Month: February 2015

Reduce On-the-Job Injuries

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Involve Employees to Reduce On-the-Job Injuries

on the job injuriesKeeping employees safe and avoiding on-the-job injuries is a top priority for any business. OSHA estimates that employers pay almost $52 billion annually in worker’s compensation alone; that doesn’t even include the costs associated with lost productivity, absenteeism, hiring and training replacement employees, mitigating safety hazards, repairing damaged equipment, and lowered morale. Not to mention, workplace injuries are costly to employees as well. While worker’s compensation and insurance covers most of the expenses, injuries often lead to loss of income, possible loss of livelihood, and reduced quality of life. In short, businesses cannot afford to ignore safety.

While U.S. labor law requires employers to maintain safe workplaces for employees, and to conduct industry and occupation specific safety training, the safest workplaces are those that involve employees themselves in maintaining a culture of safety. Employees bear a certain amount of responsibility for their own health and safety at work, and managers cannot reasonably be expected to identify and mitigate every risk, every moment of every day.

Not only are employees the eyes and ears for safety issues, but when they feel a sense of ownership over the well-being of their co-workers and customers as well as themselves, they are more likely to adhere to safety guidelines and take steps to prevent-on-the-job injuries.

So how do you get employees more involved with safety? By finding creative ways to get them involved with decision-making, soliciting their ideas for improvement, and empowering them to be safety leaders. Doing that doesn’t necessarily mean a series of dull meetings, either — you can actually have some fun and make it enjoyable to think about safety.

Create a Committee

Some people hear the words “safety committee” and automatically conjure up images of the hall monitors of their school years, ready to cite anyone who commits the most minor of infractions. However, a safety committee doesn’t need to be legalistic or punitive.

A safety committee can serve as a sounding board for employee concerns, and be a catalyst for taking action. The safety committee can also develop tools for assessing the overall safety of the workplace, such as checklists to assess the strengths and weaknesses to guide action plans.

The idea is to provide employees with the chance to take ownership over workplace safety, and make decisions based on how people really work each day.

workplace injuriesMake it Personal

Often, employees don’t think about safety because it doesn’t seem immediately relevant to them. Someone who spends most of the day sitting at a desk, for example, is probably not thinking about slip and fall accidents — until she strips over a box of paper left in the hallway and is seriously injured.

To encourage even those employees who have “safe” jobs to make safety a priority, you need to make it personal to them. Why is safety important to them, personally?

One idea from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) is to develop a bulletin board on which employees can share the reasons that they want to stay safe. These reasons could include family, friends, hobbies, passions — anything that could be negatively affected by a serious injury. Employees can post photos or words, but the idea is to drive home what’s at stake should an injury occur. Place the bulletin board in a well-traveled area, like the employee break room, to give co-workers a chance to get to know each other a little better, which builds camaraderie among the team.

Create Reporting Mechanisms

Many employees are reluctant to point out safety hazards or to confront co-workers about unsafe work habits for fear of retaliation or developing a reputation for being the “safety police.” However, co-workers are often the first line of defense against injuries, so putting mechanisms in place that allow employees to communicate risk without fear is important.

Another tip from LARA is to implement a system of cards to use in identifying safety risks — and commending those who keep safety a priority. Give employees red (Stop) cards to hand to co-workers that they witness doing something unsafe and green (Go) cards to hand to people they see demonstrating proper safety protocols. Handing someone a card removes some of the potential awkwardness inherent in confronting someone, and opens up the door to a conversation about accident and injury prevention.

Some companies have used the red and green communication cards as part of an overall awareness and incentive program. Tap into your employees’ natural competitiveness and make safety a contest; the individual or group who creates the safest environment in the office wins a prize, for example, or honor employees who receive green cards at a meeting or with a small token. The idea is to make safety awareness an everyday concern, and to show employees that they are all at risk for injury, so make safety incentives an ongoing program. You could even make these incentive programs a responsibility of the safety committee.

It is everyone’s job to create a safe working environment, so find ways to get your employees invested and committed to avoiding injuries. When you do, you’ll save costs and build a stronger team.

