Archive for March, 2011

Eight Things N.C. Employers Need to Know About the U.S. Department of Labor

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Albert Bell, Jr., Attorney at Law with Ward and Smith, P.A., advised participants in CAI’s recent members-only Ask the Experts session on the U.S. Department of Labor’s (USDOL) stepped-up enforcement and pro-labor approach, and highlighted areas that can present problems for employers.

Some of the key points in the presentation included:

  1. Increased collections for wage and hour violations – In 2009, the government collected more than $172 million in back wages for 219,560 employees.
  2. Increase in wage and hour investigators – There was an increase of 250 investigators in 2010, and USDOL is projecting that they will have 1,000 investigators by the end of 2011.
  3. Focus on employees – Protecting the rights of employees is the priority for USDOL.  In December 2010, it established a partnership with the American Bar Association to provide a toll-free number to employees to refer them to a private attorney in their area whom they may contact to discuss a complaint.  For more information, see
  4. USDOL is less helpful to employers – Employers used to be able to write letters to the USDOL explaining a situation and asking for guidance. The USDOL would then respond with an Opinion Letter to the employer but would post the Opinion Letter anonymously on the Web.  These Opinion Letters were helpful to employers in understanding USDOL interpretations of laws.  In 2010, the USDOL started issuing Administrator Interpretations and eliminated the Opinion Letter process.  The Administrator Interpretations address general interpretation of the law rather than specific situations.  The USDOL also withdrew some prior Opinion Letters.
  5. Hot Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) issues – Rounding of time, and donning and doffing are areas that plantiffs’ attorneys are focusing on because of the number of employees affected and the resulting potential gold mine.
  6. Strategy for 2011-2016 – The emphasis is on Plan/Prevent/Protect.  USDOL plans to propose regulations requiring employers to put systems in place to address risks, hazards and inequities in their workplaces and correct deficiencies to be compliant with the FLSA.  It is expected that once the USDOL outlines the regulations for this process, they will conduct audits to see that employers have the systems in place, rather than auditing just for specific violations of the FLSA.
  7. Proposed recordkeeping rule in 2011 – USDOL intends to publish a rule in 2011 requiring employers to notify employees of their rights under FLSA and how their hours and pay are determined.
  8. Employees you don’t know you have – Employers should revisit independent contractor classifications to make sure they truly are independent contractors and not employees.  To determine whether someone is an independent contractor or employee the USDOL considers who has control, the opportunity for profit and loss, investment, skill and permanency of the relationship.

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

Photo Source: 4nitsirk

Key Qualities for Promotion to Management

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

There are two types of employees – those who view their work as a job and those who view their work as a component of a long-term career. Both professional types can excel in performance, but for employees who are career motivated, operating as a subordinate is not enough.

For the employee seeking to climb the company ladder, it’s important to understand the qualities companies seek, and what can currently be done to assist in career advancement. Consider the following as you strive to claim your seat in management.

Showcasing your worth –The benefits of internal promotions are obvious to the individual – increased finances, added respect from company peers and a voice that carries a greater influence and reach, but how does the company benefit from your advancement? To join the management team, your value needs to be recognized. Whether it’s generating additional revenue, cutting cost or bringing new insight, the benefit needs to be clear.

Solid working habits – Members of the management team share common characteristics of dependability and decision-making. Can you do what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it? In moments of challenge, when answers need to be received, can you call the shots? It’s the reliability that companies count on from management that results in success.

Level of efficiency – Companies value the employee who is time-oriented. Because the speed at which you operate is fundamental, form a habit of completing work in an efficient manner. Understand the difference between critical assignments and those that can be put on hold. A majority of CEOs agree that employees on track for advancement have a keen ability to establish priorities and sift through the essentials.

Teaching abilities – An essential quality of management is that the person’s level of expertise can be relayed and transferred to other employees. You can perform well, but to manage, you need to be able to teach, support staff, communicate information and share knowledge clearly for others to follow.

Avoid silence – You may be the best person to ever fill your job, but if no one knows about your achievements, how will your work ever be recognized? In the business world, it helps to occasionally “toot your own horn.” Give updates on your success to supervisors, find a mentor within the company that can spread your praises, but most importantly, make your voice heard.

A management role is not appropriate for all individuals. If you’d like to be a manager, make it a point to concentrate on your present performance. Those currently sitting at the table are continuously evaluating employees for when the team is ready for expansion. What you are doing right now will be the leading factor in the decision process six months down the road.

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

Photo source: half-blood prince

What Employee Perks Are You Offering?

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

As the economy slowly begins to improve, many employers are starting to focus on employee retention. AccountTemps, a division of Robert Half International, surveyed more than 1,400 CFOs to learn what perks their companies were either offering or planning to offer in their effort to recruit and retain top performers.

