Archive for November, 2010

N.C. Employers: How Do Your Healthcare Benefits and Costs Measure Up?

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

On Nov. 15 CAI opened up our 6th annual N.C. Healthcare Benefits and Cost Survey.  Designed with our employee benefits partner, Hill, Chesson and Woody, this survey provides employers with the information that is critical to managing their employee benefits plan, allowing for a comparison of plan designs, premiums and cost-sharing arrangements with that of other N.C. companies.

The geographic focus is one of the things that makes this survey exceptional. It has more N.C.-based data than any other employer survey out there.  The 2009/2010 survey included data from 516 N.C. employers, and we anticipate that the 2010/2011 version will include more than 600 participants.

If you make decisions or are charged with gathering information about employee benefits for your organization, I highly encourage you to participate in this survey.  All survey participants will receive a free electronic report (early March 2011) and an invitation to an in-depth debriefing of the results.  The report and debriefing will help you and your organization:

  • Compare and benchmark your benefits plan with other N.C. employers with similar numbers of employees and/or by industry
  • Get access to the data you need to develop an effective employee benefits strategy
  • Learn how other employers are reacting to healthcare reform
  • Stay competitive in the labor market

Both traditional and consumer-driven health plans are covered in the survey.  Data is further filtered by number of eligible employees, industry and funding arrangement.  In addition to the yearly numbers, the survey addresses longer term trends and competitive practices within the market.

To take advantage of this opportunity to get critical information that will help you manage your employee benefits plan, please go to http://bit.ly/cai10survey.  For additional information or survey assistance, please contact our survey team at cai-survey-team@capital.org.  For one healthcare plan the survey requires as little as 20 minutes to complete.  The survey will close on Dec. 17.

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Seven Things About FMLA and Other Leave Rights that N.C. Employers Need to Know

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

One of the more challenging compliance issues for employers is managing family and medical leave and other leaves of absence, and knowing when to safely terminate employment. Kimberly Korando with Smith Anderson law firm guided CAI members who participated in the recent members-only “Ask the Experts” sessions on the interplay of company leave policies, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAA), and North Carolina’s Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA).

Following are some of the practical takeaways from this session:

1. REDA and ADAA have different requirements.

North Carolina’s REDA law allows employers to have a consistent termination policy that applies across the board regarding workers’ compensation leave.  The ADAA requires a case-by-case evaluation when an employee needs extended leave to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be made (consistency is not applicable).

2. Review policy language on FMLA eligibility.

Be sure that your employee-eligibility statement for FMLA includes all of these requirements:  employed for at least 12 months; worked 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months; and works at a worksite with at least 50 employees within 75 miles.  According to Ms. Korando, if the policy leaves out any of the criteria, you may be required by the courts to grant FMLA even if the employee is not eligible.

3. Consider the different requirements of FMLA and ADA on return to work.

FMLA requires an employer to return the employee to the same or an equivalent position.  ADA requires the employee’s return to the original position.  This is extremely important to remember when the employee is covered by both the FMLA and ADA, and the employee returns before the end of the FMLA (unless he or she is unable to perform the original position with or without reasonable accommodation).

4. Document the interactive process.

Court cases provide employers with tips on the court’s expectations of how they should handle the ADA process.  One “nugget” Ms. Korando gleaned was that the courts expect employers to document the interactive process and what was considered and discussed with the employee regarding reasonable accommodation and/or undue hardship.

5.   Check third party vendor letters.

If you have agreements with vendors that stipulate automatic termination of temporary employees if they are unable to work, include the statement unless other action is required by applicable federal or state law. There are joint employment responsibilities under FMLA and ADA.

6.   Indefinite leave is not a reasonable accommodation in North Carolina.
The 4th circuit court has said that it is unreasonable to expect an employer to hold a job or consider other jobs or extended leave when the employee’s doctor states the employee will be on leave indefinitely.  The employee can be terminated if this is the case (after completion of eligible FMLA leave).

7.   End of leave communications.

Communicate with the employee by documenting in writing a summary of the leave dates, type, etc.  Include the last day worked, the dates of FMLA and the date job reinstatement responsibilities ended, extended leave or other reasonable accommodations made, and the date of termination.

If you have questions about FMLA or other leave rights, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Michael

Top 5 Ways to Recognize a Disgruntled Employee

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Everyone has seen or experienced a time of dissatisfaction at some point in their career – moments of questioning yourself, your role and your long-term position within the company. These fleeting moments are understandable, and are often expected. The problem is when the feelings linger and last longer than they should, and turn into a permanent state of mind.

Disgruntled employees can be seen as a lost opportunity for an organization. At some point, employees can become so frustrated that there seems to be no solution in sight. After taking the time to train, nurture and build employees into valued assets, the last thing any company wants is to have them walk out.

By recognizing displeased employees in advance, these problems can be avoided in the future. Consider the following signs as indicators of possible employee frustration:

Lack of motivation

For employees who once expressed a deep passion and drive for their roles, their company and their industry, a red flag should be raised when their enthusiasm and zeal have decreased. When employees stop trying and no longer give their best, it’s an obvious sign of discontent.