Workplace Violence

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Workplace Violence: What’s Your Policy?

No one wants to consider the possibility of violent acts taking place at work, but the fact is, it does happen. In the wake of several high profile incidents both at home and abroad, including the recent massacre of 12 employees at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, many companies are revisiting their workplace violence policies and plans to ensure they are doing everything possible to protect their employees from harm.

While no policy or procedure can ever protect against every possible scenario, the law does require that employers provide a working environment that is free of known dangers. Addressing the issue of workplace violence raises awareness of the potential for problems, and helps provide employees with the tools they need to respond appropriately and more importantly, stay safe or uninjured in the event of a violent incident.

Workplace ViolenceDefining Workplace Violence

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), “Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” More specifically, workplace violence can come from inside or outside of the organization, and might include anything from an employee yelling at or assaulting another employee, to an act of terror committed by an outside individual; for example, a disgruntled customer or estranged spouse may commit violence in retaliation for a perceived wrong.

Most often, though, the perpetrators of workplace violence are employees. The violence may be precipitated by something happening in the employee’s personal life (such as financial problems or illness), drug or alcohol abuse, or work-related stress or problems, such as being overlooked for a promotion or disciplined for poor performance.

Regardless of the cause of workplace violence, and who actually commits the violent act, the effects on a company are significant. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workplace violence leads to work absences, increased costs for the employer (for property damage, worker’s compensation, personnel costs, and increased security), psychological damage to employees, and in extreme cases, serious or permanent physical harm to employees.

Preventing and Addressing Workplace Violence

In many cases, violent incidents are predictable. Perpetrators often reveal clues to their struggles over time; rarely do people “snap” and commit violent acts on a whim. In some cases, employees may have already gone through the appropriate channels to try to prevent the violence, such as getting a restraining order against a former spouse who has made threats. Random acts of workplace violence are rare, and tend to occur more often when employees directly face the public, such as in the retail industry — but even then, there are usually signs that trouble is brewing.

Workplace ViolenceBecause there are usually clues that workplace violence is a possibility, employers are obligated to train employees in recognizing the signs, and reacting appropriately. There must be channels in place for employees to express concern anonymously over a co-workers behavior, or to report problematic behavior from outside of the organization. Employees should also be trained in what to do in the event of a workplace violence incident, including protocols for notifying authorities, interacting with the perpetrator, and protecting themselves from harm.

Workplace Violence Policies

A growing number of companies are instituting workplace violence policies. These policies are designed to not only build awareness of the issue, but also to remind employees that you have zero tolerance for any type of violence, including harassment, intimidation, and physical violence, in your company. All employees should sign a copy of the policy, acknowledging understanding, and all training should hinge upon the principles covered in the policy.

Workplace violence prevention policies should include several key features:

  • Specifically state that the policy applies to all employees, including full-time, part-time, and contract employees.
  • State the policy applies to work-related violence both in and outside of the workplace.
  • Outline the prohibited conduct.
  • State the requirement to report suspected or witnessed acts of violence, including threats and harassment, and the process for doing so.
  • Requirements for reporting restraining orders.
  • Outline the investigation and enforcement process.
  • Outline the consequences for noncompliance.
  • A statement of non-retaliation against those making reports.

Clearly, signing a policy is not going to stop an employee who is determined to commit violence, but having such a policy in place shows that you take workplace safety seriously, and provides a process for employees who may feel intimidated or frightened and unsure of how to respond.

Guns and the Workplace

One issue that is at the forefront of many Arizonians minds is the prospect of gun violence at work. Arizona law allows individual to carry concealed weapons on their person without a permit, except in prohibited areas such as jails and schools. However, employers may — and often do — prohibit employees from bringing firearms to work. Employees can keep weapons in their personal vehicles in the parking lot (unless otherwise prohibited by the employer or restricted to a certain area) but employers do have the right to ban firearms from the premises, and their policies overrule Arizona law. When crafting your workplace violence prevention policy, do not forget to address firearms, and clearly state your company policy.

Keeping employees safe requires more than removing hazards and requiring ID badges. Acknowledging the possibility of workplace violence and giving employees the tools they need to prevent and address are just as important — and could even save lives.