While subsidized training and education topped the list, flexible schedules and mentoring programs came in tied for a close second place.  Overall, the most popular incentives appear to be those that aid in career development:

  • Subsidized training/education – 29%
  • Flexible work hours or telecommuting – 24%
  • Mentoring programs – 24%
  • Matching gift programs – 13%
  • Free or subsidized lunch or snacks – 11%
  • On-site perks such as childcare, dry cleaning, fitness center, cafeteria – 11%
  • Subsidized transportation – 10%
  • Subsidized gym membership – 9%
  • Sabbaticals – 8%
  • Housing or relocation assistance – 7%

Many of the perks listed above go hand-in-hand with the top 10 reasons employees stay with an organization.  These perks assist businesses in the development of a more skilled workforce, often cost very little to implement and can assist with providing work-life balance for your employees.

While employees may be sensitive to pay concerns, especially after a few years of salary freezes or cuts, it is important to note that pay is not the primary reason people stay or leave an organization.

Also, while there are certainly common themes that come through in the list above, these same perks may not be what your organization’s employees would prefer.  The best way to assess how you can get the biggest bang for your buck when investing in employee perks and retention strategies is to ask your employees directly what is most important to them.

If you have questions regarding employee retention efforts, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region

Affirmative Action Planning Basics for Employers

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

If your company has 50 or more employees and holds a federal government contract or subcontract of $50,000 or more, you must prepare a written affirmative action plan (AAP) and update it annually. These plans are audited by the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

So if you are considering a government contract or subcontract, or if you are a government contractor or subcontractor, and would like more information on affirmative action requirements, the slide presentation below highlights the details you need to know.  If you would like additional information please contact CAI’s AAP team members Kaleigh Ferraro or Madison Gray at (919) 878-9222.

Employee Recognition: Top Ways to Recognize Employees In the Workplace

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

In Somebodies and Nobodies: overcoming the abuse of rank, Robert W. Fuller discusses the importance and impact of employee recognition in the workplace, by saying that “eliminating deficiencies of recognition in the workplace is proving to be as good for the bottom line as eliminating nutritional deficiencies were in the past for the productivity of day laborers.” Because of the current economic shift, the focus for most organizations has turned toward maintaining continuous workflow, and keeping the company, its clients and employees intact. With the day-to-day impact the economy has left on organizations, employee appreciation may often be forgotten. But can organizations really afford to place employee recognition on the back burner?

Employee recognition can easily be linked to employee engagement and company morale, potentially determining internal performance and results. Overlooking the importance of employee recognition may cause negative impacts to spill through the workplace and company culture. The reality is that all staff members work hard and want your organization to succeed and thrive through this challenging time. Now is the time to take a step back, recognize the value of the individual and show your appreciation. Yes, the stable paycheck is more than enough, but small gestures of recognition go far, and help employees remember they are a valued and integral part of the team.

Highlight employee successes – When customers or clients speak to the performance and service of your employees, do you make them aware? Publicly recognizing the efforts of your staff, and acknowledging the work they are committed to, is appreciated and respected.

Facilitate peer-to-peer recognition – Positive feedback from management is valued and always welcomed, but the recognition that comes directly from peers is often a true reflection of an individual’s performance and contribution. Coworkers who work together on a consistent basis see the moments of excellence that management may overlook. Find a way to allow employees to acknowledge each other. Do you have weekly staff meetings? If so, try and include this recognition by allowing staff to highlight the achievements of a teammate.

Take a break from e-mail communication – In a society that moves at such a fast pace, it’s rare that we take moments to handwrite our appreciation. This simple gesture goes further than you may realize. By taking time to write your thanks through penmanship, you remind your employees they are worth more than a quick “click and send” e-mail praise.

Food always does the trick – No one ever turned down a surprise staff breakfast, group lunch or gift certificates to dinner. Food is always a fan favorite and is a great way to gather employees for conversation that doesn’t involve the ongoing to-do list.

Celebrate the special occasions – Birthdays, engagements, wedding and baby showers – they all encompass the monumental moments of your employees’ lives. Organizations are able to connect with staff outside of a professional relationship if you celebrate the special moments of an employee’s personal life. As you begin to incorporate these celebrations into your culture, your company will feel less like a business and more like a family.

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

Photo source: CCL Staff

Top 10 Reasons Employees Stay with an Organization

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

If employee retention is a focus area for your organization, you may want to consider asking this question during the discussion phase when giving your next employee performance review:

“What would it take for you to leave?”

In fact, you may want to do it sooner.  You might be very surprised at the responses you hear. Many of your employees will not be able to think of a reason they would leave, which says a lot about your organization.  And those that do respond with reasons they would consider leaving your company provide valuable insight into how you can make improvements to retain your most valued employees.

