Author Archive

Rehire of Former Employees Terminated for Positive Drug Test

Thursday, July 24th, 2014
Pat Rountree, HR Advisor

Pat Rountree, HR Advisor

In today’s post Pat Rountree, an HR Advisor on CAI’s Advice and Resolution Team, discusses the decisions employers have made regarding rehiring former employees who were terminated for a positive drug test.

There was recently discussion on the CAI Members List Serve about whether other employers considered rehiring employees terminated for testing positive on a drug test and if so, after what length of time. Responses on past Policies and Benefits surveys have revealed that employers’ decisions on this vary from not being eligible for rehire to not being eligible for some specified period of time.

There was a court case several years ago where a former employee who had been terminated for drug use applied for an open position. He was told he was not eligible for rehire. He sued the employer for disability discrimination. Rehabilitated drug users are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The employer prevailed because their policy was that no one who was terminated for cause was eligible for rehire.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ADA Guidance does address inquiries about illegal drug use. It states as follows:

An individual who currently uses drugs illegally is not protected under the ADA; therefore, questions about current illegal drug use are not disability-related inquiries. 42 U.S.C. §12114(a)(1994); 29 C.F.R. §1630.3(a)(1998). However, questions about past addiction to illegal drugs or questions about whether an employee ever has participated in a rehabilitation program are disability-related because past drug addiction generally is a disability. Individuals who were addicted to drugs, but are not currently using drugs illegally, are protected under the ADA. 29 C.F.R. §1630.3(b)(1),(2)(1998).

Since questions about past addiction or participation in a drug rehabilitation program are disability related, those questions can only be asked post offer. If you choose to make those inquiries, it is recommended that you ask all applicants post offer and not just a former employee who was terminated for a positive drug test as that may indicate you considered them to have a disability (drug addiction).

If you have questions on this issue, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Resolution team at 919‑878‑9222 or 336‑668‑7746.

 

Are Gated Health Plans the Way of the Future?

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

The post below is a guest blog from Steve Byrd who serves as Principal, Health & Welfare Consultant for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

hcw 7 14As employers continue to identify new ways to control their health plan costs, many employers are considering gated health plans as an option. A “gated” health plan, offers a different spin on the traditional wellness incentive that employers and employees have become used to.  Instead of offering employees lower payroll deductions through the completion of a health assessment or completion of a biometric screening, employers are now considering the option of offering richer benefits as well.

In a recent survey, more than 1,000 employers were asked to disclose current plan designs and changes they expect in the next three to five years. It’s a way for employers to control costs and reward employees for their healthy lifestyles.

52 percent of employers said their current health plan focuses on traditional trend mitigation approaches, such as employee cost shifting. Interestingly enough, it dropped to 21 percent when asked if this would be their preferred approach in three-to-five years.

Employers are beginning to lean more towards plans that require employee action.

In the upcoming years, over 60 percent of employers plan to introduce a gated plan, where employees must complete a task to obtain access to richer design options, compared to only 20 percent who “gate” their employees today. In the past we’ve seen incentives to help lower payroll deductions, but now with gated plans, there is an option to improve benefits.

Employees are also considering implementing the following tactics to mitigate health costs:

  • 72 percent of employers are or will be reducing subsidies for dependents
  • 52 percent of employers anticipate using unitized pricing—where employees pay per person and not individual versus family—up from 5 percent today
  • 42 percent of employers are considering offering high-deductible health plans as a full replacement plan, up from 15 percent today
  • 24 percent of employers plan to offer employees tools to guide decisions in plan selection and utilization, up from 19 percent today
  • 92 percent plan to offer cost transparency tools, up from 49 percent today

While employers are evaluating these new options, and continuing to ask their employees to become more engaged, it is important they evaluate their plan designs carefully.  These new gated plan options are permissible under HIPAA wellness rules.  However, it is very important to ensure they are designed correctly, as they must be carefully structured to comply with both ADA and GINA requirements.  Also, these plans would need to provide a reasonable accommodation to anyone who can’t participate due to a disability, as restricting eligibility in a plan based on participation could be seen as more of a penalty than a monetary premium differential.