 

 

Does Off-Duty Equal Off-Limits?

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Does Off-Duty Equal Off-Limits? In Most Cases, Yes

Most people assume that when they leave the confines of the office, their employer has no control over their activities — or even a right to know what they are up to during their personal time. And for the most part this is true. Employees have a right to privacy, and even though employers generally have the ability to check up on their workers when they aren’t on the clock, that doesn’t mean that they should. In fact, in most cases, disciplining an employee due to their off-duty conduct is illegal.

Federal laws prohibit employers from terminating employees based on off-duty conduct related to race, religion, gender, health, age, disability, and other factors protected by anti-discrimination laws. For example, it’s illegal to fire an employee for attending a race-related rally or a church event outside of work hours. However, some states have broadened employee protections related to off-duty conduct, preventing employers from disciplining or terminating employee for smoking, election-related activities, possession of firearms, and certain drug-related offenses, among others. In short, before you take action against an employee for something they do on their own time, it’s important to understand the laws governing such actions — or you could land your company in hot water.

General Guidelines

off-duty employee conductIn general, off-duty conduct standards are tied to activities that:

  • Reflect poorly on the company or profession, or cause legal or financial harm to the company
  • Have a direct impact on an employee’s ability to do his or her job
  • Are illegal

For example, consider this scenario: Bob is an accountant for a large delivery company. On Friday night, Bob indulges in a few too many alcoholic beverages before getting in his car, and is stopped by the police. Bob receives a DUI, and loses his license. Can Bob be fired?

Given his current position, no, Bob should not be disciplined at work for his indiscretion. Although Bob is no longer legally able to drive, he has alternate transportation for work, and does not need to drive to fulfill his normal duties. If Bob was a delivery driver, or otherwise needed a valid license to operate a motor vehicle in order to do his job, then his DUI could be cause for termination. His employers may not be impressed by his behavior, but legally, they do not have cause to fire him.

However, if Bob was a school teacher and not an accountant, it might be a different situation. A school district could probably successfully argue that receiving a DUI is not in keeping with the standards of the profession, and causes harm to the reputation of the school district. Bob’s responsibility and suitability to work with students could also be called into question.

There are other cases in which off-duty conduct could come in to play at work. For example, you cannot fire someone for attending a particular church, but if that employee begins proselytizing in the office, trying to convert others, or otherwise making others feel uncomfortable or harassed, you can take action. Likewise, employers cannot discipline employees for union activities outside of work, or for moonlighting at another job as long as there is no conflict of interest or the terms of the employment contract expressly forbid it.

Social Media

Aside from illegal activities, social media use is perhaps the most common source of questions about off-duty conduct. Firing or disciplining an employee for posts made on personal social media pages outside of working hours raises a number of questions related to privacy and freedom of speech.

In general, labor laws prevent employers from taking action against employees for social media posts unless they can prove that the post was harmful to the business, or they contain evidence of illegal activities that influence an employee’s ability to do his or her job. Posts that violate the terms of a corporate social media policy, even if made outside of working hours, can also be grounds for termination.

off-duty employee conductBusiness Travel

Off-duty conduct rules can also come into play when it comes to business travel. While the purpose of a trip may be for work, it’s unreasonable to expect employees to be “on the clock” 24 hours per day for the duration of the trip.

Employees are entitled to some downtime, and that could include socializing, drinking alcohol, and sightseeing or experiencing some of the cultural attractions in the city. And in general, the same rules that apply to off-duty conduct while at home apply on the road: Unless an activity is illegal, jeopardizes the business legally or financially, or is a clear violation of company policy, you are unlikely to have grounds to discipline or terminate an employee. However, you do have the right, as an employer, to develop strict policies regarding business travel and what constitutes appropriate conduct, and punish employees for breaking those rules.

Thanks in large part to social media, as well as the new health care laws, employers now have access to more information than ever about their employers. Add in a culture that values accessibility via mobile devices, and the line between work life and private life is more blurred every day. Still, employers cannot dictate employee behavior at all times, and it’s important to remember that just because you don’t like something, it doesn’t mean you can fire someone for it.

