Sunday March 25, 2018

5 simple ways to make your work interactions more meaningful

On a typical work day, co-workers have many interactions with each other, but a lot of these conversations are insincere and don’t go past pleasantries. 

These surface-level interactions are all missed opportunities to build stronger connections with your colleagues, and TLNT contributor Dianna Booher says it’s pretty easy to change this.

Here are five simple ways to start having more meaningful interactions with your employees.

1. Personalized greetings

Everyone’s had this clichéd exchange:

“Hi, how are you?”

“Fine. And you?”

“Good, thanks.”

While a polite interaction, this conversation is robotic and not memorable. How often are we actually fine when we tell people we are? Do we actually care to hear the response to “How are you?”

Slightly switching up this greeting can do wonders. Adding the person’s name lets them know you are acknowledging them as an individual. Asking something simple, like how their commute was, opens up the conversation past “Good, thanks.”

2. Helpful responses

Many times, when a worker expresses concern about an issue, they’ll get a response like, “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

While seemingly a comment that instills confidence, its generic nature makes it sound more like, “I don’t have time to focus on your situation.”

You may not be able to solve their issue, but giving a specific response shows you truly were listening. For example, when a colleague tells you about their problem, maybe suggest they talk to an employee who went through a similar situation.

3. Sincere praise

A well-deserved compliment will always go farther than vague flattery, which is often excessive and to the benefit of the one who gives it. Recognizing something an employee did that was particularly well done will make them feel much more appreciated.

4. Skip the fake smiles

Much like the response “Fine, thanks,” smiles at work aren’t always genuine. For example, Booher says that once she disagreed with her group at a meeting, but instead of speaking up, she put on a fake smile. Afterwards, someone approached her, saying they could tell from her smile that she wasn’t happy with how the meeting went.

Others can notice when smiles are insincere. Expressing how you really feel will come across better than fake pleasantness.

5. Offer real help

“Let me know if I can do anything to help.”

This common offering can come across as, “I’ve given no thought to how I might help, but I want to look benevolent, so I’m going through the motion.”

If you truly want to offer help, let them know specifically what you’re able to do, or offer a few suggestions.

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Employers get PAID: But is DOL’s new program as good as it sounds?

When it comes to FLSA enforcement, the notion of a more employer-friendly DOL is quite foreign to HR pros. But with the agency’s latest move, it seems like that’s exactly what it’s going for.

The DOL just announced a new pilot program called the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program.

Employer benefits

Under PAID, employers would conduct self-audits of its FLSA compliance and, if they discover wage-and-hour violations, come forward to the DOL to correct mistakes and provide back wages in an expedited manner.

The incentive for turning yourself in: Employers that voluntarily self-report and work with the DOL to take corrective action under the PAID program won’t be subject to liquidated damages.

The DOL’s Wage-and-Hour Division would oversee the program to determine the amount of backpay and oversee the companies’ payments to workers.

In addition to self-auditing pay practices, the PAID program would require employers to accept compliance assistance and correct any practices that led to the problems.

To prevent abuse and protect employees, the DOL says the program will also have a number of safeguards included. It would also prevent repeat violators wouldn’t be able to use the PAID program.

Employee, DOL benefits

For employees, the program would ensure back wages are paid faster – without the hassle of a drawn-out court cases or investigations.

They would also receive 100% of the back wages paid and wouldn’t ever have to worry about any additional expenses like litigation costs, attorney’s fees or other costs.

From the DOL’s standpoint, the PAID program would require only a fraction of the resources it normally uses to resolve FLSA investigations and lawsuits.

Of course, not everybody is so keen on this program. One employee advocacy group recently told the Wall Street Journal that the program essentially amounts to a “get out of jail free card” for employers.

We’ll keep you updated on any developments to this story.

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From cocktail requests to naps: The 10 worst job-interview performances

With half of employers making their minds up about candidates within the first five minutes of the interview, both parties know how important it is to make a good first impression.

Nevertheless, there are countless mistakes job candidates make in their interviews, both common and downright strange.

A recent survey from CareerBuilder asked HR pros about their biggest interview deal-breakers, and also some completely off-the-wall ways candidates have ruined their chances at the job.

