Compliance Overview - OSHA Inspections

OSHA Inspections

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to provide a safe work environment for their workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for creating workplace safety standards and enforcing compliance with the OSH Act.

OSHA enforces compliance with the OSH Act by conducting inspections, gathering evidence and imposing penalties on noncompliant employers. OSHA penalties are civil penalties that may result in fines. However, OSHA may refer certain violations to the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. Actual penalties imposed on an employer take into consideration the gravity of the violation, the size of the employer’s business, good faith efforts the employer makes to comply with the law and the employer’s compliance history.

This Compliance Overview provides a summary of the OSHA inspection process as well as some tips and reminders that employers should be aware of during an actual inspection.

LINKS AND RESOURCES

  • OSHA enforcement programs website
  • OSHA on-site consultations webpage
  • OSHA recommended practices for safety and health programs webpage

COMPLIANCE OFFICERS

  • Conduct inspections
  • Assign specialists to accompany and assist during an inspection
  • Issue citations for noncompliance
  • Can obtain inspection warrants

TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS

  • Check inspector credentials.
  • Notify management when inspector arrives.
  • Determine the purpose and scope of the inspection.
  • Be prepared to prove compliance.
  • Get a copy of the complaint, if possible.
  • Set ground rules for inspection.
  • Cooperate and be responsive.
  • Take note of what the inspector documents.

EMPLOYERS SUBJECT TO OSHA

Most private sector employers in the United States, the District of Columbia and other U.S. jurisdictions are subject to the OSH Act, either directly or through an OSHA-approved state program. State plans are OSHA-approved job safety and health programs operated by individual states instead of federal OSHA. The OSH Act encourages states to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs. State-run safety and health programs must be at least as effective as the Federal OSHA program.

In general, state and local government employees (public employees) are not subject to the OSH Act. However, public employees may be covered through an approved state program.

OSHA INSPECTIONS

OSHA inspections are conducted by OSHA’s compliance safety and health officers. Compliance officers have authority to:

  • Conduct inspections;
  • Assign specialists to accompany and assist them during an inspection (as appropriate or required);
  • Issue citations for noncompliance;
  • Obtain court-issued inspection warrants; and
  • Issue administrative subpoenas to acquire evidence related to an OSHA inspection or investigation.

Whenever possible, OSHA will assign compliance officers with appropriate security clearances to inspect facilities where materials or processes are classified by the federal government.

Compliance officers are required to obey all employer safety and health rules and practices for the establishment that is being inspected. This includes wearing all required protective equipment and necessary respirators. Compliance officers must also follow restricted access rules until all required precautions have been taken.

Employers can request compliance officers to obtain visitor passes and sign visitor registers. However, compliance officers cannot sign any form or release, nor can they agree to any waiver. This prohibition extends to forms intended to protect trade secret information.

OSHA inspections can last for a few hours or take several days, weeks or even months. All inspections can be divided into three stages, an opening conference, a walk-around and a closing conference.

Inspection Scheduling

OSHA inspections can be either programmed or unprogrammed. Unprogrammed inspections generally take precedence over programmed ones.

Unprogrammed inspections are usually triggered by particular reports. OSHA gives priority to unprogrammed inspections in the following order: imminent dangers, fatalities or catastrophes, and employee complaints and referrals. OSHA may also conduct an unprogrammed follow-up investigation to determine whether previously cited violations have been corrected.

Programmed inspections are scheduled based on neutral and objective criteria. Programmed inspections typically target high-hazard industries, occupations or health substances. OSHA considers various factors when scheduling programmed inspections, including employer incident rates, citation history and employee exposure to toxic substances.

Inspection Notice

The OSH Act prohibits providing employers advance notice of an inspection. Individuals that provide advance notice of an OSHA inspection face criminal charges that may result in a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to 6 months or both.

However, the OSHA Act also allows OSHA to authorize exceptions to the no-notice requirement in situations where advance notice would:

  • Allow an employer to correct an apparent imminent danger as quickly as possible;
  • Facilitate an inspection outside of a site’s regular hours of operation;
  • Ensure the presence of employer and employee representatives or other appropriate personnel during the inspection; or
  • Enhance the probability of an effective and thorough inspection (such as in investigations for complex fatalities).

When an exception is approved, OSHA will not provide more than a 24-hour notice to affected employers.