What to Do When Your Employee Stinks

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What to Do When Your Employee Stinks — Literally

Employee hygiene Is there any conversation that is more awkward than having to tell someone that their body odor is offensive to others? Or that their bad breath is driving customers away? Personal hygiene conversations are never fun to have, but as a manager, when an employee’s personal hygiene and grooming habits are affecting others, it’s your responsibility to address the issue.

Not only is there a certain amount of etiquette involved in addressing personal hygiene issues — after all, you don’t want to be rude or hurt someone’s feelings — you could be treading into treacherous territory involving discrimination or disability issues. Not all personal grooming problems are due to negligence, and there is always the possibility that the offender knows that he or she has an issue, but can’t help it. Of course, there is always a possibility that the offending employee has no idea that their hygiene is affecting others — and a meeting could serve as a wakeup call.

As uncomfortable as such a conversation may be, you cannot simply ignore the issue and hope it resolves itself. According to one Australian survey, 75 percent of workers find it difficult to concentrate on work when a colleague has body odor, while 64 percent find bad breath distracting. Almost half find flatulence to be a problem at work. Clearly, odors are an issue in the workplace, so you need a strategy for dealing with them.

Develop a Policy

One way to keep odorous employees from becoming an issue is to include clauses regarding personal hygiene and grooming in the employee handbook as part of the dress code. It may seem obvious to stipulate that employees should come to work clean and well groomed, but having a written policy in place makes it easier to address violations. It won’t eliminate all potential problems, since each employee has their own interpretation of what it means to come to work smelling fresh and looking clean, but it is a starting point.

Initiating a Conversation

Whether the odor problem is something that you have noticed yourself, or something that has been brought to your attention by other employees or customers, it’s important to address the issue promptly and courteously. The best way to do that is to schedule a private meeting with the employee; never address their odor or habits in a public forum or in front of others.

When starting the conversation, it’s important to be as objective as possible. Starting with “Everyone says that you smell bad,” is not going to get the conversation off on the right foot. Instead, begin by acknowledging the awkwardness of the situation, and inform the employee of the problem in specific, non-judgmental language. For example, state, “I realize this is an uncomfortable situation, but several people have mentioned that your body odor is making it difficult to concentrate on their work.”

Employee hygieneDon’t assume a cause for the issue or make judgments; for example, don’t say, “It appears that you aren’t showering every day,” or “You obviously don’t care about your appearance.” Not only do such statements put the employee on the defensive, they are potentially violating anti-discrimination laws. In some cases, body odor or grooming issues are a result of health issues (some medications can cause bad breath or flatulence, for example) or cultural or religious standards.

Because odors aren’t always due to lax hygiene practices, it’s important to give employees a chance to respond. If he or she didn’t know there was a problem, a gentle reminder about your company’s personal grooming policies should address the issue. If it’s a case of a cultural, religious, or medical issue, you may need to make accommodations for that employee to comply with anti-discrimination laws.

The only exception is when the accommodation creates an undue hardship on the business. In some cases, allowing an employee to maintain habits that lead to unpleasant smells for others will hurt your business, and you can legally compel an employee to comply with your hygiene standards or face reassignment or termination.

Moving Forward

As when dealing with any type of employee issue or policy violation, documentation and follow-up are important when addressing hygiene violations. Communicate your expectations regarding hygiene to the employee both verbally and in writing, and document the consequences for failing to follow through on the prescribed remedy. If accommodations are in order, document both the accommodation and the plan for implementing it. Set a timeline for resolving the issue and a date for follow up, if necessary.

While addressing the problem with the offending employee is the most important part of handling a stinky situation, it’s also important to prevent any fallout. Remind the offending employee that the conversation is confidential, and that you’re looking out for the interests of the company. In addition, do not tolerate gossip or bullying among employees regarding someone else’s hygiene. If someone complains, assure him or her that you will handle it, with a reminder not to take matters into their own hands. If gossip becomes a problem, address it with the staff, with escalation as appropriate.

Above all, it’s important to handle hygiene-related conversations with compassion. While it may be awkward, someone who doesn’t know they have a problem will probably be relieved that someone kindly told them the truth and spared them further embarrassment.

