Monday August 20, 2018

3 ideas to liven up your one-on-one meetings

There’s nothing wrong with having business talks or brainstorming sessions while sitting in an office, but it can get old after a while. 

The formality of meeting with a colleague in an office can cause the conversation to be stiff or superficial, which doesn’t typically lead to the most productive or creative discussions.

But contributor John Boitnott shared three suggestions for making the most of your one-on-one time with co-workers, helping you get more accomplished and build stronger connections.

1. Go for a walk

Something as simple as walking and talking instead of sitting can make a world of difference. Not only does this give you a chance to stretch your legs and get away from your computer screen, but studies have shown people think more clearly when they’re moving.

Besides the benefit of some physical activity, being outside is much more conducive to better conversations. The sun and fresh air will put you in a good mood, and being out of the office will allow you and your colleague to speak more freely.

2.  Play a game

A shared experience is a great way to bond with a co-worker, and it also gives you the chance to have more meaningful conversations. Sports like golf or racquetball allow for discussion, physical activity and fun. These activities will help you get some work assignments accomplished while not feeling like work.

If you’re not up for a physical activity, a board game or video game can work just as well. Even if you can’t get out of the office, you can still have a fun experience that’s more genuine than a formal one-on-one meeting. Some friendly competition can help you connect with your co-worker, too.

3. Make it a group event

If you need to talk business with someone, but not necessarily in a one-on-one setting, why not get some more people involved? Organize a group happy hour with other co-workers who might be able to shed some light on a project. This laid-back setting will take the pressure off and allow people to be themselves. Plus, when you’re done talking shop, you can mingle and build camaraderie, which is always a good thing.


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Court ruling adds confusion to handling medical marijuana in the workplace

Just when HR pros were starting to get a feel for where courts stand regarding medical marijuana in the workplace, a New Jersey court handed down a surpising ruling on the subject. 

In Cotto v. Ardagh Glass Packing, Daniel Cotto sued his former company, Ardagh Glass, over his refusal to take mandatory drug test that was part of company policy. Initially, Cotto had been asked to take the drug test because he “hit his head on a forklift.” Cotto informed the company he wouldn’t be able to pass the test because he use doctor-prescribed medical marijuana to alleviate neck and back pain from a previous injury.

Ardagh refused to waive the drug test and told Cotto he couldn’t continue to work for the company until he had a drug test that was negative for marijuana and he wound up on indefinite suspension. In response, Cotto filed a lawsuit claiming Ardagh’s refusal was a violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA), which required the company to provide an accommodation that excused him from the mandatory drug test.

A court, however, disagreed. In its ruling, the judge found that CUMMA does not require the glass company to waive the drug testing requirements, and found that Cotto failed to show that he could perform the “essential functions” of the job he seeks to perform.

‘Remains illegal under federal law’

The court also cited the Schedule One status of marijuana in its ruling by stating, “[n]o state law could completely legalize marijuana for medical purposes because the drug remains illegal under federal law even for medical users.”

It added:

“[a]lthough no court has expressly ruled on this question, New Jersey courts have generally found employment drug testing to be unobjectionable in the context of private employment….And as we have seen, nothing in CUMMA or LAD disturbs this regime.”

Cite: Cotto v. Ardagh Glass Packing, CV-18-1037 (D.N.J. August 10, 2018).

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How letting an employee drink juice on the job could’ve saved this company $700K

ADA, EEOC, diabetes

Most employers would be happy to deal with an accommodation request that was as simple as keeping a bottle of juice nearby. 

But one company refused to bend its rules about eating or drinking on the job, resulting in a costly legal battle and payout.

No juice allowed

Linda Atkins, a type II diabetic, was a cashier at a Tennessee Dollar General. Because of her condition, when Atkins’ blood sugar got too low, she’d have to quickly consume sugar in order to prevent passing out or seizing.

When Atkins asked her manager if she could keep orange juice with her for emergencies, he denied her request due to company policy forbidding food or drink at the registers.

During her time at Dollar General, Atkins had two hypoglycemic episodes. In both instances, since Atkins couldn’t leave her post, she took a bottle of orange juice from the store’s cooler, drank it, then paid for it later.

Atkins was then fired for violating the “grazing” policy, which forbids employees from consuming merchandise before paying for it.

Forced to violate policy

The EEOC filed a suit against Dollar General, claiming the company failed to accommodate Atkins, then fired her for her disability. The 6th Circuit reaffirmed a lower court’s ruling and sided with Atkins.