Inspection Scope

The scope of an OSHA inspection can be comprehensive or partial. A comprehensive inspection is a complete and thorough inspection of the worksite. During a comprehensive inspection, the compliance officer will evaluate all potentially hazardous areas in the establishment. However, an inspection may be considered comprehensive even though, at the compliance officer’s discretion, not all potentially hazardous conditions or practices are actually inspected.

A partial inspection is usually limited to certain potential hazardous areas, operations, conditions or practices at the employer’s establishment. However, at his or her discretion, a compliance officer may expand the scope of a limited inspection. The compliance officer will generally make this decision based on the information he or she gathers during the inspection.

COMPLIANCE OFFICER ARRIVAL

OSHA inspections begin with the compliance officer’s arrival. In general, a compliance officer will arrive for a worksite inspection during the site’s hours of operation. However, OSHA may authorize additional times for an inspection as necessary.

Upon arrival, a compliance officer should present his or her credentials. If necessary, employers can contact their local OSHA office to confirm a compliance officer’s authority to conduct the inspection.

A compliance officer has the right to enter an employer’s premises if he or she has obtained consent from the employer or a warrant ordering the employer to admit the inspector. In either case, employers cannot unreasonably delay an inspection to await for the arrival of the employer representative (inspectors may wait up to one hour to allow an employer representative to arrive from an off-site location).

Tips and Reminders

  • Check inspector credentials.
  • Instruct staff on how to receive inspector.
  • Inform senior management or legal counsel as appropriate.
  • Determine whether you will demand a warrant.

Consent

Employers can consent to admit a compliance officer and perform a worksite inspection. Employers may also provide partial consent, and allow a compliance officer access only to certain areas of their facilities. Compliance officers will make note of any refusals or partial consent and will report it to OSHA. OSHA may take further action against any refusals, including any legal process it may see fit to obtain access to restricted areas.

In sites where multiple employers are present, the compliance officer does not need to obtain consent from all employers present. Consent from just one employer is sufficient to allow the inspector to access the entire worksite.

Warrant

Compliance officers are not required to ask for an employer’s consent when they have a court-issued warrant. The warrant allows the compliance officer access to the employer’s facilities to conduct an inspection.

Employers that do not provide consent have the right to require compliance officers to obtain a warrant before allowing them access to the premises. As a general practice, few employers actually require warrants, though some employers have done so to delay the start of an inspection.

There are, however, some exceptions to the employer’s right to require a warrant. A compliance officer does not need to obtain employer consent or a warrant to access the premises if he or she can establish:

  • The existence of a plain view hazard;
  • That the worksite is an open field or construction site; or
  • The existence of exigent circumstances.

OPENING CONFERENCE

In general, compliance officers will try to make the opening conference brief in order to proceed to the walkaround portion of the inspection as soon as possible. In general, the opening conference is a joint conference,

where both employer and employee representatives participate. However, the compliance officer may hold

separate opening conferences if either employer or employee representatives object to a joint conference.

During the opening conference, compliance officers will discuss with employers:

  • The purpose of the inspection;
  • Any complaints filed against the employer, if applicable;
  • The officers’ right to document evidence (handwritten notes, photos, video and audio recordings);
  • The advantages of immediate abatement and quick fixes;
  • The intended scope of the inspection;
  • A plan for the physical inspection of the worksite;
  • The audit of employee injury and illness records;
  • Referring violations not enforced by OSHA to appropriate agencies;
  • Employer and employee rights during the inspection; and
  • Any plans for conducting a closing conference.

Tips and Reminders

  • Determine the purpose and scope of the inspection.
  • Be prepared to prove compliance.
  • Get a copy of the complaint, if possible.
  • Set ground rules for inspection.
  • Cooperate and be responsive, but DO NOT volunteer information.

As applicable, during the opening conference, employers will also need to present their written certification of hazard assessment and produce a list of on-site chemicals (with their respective maximum intended inventory).

Compliance officers will use these documents to determine the hazards that may be present at the worksite and set initial benchmarks and expectations for the physical inspection of the establishment.

Finally, at their discretion, compliance officers can conduct abbreviated conferences in order to begin the walkaround portion of the inspection as soon as possible. During an abbreviated conference, a compliance officer will present his or her credentials, state the purpose for the visit, explain employee and employer rights, and request the participation of employee and employer representatives. All other elements of the opening conference will then be discussed during the closing conference.

WALK-AROUND

The walk-around is the most important stage of the inspection. Employer and employee representatives have the right to accompany compliance officers during the walk-around stage of the inspection. However, workers at an establishment without a union cannot appoint a union representative to act on their behalf during an OSHA inspection walkaround (see OSHA memo from 2017).