Employee Attire in the Modern Workplace

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Breaking the Code: Employee Attire in the Modern Workplace

We’ve all been taught not to judge a book by its cover, but in the business world, appearance often plays a major role in perceived competence, intelligence, and professionalism. Businesses want to project a positive image to customers, and therefore usually require employees to adhere to certain standards of dress and appearance. The problem is that not only are many dress codes vague, they are often out of step with current trends in both fashion and business.

Personal Expression vs. Corporate Expectations

Workplace attireEmployers want their employees to express a certain image. However, that image often conflicts with the personal expression of employees, especially in today’s culture when tattoos and body piercings are common. Employees have long argued that forms of expression like tattoos — or even their choice to wear short skirts or T-shirts — make no difference in their ability to do their job, and that employers should be more concerned about their performance than whether or not they are baring shoulders or have their significant other’s initials tattooed on their wrist.

At the same time, studies show that appearance at work does matter, even if it doesn’t affect performance. Most employers focus dress code rules on those employees who have direct face-to-face contact with clients or customers, but a recent Salary.com survey indicates that dress codes also influence how employees relate to each other. More than half of the 4,600 people surveyed said that they judge others at work by their appearance, with those who wear skimpy or revealing clothing, shirts with inappropriate images or words, or clothing that is too casual (i.e., pajamas) receiving the harshest criticisms. The sure respondents noted that when people dress inappropriately for work, they are often viewed as inferior, incompetent, or even stupid, and serve as fodder for rumors, gossip, and backbiting.

One point that won’t surprise to anyone is that opinions about dress codes vary widely according to age, with younger workers more likely to label a company’s dress code as “too strict.” In fact, many Millennials consider a company’ dress code when evaluating job opportunities, generally preferring to work for those companies that allow for more casual dress, as well as accept a variety of hairstyles and colors, body art, and piercings. Realizing the importance of attracting younger workers — while still maintaining certain standards — some companies are relaxing certain appearance standards, and allowing employees to have visible tattoos and body piercings as long as they meet certain standards (such as no offensive images or language, for example.) Other companies are easing other restrictions, such as allowing employees to wear appropriate shorts and open-toed shoes, or choosing from several options for clothing colors.

Workplace attireHow Casual Should You Go?

Despite some employees’ insistence that what they wear doesn’t matter, in general, most employees appreciate having some guidance from their employers over what to wear and what not to wear. And, according to the same Salary.com survey, the vast majority of employees prefer a business casual dress code to a formal code, and appreciate the opportunity to have “dress down” or casual days.

How formal or relaxed your company’s dress code should be depends largely on your industry, how often you interact with the public, and what type of work you are doing. Certain fields, like law and finance, are most likely always going to maintain a formal dress code that requires suits and ties for men and pantyhose for women. Likewise, if you are working in a warehouse or a back office, you can be more casual. Beyond those considerations though, there are a few other points to keep in mind when developing or revising your dress code:

Discrimination. The only legal guidelines involving dress codes involve discrimination, or more accurately, avoiding discrimination. Rules regarding employee attire cannot discriminate based on sex, race, or religion. It is okay to have separate policies for men and women; social norms dictate that men wear neckties, for example, so it’s unreasonable to require women to as well. You cannot, however, make policies that are not based on social norms or place a greater burden on one sex. In terms of religious discrimination, your policy must allow for accommodations to the code for religious purposes, unless you can prove that doing so creates an undue hardship.

Enforcement. As with any policy, dress code rules must be equitably enforced across the board, and based on facts and not personal opinions; i.e., just because one employee thinks that another’s skirt is too short doesn’t necessarily constitute a violation.

Practicality. In some cases, it is simply impractical to require employees to maintain certain standards, due to the climate, the type of work being done, and even the socioeconomic status of the employees. Requiring employees who work for minimum wage to maintain a formal appearance, for example, may not always be possible.

Business Goals. In some cases, you can be more relaxed with employee dress and build your brand or image with accessories or uniform pieces. For example, require employees to wear a vest or apron to identify them as employees, over an outfit of their choice.

