Wednesday June 20, 2018

‘Bob, you smell’: What to say to employees about embarrassing personal issues

Everybody dreads having those “difficult conversations” with employees about personal issues. Here are some examples of how they can be handled gracefully — including the actual words to use.

Paul Falcone, VP of Employee Relations for Time Warner Cable in Los Angeles and a respected author on employee management, gave an in-depth presentation on the topic at a SHRM conference in San Diego. Here’s a brief rundown of what he had to say:

Going in

Managers’ mindset heading into one of these confrontations is key to a positive outcome. A few of what Falcone calls his “rules of engagement:”

  • Each to his own without judgment
  • What you want for yourself, give another
  • It’s not what you say but how you say it
  • Perception is reality until proven otherwise, and
  • Put others’ needs ahead of your own by treating them with dignity and respect, and expect them to respond in kind.

Falcone’s take on two of the toughest personnel issues to confront: attitude problems and “aroma” situations like bad breath and body odor.

Attitude problems

Falcone offers three rules concerning confronting employees with negative attitudes:

  • Tell the person in in private how you perceive his/her actions and how they make you feel
  • Avoid the term “attitude” — replace it with “behavior” or “conduct,” and
  • Be specific about the problematic behaviors.

Some sample dialogue:

Lisa, I need your help. You know how they say perception is reality until proven otherwise? Well, I feel like you’re angry with me or the rest of the group.

I may be off in my assumption, but that’s an honest assessment of the perception you’re giving off …

Let me ask you: How would you feel if you were the supervisor and one of your staff members responded that way in front of your team? Likewise, how would it make you feel if I responded to your questions with that kind of voice or body language?

The odor issues

These are the discussions that make managers’ knees shake. A few well-chosen words from Falcone:

Dominic, I called you into my office because I want to speak with you privately … The feedback back is difficult to share, and I’m pretty uncomfortable right now, so I want to make this as simple and straightforward as possible: I believe you may have a problem with (bad breath or body odor).


Roger,  I wanted to meet with you one-on-one because I need to share something with you privately, discreetly, and with as much sensitivity as possible …

You may not realize it, but it appears you have a body odor problem, and it isn’t merely a personal matter — it’s a workplace disruption issue I’ll need your help to repair …

I’ve had conversations like this with other employees before, and usually they’re not even aware that the problem exists. I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable, but are you aware of the issue, and if so, is it something you could take care of?

I’m here to help in any way I can. If you’d like to set up a fan in your office, or arrange your schedule so you could take breaks during the day to freshen up, I’d be very supportive of that. Just let me know whatever I can do to help, OK?

If you wouldn’t mind, though, I’d prefer not to have to address this again — it’s a bit uncomfortable for me. So is this something you feel you can fix from here on in?

Final tip from Falcone: Always focus on shifting the responsibility for fixing the problem to the employee — emphasizing that not fixing the problem will carry consequences.


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Make sure your male and female employees are paid equally: 4 steps to close the gap

Of course, most employers don’t set out to intentionally pay female employees less than male employees. Nevertheless, it ends up happening a lot more than you’d expect. 

Recent studies reveal that, on average, women still earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. And a lot of companies could be paying women less without even realizing it.

Adjusting the scales

The good news is, discovering and correcting pay disparities isn’t too difficult. On, Finance Writer Helaine Olen shared four things employers should do to ensure equal pay between their male and female employees.

  1. Conduct a pay audit. The first step is examining every employee’s salary to see if there is a pay gap, and how big it is. When looking at pay, it’s crucial to make sure you’re really comparing apples to apples; you might think two people are doing the same job, but after a closer look realize one has more responsibilities than the other. You’ll want to make sure you’re not only looking at current salaries, but past ones as well. This includes examining and raises — do men tend to earn raises more than women?
  2. Be transparent about salary. Often, pay gaps can happen when a bunch of employees are hired around the same time. Studies show that men are more likely to negotiate a higher salary when offered the job. So if you aren’t upfront about what you’re willing to shell out for the position, women might unknowingly settle for less money.
  3. Check your promotions. Examine the pattern of who is typically put up for promotions. Is it mostly men? This is referred to as the “position gap.” A company may start out paying men and women equally, but if women are rarely groomed for leadership positions, men will generally still earn more. Keeping qualified men and women in mind for all promotions will help restore the pay and position balance.
  4. Repeat this process routinely. Maintaining equal pay takes more than a one-time fix. To make sure you don’t slip back into old pay habits, it’s important to routinely monitor salaries, especially when new people come on board or yearly raises are given out. As your company grows, you’ll want to make sure men and women continue to have equal earning opportunities.

