Sunday October 22, 2017

How to Turn Leaders into Heroes

The most important step is for leaders to step out of their comfort zones and ask the most difficult questions. This may not be intuitive, however it’s crucial for success. As a leader, you must encourage team members to pose the answers to these questions without fear of reprimand and victimization. Then, once you’ve collaborated on solutions, you can create strategies and implement them towards organizational goals. Read this paper to discover some of the key factors to consider when looking for critical conversations to have for your business.

Learn more! 

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Former DOL admin: 4 risky pay practices the feds have a field day with

With the DOL’s overtime changes under construction, some employers are putting pay-process reviews on the back burner, but that could be a very costly mistake.


There are plenty of risky payroll practices employers may not even know could put them at risk for wage-and-hour violations.

At the 2017 SHRM Conference & Exposition, former DOL Wage-and-Hour Administrator and Littler employment attorney Tammy McCutchen warned employers to be on the lookout for the following high-risk pay practices:

Red Flags

1. Business deductions. Employers often get into trouble when they make deductions from non-exempt staffers paychecks for things like equipment, uniforms and unreturned company property.

What to do to stay safe: If you have to deduct business expenses from an employee’s paycheck, always get the staffer’s written authorization and make sure the deductions never drops the employee’s compensation to below the minimum wage ($7.25 an hour). Even better: Don’t make all of the deductions in a single paycheck. Instead, spread out the amounts over multiple pay periods.

One exception to this practice is if you’re located in California. If your company operates in the Golden State, don’t make any deductions at all, McCutchen warns.

2. Those little “extras.” It’s very common for employers to forget to include weekly “extras” in their overtime pay calculations. Some examples of the extras that must be included:

  • Shift differential compensation
  • Job differential compensation
  • On-call pay, and
  • Prizes and awards.

What to do to stay safe: These little extras must be added to other wages to get the correct regular rate of pay and avoid FLSA issues. McCutchen says ensuring each pay code in your system is flagged as included or not included in OT calculations can prevent mistakes from happening here.

3. Scheduled-shift payments. Automatically paying employees based on their scheduled shift can often lead to problems, McCutchen warns.

What to do to stay safe: For your time-keeping to be as accurate as possible, it’s critical to require employees to punch in and out when they start and stop working, and then have them certify that the hours they worked are accurate.

Also, employers should be on the lookout for the following red flags of inaccurate or false time-keeping:

  • Same in and out time every single day
  • Same exact out/in time for meal period breaks every day
  • No out/in times for meal breaks
  • Time punch always occurs at the exact time the shift begins, and
  • Time punches for all or most employees are at almost the exact same time.

4. Exemptions. Classifying an employee as exempt isn’t always so cut and dried. For one thing, employers can get in trouble when they simply assume all salaried workers are OT-exempt. Other problems occur when employers fail to analyze both federal and state laws, fail to analyze whether the specific job duties qualify for the exemption and make deductions from exempt employees pay.

What to do to stay safe: McCutchen offered the following plan to avoid issues with exempt employees:

  1. Create a process to review the job duties regularly for new and changing jobs (most positions change over time).
  2. Audit all jobs in the lowest two pay categories at least every other year.


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Critical compliance changes for next year: An open enrollment checklist

As HR pros immerse themselves in negotiating plan changes for this year’s open enrollment, it’s critical to keep these new 2018 regulation changes front and center. 
To help, here’s a checklist of changes you’ll need to be aware of when making plan-design moves:

1. Mental Health Parity reg changes enforced

Beginning on January 1, 2018, plans that require “fail first” or “step therapy” could violate the Parity Act’s “non-quantitative treatment limitation” (NQTL) rules. Under the NQTL rules, plans can’t be more restrictive for mental health/substance abuse benefits than they are for medial/surgical ones.

Here’s an example of a fail-first strategy: Requiring mental health or addiction patients to try an intensive outpatient program before admission to an inpatient treatment if the same restriction doesn’t apply to medical/surgical benefits.

2. New Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) template

Under the ACA, plans were required to start using the new SBC template on or after April 1, 2017.

For calendar year plans, that means this is the first enrollment with the new template, which includes new coverage examples and updates about cost-sharing. You can find more details on and instructions for the new form here:

3. Women’s preventive care

The Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines were updated for 2018 calendar plans to include a number of items that must be covered without any cost-sharing. The list includes breast cancer screenings for average-risk women, screenings for cervical cancer, diabetes mellitus and more.

Find the list here:


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Study: What HR actually does vs. what employees expect HR to do

interview questions

Ask employees and HR pros what the Human Resources department actually does, and you’re liable find some common beliefs and some major differences.

That’s what a recent study by Paychex uncovered. The study polled both employees and HR specialists about the roles and responsibilities of the HR department.