Common errors

It’s no surprise that the worst mistake a candidate can make in an interview is getting caught in a lie — 71% of HR pros said this ruins the candidate’s chances immediately.

Some more instant turn-offs were:

  • answering a call or text (67%)
  • acting entitled or arrogant (59%), and
  • swearing (51%).

An interviewee’s body language can make a bad impression as well. Hiring managers were less likely to give a candidate the job if they:

  • didn’t make eye contact (68%)
  • were fiddling with something (36%), or
  • had a weak handshake (22%).

What were they thinking?

This survey also uncovered some pretty unique ways job seekers ruined their interviews. Here are 10 of the craziest things HR pros have seen:

  1. One candidate was missing essential skills needed for the job. When asked about this, he replied that “Fake it until you make it” was his personal philosophy.
  2. A woman asked the interviewer if she was qualified to be conducting it.
  3. When asked if he wanted a refreshment, one candidate requested a cocktail.
  4. Clearly needing a caffeine fix, one woman asked if she could have a sip of her interviewer’s coffee.
  5. A woman brought some pumpkins into her interview and offered them to the hiring manager, saying they transfer good energy.
  6. One candidate was a little too relaxed, and came in wearing slippers.
  7. We’ve all heard of a power suit, but one candidate took that a step further and came dressed in a full Darth Vader costume.
  8. A candidate was feeling a little sleepy, and five minutes into the interview rested his head on the table for a nap.
  9. When a candidate reached into his pocket to pull out his keys, a bag of drugs fell out instead.
  10. One candidate broke out in song in the middle of her interview.


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20-state lawsuit claims ACA just became ‘unconstitutional’: What now?

Just when you thought the fight to kill the ACA was finally over, a brand new chapter of the Obamacare-repeal saga has emerged. And on the surface, this chapter looks like it could potentially be the last for the controversial law.

Earlier this week, a 20-state coalition of attorneys general (AGs) filed a lawsuit against the federal government — specifically the IRS and HHS — over the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The claim: The ACA is no longer constitutional after the repeal of tax that enforced the requirement that people purchase health insurance policies or pay a fine — a.k.a., the individual mandate.

‘No remaining legitimate basis for the law’

Plaintiffs claim a recent Supreme Court ruling backs up their argument. Essentially, the AGs claim the Supreme Court only allowed the individual mandate to remain as an exercise of Congress’ taxing authority.

After the passage of the new tax reform law, however, the individual mandate’s penalty was removed. The AGs say the entire mandate was then rendered unconstitutional.

In addition, the AGs claim the individual mandate cannot be removed from the ACA without making the entire law unconstitutional.

As Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton put it:

“The U.S. Supreme Court already admitted that an individual mandate without a tax penalty is unconstitutional. With no remaining legitimate basis for the law, it is time that Americans are finally free from the stranglehold of Obamacare, once and for all.”

Does the suit have merit?

Of course, it’s possible a court won’t even accept the lawsuit’s claims in the first place, as Katie Keith of the Health Affairs Blog points out. Many of the states in this lawsuit may not even have the standing because they were involved in a previous lawsuit that made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

In that case, the court found the individual mandate could be removed from the ACA without causing the law to fail.

Under the legal process know as res judicata or collateral estoppel, the states from the previous ACA individual mandate lawsuit would be prohibited from “relitigating” claims that were already litigated.

A very mess process

For the time-being, the lawsuit now puts the ball in the Trump administration’s court, which must decide whether or not to defend a law it’s promised over and over again to repeal.

HR pros may be thinking, “That’s a no-brainer. Trump and the GOP have been doing everything imaginable to kill the ACA, so there’s absolutely no reason they would ever defend it.”

While it may seem like this is a golden opportunity for Trump to make good on a campaign promise, it’s actually not that simple.

Yes, allowing the ACA to be killed off by this lawsuit would allow Trump and the GOP to make good on a promise that was a cornerstone of their respective campaigns, but it would also be a very, very messy  process — a process that could ultimately do much more harm than good.