Why wait until an exit interview to determine why an employee decided to leave? Engage your good performers when the opportunity presents itself and find out what might cause them to leave before they really do leave.

Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans surveyed more than 17,000 employees with various organizations for their book Love ‘em or Lose ‘em about reasons why employees stay with an organization. Below are the top 10 reasons from their survey:

  1. Exciting work and challenge
  2. Career growth, learning and development
  3. Working with great people
  4. Fair pay
  5. Supportive management/good boss
  6. Being recognized, valued and respected
  7. Benefits
  8. Meaningful work and making a difference
  9. Pride in the organization, its mission and its products
  10. Great work environment and culture

It’s often assumed that pay is the chief lure for an employee to jump ship.  However, that is clearly not the case.  Even if you’ve had to freeze salaries over the past couple of years, if you can provide your employees with challenging work, give them the opportunity to learn and grow, and have created a work environment of support and camaraderie, you have a very good chance of being able to retain your top performers.

But, of course, the best way to find out where you stand is by asking your employees directly.  Take some time to find out from your employees why they stay with your organization and, more importantly, why they might leave. If you have questions regarding employee retention, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Shuttleworth Foundation

Optimizing Efficiency And Productivity In Your Organization

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

In today’s fast-paced business environment, many employers are analyzing office efficiency and productivity, and implementing policies and technologies to improve both. Listed below are 10 policies and procedures designed specifically to maximize office efficiency and productivity. Following these tips can help create a more enjoyable, productive and cost-effective work environment.

  1. Clean desks. Establish a company practice where employees maintain a clean and efficient workspace. Furthermore, schedule monthly cleanups to reduce clutter around the office.
  2. Scheduling tools. Regardless of which office tool you use to track the whereabouts and activities of employees, make certain all employees use it to notify the rest of the team when they are traveling, at a client site, working from home or on vacation.
  3. Wireless capability. Build an infrastructure that allows server and e-mail access wherever an individual may be in the office (e.g., conference room, training room, etc.).
  4. Cell phone options. Encourage employees to share their cell phone numbers with co-workers so they can be contacted when out of the office or traveling. Make sure all employees respect the privacy of their co-workers and keep all shared cell numbers confidential.
  5. Training to share. Train employees in technology that allows and encourages remote sharing of information like SharePoint, Skype, WebEx, Live Meeting or GoToMeeting.
  6. Reservations protocols. Set aside specific meeting spaces that must be “reserved” for use, and communicate to employees how and when to reserve them. Also, if available, designate a smaller room/area for “on demand” meetings that do not need to be reserved.
  7. Concentration indicators. Establish methods for employees to indicate their “unavailability” for meetings, contact or interruptions during times when concentration is paramount. This can be something as simple as a closed door or phone on “do not disturb,” or the use of scheduling tools to carve out a block of time as “busy” or “unavailable.”
  8. Electronic filing standards. Design and implement an efficient electronic filing system to eliminate duplication of information and the administrative time required for manual filing. Centralize printing facilities in strategic locations on the floor to mitigate excessive printing and minimize noise in the open workspace.
  9. Daylight! Research indicates people are more productive when work environments provide an open view to the outside environment. Allow blinds and interior doors to remain open when possible.
  10. Encourage community. Create opportunities where individuals can share their personal experiences or skills. Reserve time in meetings where the agenda allows for personal communication, rather than completely focusing on business.

If you have questions about maximizing productivity and efficiency, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Generation Y In The Workplace – How Will Your Company Adapt?

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Consistently changing business operations is not an unfamiliar topic, but a new outlook may be needed regarding the incoming workforce, Generation Y. Also known as the Millennial’s, Gen Y is the largest generation since the Baby Boomers, and researchers believe it may be the most educated generation in American history. With growing numbers now flooding the workplace at a rapid pace, it’s a good time for employers to explore the background and perspectives of these newcomers and how their work style will transform the future of business.

Lifetime employment – A generation accustomed to accessibility, these employees won’t be looking for your company to supply lifetime employment, as researchers report six out of 10 working Millennials have switched careers at least once.  Being immersed in constant change, Gen Y may eventually lack excitement and inspiration regarding day-to-day assignments and projects, and desire to move on to new and different tasks. To maintain employee retention, companies will need to recognize this Gen Y characteristic and provide employees with new challenges and opportunities for long-term success within the company’s walls.

Flexibility – A relaxed dress code and iPods during the workday are all part of the balance between work and personal life that Gen Y finds so important. This mentality doesn’t mean the generation is any less passionate about their career, but they desire to operate with more flexibility and less of a controlled environment. As telecommuting alternatives arise in the workplace, more companies have started to recognize this growing trend and have adjusted the definition of working from 9 to 5.