Use Stay Interviews to Keep Your Best Employees

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

In today’s video blog, CAI’s HR Advisor and member of the Advice and Resolution team, Renee’ Watkins, discusses stay interviews and how they can increase employee retention at your company.

Renee’ says that many organizations spend time and effort figuring out why employees leave when it’s already too late to react. She says that if we understood the reasons an employee chooses to stay with the organization it would help employers to better reinforce those positive factors and increase retention rates.

“Stay” interviews are popular among companies taking a proactive approach to employee retention. Renee’ recommends interviewing your best performers while they are working for you, rather than only gain their honest feedback when they are leaving. She suggests scheduling casual interviews with the best performers and those who have the highest potential within your organization.

During the interviews, Renee’ encourages employers to find out if their employees have any issues or concerns. Asking for ideas they have regarding your culture or improvement in processes, policies or production is a great way to elicit feedback.

Renee’ believes the most important part of the stay interview process is for the employer to apply what is learned during the interviews. She also says that you should be prepared to take action while your good employees are still part of the organization.

The stay interview is an opportunity to build trust with employees and a chance to assess the degree of employee satisfaction and engagement. In the video, she lists several questions that you can ask your employees to gauge why they plan to stay and what factors might contribute to them leaving.

If you have questions about stay interviews, please reach out to our Advice and Resolution team at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746.

Using Collaborative Learning to Increase Critical Thinking

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

In today’s post, CAI’s Peer Learning Recruiter, Jennifer Montalvo, shares the benefits that collaborative learning can bring to an organization.

Jennifer Montalvo, Peer Learning Recruiter

Jennifer Montalvo, Peer Learning Recruiter

Strong collaboration in a work environment is crucial to the success of any company. However, how much thought is given to learning collaboratively? When professionals are paired together in small groups, collaborative learning encourages the achievement of professional goals. According to Virginia Tech’s Journal of Technology Education (vol.7 no.1), collaborative learning enhances critical thinking. This concept is not something new; rather a notion measured and proven over many years.

The act of exchanging ideas within small groups not only increases interest, but promotes critical thinking. The members of these small groups are allowed the opportunity to engage in discussion, take responsibility for their own learning and strengthen their ability to actively and skillfully conceptualize information. We currently live in the world of the continuous “busy.” Being in a group such as this allows the learner to slow down, share, listen and evaluate themselves and others.

Participants in collaborative learning environments experienced the following benefits:

  • Improved understanding of issues presented
  • Shared knowledge and experience
  • Receiving and giving of helpful feedback
  • Higher level thinking ability
  • Openness to new perspectives

The time spent participating in collaborative learning opportunities also affected the social and emotional well-being of participants in the following ways:

  • Problem solving felt easier, and almost enjoyable, in a relaxed, trusting environment
  • Greater responsibility – not just for self but for the group as well
  • New relationships built and growth of professional network

One way CAI promotes collaborative learning is through our peer learning groups. For more information please see http://j.mp/pe-er, or contact me directly at jennifer.montalvo@capital.org or 919‑431‑6093.

Consider enhancing your critical thinking skills within the workplace by incorporating collaborative learning amongst peers.

 

Tough Conversations with Underperforming Employees

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

In today’s post, Advice and Resolution team member Renee’ Watkins offers advice to prepare for tough conversations about performance with employees who aren’t meeting expectations.

Renee' Watkins, HR Advisor

Renee’ Watkins, HR Advisor

From time to time, every manager must deal with an employee or team member who is not performing up to their potential or the demands of their position. So, what is the best way to deliver that message to the employee so as to make it clear their performance is less than expected and changes must be made if they are to continue in their current role?

Below are some suggestions that may help. Some of these may work better than others, depending on the personalities of the employee and manager, and the relationship between the two.

Make sure you are direct

Be direct when speaking with the employee. If you beat-around-the-bush, your meaning may come across as unclear or unimportant. By being direct and clear in your message, you are giving the employee every chance to take the initiative and improve their performance. If they fail to understand the importance of your message, they may not take it seriously enough to change.