Here’s the breakdown of what employees expect HR to do versus the tasks HR pros actually say they do:

  • 79% of employees expect HR to handle employee disputes (70% of HR pros said they handle this)
  • 76% of employees expect HR to deal with racism, sexism and workplace safety issues (cited by 72% of HR pros)
  • 68% of employee think HR manages employee benefits (vs. 61% of HR pros)
  • 55% think HR process payroll (56% of HR)
  • 54% of workers expect HR to recruit new employees (67% of HR pros do this)
  • 46% of employees think HR interviews talent (67% of HR pros)
  • 45% of workers expect HR to track sick and personal days (58% actually do this)
  • 33% of employees think HR approves vacation time (44% do this), and
  • Just 29% of employees think HR trains employees (61% of HR pros actually handle this task).

Where improvement is needed

The study also highlighted employees top complaints about their HR departments’ performance. These included:

  • Handling employee disputes (cited by 24% of employees)
  • Dealing with racism, sexism and workplace safety issues (16%)
  • Recruiting new employees (15%)
  • Training employees (14%)
  • Interviewing talent (12%)
  • Managing employee benefits (10%)
  • Approving vacation (8%)
  • Tracking sick and personal days (7%), and
  • Processing payroll (7%).

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Friendly court reminder: Policies can’t stop workers from talking about pay

By now, most savvy companies know they can’t bar employees from discussing such things as salaries and working conditions. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some companies out there that try to do it anyway. 

Worker spoke up, was disciplined

Take the recent case of Banner Health System, which had adopted a Confidentiality Agreement, identifying forbidden topics like “[p]rivate employee information (such as salaries, disciplinary action, etc.) that is not shared by the employee.”

The company also prohibited employees from discussing ongoing workplace investigations.

The case centered on an employee named James Navarro, who expressed concerns he had with the company’s Phoenix facility. He spoke to several other workers at the facility about the problems, and was disciplined for it.

He filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which ruled that Banner’s confidentiality rules were overly broad (even for non-union employers).

Later, a court of appeals agreed. Banner’s policies could discourage discussions about working conditions, a right guaranteed under labor law, the court said. So Banner’s facing policy revocations.

Even non-union businesses

This ruling impacts all employers and shows that even non-union businesses must watch speech restrictions.

So how can employers stay safe? Writing on Littler’s Insight blog, employment attorney Gregory Brown offers the following legal advice for employers:

“Employers should review their personnel policies and confidentiality agreements to ensure that those policies comply with the court of appeals’ decision.  They should eliminate prohibitions on employee discussions concerning the terms and conditions of employment. 

Employers should also consider excising confidentiality requirements for internal investigations in favor of language indicating that confidentiality may be appropriate under certain circumstances.  In addition, employers should train those employees charged with conducting internal investigations as to the circumstances in which a confidentiality instruction is appropriate, how to narrowly tailor the instruction, and how to plan investigations that do not warrant such an instruction.”

Cite: Banner v. NLRB, U.S. Crt of App. D.C. Dist., No. 15-1245, 3/24/17.


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Was $666 raise given to label union-organizer the Antichrist?

Another day, another court battle centered around a non-union employer that allegedly retaliated against employees who successfully launched a union-organizing campaign. Was giving them sub-par raises of $666 an “unmistakable” attempt to brand the organizers the AntiChrist or the Devil.

As strange as the above sentence sounds, it’s the basis for an actual court case that was recently decided by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was Lifter et al v. Cleveland State University et al.

Here’s the background: A team of husband-and-wife law professors, Sheldon Gelman and Jean Lifter, claim their employer, Cleveland State University, retaliated against the duo because Gelman mounted a successful union-organizing campaign.

‘Perceived opponents as the Antichrist’

The retaliation took the form of a $666 raise, a raise that was well-below what the anti-AntiChrist couple believed they were entitled to. And of course, the only explanation for that specific raise could be that the number:

“is a universally understood symbol of the Antichrist or Devil — one of our culture’s most violent religious images. Implicitly, but unmistakably and obviously intentionally, [Dean Craig Boise] used his powers to set faculty salaries as an occasion to brand his perceived opponents as the Antichrist.”

Unfortunately for the professors, it didn’t take a court much to shoot down that argument. In its decision, it said:

“After ranking the law school faculty based on objective, self-reported indices of performance, [Boise] divided the faculty into three performance tiers: a $5,000 merit-raise tier, a $3,000 merit-raise tier, and a third ‘catch-all’ tier. … Evidence in the record supports Boise’s account that, at least initially, third-tier faculty members were supposed to receive $727, a number that has no biblical significance. Only after the merit pool was reduced, and only after Boise made several minor equitable adjustments to the merit-raise distribution, did Gelman receive a raise of $666.”

Another problem with the Antichrist claim: The $666 raise also went to some anti-union professors, the court said.