Financial intelligence – Most of Gen Y were students during the dot-com bust, giving them the opportunity to learn from educators the detailed impact of a financial crisis, and how to prepare and plan for such moments. Because classroom knowledge was current day news, Gen Y entered the workforce prepared to make financially savvy decisions early on. Your company benefits package will be a strong selling point for this generation as they are ready to plan for retirement sooner than later because of their realistic mindset toward finances.

Feedback – Gone are the days when annual reviews provided employees with enough feedback and discussion on performance levels. Gen Y has been surrounded with an educational environment of focus groups and open dialogue, where outspoken opinions could be expressed freely. Because this generation has relied on constant and open communication, it will be expected that future employers practice similar methods, evaluate performance frequently and provide consistent feedback for improvement.

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

Employee Discipline and Documentation

Friday, March 4th, 2011

It is absolutely essential that well-prepared documentation accompany employee discipline in order to back up any decision regarding employment action. However, in order to have good documentation, a well-crafted disciplinary policy must exist.

Common problems in the workplace that require disciplinary action include poor attendance, performance issues and inappropriate behavior. Human Resources must have a plan to address infractions when they occur. Attorneys will confirm that most employment cases are won or lost on documentation or the lack of it. If an employee is terminated for coming in late every day for three months, but the infractions are never documented, that employee could win a lawsuit for wrongful termination.

Where to Start

Employers should audit their employee discipline and documentation practices. Make sure that your policies allow for a fair, equitable, and uniform handling of employee misconduct and the application of discipline. Disciplinary action usually occurs in a progressive sequence — verbal warning, written warning, final written warning and discharge. It is not necessary for all four steps to be followed. Discipline may begin at any step depending on the seriousness of the offense.

Offenses do not have to be of the same nature to constitute a violation serious enough to move on to the next step of the disciplinary action sequence.  Employers should construct and adopt a system that provides flexibility to give verbal warnings, suspensions, or terminations based on the seriousness of a particular incident, regardless of the disciplinary history of the employee.

Communicating to Employees

The next step is to clearly communicate the rules to employees. Policies should be included in the employee handbook.  You may want to periodically provide each employee with a special physical copy of the discipline policy. Employees should also be required to sign an acknowledgement of having received and read the policy, especially if any changes have occurred. Policies should be covered as part of any new employee orientation.

Most important, you’ll want to work closely with your supervisors and managers to make sure they understand the policies and the need to document infractions.

If you have questions about employee discipline and documentation, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Counsel team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Photo Source: Ken Wilcox

Top 5 Things An HR Manager Should Focus On To Ensure Company Success

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Since 2007 Fortune magazine has recognized Google, the world’s largest search engine, as one of the top companies for employment. Before taking over the Internet business, becoming a household name and employing more than 12,000, Google leaders developed its Internet operations humbly, from a basement. So how did the basement headquarters transition into today’s national brand? The on-site gym, Laundromat, car servicing and gourmet cafeterias put Google on the map for its outlandish employee perks, but the company remains best in breed by evenly focusing on the individual employee and overall organizational success.

Your company may not be the size of Google or have comparable national brand awareness, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be equally successful in your own right. What is the long-term focus of your company, and how do you make your plan an achievable goal? The following are areas to consider while striving to ensure companywide success.

1.     Devote yourself to hiring and retention – Avoid employing seat fillers by making it an HR focus to hire right the first time. Investing in the hiring process produces lower turnover rates, and allows current staff to foster continuous close working relationships with coworkers, making for more effective and fluid results. Once the right team is in place and working cohesively, craft retention as a focal point. Organizations often find success in employee retention by encouraging open communication and acknowledging professional achievements.

2.     Cultivate a company centered on trust – Companies centered on trust, honesty and open communication provide employees an environment where thoughts and feelings can be disclosed without judgment. When employees feel comfortable being their authentic selves, the work produced is a reflection of their highest level of talent.

3.     Focus on ownership – When problems or challenges arise, do employees approach management with questions or proposed solutions? By employing a solutions-based mindset, staff transition into being their own boss – they face the challenge, contrive a solution and confer with management for implementation.

4.     Discover and integrate raw talent – Employee personality evaluations tap into the natural skills and passions of your staff. Once you have discovered an employee’s “sweet spot,” apply those abilities within the company. By uncovering specific talent and allowing staff to practice that talent, you can increase employee satisfaction and company growth.

5.     Embrace change – Take a step back and evaluate the overall picture of the company. Are you growing? How do you compare to the competition? When was the last time you made a major change? Successful companies don’t become comfortable or complacent. For success, keep your company ahead of the curve.

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

Photo source: Richard Masoner