Cite specifics

When talking with the employee about their performance, make sure you cite specific examples. There has to have been some trigger, or set of events, that led you to have this conversation with them. Detail these examples so the employee will be able to visualize what you are seeing and understand how their action (or lack of action) is hurting the organization. These kinds of details will help you to make your point.

Remind the employee of expectations

Performance standards and consequences should always be set up front with new employees during onboarding. Therefore, this type of conversation should simply be a reminder of expectations they are already aware of. You expect the best out of everyone, from start to finish, every day. Most employees will work to improve their performance, while others may decide to simply skate by and offer their bare minimum effort. Take opportunities and make time to discuss progress or lack thereof. Document the discussions, expectations and consequences.

Deliver a formal write-up

This will provide a detailed evaluation and documentation of their current performance, putting them on notice that their position with the company is in jeopardy if improvement is not made and maintained. Verbal warnings can and should be documented. A properly constructed written warning following your policy leaves no doubt as to the issues, expectations and consequences.

Owning their own fate

During a period of re-evaluation of their performance, work with the employee to set realistic goals to be achieved. Once agreed to, the ball is in the employee’s court to succeed or fail. If successful, be sure and attribute the credit to their determination. If they fail, however, you have to be strong enough not to accept any excuses for not meeting their goals. Their fate is in their hands and they must be held accountable.

Have a solid, clear policy in place

By the time you reach a point where their continued employment is in jeopardy, the employee should not be surprised by this conversation. Regular performance reviews and a clear policy on disciplinary action for poor performance should already be in place and communicated. This is their opportunity for improvement and you have stated the importance of this message. There is no excuse for their not understanding what is about to happen if their performance does not improve.

If you have questions about taking disciplinary action with underperforming employees, please contact a member of CAI’s Advice and Resolution team at 919‑878‑9222 or 336‑668‑7746.

Handle Issues with Employees Carefully

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer Column, The View from HR.

blog pic bcIt happens in every workplace. The same serious and unlawful misbehavior we see in our communities sometimes find its way to the job.

People are the greatest asset of an employer but can be the “crabgrass in the lawn of business,” as my friend says.

What should happen when harassment, discrimination, abusive treatment and other serious misbehaviors rear their ugly heads?

Managers, please view a complaint as an opportunity to make a situation better and the long-term relationship with the victim stronger. Psychologists in workplace studies say that an emotional crisis is a key point where your response can make the employee’s attitude much better or much worse. Some even say that the best predictor of whether a problem will end in a lawsuit is how fairly you process the problem, not the problem itself.

Good managers do several things. They embrace the complaint, rather than avoid it, and focus on finding the right solution. Neither of you caused the problem, so let the chips fall where they may and avoid prejudgment. You will create a much better investigation and solution if you remain neutral on the outcome. If you cannot be objective, ask for help.

Follow through with good listening, appropriate pushback to the victim for the whole story, and appropriate speed and discretion. Take any quick steps needed to prevent repeat behavior while you work. Ideally, keep the victim informed of your progress. Get help from HR or a mentor. Follow your company’s complaint process, at a minimum. Precedent can be important, but avoid a foolish consistency as the saying goes.

Employees making complaints have an equally important role. Follow the complaint policy if there is one, but skip to another manager you trust if needed. Your manager wants to hear how you feel but must have facts to investigate. Focus on the facts. Who can help support your story? Bring the problem to a trusted manager sooner rather than later.

Be honest about any part you may have played in the problem or steps you have already taken, good and bad. Have some discretion and give this time to work. What is your manager going to hear when he or she investigates? For example, be prepared to hear some things about your performance you may not like (but need to hear) if work quality is an issue.

An important question that employees and managers often fail to ask is: “What is the ideal outcome here?” I am often surprised at how reasonable employees can be even in serious situations. They know employers cannot guarantee perfect behavior by all. But they have the right to expect help when they seek it.

Proper handling can solve early-stage problems, preserving relationships and protecting careers.

