Stress less

Let’s face it:  work can be stressful.  Whether it’s dealing with a client who rubs you the wrong way, getting that report in on time, or fussing with the office copy machine, work is never short on things that can get on your nerves.

With this in mind, the HRidiot has decided to try and help bring down your office stress levels.  In this new segment, Stress Less, you will be provided with relaxation tips, welcome distractions, and the like that can be shared around the office to keep morale high, so your employees can focus on what matters – getting the job done.

For the first Stress Less feature, The Idiot has something special for you:  the Puppy Cam!

Click here to check out the Puppy Cam – and if you’re lucky, you just might catch one of them sneeze!

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Emeant to say that: email ok’s and no-no’s

Assuming everyone who’s reading this newsletter is above the age of 21, I think it’s safe to say we’ve all sent emails or text messages we really wish we hadn’t (Sorry, Aunt Lucille!).  But while damaging our personal relationships is all well and fine, sending inappropriate or ill-conceived emails at work could really cause some problems.

Good news, though!  I have found an article with a numbered list (our favorite!) that can help you increase employee awareness of proper email conduct.  In the article, entitled “Top ten things employees should know before sending e-mails and when searching for documents,” you’ll find tips such as:

  • treat each email as a formal memorandum
  • make sure employees know that, when it comes to emails, “delete” does not mean delete
  • make clear the dangers of “reply to all”
  • never send an email in anger
  • consider using the telephone.

Click here to download a PDF containing the article.  (There’s lots of good information in the file, but the article we’re talking about will be on page 12.)

Ten common mistakes small employers can make

1.  Not posting the correct federal posters –

Every employer in the country is required to post five federal posters (EPPA, USERRA, FLSA, EEOC, OSHA), in addition to state-specific posting requirements. Additionally, private employers with 50 or more employees must post the FMLA poster.

2.   Storing medical information in employee personnel files –

Personnel files contain a lot of confidential, sensitive information about employees.  A lot of employers don’t realize that they are required by law to keep any paperwork pertaining to medical information in a separate file.

3.  Failing to report newly hired employees –

Employers are required to report all new hires to certain agencies in the state.

4.  Not establishing an at-will-employment relationship –

One of the best ways an employer can protect itself from potential liability is as easy as stating on employment applications, contracts, and handbooks that the company has an “at-will employment” policy (meaning, either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time for any lawful reason).

5.  Drafting improperly worded job advertisements, possibly leading to discrimination claims –

Only job-related functions should be listed on a job advertisement.  Even seemingly innocent phrases like “young and energetic” can be grounds for a discrimination suit.  Employers should avoid phrases that imply characteristics of age, gender, national origin, race, etc.  Also, ads should state that the employer is an “equal opportunity employer.”

6.  Asking discriminatory or inappropriate interview questions –

There are – approximately – a bazillion things you should not ask in an interview.  Small businesses don’t always have the advantage of a trained HR department to carry out the hiring process and a “relaxed interview” could get out of hand if the interviewer is not prepared.  Make a list of appropriate questions and stick to it.

7.  Misusing employee handbooks –

The most important part of having an employee handbook is enforcing it.  A handbook offers no protection to an employer who enforces sporadically.  Other simple pitfalls of the handbook include: not having employees sign an acknowledgment of receipt, not having a FMLA policy (which, if you have a handbook, is required by law), getting too specific and not retaining the right to make decisions outside of a list of prohibited activities.

8. Hiring/retaining harmful employees (negligent hiring/retention) –

Small businesses might not know that they can be liable for the actions of an employee whom they reasonably should have known had the potential to harm others.

9.  Improperly classifying employees as independent contractors –

Many companies misclassify employees as independent contractors/interns and, as such, do not comply properly with FLSA requirements.

10.  Not paying employees for “time worked” –

Each state has specific requirements for meal and rest periods for employees. An employee who is required to answer telephones is not considered relieved of duties during the meal period if he or she continues to be responsible for telephone calls.  Even an employee who elects to eat lunch at their desk, and voluntarily answers the phones while “off duty,” may be considered to have engaged in compensable time worked.