A breakdown of communication

If employees express their concerns but those feelings fall on deaf ears, there will always be a feeling of defeat. That lack of support can transition employees into shutting down, becoming distant and keeping their concerns to themselves, and the silence can be deadly.

A decline in employee performance

Are your employees’ results poor in comparison to the work they have produced in the past? A lack of pride and poor performance can be a sign of defeat, not just laziness. If people don’t feel their voices are being heard, or their growth is static, they may feel the extra effort is not worth it.

Responses from private employee surveys

These evaluations allow employees to speak openly and honestly about their personal and professional feelings towards management staff. By utilizing an anonymous tool like private surveys, companies can shed light on the true concerns internally because of the lack of judgment.

Communication between management and employees

Through regular employee discussions, updates and reviews, management can stay in tune with all staff members. This form of constant communication helps monitor and put a cap on in-house problems. Continuous discussion is probably one of the most effective ways to manage and prevent frustration from building up.

Communicate before it’s too late. Keep your eyes open. Don’t become complacent. Recognize that an essential role you play as part of the management team is to listen. Listen to what is being said, and what is not. You can avoid a percentage of the problems just by making yourself more aware of the day-to-day activities, emotions and actions that take place with your employees.

For information on how to prevent employees from becoming disgruntled or on how to turn around already disgruntled employees, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

Photo source: Peter Alfred

Importance of Background Checks Continues to Rise

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

A recent survey of more than 600 HR professionals by EmployeeScreenIQ reveals that employers are emphasizing the need for pre-hire background checks more than they ever have.

Specifically, 70 percent of those surveyed reported that background screening has become more important in recent years because of a strong desire to reduce the risk of making a costly hiring mistake, changes in government regulations and fears that the poor economy will tempt candidates to falsify their documentation in order to obtain a position. A large majority of the companies surveyed (92 percent) regularly conduct background checks.

Although there are many different types of screening services, the list below includes the checks deemed as mandatory by the survey participants. Those responding indicated these services are used on all jobs within their organization:

  • County Criminal Records Checks:     73%
  • Employment Verifications:                 68%
  • National Criminal Record Database:  60%
  • Substance Abuse Screening:               49%
  • Education Verifications:                     42%
  • E-Verify (Federal Government):        32%.

Three other trends were identified from the survey results:

  1. The percentage of employers who mandate background screening will continue to grow, as a third of those surveyed who did not currently conduct checks indicated they plan to do so within the next six months.
  2. Credit screening is on the decline, used by only 15 percent of those surveyed.  The economy has created many credit problems for candidates, and credit worthiness is often not criteria for job performance and may be alleged to be a discriminatory selection practice under EEO laws.
  3. A majority of employers felt social networking sites did not provide useful information that could be used in employee screening.

Organizations that are utilizing backgrounds checks to screen candidates need to ensure that they are conducting high quality checks or are using a high quality third party to conduct the checks on their behalf. CAI offers Background Checking services to help you uncover everything you need to know about your employment candidates.  For more information, go to www.capital.org/vea or call us at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

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Five Common Causes of Miscommunication in the Workplace and How to Avoid Them

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Opinions won’t always match. Staff won’t always share the same point of view. Miscommunication is inevitable.

In the workplace miscommunication can be blamed for a significant amount of conflict and the tension that it stirs. It would be unrealistic to think all miscommunication could be prevented, but if we understood its causes, the percentage could likely be decreased. Five common causes include:

1) Being unaware of nonverbal communication

A significant portion of miscommunication occurs without recognition. Through nonverbal cues, communication is often misconstrued and misrepresented.  An individual’s facial expression and body language movement can be a powerful message that is delivered involuntarily. Recognize your message may be perceived different than originally intended. Take the time to accurately analyze yourself. Concentrate on your tone of voice, your eye contact and your body language.

2) Poor communication between employees and company management

For communication to be fluid between employees and management staff, communication must remain open, reachable and approachable. Ineffective communication begins to stir when employees feel as though their voices aren’t being heard. Have management check in with their staff members regularly. Hear their concerns and their successes. By having consistent conversations, potential problems can be avoided.

3) Not grasping the company’s global vision

What’s the big picture? The company president and those at the management level understand the company’s progression, but do all employees identify with the overall vision and growth process? This is a window that is sometimes overlooked, but expressing the global perspective of a company five, 10 and 15 years down the road allows employees to understand where they fit into the business strategy.  Employees become more efficient and feel more valued when they can visually see their role in the puzzle of the company.

4) Making assumptions

Promote an environment of open communication where employees feel as though their questions and concerns are welcomed and accepted. Without this style of communication, employees often make assumptions because they don’t feel comfortable speaking up, and we know what happens when people act off assumptions alone.