Problems that are buried like a bone in the backyard will only get worse with age.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/01/23/936135/handle-workers-gripes-carefully.html#storylink=cpy

 

Understanding USERRA and its Employment Protections

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

In today’s post, John Gupton, CAI’s General Counsel and HR Advisor on CAI’s Advice and Resolution Team, shares important information about The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

John Gupton, General Counsel and HR Advisor

John Gupton, General Counsel and HR Advisor

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) provides certain reemployment rights and benefit protections for military personnel including members of the National Guard and reservists. USERRA protects applicants and employees who serve in the military, or who apply to serve, from employment discrimination, and provides employment and reemployment rights after completion of military service or training, or application for service.

USERRA requires that service members provide advance written or verbal notice to their employers for all military duty unless giving notice is impossible, unreasonable, or precluded by military necessity. An employee should provide notice as far in advance as is reasonable under the circumstances. Additionally, service members are able (but are not required) to use accrued vacation or annual leave while performing military duty. USERRA establishes the cumulative length of time that an individual may be absent from work for military duty and retain reemployment rights to five years; however, there are some exceptions to the five-year limit.

USERRA provides that returning service-members are reemployed in the job that they would have attained had they not been absent for military service (the long-standing “escalator” principle), with the same seniority, status and pay, as well as other rights and benefits determined by seniority. USERRA also requires that reasonable efforts (such as training or retraining) be made to enable returning service members to refresh or upgrade their skills to help them qualify for reemployment.

The period an individual has to make application for reemployment or report back to work after military service is based on time spent on military duty. For service of less than 31 days, the service member must return at the beginning of the next regularly scheduled work period on the first full day after release from service, taking into account safe travel home plus an eight-hour rest period. For service of more than 30 days but less than 181 days, the service member must submit an application for reemployment within 14 days of release from service. For service of more than 180 days, an application for reemployment must be submitted within 90 days of release from service.

For more information on USERRA, check out Chapter 14 of CAI’s Employers’ Desk Manual on our web site (www.capital.org) under the Member Services section.

Don’t Be an HR Victim

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

In today’s video blog, CAI’s Vice President of Membership, Doug Blizzard, asks HR professionals to not be HR victims.  He came to the conclusion that many people are dealing with drama and negativity in the workplace after attending CAI’s new course offering—Becoming the Totally Responsible Person®.

The new course explains the victim mentality, how you can identify when you are being a victim or someone else is being a victim, and lastly how you can infuse personal responsibility into your workplace.

Doug tends to find that many HR departments are characterized by lack of ownership, blame, negativity, gossip—basically sharing similar characteristics to an HR victim, he says. To further help identify the factors that make an HR victim, Doug lists several victim statements in the video.

Employees are not performing at their best when they are in the victim state, according to Doug. In order to be the true business partners companies need HR professionals to be, it’s critical that HR avoids the victim mentality. If you do find yourself in that state, it is important to pull yourself out of it quickly.  Doug says in a non-victim state we learn to stay positive, productive and effective no matter the challenges that may occur.

It’s important to be solution-focused instead of being problem possessed. Doug says modeling positivity and solution thinking can have a dramatic effect on your organization and your life. If you need help removing drama or negativity from your workplace, please give us a call at 919-878-9222 or 336-668-7746 or sign up for our new course at www.capital.org/DramaFreeZone .

Employer vs. Federal Marketplace Open Enrollment

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

The post below is a guest blog from Dax Hill who serves as Principal, Health & Welfare Consultant for CAI’s employee benefits partner Hill, Chesson & Woody.

hcw juneEmployers with “non-calendar” plan years may find themselves in the middle of a dilemma with the Marketplace open enrollment.

In preparation of the “pay or play” provision under PPACA, some employers are looking to shift contributions towards the employee portion and away from the dependents coverage.  This strategy will help employers avoid penalties under 4980h of the tax code and make coverage “affordable” for the employee only portion.  However, redistributing premium contributions towards employees only coverage could significantly increase the cost for those employees with dependents.  These employers might assume that the dependents could then go apply for coverage though the Federal Marketplace – which works only if the employer’s open enrollment coincides with the Federal Marketplace open enrollment period. For 2014, the Open Enrollment Period was October 1, 2013–March 31, 2014. In 2015, the proposed Open Enrollment Period is November 15, 2014–February 15, 2015.