Right off the bat, states would lose federal funding, uninsured rates would increase significantly and already unstable insurance markets would be immediately sent into a tailspin. And that doesn’t even account for all of the yet-unknown consequences of a market destabilization spurred by an immediate rollback of such a massive law.

Taking apart the law — and fixing it — piece by piece through planned legislation may be a more preferable path to the administration. Either way, expect this case to drag out.

Stay tuned. We’ll keep you up to date on any developments on this important lawsuit.

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Is sexual orientation discrimination illegal? New court ruling on divisive issue

Whether or not sexual orientation discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has been hotly debated by several courts in recent months.

And the Supreme Court declining to rule on the issue last year only complicated the matter, since many had looked to it for guidance.

But a brand new ruling on yet another sexual orientation discrimination case could end up bringing the issue right back to the Supreme Court.

Second Circuit ruling

In Zarda v. Altitude Express, a gay skydiving instructor was terminated after he revealed his sexual orientation to several female clients. Zarda did this in an effort to make them more comfortable with being strapped to him in a tandem skydive, but this had the opposite effect on a male client who learned that Zarda was gay. This caused the company to fire him.

The Second Circuit decided that this was considered sex discrimination under Title VII, since the company didn’t fire female instructors for potentially being attracted to male clients. The fact that Zarda was male and gay went hand in hand with his termination.

The court further said that sexual orientation is “predicated on assumptions about how persons of a certain sex can or should be.” The company had expected Zarda to act a certain way because he was male, and then fired him when he didn’t. Sex stereotyping is prohibited under Title VII, and it is an impermissible basis for adverse employment actions, the court added.

Bigger picture

This ruling only further divides courts on the issue. Previously, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that sexual orientation discrimination isn’t considered sex discrimination, and therefore not protected under Title VII.

But last year, the Seventh Circuit became the first federal appeals court to recognize that “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.”

Though the Supreme Court previously declined to weigh in, that may change if courts continue to have different opinions on the matter.

In the meantime, it’s important to note there are already several state and local laws protecting employees from sexual orientation discrimination.


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The risky hiring shortcut nearly half of HR pros are taking

Study after study confirms that an alarming number of applicants are blatantly lying on their resumes, and a new study reveals many of these folks are likely to get away with it. 

That’s because 48% of HR professionals admit to not always checking an employee’s qualifications, according to a recent study by Adzuna, a job ad search engine company.

Plus, just 62% of HR staffers believe you should check references.

Some other eye-opening stats about HR pros’ habits:

  • 30% of HR pros admit they waive qualification checks if the candidate has previous experience
  • 35% of companies believe that the responsibility for uncovering resume/CV lies sit with recruitment agencies
  • just 6% of HR pros check the social media accounts of candidates, and
  • more than half (53%) of HR pros say they’re worried by the poor performance of under-qualified staff.

Top industries for resume embellishments?

When it comes to the job-seekers, the study found that 37% admitted to lying on their resume at some point during their careers.

Of those individuals, 83%  said the lie/lies didn’t stop them from getting the job, and nearly half (43%) said it directly contributed to them getting the job.

The top industries in which job-seekers are likely to lie on their resumes are:

  • Marketing or Advertising (17% of candidates)
  • Retail (14%)
  • Finance (12%), and
  • Law (12%).

Lying on a resume is also most prevalent among male candidates (cited by 58% of respondents) between the ages of 25 and 34 years old (34%).

Top industries for resume embellishments?

Based on the findings in the Adzuna study, HR pros must approach the resume pile with a careful eye for red flags.

As HR Morning has mentioned previously, one way to do this is by looking out for common fabrications and outright lies.

Here are three of the most common, courtesy of Fast Company:

1. Inflated roles

According to the OfficeTeam report, 76% of candidates embellished job experience, and 55% exaggerated their job duties.

In an effort get to where they want to go career-wise, job-seekers will put down the titles of jobs they believed they deserved as opposed to their actual work roles.

What to look for: Vague descriptions of skills that aren’t consistent with what your job posting actually demands.

2. Suspicious dates

Job-seekers know gaps in employment tend to raise red flags for recruiters and HR pros. As a result, they tend to get creative in covering up those gaps.

