and how to fix them without getting sued. In my case, it would have helped Costco a great deal to have invested in competent front-line supervisors who allowed employees to take their legally mandated 15 minute breaks every two hours. Because Costco’s management got sloppy, supervisors seized the opportunity to oppress and it came back to hurt the company's bottom line.
Developing a culture of safety awareness that is focused on decreasing workplace injuries will reduce medical costs and worker compensation claims. Other side affects include: evading legal responsibility for negligence, increasing morale and productivity, as well as curtailing truancies. Sounds completely positive to me! Any HR professional would agree that a serious focus on safety is the right direction to head. So why aren’t most companies in a hurry to develop such a culture? Well, because it’s hard and you won’t see things change immediately.
Training employees to be safety conscious does not happen overnight, or even in a quarter. It’s a process that is built over the long term (start thinking in terms of ‘years’). It requires helping employees to keep safety on their minds at all times—which in turn requires continuous reinforcement and recognition of basic human psychology.
Safety has to be put into practice and not just talked about. The most effective way to communicate the significance of safety from management to employees is by swiftly responding once a safety issue arises. By doing nothing, or by being slow to respond, sends the message that “this whole safety initiative is not really as big of a deal as management says it is.”
Organizations learn very well from significant accidents. Of course when something significantly wrong happens, a task force is assigned and they get all over it. The mess gets cleaned up and everyone goes back to doing their normal jobs. But what about when the mishap is something small? Maybe something that could be swept under the rug and hidden? Well, organizations aren’t so good at learning from those mistakes, much less acknowledging them.
If the objective is to create a culture of safety awareness, then even the smallest accidents need to be addressed formally. Managers should be asking employees: How could this have been prevented? How should we handle this differently so it does not happen again?
A great way to increase safety and awareness of it is by collecting data (we’ve all seen the sign: “Insert number here” Days Without an Accident). In order to create a safe workplace there needs to be rewards for reporting. If there’s an incentive to report, you’re going to get a lot of input. This will make things seem like they’re getting worse, but they’re not…you’re just starting to learn about it. The positive side of providing rewards for reporting is that employees start to become engaged in the culture of safety awareness.
The essential idea in cultivating a culture of safety awareness in the workplace involves consistency and dedication to true change. If management really cares about safety, then when someone reports a problem, they pay attention, offer feedback and publicize it throughout the workplace.
I'm right in the middle of reading Derek Sivers’ book, Anything You Want
. It’s an autobiographical tale of starting a little hobby, accidentally growing it into a big business, and then selling it for $22 million.
As I was reading this afternoon, I came across a topic I had been thinking about for a while. I have always wondered about why companies institute and enforce such strict policies. Of course it's because the owner got burnt one time, but why punish 1000+ customers because of one bad apple?
Derek has taught me that it's extremely important to resist that simplistic, angry, reactionary urge to punish everyone, and to step back to look at the big picture.
In that angry moment, you're only focusing on that one lousy person who did you wrong - your judgment is clouded, you're giving into the darkside - you start thinking that everyone sucks, and the whole entire world is out to get you. FYI: This is a horrible time to make a new policy.
If you ever find yourself in this spot, think of all the hundreds of customers who did you right. You'll never be able to prevent bad things from occurring, just learn to shrug it off and resist the urge to punish everyone for one person's mistake.
What is the best way for HR to handle violence in the workplace? How about drug abuse, pornography, theft, lowered productivity and on-the-job injuries? Couple the losses from these activities with the cost of litigation and the solution for many companies is: Surveillance!
A greater amount of employers are turning to the use of video surveillance cameras and other high-tech security measures to keep an eye on employees so they can stave off injuries, bad behavior and other kinds of loss. I’m not a fan of cameras, but if done appropriately, monitoring can increase productivity and reduce misbehavior. But would you trade these benefits for the new set of problems a monitoring system brings to workplace?
If an employer is going to do it, from a legal perspective, unveiling surveillance is the wisest approach. Employers need to let employees know that they will be monitored so their reasonable expectation of privacy is removed. Not knowing often forms the basis for invasion of privacy lawsuits arising under common law.
The law is not yet fully developed on the issue of surveillance in the workplace. Nevertheless, the cases that have been decided propose that the courts will consider the ‘disclosure factor’ in determining whether privacy rights of an employee have been violated, or whether other illegal activity has taken place. By letting employees know that their activity will be monitored, the employer will lessen an employees' expectation for privacy and as a result, reinforce its defense in court.
I’m a big proponent of trust, happiness and fun in the workplace. I believe that trying to eliminate theft or drug abuse needs to happen in the interview process, not by instigating an intense surveillance system with measures that will erode the framework of a positive culture and trust within a company.
Employers need to incorporate HR professionals at the earliest phase of considering and implementing a surveillance system in the workplace. Employers also need to work toward a company wide solution that does not harm morale and is comprehensible to employees. Employers also must be certain that surveillance systems do not infringe upon collective bargaining contracts, or create an atmosphere of shadowing in the middle of a union-organizing campaign.
Finally, given the changing legal setting of this issue, any employer that chooses to keep an eye on its employees through surveillance should also be sure to stay fresh on the law.
Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that over the past 10 years, 10.2 percent of full-time employed adults and 11 percent of part-time working adults are substance abusers. This number comes to approximately 14 million workers. It’s no surprise that marijuana has been the most popular drug, but recently the use of cocaine and ecstasy have declined, however, the use of prescription painkillers has rapidly increased.