What happens if the employer increases dependent premiums during their open enrollment and the employer’s open enrollment does NOT coincide with the Federal Marketplace open enrollment?  In this scenario, an increase in premium is NOT a qualifying event for the Federal Marketplace – meaning that the dependents would not be eligible to enroll for medical coverage until the next Marketplace open enrollment.  Things can get more complicated assuming that your Section 125 plan runs on the same non-calendar plan year as your medical insurance plan year.  If dependents decide to remain on the employer’s medical insurance plan and pay on a pre-tax basis, the dependents would not be allowed to come off of the employer’s medical insurance plan unless they experienced a life qualifying event. At which point, they would again miss the open enrollment for Federal exchange.  You can see that this could become a vicious cycle and lead to frustration to both employers and employees.

There is a push to modify the regulations to allow individuals to obtain coverage mid-year through the Marketplace for non-calendar year plans.  In the meantime, employers should understand the regulations and strategies allowing individuals to enroll onto the Marketplace.

Contact an HCW consultant regarding possible solutions to this problematic situation.

 

Helping Employees Deal With Stress

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

In today’s post, Advice and Resolution team member Renee’ Watkins shares ways in which you can help your employees deal with workplace related stress.

Renee' Watkins, HR Advisor

Renee’ Watkins, HR Advisor

Stress in the workplace can lead to other health issues. Workers who are highly stressed are less likely to exercise, get enough sleep or eat healthy. High levels of stress over a prolonged period of time can also lead to stomach ulcers, hypertension, headaches and injuries due to distraction.

Signs your employees are under a high level of stress include: changes in attitude, a decrease in performance, missing deadlines, consistently late for work, withdrawal and increases in sick leave.

Many companies have taken the time to establish a formal stress-reduction program to assist their employees in managing stress in the workplace. However, if you do not have a formal program in place, there are a number of ways to help your employees identify and manage their own stress.

Post the following tips in common areas of the workplace as a way of helping employees who may feel stress and not quite sure how to handle it.

Take note of your own stress level and the things that cause you stress. Pay attention to the signals your body sends to let you know you are carrying too much stress.

Understand how you deal with stress. Is stress causing you to pick up or increase unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking or eating poorly? Has your attitude at worked suffered?

Disconnect whenever possible. When not at work, turn off your cell phone and stay off of email. If your job requires connectivity outside of normal work hours, set specific times when you will return calls and emails, and stick to that schedule in order to have some time away from work.

Maintain a list of tasks. Constantly keeping a list in your head of everything you need to do can be overwhelming. Make a list of everything you need to do and then divide it by today, tomorrow, and so on. Separate work-related tasks from non-work-related tasks. This will make your workload appear smaller and more manageable, thus reducing stress.

Accept responsibility for your own stress levels. Regardless of what is actually causing your stress, the real issue is how you react to it.

Take short breaks several times each day. This may not seem like much, but a two minute walk away from your desk and computer several times a day will help you to stay focused and energized. Take a short walk, breathe deeply, stretch your back and clear your head of thoughts.

Find time for yourself. There will always be plenty going on at work and at home. Once a task is completed, there will be several more to take its place. It is very important to take time out to exercise and eat healthy. Read a good book or take up a hobby that interests you.

Change your thinking. Try not to set goals for yourself that cannot be realized or depend too heavily on someone else. Unrealistic goals will set you up for failure and cause even more stress. Lower your expectations for perfection and be satisfied with putting forth your best effort each day.

Conflict and confrontations can cause enormous stress. Try to work things out calmly and find room for compromise whenever possible. Resolve conflicts quickly to eliminate stress more quickly and to prevent conflicts from growing larger and stronger.

Seek help when available. Friends and family members can help you better manage your stress levels. Employer-based EAP services such as counseling, work/life blend programs and access to mental health professionals may be available to you as well.