Archive for May, 2010

Using Social Media for Employee Communications

Friday, May 28th, 2010

It’s an all too familiar refrain from HR professionals – employees missing response deadlines, asking why and when their benefits were changed, and getting upset about “new” policies.  But you know that you’ve sent out a number of communications and done everything short of putting the employees in a closet and forcing them to fill out the required form or read the information.

I can’t promise you it will result in 100 percent participation, but one new trick you may want to try is social media.

“Social media?”  you say.  “Isn’t that just for people sharing their photos and the endless details of their monotonous lives?”

Well, yes, and no, but that really is the point.  The key to communicating to an audience is to talk to them where they are, and it is highly likely that many of your employees are using social media.  So how can you take advantage of the huge growth in social media usage to improve the responsiveness of your employees to important HR requests?

The first suggestion is to ask employees if they use social media and if so, what websites they most often utilize.

If most of your employees are not social media users, or if the ratio is around 50/50 but you really want to try something new, your best bet is to set up an employee communications blog.  This will give you the ability to communicate the messages you’d like to send and to encourage the interaction of employees through commenting.

The process of setting up a blog can move quickly and easily, especially if you use one of the more common free platforms like WordPress or Blogger.  You’ll want to privatize your blog if you only want those within your company to have access.  Or you may want to show the world what a great company you have, which is the approach that Zappos.com takes.

Of course, the most popular social media platform right now is Facebook.  Knowing that Facebook has such a large number of active participants may push you in the direction of setting up a corporate page for your employees.  Setting up the page can be done quite quickly.

Keep two things in mind– your employees may not feel comfortable linking their private profiles to a corporate page, and you will have to adjust the privacy settings of your Facebook page if you only want employees to view it.

Another social media platform that may be more appropriate for your HR goals is LinkedIn.  LinkedIn is most often thought of as the more professional social network.  Through LinkedIn, you can set up a group that requires approval to join and invite employees.  You can set your group up to automatically send e-mails when you’ve posted information, either discussions or news.

Twitter is another alternative you may want to consider.  Setting up accounts on Twitter is easy, and you can protect your tweets.  For your employees to receive the information you send, they will have to follow you.  The challenge for communications using Twitter may be the 140-character limit per tweet.  You could consider using it as a way to get the word out about a new post to your blog or Facebook page.

You may want to start by dipping your toe in one of these alternatives as a way to support the methods you already use, or you may be ready to completely transition.  Either way it will be important that you fully research and understand the new platform you choose to use, whether it be a blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or one of the many other alternatives.

Are you considering using social media for employee communications?  What advantages and/or disadvantages do you see?  If you’ve already implemented a social media platform, please let us know your thoughts on how it is working.

Photo Source: benstein

Negligent Hiring and Retention Cost You In More Ways Than One

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

There were 34 North Carolina employees who sustained fatal occupational injuries caused by assaults and other violent acts in 2008 (the most recent year for which data is available), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Violence was the second highest cause of death listed in the results, and that total amounted to just one less than the combined number of employees who died on the job from contacts with objects and equipment, exposure to harmful substances or environments, and fires or explosions.

This figure is important because employers can and have been held liable for employees who demonstrate harmful tendencies such as violence at work and are retained without receiving appropriate discipline, supervision or termination. These individuals may have had a history that indicates a propensity for workplace violence, such as a criminal record that was overlooked during a background check, which could invite even more liability to your organization.

Under North Carolina law, an employer who knew, or should have known, of an applicant’s or employee’s dangerous or offensive characteristics may be held liable for the damages that the employee causes. If a reasonable investigation of the employee’s past would have revealed the potential problems, liability is possible.

People lie during job interviews. They make up claims of educational attendance and achievements on their resume, such as the Harvard student accused of making up facts. Saying you were not aware of such falsehoods will not cover you from facing legal charges if pursued by a plaintiff harmed by an employee.

Effective background checking practices are essential in determining whether your potential employee is telling the truth about his or her education, work history and possible criminal history. For more details about why you need this to avoid liability and how CAI can assist you with running proper background checks, please visit our website.

Photo Source: pingnews.com

HIRE Act Can Save Employers Money This Year

Friday, May 21st, 2010

On March 18, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, which includes new tax benefits directly related to hiring employees. This bill, aimed at providing hiring incentives to restore some jobs lost in the latest economic recession, offers business owners the following benefits:

  • Its payroll tax exemption provides employers with an exemption from the employer’s 6.2 percent share of Social Security tax on wages paid to qualifying employees (meaning previously unemployed workers), effective for wages paid from March 19, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2010.
  • For each qualified employee retained for at least 52 consecutive weeks, businesses will be eligible for a general business tax credit, referred to as the new hire retention credit, of 6.2 percent of wages paid to the qualified employee over the 52-week period, up to a maximum credit of $1,000.