During the walk-around, compliance officers will take notes and document all facts pertinent to violations of the OSH Act. In general, compliance officers will also offer limited assistance (as appropriate) on how to reduce or eliminate workplace hazards.

The OSH Act requires compliance officers to maintain the confidentiality of employer trade secrets. Compliance officers should only document evidence involving trade secrets if necessary. Compliance officers must mark trade secret evidence as, “Confidential – Trade Secret,” and keep it separate from other evidence. Compliance officers that violate these requirements are subject to criminal sanctions and removal from office.

Tips and Reminders

  • Inspections may last several days. Plan accordingly.
  • Require inspectors to comply with establishment safety rules.
  • Take note of what the inspector documents.
  • DO NOT stage events or accidents.
  • DO NOT destroy or tamper with evidence.

CLOSING CONFERENCE

As with the opening conference, unless an objection exists, the closing conference is generally a joint conference. However, the closing conference may be conducted in person or over the phone. The inspection and citation process will move forward regardless of whether employers decide to participate in the closing conference.

The compliance officer will document all materials he or she provides to the employer during the closing conference as well as any discussions that took place. Discussion topics for the closing conference may include:

  • Employer rights and responsibilities
  • The strengths and weaknesses of the employer’s safety and health system
  • The existence of any apparent violations and other issues found during the inspection
  • Any plans for subsequent conferences, meetings and discussions

The closing conference is not the time for employers to debate or argue possible citations with the compliance officer. Employers should take sufficient time during the closing conference to understand the inspector’s findings and any possible consequences. Employers should also discuss any abatements completed during the inspection or any plans to correct issues in the near future.

During this conference, employers should also request copies of recorded materials and sample analysis summaries. Finally, employers should take time to discuss their right (and the process they must follow) to appeal any possible citations.


5 critical conversations to have before retiring

According to the Society of Actuaries' Retirement Section and Committee on Post Retirement Needs and Risks, about 70 percent of Americans are on course to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Read on to learn more.


Reports of Americans’ lack of retirement preparedness roll on. Not all the news is grim, however. A recent study from the Society of Actuaries’ Retirement Section and Committee on Post Retirement Needs and Risks reports that roughly 70% of Americans are on course to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living.

What we know from those who report being comfortable in retirement is that they took the steps necessary to properly prepare.

It’s not just what employees and clients have earned and saved that contributes to their quality of life in retirement, it’s also how they approach their assets, expenses, and income. To this end, individuals must speak frankly with those in their lives — partner or spouse, employer, children — who are pivotal to key aspects of retirement living.

Here are the five critical conversations individuals should have well in advance of retirement:

With your spouse or partner

1. Are we on the same page about the lifestyle we expect to have in retirement?

Before you retire, you and your partner need to get on the same page about what this means in day-to-day terms. For example, did you know that your living expenses in retirement will likely be about 80% of your pre-retirement living expenses? This means that your monthly budget will change and it’s important to make the changes thoughtfully. Examine your priorities and assumptions together to avoid misunderstandings that lead to financial missteps.

Do yourselves a favor and take a gradual approach to downsizing your spending well before retirement. This will let you significantly cut your monthly expenses without feeling the shock of adjustment. Take a close look at your monthly expenses together and identify items you can do without. Then, start eliminating a few at a time.

2. Are there parts of our life we should “downsize” before we retire?

Downsizing your home can be a real savings opportunity in retirement. Relocating to a city with a lower cost of living can also cut your monthly expenses considerably. You can even downsize your car, or go car-free altogether. These are big changes, however, that you and your partner need to consider very carefully together. You’ll want to weigh the possible savings against other important but not necessarily financial factors, such as proximity to friends and family and access to good recreational and medical facilities. Take your time weighing the pros and cons. If you can agree on which tradeoffs you are both willing to make, the impact on your security and comfort in retirement can be huge.

3. Are we really ready to retire? If not, what do we need to do to get there?

Compare your “retirement number” to your anticipated monthly expenses. Identify discrepancies so you can make adjustments and plans as needed.

Do we need to delay retirement by a few years? Even one or two extra years of work, during your peak earning years, may have a significant effect on your quality of life in retirement. Consider this question carefully as you plan when to leave work.

What other sources of income will be available to us in retirement? There are many paths to a comfortable retirement and many different ways to patch together the right assets and investments to provide for your retirement. Even if your investment portfolio is not large enough to support your retirement needs, for example, you may find that you have other assets (a business, or real estate) that can contribute. Or one or both of you may choose to work part time — the “sharing economy” is a good place to start. Or, you may decide to sell off assets you no longer need.