This is one several employee lawsuits we’ve written about involving the “Mark of the Beast” or 666, so if there’s any takeaway for employers it’s this: Whenever possible, avoid using a figure that has a history of leading to some of the most unusual cases in employment law.

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Trump administration deals major blow to ACA contraceptive coverage regs

There’s no doubt the Trump administration’s latest move will weaken the Obamacare contraceptive coverage regs. There is, however, some major debates over just who is likely to be affected by such changes.

The agencies responsible for implementing ACA regs and guidance (HHS, DOL and Treasury) just released two interim final rules that would essentially make it much easier for employers to get an exemption from the Obama-era ACA reg that requires full-time employees of applicable large employers (ALE) to have access to birth control coverage through their employers with no cost-sharing.

2 paths to an exemption

Employers can obtain an exemption under the new rules by, either:

  1. having “sincerely held religious beliefs” against providing contraceptives, or
  2. having objections to providing contraceptives “on the basis of moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief.”

While the ACA did already offer an exemption from the contraceptive coverage regs, it was a much narrower exemption, mainly for churches and religious entities. However, a number of other organizations (like religious-based universities and hospitals) could avoid the rule by filling out a form, submitting it to their insurer and not having to provide the coverage if it went against their beliefs. But the feds would provide it for them.

Under the new rules, everything from non-profits to private firms to publicly traded companies could avoid the contraceptive coverage mandate if they simply fall into either the “religious beliefs” or “moral conviction” bucket.

Diverging views

Now the question becomes: What’s the fallout from the administration’s move? And that all depends on who you ask.

For example, HHS said the new rule wouldn’t have any type of impact on “99.9%  of women” in the U.S. How did it come to this conclusion? It took into consideration the 165 million women in America. It’s worth noting that many of those women aren’t in their child-bearing years.

HHS calculated that at the very most, 120,000 women could potentially be effected by the changes. That’s based on the approximately 200 entities involved in the around 50 legal challenges to the contraceptive coverage mandate.

Other policy experts, however, believe the HHS’s estimate is comically low. Reason: Because there are hundreds of Catholic hospitals, nursing homes and non-profits, the new rules could easily open the floodgates to hundreds of companies dropping their plans’ contraceptive coverage, says emeritus professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, Tim Jost.

Plus, women also use birth control for reasons other than pregnancy prevention, such as the treatment of hormonal imbalances and endometriosis. And, as director of women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation Alina Salganicoff points out, because of this usage “there is no way to know how many women will be affected.”

Already, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Women’s Law Center said they’d challenge the legality of the new rules, so this promises to be a fiercely contested issue.

Stay tuned.


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The Human Resources Management Kit October 2017

The Human Resources Management Kit – October 2017 brings together the latest information, coverage of important developments, and expert commentary to help with your Human Resources Management related decisions.

Learn more! 

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10 signs your workplace culture is toxic (and how to fix it)

toxic employees

It’s a hard thing to admit … that your work culture may be toxic. But identifying the symptoms and finding the antidotes for them can quickly improve morale, engagement, retention and productivity. Let’s get started. 

Here to help is Ross Kimbarovsky, founder and CEO of crowdspring, who has some unique insights into the signs of a toxic workplace and how to remedy them.


Are your employees tired? Discouraged? Burnt out?

If the answer is yes, you may have a toxic culture at work.

That’s a problem.  Unhappy workers are less productive, make more mistakes, and are more likely to seek employment elsewhere.

Work culture exists on multiple levels. It isn’t just behaviors. It’s also an infrastructure of beliefs and values. To create real and lasting change, your business must tackle cultural issues on all levels.

You must act quickly to improve a negative work environment before productivity lags and employees abandon ship.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you turn-around a toxic work culture:

1. Identify problem behaviors

Every company is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for repairing a damaged work culture.

The first step is always to examine your business’s culture to identify your specific challenges.

Start by taking a critical look around you. Before you can change for the better, you have to face uncomfortable truths head-on.

Ten common warning signs a workplace is turning toxic are:

  • gossiping and/or social cliques
  • aggressive bullying behavior
  • poor communication and unclear expectations
  • dictatorial management techniques that don’t embrace employee feedback
  • excessive absenteeism, illness or fatigue
  • favoritism and imbalanced working conditions (discriminatory policies/wage gaps)
  • workaholic behavior that sacrifices healthy work/life balance
  • unrealistic workloads or deadlines
  • little (or strained interaction) between employees or employees and management, and
  • unsafe or morally questionable working conditions.

You probably won’t find all of these, and you may find problems not listed here. But whatever problems you find – take note. Those issues will inform your plan to rescue your work culture.

2. Evaluate the underlying support network

A toxic culture can’t take root without a fertile environment, and its symptoms can’t survive without a supportive infrastructure.

So, it’s time to dig deeper. What shared values and actions are helping to support those behaviors?