Example: Date blocks that only include the year, instead of the starting/ending month.

3. Lack of degree specificity

Education is a huge area for misrepresentation. While there are a few brazen folks who have the guts to put down big-name schools they never even attended, that type of lie generally isn’t what you have have to worry about.

A far more common fib comes from candidates that put down degrees they never earned or fell just short of earning.

What to look for: Incomplete degree names. For example, someone may put bachelors degree instead of bachelor of science (BS) or bachelor of fine arts (BFA).

To be safe, you’ll want to make sure all degree specs were met and that the candidate isn’t among the individuals who lie about something that they never actually completed.


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Tips for navigating recent ACA penalties

At the tail-end of 2017, we reported the IRS’ plans for dishing out penalties against employers for failing to comply with the shared responsibility (i.e., “employer mandate”) rules of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). 

Now, Matt Thomas of the professional employer organization WorkSmart Systems Inc. is sharing tips on how employers can navigate the IRS penalty process under the ACA.


Many large employers have been up in arms about receiving Obamacare penalty notices over the past few months indicating they failed to offer qualifying health coverage in 2015. The penalties are amounting to thousands, if not millions, of dollars that may be due to reporting errors.

The Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP) is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and is sometimes referred to as the “employer mandate.” It applies to employers with an average of 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, and requires the employer to offer employee health insurance that meets ACA standards or be fined by the IRS. In other words: “pay or play.”

Many employers recently received a penalty notification and were perplexed not only by the large amount of the proposed penalty, but also the reason for the penalty. If you are one of these employers, and you are reasonably certain that you have met your obligations under the ESRP, you may be correct. It seems that a common error has occurred, at least for the 2015 reporting year.

To give some background, the IRS determines which employers owe a penalty based on information from the employer’s Forms 1095-C and 1094-C and employees’ income tax returns. Form 1094-C is the employer reconciliation of healthcare reporting forms 1095-C, which are distributed to employees. It appears that Part III (a) has been checked incorrectly in many cases with an indication that the employer did not offer minimum essential coverage to employees when in fact the employer did offer coverage.

If you are an employer currently in this situation, the remedy may be relatively simple. First of all, don’t panic. Receiving penalties of large amounts can be scary, but I suggest consulting a trusted adviser with ACA expertise to verify the cause of the notification before taking any action.

If you determine that the proposed penalty was triggered because of a reporting error in Part III (a) of the 1094-C, the following steps should rectify the issue:

  1. Draft a short letter stating that you do not agree with the proposed payment, and indicate the reporting error.
  2. Complete the section of the notification that gives you the option to disagree with the proposed payment.
  3. Print and sign a copy of the 1094-C form with Part III (a) indicating that you did offer minimum essential coverage to employees.
  4. E-fax these items to the number on the first page of the notification.

Please note that there are many legitimate reasons for the ESRP notification and it’s important to ascertain the cause before taking steps to remedy.

About the author: Matt Thomas is the President of Indianapolis-based WorkSmart Systems, Inc., which he founded in 1998. He is active with the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO), and has dedicated more than 20 years to the PEO industry dating back to his early career with industry leaders ADP and NovaCare Employee Services.

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NLRB rules on ex-Google employee’s wrongful termination complaint

Can you fire an employee for expressing their discriminatory views, or is that speech protected? This was the question the NLRB answered when addressing a recent wrongful termination complaint. 

Ex-Google employee James Damore, now infamous for that 10-page memo he wrote (claiming that biological differences were the reason more women weren’t in leadership positions), filed a complaint against the company.

Damore says that he was fired for expressing his views, a protected concerted activity.

Complaint dismissed

The NLRB released its decision, dismissing Damore’s complaint.

The Board said that some portions of the memo may be protected, but others were not. Specifically, his discussion of the biological differences between men and women were deemed “harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive,” which violated Google’s discrimination policies.

The NLRB said Google was within its rights to fire Damore because he violated its policies and his speech had the potential to create a hostile work environment. The Board said:

“Employers must be permitted to ‘nip in the bud’ the kinds of employee conduct that could lead to a hostile workplace, rather than waiting until an actionable hostile workplace has been created before taking action.”