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Reaching out to a stranger via email? Avoid these 6 phrases if you want a response

Everyone gets unexpected emails from time to time, and more often than not, they get ignored.

From a quick glance, it’s clear whether one of these emails will be worth your time. Overly wordy messages or false friendliness reduce the chances you’ll respond.

But when you’re the one who has to reach out to a stranger, there are certain phrases you want to avoid to increase your chances of a reply.

Straight to the point contributor Jeff Haden compiled a list of 11 phrases to cut out of your vocabulary when you’re emailing someone out of the blue.

Some of our favorites to avoid:

1. “I hope this finds you well.” This overly formal greeting is a big reminder this person doesn’t know you. The same goes for “I hope you had a good weekend.” The recipient knows you don’t really care – false friendliness won’t help get you a reply.

2. “You might be surprised to learn …” Trying to gain someone’s interest with this line feels forced, and wordiness could stop them from reading on. Just jump right in.

3. “My name is …“ The recipient will see your name in the sender field. Don’t waste words introducing yourself.

4. “I know you’re really busy …“ Saying they don’t have time to spare but taking up their time anyway is off-putting. Respect their busy schedule by getting to the point.

5. “I thought I’d follow up …” Mentioning the person didn’t reply to your first message won’t make them want to reply this time. It’s just reminding them that they weren’t interested. Most likely, they ignored you intentionally. Resurfacing the original email can just be an annoyance.

6. “I want to ask a quick favor.” Typically, when someone says this, the favor is never quick — and the way they go about asking takes even longer. If you need something from someone, just go ahead and ask. The more direct you are, the quicker the recipient can figure out if they want to and are able to help.

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Generation Z’s plan for a comfy retirement? Inherit the cash

retirement plans

Just how grim are the retirement prospects for the generation that’s now entering the workplace for the first time? So grim, that many believe the only way to secure a stable retirement is by inheriting it.

Well, the affluent members of Generation Z, anyway.

Specifically, 63% of affluent children ages 18-22 say financial stability in retirement will depend on an inheritance, according to a recent study of 1,000 “mass affluent” Americans by Merrill Edge.

How did Merrill Edge determine who fit the mass-affluent criteria? The study defined this group as individuals ages 18-40 with investable assets from $50,000 to $250,000, or those with investable assets between $20,000 and $50,000 and an annual income of at least $50,000. Americans older than 41 also qualified if they had investable assets between $50,000 and $250,000.

Banking on friends, grandparents and extended family

Another interesting finding from the study: Wealthy members of Gen Z aren’t solely banking on their moms and dads to contribute to their inheritance-based retirement fund.

The group is expecting to get cash from a variety of sources. The study found:

  • 17% of Generation Z think their inheritance could come from friends (versus 4% of people of all ages)
  • 17% think grandparents will leave something to them (versus 6% of everyone surveyed), and
  • 14% are banking on cash from extended family (versus 5% of people overall).

Expecting an inheritance from friends is certainly a curious finding, but Aron Levine, the head of Merrill Edge, believes it’s a natural reaction to growing up during the rise of the sharing economy (Crowdfunding, etc.). As Levine put it, if you grew up only knowing about life with elaborate online giving platforms, “why wouldn’t you have some sort of shared way with friends to finance your future?”

Inheritance isn’t a terrible retirement strategy for Generation Z. In fact, in North America, there’s an estimated $30 trillion that could be passed along to beneficiaries over the next 30 years.

The only problem: It could take a long, long time for inheritance-hopeful individuals to actually get their hands on their windfall.

A new study from UBS Financial Services found that 53% of individuals with more than $1 million in investable assets expected to live to 100 years of age.

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5 simple ways to make your new hire feel welcome

When it comes to an employer making a good impression on a new employee, the first few days are crucial. But many onboarding programs can still come across as an afterthought. 

The good news is, you don’t have to revamp your entire onboarding process to make a new hire feel welcome.

Chris Ronzio, creator of onboarding simplification tool Trainual, shared five simple ways employers can get off on the right foot with their new employees.

1. Announce their arrival

Even before their first day, you can get the new hire and your other employees excited about it. Send an email to your staff about the new person, and encourage everyone to reply and say hello. A few messages from staff members will make the new hire feel like a welcome member of the team instead of the new kid at school.

2. Come bearing gifts

Nothing will make a new person feel like they fit in like some branded merchandise. Simple things like t-shirts or water bottles bearing the company logo can make a new hire feel like they belong. Plus, any kind of gift is a fun surprise on an anxious employee’s first day.