The court said Atkins never would’ve taken juice from the store if she was permitted to have her own — she never should’ve been fired for violating the grazing policy.

The court went on to say that when the company denied Atkins’ request to keep juice at her register, it didn’t go through the interactive process with her to find another accommodation for her disability.

“The employer had a duty to explore the nature of the employee’s limitations and what types of accommodations could be made, but the store manager categorically denied Atkins’ request, failed to explore any alternatives and never relayed the matter to a superior.”

In this case, a little flexibility with company policies would’ve gone a long way. Now, Dollar General owes Atkins $725,000 — much more than the cost of two bottles of orange juice.


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This alarming healthcare trend has increased 87% in the past four years

Nine-digit health claims are becoming the norm rather than the exception.
In fact, the number of million-dollar-plus medical claims has risen 87% in the past four years, according to Sun Life Financial’s 2018 High-Cost Claims Report. The Sun Life report analyzed self-insured plans, but the trend affects plans of all stripes.

The Big Three

In order to combat this troubling healthcare trend, employers need to understand the conditions that are behind the sky-high claims.
Although 10 conditions make up over $3 billion in claims reimbursements, these three conditions are the most costly for employers year in and year out:

  • Malignant neoplasm (cancer)
  • Leukemia, lymphoma, and/or multiple myeloma (cancers), and
  • Chronic/end-stage renal disease (kidneys).

With a firm understanding of what’s behind the high-cost claims what’s being done to combat those conditions, employers can take some proactive steps to limit their exposure.

What can be done

The first step should be an analysis of both your company’s medical and its Rx spend. This will help you determine which conditions are already having the greatest impact on your healthcare spending.

Then, if you haven’t done so in a while, you may want to do a demographic analysis of your workforce to find out which conditions are most likely to occur.

You’ll also want to determine what procedures you have in place for high-cost and “specialty” drugs: pre-authorization, step therapy, tiering, etc.

Finally, you’ll want to check on the availability of a major cost-saving step regarding injectables. See if your plan allow injectables to be administered at home instead of a medical facility. Not only does this keep costs down, it’s something many workers will likely appreciate.

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New dads score $1.1M settlement in EEOC parental leave discrimination case

As parental leave policies are becoming increasing popular, HR pros need to keep this in mind: Not giving new fathers the same type of leave as new mothers to bond with a newborn or newly placed adopted or foster child can prove very costly. 

That’s a lesson Estee Lauder learned recently in what appeared to be the EEOC’s first-ever lawsuit specifically against a company’s parental leave policy. As a result of that lawsuit, Estee lauder will pay a total of $1.1 million to the class of male employees named in the EEOC.

 The primary v. secondary debate

The settlement is the result of a discrimination lawsuit against Estee Lauder Companies Inc. because of its parental leave and flexible leave policies.

According to the suit, Estee Lauder only gave new fathers two weeks of leave for “child bonding” when it offered new mothers six weeks.

The suit also claims female employees were given more flexible arrangements when they returned from work after childbirth. The agency took up the case after a stock worker at a Maryland store requested six weeks of leave for the birth of his child, but was only granted two.

The agency took up the case after Christopher Sullivan, a stock worker at a Maryland store, requested six weeks of leave for the birth of his child, but was only granted two. Sullivan told the company he would be the child’s primary caregiver, but was told the company only applied the “primary caregiver” designation in “surrogacy situations,” according to the suit.

A new policy

Estee Lauder’s policy, which was only adopted in 2013, gave six weeks of leave to new mothers and “primary caregivers” and two weeks of leave to “secondary caregivers.”

In addition, the company offered new mothers four weeks of “transition” time, which allows them to return to work on a flexible schedule until they get re-situated at work.

Acting director of the EEOC’s Washington field office, Mindy Weinstein, did commend the cosmetics maker for its parental leave policy and flexible work arrangements, which it called “wonderful” (… at least in their intent).

However, Weinstein went on to add the caveat that “… federal law requires equal pay for equal work, and that applies to men as well as women.”

‘Should not reflect stereotypes’

In addition to the payout, Estee Lauder is required to administer its parental leave and return-to-work benefits in a manner that ensures equal benefits for male and female employees and uses sex-neutral criteria, requirements and process. Plus, the company is required to provide training on unlawful sex discrimination and allow the EEOC to monitor its practices.