With your employer

4. Should I transition to a freelance/consulting relationship?
Even if you’re looking forward to stepping away from your professional career, the smart move may be to maintain a freelance or consulting relationship with your current employer. Chances are, you have experience and skills that will continue to be valuable to your employer, even when you are no longer on staff full-time. A dependable source of extra income will help you cover unexpected expenses in retirement. Or, you can use the extra income to pay for more of the things you always dreamed of doing in retirement, like hobbies and travel.

Before you have the conversation with your boss, research what a fair fee rate is for someone at your experience level, in your industry. This will allow you to negotiate your future contract from a position of strength. Your track record as a reliable employee and the cost savings to your employer of no longer having you as full time staff should also boost the argument in your favor.

With your adult children

5. How will our lifestyle changes in retirement affect the rest of the family?

Changes in your lifestyle in retirement may affect your extended family in various ways. Setting realistic expectations up front may help ease any necessary adjustments.

For example, are your adult children accustomed to receiving financial assistance from you? Let them know that this may no longer be possible after you retire and have less disposable income.

Downsizing your house? If you have been the default host for family holiday celebrations, downsizing to a smaller home may require the family to rethink future holiday arrangements. Don’t wait until the holidays are upon you to spring the change on them: discussing it ahead of time will ensure that everyone’s best ideas are considered and good alternate plans made.

Planning to relocate, or travel frequently after you retire? You will likely no longer be available for babysitting or many other family activities. Giving your kids and grandkids plenty of notice will help them plan ahead.

These conversations may be awkward and possibly painful, but they need to take place. After saving for years, a clear eye will help with your post-work years.

SOURCE: Dearing, C (12 September 2018) "5 critical conversations to have before retiring" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/critical-conversations-to-have-before-retiring


How to Build a Motivated Workforce

Getting an engaged workforce requires employers to focus on nurturing motivation.m Employers need to nurture motivation in order to build an engaged workforce. Continue reading to learn more.


There’s a lot of buzz and conversation happening around the importance of employee engagement to a successful organization. But I believe that engagement is an overused or at least misused term. Engagement, to me, isn’t a process but rather an end-state where your employees are “all in.”

Engaged employees work hard on today’s priorities, and when they believe what they do matters and know that you’re invested in them, they will stay with your business for the long term and help you solve the challenges of tomorrow. But getting to this state of engagement requires focusing on nurturing motivation.

Simply put, motivated workers are more productive and efficient, and stretch themselves to do more. When employees are motivated, they get their work done faster and with greater levels of collaboration, creativity and commitment. A motivated workforce goes above and beyond to do what is in the best interest of the organization and, ultimately, the bottom line. So, what are ways you can truly motivate employees?

Set Clear Expectations and Goals, and Communicate Frequently

It’s a strange truth, but many employees simply don’t know what is expected of them at work. Workers are more motivated and engaged when they are given clear objectives, understand how they will be evaluated, and see how their efforts contribute to the bigger picture. Isn’t that what we all want anyway; to contribute to and be a part of something bigger than ourselves? When HR teams help create this clarity for our employees, they experience a greater “purposefulness” or “meaningfulness”  which in turn contributes to motivation. So how do you ensure organizational alignment and foster this sense of meaningfulness?

One critical step that HR leaders can take is working with managers to increase the frequency of communication around performance and goals. When employees work with their managers to set goals and then check in on progress on an ongoing basis rather than treating them as ‘set and forget,’ it can help improve employee motivation, elevate performance and benefit organizations overall. By increasing the frequency of conversations between managers and employees around progress towards goals, HR teams can take a huge step towards creating an effective performance management program for today’s workforce.

This ongoing endeavor isn’t easy.  There are time and commitment involved, and it only works when managers and employees are both invested in open and ongoing dialog about goals and expectations. But the more often managers talk to their employees, the more motivation and performance increases within the workforce. Even quick, informal check-ins, or “managing in the moment” to address priorities or give feedback boosts an employee’s sense that someone is invested in them, and drives motivation.

Spend Time Talking About Career Development

Motivation is tied to a future outlook. One critical way to boost motivation is to move away from ineffective, backward-looking annual performance reviews, and start coaching your managers around having more frequent conversations with their employees that focus on career development. By focusing on development, these conversations become more constructive, forward-looking, and connected to both personal and business objectives. Now you’ve motivated an employee because you’re actually talking about their future and showing you are invested in them!