General Tips to Avoid Potential Legal Trouble – Keep e-mail professional, treat all employees/candidates equally, and don’t forget to DOCUMENT.

Health Care Reform: monetary edition

We have written about Health Care Reform many times by now, but I’m sure you’ve been thinking about it even more frequently than we’ve been covering it.  With so much to understand, implement, and decide upon, we want to at least help ease the burden of finding the resources you need to make informed decisions.

So allow me to present yet another Health Care Reform resource at your disposal – in the form of a free online webinar – this time focusing on the financial implications of the health care bill.

“What’s Next for Health Care?  Employer Strategies to Maximize Return of Investment (ROI) and Avoid Penalties in the New Era of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA),” presented by Human Resource Executive Online, is a free webinar that will take place Wednesday, May 18th, 2011 at 2 P.M. ET.

The presentation intends to:

  • help you better understand the anticipated financial impact of PPACA

and

  • provide you with strategies to manage “health spend” – how much you spend on health care.

Space for this free webinar is limited, so click here to learn more or register today!  (Note:  they’ll ask you to set your time zone first.  Don’t be alarmed; you’re in the right place!)

Not your employee, still your problem

A recent court decision involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that you can be held responsible for the sexual harassment of your employees – even if the harassers are NOT your employees.

At face value, that is some pretty surprising news.  (I’m assuming your reaction to it was something like this.)  But few details about the case will make it less shocking.

Here’s what happened:

  1. Homer Ray Howard was a Cromer Food Services (CFS) route driver who serviced vending machines at Greenville Hospital.
  2. Two Greenville Hospital employees began harassing Howard with sexual comments and propositions.
  3. Howard filed multiple complaints to CFS and one to the hospital itself, with no results.
  4. Howard then filed a complaint with the EEOC.
  5. CFS – after being notified of the EEOC complaint – offered Howard a different route schedule that was lower paying and conflicted with his parental responsibilities.
  6. Howard declined the offer.
  7. CFS then fired Howard.

The court felt CFS’s offer to Howard was not sufficient enough to shield it from responsibility, since it would have placed Howard in a worse position than before (minus the harassment, of course).

The case certainly highlights the importance of taking employee complaints seriously – even if the complaint isn’t about one of your employees.

To read more about EEOC v. Cromer Food Servs., Inc., click here.

Yournamehere.xxx

Even though Internet pornography has helped forward the careers of such prominent figures as Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and Screech from Saved By the Bell, I doubt it’s the kind of web presence you would want associated with your company.

If you haven’t heard – well, I guess even if you have – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has approved a new top-level domain (TLD):  .xxx.  The .xxx will be used for adult entertainment industry websites, and there is every possibility they could use your trademarked company name!

I don’t know why an adult entertainment company would want http://www.pepto-bismol.xxx as their domain name (though, nothing turns me on like an upset stomach), but they’d want to make sure they couldn’t get it if they tried.  Luckily, our partners at ReedSmith LLP are here to help teach us how to do it with an article entitled, “Protecting Your Trademarks in the World of .xxx Domain Names.”

Learn how to protect your brand from the ever-creeping hand of Internet pornography – click here to read the article.

What to do if you receive a “no match” letter

For the most part, the only “no match” letters I received were emails from E-harmony.com.  But now the Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to join in on the fun.

On April 6th, 2011, the SSA announced it would once again begin sending “Decentralized Correspondence” (“DECOR”), also called “no match” letters.  The letters, sent to employees or – if a home address can’t be verified – their employers, notify employees of discrepancies between submitted information and the SSA’s records.  So basically mismatched Social Security numbers and the like.

Now, if you receive a “no match” letter for one of your employees, don’t panic!  It doesn’t necessarily mean that employee is working for you illegally.

The attorneys at Schwabe, Williamson, & Wyatt have written an article with some tips on what to do if you find yourself having to handle a “no match” situation.  The article advises you to:

  • not take adverse action against the employee
  • check your records ASAP to make sure the error wasn’t on your end
  • if you receive the letter – not the employee – notify him or her ASAP (definitely within 30 days)
  • instruct the employee – dated and in writing – to contact the local SSA office.

To read the full article, click here.