New employees must be hired between Feb. 3, 2010 and Jan. 1, 2011 in order to qualify for the business tax credits. The newly-hired employee must have been unemployed 60 days prior to starting work or worked fewer than 40 hours for someone else during the 60-day period.

The IRS has released a new Form W-11 that will help employers claim the special payroll tax exemption. Employers must retain this form along with other payroll and income tax records. Most eligible employers then use Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, to claim the payroll tax exemption for eligible new hires.

The new hire retention credit will be claimed on the employer’s 2011 income tax return.

Business owners will get the most out of the tax credits by hiring qualifying employees sooner rather than later, as the credits diminish over time and disappear completely by Jan. 1, 2011. The benefits do not apply to household employers or federal, state and local government employers, other than public colleges and universities.

More information on the HIRE ACT and its other business incentives, such as writing off investments in equipment, can be found at http://hireact.org/. For tax details, consult the IRS Q&A page.

Photo Source: alancleaver_2000

Five Important Points from CAI’s 2010 Employment and Labor Law Update

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

More than 350 company executives and HR professionals gathered at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh on May 12 and 13 for CAI’s 2010 Employment and Labor Law Update.  The record-setting crowd heard about the latest changes in federal and state employment laws and what North Carolina employers need to be doing now to address these changes.

The two days were packed full with illuminating information, and there were many participants’ questions answered.  To write about everything that was covered would take two weeks’ worth of daily blog entries.  In lieu of that huge undertaking, here are five important points that were made:

1. A study released in September 2009 regarding wage-and-hour violations is driving the U.S. Department of Labor’s efforts to greatly increase its investigations into such non-compliance.  The study is based on interviews with more than 4,000 “workers in low-wage industries” in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.  The results were:

  • 76% of those surveyed worked overtime the previous week but were not paid time-and-a-half
  • 26% were being paid less than minimum wage
  • 69% of workers entitled to a break did not receive the required break time

2. The U.S. Department of Labor is also making a large investment in pursuing the misclassification by employers of independent contractors.  Three steps employers need to take to address this issue in their organization are: conduct a thorough, companywide risk analysis of your independent contractor population; design and implement a comprehensive compliance program; and establish an internal team to implement and monitor the compliance program.

3. Every organization needs to have a social media policy.  The first question to ask is whether to create a positive/empowering policy or a negative/deterring policy?  In other words, do you empower your employees to become ambassadors for your organization, or do you prohibit them from referring to it?

4. One of the most important things an employer can do to avoid violations under the new ADA Amendments Act is to train their supervisors how to respond to an employee’s request for accommodation.

5. Three key tips for avoiding I-9 liability: implement a comprehensive written policy; conduct I-9 audits at least annually; and implement a policy for resolving no-match notices.

Did you attend the 2010 Employment and Labor Law Update?  What important takeaways did you bring back to the office?

Photo Source: srqpix

H1N1 Still Around and Still a Concern

Friday, May 14th, 2010

The first two waves of the H1N1 virus over the last 12 months killed more than 12,000 Americans and sickened hundreds of thousands of others. And now a third wave of “mini-surges” is beginning in most Southeastern states, including North Carolina.

There is no reason why a large outbreak should occur among the general public again, as H1N1 is preventable from being spread. More than 120 million doses of the vaccine are available at present, and there are no delays in getting a shot.

Federal health officials are asking that people not vaccinated for the virus take the opportunity to correct that now – particularly among high risk groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this includes young children and people 65 years and older. In addition, certain health conditions increase the risk of being hospitalized from H1N1, including heart, neurologic, or lung diseases, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as diabetes and pregnancy.

H1N1 virus is thought to occur in the same way that seasonal flu spreads, mainly from person to person through coughing, sneezing or talking by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something – such as a surface or object – with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

Symptoms of H1N1 include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever. Hospitalizations, severe illnesses and deaths have occurred as a result of illness associated with this virus.

We encourage employers and their staff to be vaccinated for H1N1 as soon as possible because of the cost in time and money for a business dealing with people recuperating from a virus that can be prevented, not to mention the possibility of death in extreme cases.

If you or your employees are looking for more information on H1N1 along with the latest updates, visit the CAI H1N1 Resource Guide.