Implementing performance management processes that are rooted in continuous conversations that center on coaching and career development is vastly more effective for motivating the modern workforce. Focusing on ”performance development” rather than “performance review” shifts the conversation around the process to a more forward-looking, positive and employee-focused stance. This can have a huge impact from an employee motivation perspective, rather than feeling like their managers are micromanaging them or questioning their work, workers feel invested in and motivated to get to the next level in their career, which translates to increases in employee performance.

Provide Timely and Relevant Feedback

Almost half of employees receive feedback from their managers only a few times a year or less. Not only do employees want clear expectations to be established, they also want to know how these are mapping to their larger career goals. Managers need to provide feedback in a timely manner to promote career development. Feedback can be tricky to deliver, and many don’t like delivering or receiving it. So managers need to normalize the feedback by making sure it is timely and is relevant to the employee and their work.

There are many approaches to delivering feedback, but delivering all feedback all the time isn’t the right answer. Managers need to be thoughtful about evaluating all the feedback they receive about their employees and select those items that are most relevant to the employee and those items that they are ready to hear, all in a timely manner to assist the employee in their career.

So, for many reasons, a quarterly review cadence, vs. an annual review, enables managers to align employees’ individual career goals with the organization’s top priorities, ensuring the employee has a sense of purpose and business goals are met.

This is what motivating your workforce is all about. There is no silver bullet to motivate your workforce, however, HR leaders and managers can make a big impact by having frequent and continuous conversations with employees that focus on career development, communicating clear expectations and providing timely feedback. It’s an ongoing process and won’t happen overnight, but by focusing on motivation, both employees and organization at large are better positioned for success.

SOURCE: Strohfus, D (27 August 2018) "How to Build a Motivated Workforce" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://hrexecutive.com/how-to-build-a-motivated-workforce/


Seeing beyond size in vision care networks

There are many other factors to consider when it comes to deciding which vision care network best fits the needs of your employees. Read this blog post to learn more.


Most people believe that “size matters” in regards to provider networks, but in the world of vision care there are other important factors to consider when deciding which network matches the needs of employees. Network members usually see their vision provider for routine services just once per year. When an employer changes vision administrators, employee in-network utilization is more than 90% regardless of the new network size. Why? Employees are not concerned about changing providers to access in-network benefits. Plus, the new vision provider network will always provide access to multiple providers wherever the employee lives and works.

But what about the quality of the vision care network? To properly assess this measurement of competing networks, employers and benefit advisers need to ask several different questions.

Determine the network’s quality
The quality of the network is vital. Start asking these questions: How are vision care providers credentialed? Do they follow the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) guidelines developed to improve healthcare quality? Are there provider audit programs provided on an ongoing basis? Is the vision care provider re-credentialed and how often? How frequently are reviews conducted of the Office of Inspector General and Medicare and Medicaid disbarment lists?

Establish the network’s effectiveness
Once you know you have a quality network, now you must ask how effective the network is. How diverse is the network? Are there ample ophthalmologists, optometrists and optical retailers we can access? Are some private practitioners? You want to make sure that a solid provider mix is available to give employees options when choosing a vision care provider.

It’s critical to know what languages are spoken within the employee population as well as the providers who care for them. If you have a large population who speak a certain language you want to make sure your network gives them access to people who can truly understand them and with whom they feel comfortable.

Finally, look at the hours of operations. With schedules being busier now than ever before, people need flexibility when it comes to visiting hours. Do they offer evening hours? Weekend hours? This is particularly important for single parents who work during the week and need the flexibility to visit an eye care professional with his or her child after work.

Having a diverse, quality vision care provider network with convenient access helps keep employees happy, healthy and in-network.

Other factors to consider
One of the other factors to be cognizant of is network ownership. Today, many managed vision care companies are involved in not only providing coverage for vision care but also in delivering it. This means the vision benefits company you’re considering may own optical laboratories, frame companies or retail locations, which can pose conflicts of interest between you, your employees and the managed vision care company. Their need to produce profits can lead to undo pressure on your employees to purchase expensive and potentially unnecessary lens types, materials and options. Coupled with direct to consumer advertising and the expansion of brands, eyeglasses have become even more expensive.

This leads to another factor for consideration. Does the potential vision benefit administrator provide meaningful information to help your employees make informed decisions about what they really need, when it comes to the myriad of options available for frames, lenses and lens options?