5) Lack of ownership

Where is the accountability? An essential part of functionality is for all members to fully understand and be aware of the roles that are played. Without accountability, employees subconsciously become comfortable dumping duties and shifting their weight onto another’s plate, opening the door for future problems to transpire.  The system of the company, as anticipated, will ultimately fail unless employees recognize that their role is not only important, but it is critical to the overall success of the organization.

CAI offers a number of programs to help improve communication in the workplace.  For additional information please go to www.capital.org or call (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

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Compliance Update: Vacation Pay Regulated by N.C Wage and Hour Law

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

With the holiday season upon us, employers and HR leaders need to recognize the following when it comes to recovering vacation that has been advanced to an employee: The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division’s position is that advanced vacation pay may not be deducted from the guaranteed salary of exempt employees.

The department regards advance vacation pay as inconsistent with deductions allowed under the definition of “salary basis” for exempt employees. A fuller explanation appears in the DOL Fact Sheet on Salary Basis.

While the N.C. Department of Labor makes no such claim, the fact is that whenever state laws differ from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA, an employer must comply with the standard most protective to employees. Thus, the “no deduction for advanced vacation pay” rules apply here.

With that in mind, it is recommended that you do not allow advanced vacation to exempt employees if you want to recover the costs associated with this practice. Remember, ambiguous policies and practices regarding vacation pay have been construed against employers and in favor of employees.

For information on how to create an effective vacation pay policy or to discuss related issues to this item, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

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An Analysis of Our Social Media in the Workplace Survey

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

From July 29 through Aug. 29, 2010, CAI conducted a survey on “Social Media in the Workplace” with 227 member organizations. The results have been compiled and include some of the following observations:

  • Social media policies in member organizations vary widely. While 24 percent have formal policies in place, 33 percent have only guidelines and 43 percent have none.
  • Depending on job role, 41 percent allow employees to access social media during work hours. Fewer (25 percent) allow access regardless of job role, while 35 percent do not allow access at all.

  • More than a third of respondents reported obstacles to using social media in their organizations. They included lack of policies or guidelines in place (47 percent); impact on employee productivity (46 percent); concern about legal issues (46 percent); and lack of knowledge in using tools (44 percent).
  • Nearly half of all organizations surveyed use social media for networking/relationship building and branding/marketing. Another 20 percent are considering using social media for these initiatives.
  • Some 30 to 41 percent use social media for external communication, reaching new customers, recruiting and sales.
  • A large majority (84 percent) of organizations believe their use of social media for business purposes will increase over the next one to three years.

The results indicate that while most respondents believe social media will be part of the business world in the near future, if not already in their current activities, they are not necessarily setting any guidelines or policy on its use. Legal experts are warning that an absence of such rules can result in  situations of employees using social media that put employers at risk, including:

  • Revealing confidential or proprietary information via social media that can be viewed by millions.
  • Making discriminatory or other critical comments regarding the company, its employees and/or its clients.
  • Promoting the company’s services or products without disclosing the employment relationship.

CAI can provide your company with guidelines in developing a social media policy that satisfies any goals you and your organization have regarding using social media effectively for recruiting, sales and/or networking while providing you with adequate legal coverage for employees who abuse the privilege.

For information on how to create this policy or to discuss related issues to this item, including more survey results, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

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Is Massachusetts Law Banning Criminal History Questions on Applications a Trend?

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

A new law that takes effect in Massachusetts Nov. 4 prohibits employers in that state from asking any criminal history questions on their initial application forms. However, it does not prevent employers from asking certain criminal history questions during an interview, requiring applicants to complete a criminal history questionnaire after an interview or performing a criminal background check on applicants.

The theory is that the law will put applicants with criminal histories on equal footing with other candidates so that such applicants will now have a chance to explain their criminal histories in person during an interview. The state is the second to do what has been called “ban the box,” prohibiting both public and private employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. Hawaii was the first in 1998.

In 2009, Minnesota enacted similar “ban-the-box” legislation proscribing public employers from asking a job applicant about criminal records or conducting a criminal record check until after an applicant has been selected for an interview. New Mexico and Connecticut followed in 2010, passing comparable legislation applicable to public employers, but as with Minnesota’s law, private ones are exempt.

While no such “ban the box” law has been proposed in the North Carolina General Assembly yet, the legislation has passed in the legislatures of California, Connecticut, New Mexico and New Jersey to apply for state employers only. It was not passed in Maryland and postponed in Nebraska.

Even though Hawaii is the only state with long enough experience with the law to measure its impact on the employment and recidivism of ex-offenders, such a study has not occurred to date. Therefore it is hard to conclude at this point the impact this law would have if it took effect on private employers in North Carolina.

It is known that as far as Massachusetts is involved, one legal firm specializing in labor, employment and benefits says the law creates new obligations for private employers with respect to the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information, CORI, record-keeping policies and procedures while it protects employers from liability surrounding the use of CORI records in making hiring decisions. These recommendations could of course vary greatly depending what form if any kind of “ban the box” law passes in North Carolina.

For additional information on this issue, please call a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at (919) 878-9222 or (336) 668-7746.

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