Since the lawsuit, Estee Lauder implemented a new parental leave policy that provides all eligible employees, regardless of gender or care­giver status, 20 weeks of paid leave for child bonding and the same six-week flexibility period upon returning to work.

Of the lawsuits and settlement, Senior EEOC Trial Attorney Thomas Rethage said:

“Parental leave policies should not reflect presumptions or stereotypes about gender roles. When it comes to paid leave for bond­ing with a new child or flexibility in returning to work from that leave, mothers and fathers should be treated equally.”

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Policy changes? Here’s how to get employees on board

Nobody likes change. And when new policies go into effect, it can be tough to get everyone through the transition stress-free.

Employees will naturally have a lot of questions and concerns. But there are ways you can make the process run as smoothly as possible.

The more info, the better

KnowTechie, a business and technology blog, shared some pointers on how to get your employees on board with major policy changes.

1. Lead with how the changes benefit them. There’s no denying that policy changes can complicate things and cause a lot of confusion. One tactic to soften the blow is starting the conversation in a positive light. Before speaking to employees about the changes, look at it from their perspective and see what elements of the policy staff would consider a positive thing.

2. Explain the reasons behind the changes. Many employees won’t be happy with just knowing the basics. They want the “what” along with the “why.” Even if employees are upset with the changes, they’ll understand why the new policies were necessary if you give them all the information.

That being said, if a certain incident sparked a new policy, try not to point fingers at anyone. If it’s unavoidable, focus on the worker’s actions, not them personally.

3. Ask for feedback. Employees may have a lot of opinions about the changes, and will feel the need to express them. Make sure your staff knows how you’re accepting feedback. Not only will employee comments help the process go more smoothly, but they’ll feel respected and valued that you want to hear from them.

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Feeling the burnout? 3 ways to revive your employees

HR pros know how important it is to help employees avoid stress and burnout, and a lot of companies are doing their best to tackle this issue. 

But research is showing it’s still not enough.

A recent study by Deloitte, which surveyed 1,000 U.S. employees, found 77% have experienced burnout at their current jobs. Sixty-four percent reported that they were often stressed at work.

Despite some employers’ best efforts, workers are still wanting more. Sixty-nine percent felt their companies didn’t do enough to minimize burnout, and 21% reported their employers don’t offer any programs to help reduce stress.

Shifting the culture

The surveyed employees also pointed out what was causing the most burnout, and Deloitte’s Managing Director for Well-Being, Jen Fisher, shared some suggestions for tackling these issues:

  1. Encourage ‘real’ weekends and vacation days. Thirty percent of respondents claimed to consistently work weekend hours, and only 43% use all of their vacation days. Employees are most hesitant to disconnect on days off because they’re worried about potential issues in the office. Employers can help ease these fears by creating a culture where workers aren’t contacted at all on days off. For example, German company Daimler started a “Mail on Holiday” program. This automatically deletes a vacationing employee’s incoming emails, allowing them to completely disconnect. The sender is alerted that the email was deleted, and is encouraged to contact the employee when they return.
  2. Start health and wellness programs. Many employees expressed interest in more wellness programs, especially ones focusing on mental health. Fisher suggests employers offer preemptive stress management classes. Another idea: Aetna’s CEO started providing on-site yoga, meditation and fitness centers for his employees after going through a personal crisis of his own.
  3. Show appreciation in big and small ways. Research shows that when employees are consistently thanked for their work, they’re less likely to leave, and more likely to perform better. But that doesn’t mean big thank yous aren’t necessary too. Here’s an idea: To show its appreciation, Deloitte closed its doors the week between Christmas and New Year’s to make sure everyone enjoyed the holidays stress-free.

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Return of the ACA individual mandate: Could this incarnation catch on?

ACA, healthcare reform, obamacare

When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) killed the penalty on the ACA’s individual mandate, most employers believed Obamacare was effectively dead. But some states didn’t think killing the mandate was such a great idea and put forward legislation to keep the mandate alive on the state level. 

As HR pros are well aware, the ACA’s individual mandate reguired people to carry health insurance or pay a penalty.

However, beginning in 2019, individuals will no longer be required under the federal law to maintain health insurance because of the TCJA. It’s a move that experts believe will cause volatility in the group health plan market.

Unfortunately for employers, the reporting requirements under the ACA are still in place — despite the repeal.