Examine your company’s leadership and their values. Then work your way from the top of the ladder to the bottom looking for issues like:

  • discriminatory beliefs
  • treating employees as assets, not people
  • information guarding (poor communication/unclear expectations)
  • aggressive or hostile leadership styles
  • belief that employees are lazy, stupid and/or expendable
  • resentment of Authority
  • contrariness
  • lack of accountability
  • lack of appreciation for (or recognition of) good work

All of these are problematic and set the foundation for a negative work culture.

3. Plan your repair strategy

With a clear understanding of the illness, you can now strategize your treatment plan.

And remember – change is hard. Don’t try to fix everything at once. Prioritize.

Tackle the problem behaviors that have the biggest impact first, and smaller issues will likely begin to right themselves. Here are some strategic antidotes to many of the most common workplace problems:

  • Listen to your employees. Hear their grievances, validate their experiences and make the changes necessary to address their issues. This can come in the form of one-on-one conversations, a town hall meeting with HR, or simple blind surveys. Listen, validate, and work together to find solutions.
  • Assign realistic workloads and deadlines. This means taking the time to learn what your employees actually do. What are they responsible for, and how long do those tasks take? Remember that there are only 60 minutes in every hour and assign tasks accordingly.
  • Communicate transparently. Employees can’t do their jobs well without understanding the context. Having the information to do one’s job reduces confusion and frustration, making employees happier and more efficient. Hold weekly meetings, and send frequent memos or a company newsletter. Share the information they need to know.
  • Acknowledge work well done. A study by the Boston Consulting Group reports “appreciation for your work” as the most important factor to job happiness. Find ways to show appreciation. Tell employees what they’re doing well – they’ll feel appreciated (and be more likely to continue doing it). Build a supportive environment by sharing employee successes and make positive encouragement a group activity.
  • Treat all employees by the same rules. Playing favorites breeds resentment. Examine your company policies – do they unfairly benefit one group over others? Be open to feedback; employees may see problems that you don’t. Then even the playing field, and require all employees to follow the rules.
  • Foster emotional intelligence. The BCG Study included good relationships with colleagues and superiors among the top five elements leading to job satisfaction. Banish bullying, disrespect and dismissive behavior. Prioritize emotional intelligence. Provide resources to help employees expand their emotional intelligence. Improved emotional intelligence can cure a number of ills.

While these are all great suggestions for every company, be mindful of your business’ challenges, and choose your action items accordingly.

4. Implement your plan

John Kotter of Kotter International asserts that leaders are catalysts for workplace change. If you’re in charge, you have a powerful platform for motivating change. But, be prepared to live the changes you want to see if you want anyone to take those changes seriously.

Making change easy, rewarding and socially acceptable are the keys to success. Humans have a strong drive to be a part of the group. Normalize the behaviors you seek by asking the social influencers in your business to promote those behaviors, too.

Make it easy for your employees to implement positive changes by removing barriers to success. This, again, will require that you listen to your employees to know what those barriers are.

Finally, help your employees see how the changes you’re proposing will reward them with a more positive workplace.

5. Reflect and adapt

Give your new policies and practices time to take root. Change won’t happen overnight.

After a few months, take stock. What has changed? What hasn’t?

Meet with the influencers you enlisted to help with your implementation. Reflect on how things have gone. Different perspectives can offer useful insight.

Assess your progress, and adapt your efforts as needed. Keep the lines of communication open.

Cultural change is a big undertaking; but well worth the effort. Perseverance will lead you to success.

Ross Kimbarovsky is founder and CEO at crowdspring and Startup Foundry.  In 2007, Ross left a successful 13-year career as a trial lawyer to pursue his dream of founding a technology company by founding crowdspring – a marketplace for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services.

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Spotlight on equal pay: What your peers are doing to prevent a Google situation

Employers are well aware pay discrepancies between genders could come back to haunt them. As a result, many are taking proactive steps to make sure they prevent or address any problems before it’s too late. 

A recent WorldatWork report revealed that 60% of HR pros currently monitor their processes for pay equity issues. What’s more, 43% of HR pros spent more time on equal pay issues this year than they did the previous

The report also identified the various steps employers were currently using to address pay equity.

From regular analysis to internal committees

These steps included:

  • Conducting regular analyses to identify possible gender biases (cited by 54% of companies from the study)
  • Requiring managers to explain all pay decision (20%)
  • No longer asking about job applicants’ slary history (15%)
  • Utilizing software or algorithm to determine pay that controls for gender, race, ethnicity, etc. (11%)
  • Eliminating slary negotiating based on merit increases or promotions (3%)
  • Creating an internal committee to review all pay decisions (3%), and
  • Eliminating salary negotiations during hiring (1%).

Eleven percent of companies also cited “other,” 20% didn’t have any formal formals in place to address pay equity and 1% didn’t know if they had anything in place.

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