3. Brush up on your history

Hearing about how the company got its start and what its values are is crucial for a new hire. Not only will this help them get the gist of the culture and work environment, but it will make their work more meaningful if they fully understand the purpose behind it.

4. Explain how everything works

Enhance a new hire’s understanding even more by explaining the company’s processes and what everyone does. This will help them see the big picture and understand how each department works together.

5. Set expectations

It’s important for the new hire to understand where they are in the onboarding or training process. Are they expected to be ready to get to work in a few days, or a few weeks? How long until their training is officially complete? Letting the new employee know where they stand throughout the process will help them get up to speed comfortably.

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Can you offer employees an option to work on FMLA leave? Court says …

If an employee is still able to work but requests FMLA leave (say, to care for a spouse), is it interference to offer them the option to continue working while taking leave?

That question was at the center of a recent FMLA lawsuit.

The answer, according to a federal appeals court, is “no.”

And employers everywhere will want to take note of why the court ruled that way.

Employee had two choices

The court tackled this issue after Vacations To Go sales rep Karen D’Onofrio sued the employer, claiming it interfered with her FMLA leave by asking her if she wanted to work while on leave.

D’Onofrio had requested FMLA leave to care for her sick husband. She sold ocean cruises and had ongoing contact with her customers.

After Vacations To Go approved her leave, it asked that D’Onofrio choose between two options:

  • She could go on unpaid leave, or
  • While taking leave, log in remotely a few times per week and continue to service her existing accounts.

D’Onofrio chose the second option. But when her employment came to an end at Vacations To Go, she filed the interference lawsuit.

Result: The court then threw out her claim.

It said the FMLA permits “voluntary and uncoerced acceptance of work by employees on medical leave, so long as acceptance is not a condition of employment.”

In other words, because her decision to work was completely voluntary, there was no interference.

Cite: D’Onofrio v. Vacation Publications Inc., U.S. Crt. of App. 5th Cir., No. 16-20628, 4/23/18.

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Get a Letter 227? IRS’ new online tool to navigate the wave of ACA penalties

Now that employers have been notified of their potential ACA shared-responsibility penalties by the IRS, the agency is offering guidance on how they should respond. And HR pros will definitely want to take note of their options.

The IRS just created a webpage titled Understanding Your Letter 227, a reference to the correspondence some employers may receive regarding an assessment of an employer-shared responsibility penalty under Code § 4980H.

The Letter 227 phase of the agency’s recent ACA penalty efforts is the stage that follows the initial Letter 226J notification. For reference, Letters 226J were sent out in late 2017 and applied to the 2015 calendar year or the reporting that was done in 2016.

The 226J Letters were based on info reported to the IRS on Forms 1094-C and 1095-C as well as the agency’s records of who received a premium tax credit.

After receiving a 226J letter, employers were required to respond with a Form 14764 on whether they agreed or disagreed with the IRS’ proposed penalty.

Not a bill

With its Letter 227 series, the IRS will acknowledge the employer’s response to the 226J, explain the outcome of its review and offer the next steps that will full resolve the situation for the company. In total, there are five different versions of Letter 227.

It’s worth noting that only two of the 227s require a direct response from the employer, which must be provided by the date stated on the letter. The IRS also reminds employers that the Letter 227 is not a bill. For the collection of penalties, the feds will be sending a separate document, Notice CP 220J.

What’s included

Here is what the five Letters 227 contain (samples of each are on the IRS site):

  • Letter 227-J states that the proposed penalty amount will be assessed because the employer agreed with the proposed penalty. No response is required to this version of the letter, and the case is deemed closed.
  • Letter 227-K shows that the penalty has been reduced to zero. No response is required to this version of the letter, and the case is deemed closed.
  • Letter 227-L shows that the proposed penalty amount has been revised. This version of the letter includes an updated Form 14765 (Premium Tax Credit (PTC) listing) and revised calculation table. Employers agree with the revised penalty, request a meeting with the IRS, or appeal the determination.
  • Letter 227-M shows that the penalty amount did not change. This version of the letter also includes an updated Form 14765 (PTC listing) and revised calculation table to the extent any data used in the computation of the proposed penalty amount changed based on information provided by the ALE. The ALE can agree with the revised penalty amount, request a meeting with the IRS, or appeal the determination.
  • Letter 227-N acknowledges the decision reached by the IRS appeals office and shows the resulting penalty amount. No response is required to this letter, and the case is deemed closed.

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‘What, you’re pregnant too?’ One comment triggers discrimination lawsuit

A recent lawsuit proves once again that one offhand comment by a manager can be enough to result in a costly legal battle. 