Users are a major strain on company resources and productivity. These people tend to have shorter stints in employment, use more sick days, and show up late more often. Talk about return on assets! Moreover, these losers are more likely to cause accidents on the job and of course health care costs are double that of their drug free colleagues because their ‘chronic’ problems require repeat trips to the Doctor’s office and pharmacy.
Over the past 25 years employers have jumped on the bandwagon of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) as a service to help these drug users. By the way, the HR department is generally in charge of overseeing it. An employee with substance abuse problems can use their employer’s provided EAP on their own initiative (but this rarely happens) or if a supervisor’s suggests it. At most companies, if employees fail a random drug test, or one ordered after a finding of reasonable suspicion (like an accident), they are often required to contact the EAP as a condition of employment. It is very likely that if the use of the EAP is not required, most people will not take the initiative to use them.
Even with zero-tolerance and screening policies, employers are accepting the safety risks, productivity losses, and surmounting health care costs that substance-abusing employees bring to work. Why? Because using an EAP is easier than actually trying to solve the problem, and there is a shred of hope that it might work…maybe, but not really.
Using EAPs simply show that an employer is ‘trying’ to help, but the employer knows that EAPs are rarely effective. When selecting an EAP, employers need to be aware of how programs utilize statistics in marketing pitches and decisions in selecting an EAP should never be based solely on price. Very few EAPs produce measurements that offer a clear picture of how well they find and handle substance abuse cases. Therefore, employers need to demand such measurements, because these metrics will enable them to monitor performance. If an EAP can’t provide this, then it would be wise to continue searching.
A well-built EAP can be incredibly effective, but the employer must be committed to using it. It’s a simple choice, and if an employer works to make its EAP accountable and commit to constructive confrontation, an employer will be successful purging a drug culture and rejuvenate the organization.
Drug addicts suck! In my experience, here are some clear signs right off the top of my head that a person is up to no good:
· Takes breaks frequently, often away from their workstation
· Complains about the brightness of the lights in office
· Misplaces their debit card in the restroom
· Saves drinking straws, cuts it short with an angle at the end
· Listens to music at high volumes, gets upset when asked to turn it down
· Has a constant case of the munchies
· Introverted, not very social with coworkers
· Often displaying paranoia or deep worry when personal questions are asked
· Sneaky, very cautious behavior around those in authority
· Leaving premises on a lunch break and returning with a drastic change in attitude
· Unusual knowledge and understanding of narcotics and prescription drugs
· Limited eye contact, feeling of guilt
· Bloodshot eyes and new excuses for the reasons why
· Regularly late, with wild and off-the-wall excuses
· Forgetful in performing routine tasks
· Complains about room temperatures, how it’s always hot
· Strong use of perfumes and colognes
Take it from me, do everything you can to keep drug users from being hired or remaining on payroll. Designing a policy to drug screen will reduce on-the-job accidents and worker compensation costs. If you do random drug tests, you’ll greatly reduce these liabilities and increase productivity because drug testing sifts out the careless slackers who are more prone to stealing and causing accidents.
I’ve personally noticed an improvement in morale at work from a commitment to provide a safe and drug-free work environment. It mainly stems from keeping employees out of the cumbersome situation of covering for lit coworkers.
While concrete evidence supporting drug testing's potency in thwarting employees from using drugs is insubstantial, one cannot discount the fact that eliminating a bona fide pot head, or prescription drug addict, has a positive effect on the bottom line.
Threats in the workplace are not only awkward, but also precarious. Over the past decade, workplace violence has become rife for employers, as they have only tackled threats of violence after employees act.
Employers can never take an employee’s threatening behavior casually. HR professionals need to act on every threat of violence because such threats are the only signal that workplace violence is being considered.
The sheer threat of violence should be countered with prompt discipline, and quite possibly termination (not that kind of termination). But really, what exactly should one do to enforce a zero-tolerance workplace violence policy?
Consider the idea that most threats of work place violence land first on the desk of the HR department. If you didn’t feel like doing anything about the threat that day the report arrived in your tray, you’d have a hard time not feeling liable if the threat came to fruition.
So what is currently being done to better prepare HR professionals in preventing violent situations at work? Well, the Workplace Violence Prevention and Response Guideline was released back in 2005 by ASIS International. More recently in 2009, the Society for Human Resource Management reported that it would join forces with ASIS International to create a joint Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention American National Standard. Occasionally, OSHA issues industry-specific guidelines for preventing and responding to workplace violence, particularly for late-night retail establishments, health care and social service workers in susceptible situations.
When designing a workplace violence policy, consider:
·Specifically defining and prohibiting all forms of workplace violence and threats of violence—the policy needs to be specifically linked with a clear statement of the consequences for violating the policy. Zero-tolerance means zero-tolerance.
·Requiring employees to quickly report any alleged violations of the workplace violence policy, and offering multiple channels to submit report.
·Affirming a pledge of nonretaliation for employees who submit reports under the policy.
·Recognizing the persons, or departments, responsible for taking action on reports. A formally designated "threat management" or "threat response" team will persuade employees and allow them to feel comfortable reporting under the policy.
Even the most well founded policy will not prevent workplace violence all the time. However, with adequate training on the policy and dedication to its enforcement from the top down, a clearly communicated policy will promote a safe working atmosphere.