Photo Source: alvi2047

Five Things N.C. Employers Need to Know about OSHA Inspections

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Participants in CAI’s latest Members Only event, Ask the Expert: The OSHA Inspector Cometh, were treated to a presentation rich with useful tips by David Coble, president of Coble, Taylor & Jones Safety Associates, LLC. His past life as an NC OSHA inspector contributed to his real-life examples of employer violations, and steps employers may take to avoid problems.

Below are five important points he made about OSHA inspections:

Triggers for an OSHA inspection. On-site inspections are initiated when there are reports of imminent danger (example – locked exits), catastrophic or fatal events (hospitalization of three or more employees and/or an employee death), employee complaints submitted in writing, or special OSHA targeting programs (example – employers with a lost workday incident rate of 14 days or greater).

When the inspector arrives. The receptionist should ask for the inspector’s identification, get his/her name and notify management immediately.  A ranking manager should meet with the inspector and be respectful and cooperative.  Do not require a search warrant.  It will only briefly delay the inspection and is likely to result in an antagonistic relationship with the inspector.

Documentation typically asked for. Inspectors typically ask for OSHA 300 logs for the past two years (although they can ask for up to five years), as well as medical records, OSHA-required written programs, the location of training, inspection and medical records, and the facility safety and health manual.

During the inspection. The employer representative should listen attentively to the inspector, write down areas noted and comments, take pictures of the same areas that the inspector does, and take the same readings and samples that the inspector takes (to confirm readings in case the inspector’s equipment is not calibrated).

Employer response to citation(s). Employers may request an informal conference and contest a citation, penalty or abatement date prior to the citation and up to 15 days after citation.  A participant in the program cited the ability to reduce penalties during this process.  An employer may also accept the citation, pay the penalties and correct the violation.

For more information about OSHA, visit www.osha.gov or www.nclabor.com, or call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at 919-878-9222 (Raleigh) or 336-668-7746 (Greensboro).

Photo Source: Sylvar

Workplace Insights Invites You to Blog

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

As we continue to blog about HR trends and topics, we are reaching out to you, the readers and experts to help contribute.

We are calling on you, our valued members, to be guest bloggers, share your stories, your insights and your successes with the rest of us. Your advice on what works for you and your company can be tailored and utilized by others to help create a solid workplace and help retain top talent.

Ideally, resourceful blogs will be around 300-500 words each. They should be written from your point of view and share your professional expertise. Topics can range from advice, employee retention tips, auditing and metrics. It can also cover your HR successes or workplace tips.

This opportunity will allow you the chance to promote what innovative methods and programs you and your company have created and executed successfully for your employees. It is a great forum for providing you feedback and interest from other firms about what you have accomplished.

So if you are interested in guest blogging, e-mail us for more information.

Employment and Labor Law Update Helps Employers Be Informed and Protected

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

The past year has been marked by major changes in employment law and intense regulatory enforcement efforts, including:

Government agencies will be stepping up their enforcement activities even more in 2010.  Consider:

  • U.S. Department of Labor budget includes $25 million and the addition of 100 enforcement personnel to identify and penalize employers who improperly misclassify employees as independent contractors.
  • U.S.D.O.L. budget includes a $67 million increase for worker protection agencies, including $14 million more to OSHA to add 60 enforcement staff and conduct 9 percent more inspections.
  • The EEOC budget includes an $18 million increase that will be used in part to hire 100 new investigators.  Those additions come on top of the EEOC’s 2009 expansion.
  • OSHA has announced that they plan to increase the average fine for a serious violation from $1,000 to $3,000-$4,000.
  • The U.S.D.O.L. Wage and Hour Division launched its “We Can Help” campaign earlier this year.  It essentially presents any employee who is unhappy with their pay with a forum for a nothing-to-lose wage complaint that can be submitted online or through a hotline.

In addition, the number of wage and hour lawsuits filed by employees against employers increased by 44 percent in 2009 over 2008, healthcare reform passed and President Obama recently appointed Craig Becker and Mark Pearce to the National Labor Relations Board, tilting the board very much in a pro-labor way.

To help North Carolina employers understand what these developments mean and how they will ultimately be affected, CAI is hosting its annual Employment and Labor Law Update on May 12 and13, 2010 at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh.  CAI experts and experienced attorneys from Ogletree Deakins will discuss all of the recent changes and help companies understand what they need to worry about now and what they can move down the priority list.

For additional information, please go to www.capital.org/lawupdate.

If you are participating in the conference and would like to tweet your thoughts, we invite you to do so using the hashtag #10ELLU.

Photo Credit: CAI