Alena Fassbender was a medication aide at Correct Care Solutions, a company that provides healthcare for prison inmates. Shortly after Fassbender revealed she was pregnant, she was fired.

‘Too many pregnant workers’

When Fassbender sued for pregnancy discrimination, the company claimed she was fired for violating its “no fraternization” policy — Fassbender had received a romantic note from an inmate and hadn’t reported it immediately.

But testimony from Fassbender and other employees suggested otherwise. Several workers were also pregnant, and when Fassbender initially told her manager about her pregnancy, the manager said, “What, you’re pregnant too?”

A few days later, another employee overheard the manager say, “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to handle all these people being pregnant at once” and “I have too many pregnant workers. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of them.”

Sufficient suspicion

A circuit court sent the case to trial, finding the company’s actions “sufficiently suspicious.” Its reasoning for firing Fassbender kept changing, and the manager who made the comments about the pregnant workers had been reprimanded by the company. A few months after Fassbender had been fired, Correct Care Solutions hired a new employee who also was pregnant, which caused the court to question its motivations.

The company is now facing a long legal battle or a costly settlement.

This case is a great reminder that managers can have the ability to make or break a case: the right response may prevent a lawsuit, and the wrong one can cost a company big. Proper anti-discrimination training can help managers avoid missteps like this.

Fassbender v. Correct Care Solutions LLC, U.S. Crt. of App. 10th Circuit, No. 17-3054, 5/15/18.




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Study: 90% of employees who take regular lunch breaks are more productive

Hard-working employees who skip lunch breaks can benefit employers in the meantime, but could come back to haunt them in the long run. 

While it’s common for many employees to work through lunch, a recent study by Tork highlights the importance of employees taking lunch breaks away from their desks.

When workers quickly shovel food down, all while not taking their eyes off their work, it’s only a matter of time until the burnout sets in. When this behavior goes on long enough, productivity takes a huge hit. And the study found it was up to employers and managers to break the habit.

Encouraging breaks

About 20% of workers said they don’t take lunch breaks because they’re worried their bosses will think less of them. And it turns out this fear is valid: 22% of bosses think employees who take regular lunches aren’t hardworking.

Thirteen percent of workers who skip lunch don’t want to be judged by co-workers, and 38% simply don’t feel encouraged by their companies to take lunch breaks.

The lack of encouragement is unfortunate, since the study reported 90% of employees feel refreshed and ready to get back to work after a proper lunch break. Not only that, but 81% of employees who take regular lunches have the desire to be an active member of their company. Additional benefits include mental health boosts and increased creativity.

Changing company culture

It can be tricky to change the “breaks are for slackers” mentality, but Tork has a few suggestions for adjusting company culture:

  • Redesign break rooms. Having at least one designated break room lets employees know there’s somewhere to go when they need some time away from their desks. Adding comfortable furniture and a designated eating area is even better.
  • Start break incentives. Nothing will encourage people to take breaks more than an incentive program. Having employees track their breaks, then rewarding them for taking time away will ensure everyone gets the message.
  • Communicate the benefits of breaks. A lot of people might not be aware that skipping lunch is causing extra stress. Put up some flyers or have a meeting about all the benefits of stepping away from time to time.
  • Lead by example. The most effective way to encourage breaks is to take some yourself. Once employees see managers stepping away from their desks, they’ll instantly get the message that breaks are OK.



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4 steps saved company when manager was accused of sexual harassment

human resources, HR

The steps this organization took after a sexual harassment complaint are textbook examples of what employers should strive to do in these situations. 

What happened: Jacqueline Lee, who worked for Dairyland Power Cooperative in Wisconsin, sued Dairyland, claiming she’d been the victim of sexual harassment and subjected to a hostile work environment.

Bad behavior

She said her supervisor and two Dairyland workers discussed their desire for Lee to wear “spring outfits,” and compared her to another woman described as “here come the jugs.”

But Dairyland argued her lawsuit should be thrown out because it lacked merit – and the court agreed for a number of reasons that provide a lot of guidance to employers when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment claims.

For starters, the court said no one “could find Dairyland failed to take reasonably sufficient action to end further harassment.” Here’s why:

  • HR met with Lee the day after she complained, and again at her home, and launched an investigation.
  • Lee was put on paid administrative leave until the investigation was over.
  • Lee’s supervisor apologized to her during a meeting with HR and promised not to harass Lee and to protect her from retaliation.
  • Lee’s supervisor was disciplined with a two-week unpaid suspension.

Cite: Lee v. Dairyland Power Cooperative, U.S. Dist. Crt., W.D. WI, No. 17-cv-50-wmc, 3/20/18.

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