NJ, VT and Washington DC

Since the TCJA took effect, two states, New Jersey and Vermont, and DC passed bills to include their own individual mandate. NJ, VT and Washington, DC join Massachusetts, which had an individual mandate in place well before the ACA became law (2006). Of NJ, VT and DC, the Garden State is the locale with the most specific details on how the penalties will be assessed/calculated. Under the law, which takes effect January 2019, NJ residents without minimum essential health coverage will pay a fine equal to 2.5% of their household income or $695 per adult and $347 per child, whichever is greater.

If the fine is based on a per-person charge, the max household/family penalty will be $2,085.

Even if you don’t have employees in these locations, you should keep an eye on this trend.

Several other states have expressed interest in such a law. In fact, right after the TCJA was passed as many as nine states were strongly considering state-level individual mandate legislation. So there’s a very good possibility the three recently passed state laws will not be the only ones we see moving forward.

We’ll keep you posted.

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Congress aims to greatly expand HSAs: What HR pros should know

Congress recently passed two bills that could drastically expand the usage of HSAs.

If these bills become law, HR pros will have a lot to communicate to their staffers about the many ways in which they can now use their HSAs.

The bills, H.R. 6199 and H.R. 6311, are both Republican-backed bills with some Democratic support and would allow account-holders to use there HSAs for several things that are currently prohibited.

H.R. 6199

The Restoring Access to Medication and Modernizing Health Savings Account Act (H.R. 6199) passed by the greatest margin of the two bills (277-142).

Some of the more significant changes the legislation would make to HSAs (changes that are covered in much more detail in a recent article by the Society for Human Resource Management or SHRM):

  • Undo the ACA’s ban on using tax-advantaged accounts to purchase over-the-counter medications and product.
  • Allow individuals with HSA-qualifying family coverage to contribute to an HSA if their spouse is enrolled in a medical FSA, a move that currently isn’t allowed.
  • Allow HDHPs to cover up to $250 (self-only) and $500 (family) annually for nonpreventive services that may not be covered pre-deductible. This would help workers, on a limited basis, use HDHPs to cover things like chronic-care treatment outside the deductible.

H.R. 6311

The Increasing Access to Lower Premium Plans and Expanding Health Savings Accounts Act (H.R. 6311) passed (242-176) would expand how low- and moderate earners could use the ACA’s premium tax credit and:

  • Raise the HSA contribution limit to $6,650 (individuals) and $13,300 (families), which is combination of annual limit for out-of-pocket and deductible expenses for 2018.
  • Allow HSA to pay for qualified medical expense at the start of HDHP coverage is HSAs are opened within 60 days of HDHP start date.

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ADA: Is attendance automatically an essential job function? Court says …


As HR pros already know, disabled employees still need to be able to perform the essential functions of their job, with or without an accommodation. 

But what happens if an employee can’t come into work because of their condition, but can still get their work done? Is attendance in the workplace necessary then?

In Hostettler v. College of Wooster, an employer tried to argue attendance is always an essential function.

Part-time accommodation

Heidi Hostettler was a full-time HR generalist at the College of Wooster. After having a baby and taking 12 weeks of maternity leave, Hostettler informed her employer she had a severe case of postpartum depression and separation anxiety. Her doctor recommended she only go back to work on a part-time basis for a few months.

The college allowed Hostettler to work half days in the office. Even after going home for the day, Hostettler would still do her work and be available if anyone needed her.

When those two months were up, Hostettler was still unable to come back to work full-time. The college fired her, citing full-time attendance as an essential function of the position. Hostettler sued the company for violating the ADA.

Case-by-case basis

The college claimed Hostettler’s part-time schedule put a burden on the department, and it could no longer accommodate her in that way — a full-time employee needed to be in that position.

But Hostettler showed the court she was able to complete all her core job functions at home. Her co-workers even confirmed there were no issues with Hostettler working from home, and she finished all her tasks in a timely manner. At one point, Hostettler received a performance review while she was working her modified schedule, and the evaluation was positive.

The court first ruled that attendance isn’t automatically an essential job function, and it needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Attendance is only essential when an employee’s physical presence at the worksite is required to complete the job.

In this case, the court felt Hostettler could complete her job remotely, adding, “full-time presence at work is not an essential function of a job simply because an employer says it is.”

Keeping this in mind, it’s a good idea for employers to re-examine job descriptions. Determining which functions can only be performed on-site and which can be done remotely will give you a good idea of whether attendance is essential — and save you from making the same costly ADA mistake as the College of Wooster.



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