This decision offers some support for employers, who may be unsure of when an employee crosses the line with expressing their views. It can get tricky, but in Google’s case, its policies backed up the decision.

As for Damore, his legal battle doesn’t end here. He also filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that Google discriminates against white, conservative men.

We’ll keep you posted on what will surely be an interesting case.



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Patriots-loving HR pro fires Giants fan for ‘the Tom Brady incident’

When a New York City underwriter walked past a life-sized poster of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in his Manhattan office, little did he know it would set off a chain off events that would eventually lead to his termination.

As the New York Post reports, 37-year-old Solomon Chu, an underwriter for National Debt Relief and rabid New York Giants fan, thought the giant poster of Tom Brady in the lobby of his workplace was simply there as a prank to get a rise out of folks.

After all, they were in New York, so why else would something like that be there? Chu reasoned.

Following that misguided logic and doing what he believed was a favor for his fellow Giants and Jets fans, Chu ripped down the poster and threw it in the trash.

HR’s affinity for Brady, Patriots

Unfortunately for Chu, the poster was not only not a prank, it had also belonged to National Debt Relief’s head of HR, Joanne Murray, a huge fan of Brady and the Patriots.

The day after destroying the Brady shrine, Chu was brought into Murray’s office for questioning.

While showing him the surveillance video, Murray asked Chu, “Did you think you were going to get away with this?”

Chu apologized profusely for the misunderstanding, explained how he thought the poster was a joke and even offered to pay $50 to replace the poster.

Later that night, he even sent another apology to Murray that stated:

“Again, I’m terribly sorry. I sincerely believed it was a prank and treated it as such. There was no intent to be malicious or underhanded … I’ve made an order to replace your property with expedited delivery.”

The efforts seemed to help some, and Chu did manage to get another meeting with HR. However, despite his best efforts, the company decided to fire him “due to the Tom Brady incident.”

Chu told the New York Post he feels “wronged” by the termination, claiming he had been a model employee who just received a performance bonus and had a perfect score on his customer-service calls. In the end, he blamed Murray’s affinity for the Patriots for his termination.

“Patriots fans are crazy. Boston fans are known for their fanaticism, but this lady took it too far out of Boston,” Chu said.



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Can an employee take FMLA leave for the death of a pet? Court weighs in

Almost everyone knows how difficult the loss of a beloved pet can be. But is it upsetting enough to qualify for FMLA leave? 

One employee, who was having a particularly hard time coping with the loss of his dog, thought so.


Joseph Buck worked as a machinist for Mercury Marine in Wisconsin. One day he called his supervisor, asking for a vacation day to deal with the death of his dog. At the time, Buck did not mention how severely affected he was by this — he had been unable to sleep since putting his dog down. Buck’s employer granted the vacation day.

The next day, Buck called out again, this time sharing that he was still unable to sleep. This counted as an unexcused absence.

That day, Buck went to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with situational insomnia. He received a note from the doctor detailing his condition, which he gave to his supervisor. Despite the note, that day’s absence, as well as several others that followed, were considered unexcused.

After three months, these absences led to Buck’s termination.

FMLA interference?

Buck filed a lawsuit against Mercury Marine, claiming FMLA interference. But summary judgment was granted in favor of the employer.

The court acknowledged that insomnia can be considered a “serious health condition” under the FMLA, but Buck failed to prove his did.

To be considered serious, the condition must:

  • require inpatient care (an overnight hospital stay) or continuing treatment by a health care provider, and
  • incapacitate the individual for more than three consecutive days.

The court pointed out that Buck’s only treatment was one visit to the ER. The note he received from the doctor also didn’t categorize the insomnia as chronic, nor did it say Buck was unable to perform essential job functions.

Even if Buck’s insomnia was considered a serious health condition under the FMLA, the court said he still didn’t give his employer adequate notice of his need for FMLA leave. Case dismissed.

While Buck didn’t qualify for FMLA leave, it’s possible that another employee who lost a pet could, as long as they meet the qualifications for a serious health condition.



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