Establishing an employee dress code sets standard for your workers and helps them make appropriate choices in work attire. However, as fashions and trends change, so should your dress code, as adhering to old and outdated rules could drive down morale — and possibly drive away qualified employees.

 

Employees and Social Media Use

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What to Do When an Employee Posts Something Nasty on Social Media

Social Media in the WorkplaceIt almost inevitable: At some point, one (or more) of your employees will post something unflattering, mean, or simply untrue about you or your company on social media.

While clearly those who call their boss nasty names or make fun of their co-workers online never listened to their mothers when they said “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” it still happens every day. Often, people who make posts like this are just venting and don’t mean any real harm, but the very nature of social media means that such statements can be damaging to personal and professional reputations. As a result, many employers take a dim view of negative social media posts — and a growing number of those social media ranters are finding themselves in the unemployment line after using poor judgment online.

Firing an employee who makes negative posts on social media isn’t always the best course of action, though. Not only might it be illegal, but also firing an otherwise productive employee can cost your company more than any damage that a single post ever would. Evaluating negative social media postings on a case-by-case basis is a more effective way of handling problems, and protects both your reputation and your relationship with the employees.

What’s Your Policy?

The first step to appropriately dealing with negative social media posts is to enact a comprehensive social media policy. While it might be tempting to ban employees from saying anything at all about work online, that’s simply not possible. The National Labor Relations Board has issued some guidance to employers regarding social media policies, which essentially allow your policy to govern the use of social media during working hours, define what can and cannot be shared online, prohibit harassment, offer guidelines on acceptable use, and provide guidelines on how and when employees can portray themselves as company representatives.

Just as important as defining what employees can and cannot do on social media, though, is outlining the consequences for violations and a process for addressing violations. In the vast majority of cases, negative social media posts can be easily dealt with via a conversation. In fact, assuming that the negative post isn’t something illegal or potentially harmful, most violations can be dealt with by:

  1. Pointing out the violation. If you see something negative online, request an in-person meeting with the poster. Note that you saw the post, and start a conversation. Point out that the post is a violation of the social media policy, and politely ask for the post to be taken down to avoid further action.
  2. Social Media in the WorkplaceStarting a conversation. Negative or inappropriate posts are rarely due to someone being bored or just wanting to cause trouble. In some cases, the poster might not realize that they have violated policy, or they might have just had a bad day. In other cases, the violation stems from a deeper underlying issue that needs to be addressed. As a manager, you might think that everything is fine and your employees are happy, but social media can tell a different story. Ask questions, and if there’s an issue, find ways to make improvements.
  3. Enforcing disciplinary policies. A good social media policy includes consequences for violations, and it’s important for those consequences to be handled consistently and equitably. However, termination is not the only possible response to negative social media posts. Progressive discipline is often appropriate in these cases; a verbal reprimand, followed by written reprimands up to and including termination for subsequent offenses. Documentation of the discipline process is vital.

Fireable Offenses

One of the major issues associated with employee use of social media is maintaining that balance between protecting the business and employee privacy. In addition, many states have enacted laws prohibiting employers from firing employees for their activities outside of working hours, including posting on social media. For that reason, there may be times when the best thing to do about a negative employee post is nothing at all.

If an employee posts from his or her own computer, after working hours, about how much she dislikes her boss or co-workers, chances are that it’s not going to do much harm to the business — and if the employer says something to her about it, she could feel that her privacy was violated. Not to mention, in this case, it’s unlikely that a court would uphold any disciplinary action, given that it’s not a clear violation of social media policy.

However, there are times when you cannot ignore posts or take a progressive approach to discipline, such as when the posts are harassing, reveal confidential or protected information, or contain illegal behavior that could hurt the company. In those cases, immediate termination (in addition to other action) may be required, in accordance with your policy.

The bottom line when dealing with employees and social media is to maintain a balanced approach. Obviously, you don’t want employees posting nasty rumors or saying mean things about you online, but you also don’t want to overreact and cause more bad publicity. Develop a policy that gives employees some leeway in what they post, and focus on the comments and behavior that are truly detrimental to your company.