Network matching
Start by remembering two things when matching networks. First, if you’ve changed vision carriers in the past, you selected a network that was not identical to your previous one. Vision networks never match each other. Some have higher proportions of independent providers and lower percentages of large retailer chains. Second, the infrequency with which the vision benefit is available to be used mitigates the impact of changing providers. People don’t have the same attachment to their eye care professional as they do with their physician.

Beyond quality and effectiveness is the important factor of access. The vision industry has grown to a point where there are often many more providers than would ever be necessary to provide convenient access for your membership. The reality is that two networks may be equally sized in an area and yet there may be little overlap, making the selection of the best network with the lowest overall cost a better strategic direction than simply selecting the one with the highest provider match.

The vision industry has long demonstrated that employees are willing to select new providers, especially when costs are more competitive, and services are more convenient.

SOURCE: Moroff, C (22 August 2018) "Seeing beyond size in vision care networks" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/seeing-beyond-size-in-vision-care-networks?feed=00000152-a2fb-d118-ab57-b3ff6e310000


Safety Focused Newsletter: September 2018

Staying Safe When Traveling for Work

Many jobs require employees to travel for work, sometimes even abroad. While this can be a fun experience, staying safe can be much more difficult if you are in an unfamiliar area. To keep yourself safe when traveling for work, remember the following tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with local customs and laws, as you are subject to them while traveling.
  • Avoid hailing taxis on the street when possible. Instead, have your hotel’s concierge service book a reliable driver or car service for you.

Research is essential when it comes to ensuring a successful business trip and maintaining your safety.

  • Keep hotel doors and windows locked at all times. When you arrive, and any time you leave and return to the room, make sure the locks are working.
  • Ensure that your room has a working peephole and use it to verify the identity of anyone visiting your room. If an unexpected visitor claims to be a hotel employee, call the front desk to confirm.
  • Take photos of important documents and information, like your passport and driver’s license, and leave copies at home.

Research is essential when it comes to ensuring a successful business trip. Planning ahead and remaining vigilant can make all the difference.

Ways to Communicate with Peers You Disagree With

In your professional career, you’re bound to have to work alongside people you don’t agree with. For some, this can be a source of stress, particularly if you have to go out of your way to keep the workplace relationship civil.

In these situations, it’s important to know how to interact professionally. Not only will this display a high level of maturity to your co-workers and managers, but it can also help you avoid making a bad situation worse.

To work with peers you disagree with, do the following:

  • Listen more than you speak. Diversity of opinions is important, and allowing yourself the time to process what another person wants can help you understand where they’re coming from.
  • Think before you respond. Choose your words carefully when responding to something you disagree with. Doing so ensures that you can justify your arguments in a sincere, respectful tone.
  • Try to find common ground and avoid dragging others into an argument.
  • Avoid personal insults. Discussions should be civil and focus on workplace issues.
  • Ask questions. Sometimes disagreements come from a lack of understanding. Asking questions in a friendly tone can be a good way to steer a conversation into a more positive direction.

Working with people you disagree with can be difficult, but it’s an important part of most jobs. If you are concerned that you and a peer will never get along, consider speaking to a supervisor.

Newsletter Provided by: Hierl's Property & Casualty Experts

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Identity theft protection benefits and the business case for employers

According to SANS Institute, it can take up to 200 hours of personal time to resolve issues related to identity theft. With the rise of identity theft in the news, many employees are looking to their employers to provide identity protection benefits. Read on to learn more.


With identity theft in the news constantly, many employees are turning to their employers to ask for an identity protection benefit.

Let us focus on productivity and wellness. Identity theft can wreak havoc on an employee’s personal and work life. According to SANS Institute, it takes an average of six months and up to 200 hours of personal time to resolve issues related to the theft. This includes hours calling banks, credit card companies, filing police reports, notifying the Social Security Administration, and alerting credit bureaus. Most of these calls and follow up activity must be made during business hours. According to ITRC’s latest study, 22% of respondents took time off of work when dealing with issues of identity theft.

Identity theft also impacts wellness and mental health. According to the ITRC study, 75% of respondents reported that they were severely distressed by the misuse of their information, and many sought professional help to manage their identity theft experience — either by going to a doctor for their physical symptoms or seeking mental health counseling.

These findings make it clear that identity theft directly impacts productivity and wellness. That is why comprehensive and compassionate restoration services should be a key element of any ID Protection plan offered by the employer.

Restoration services are the fixers in a comprehensive identity protection plan. For victims of identity theft, the restoration specialist will do the required work to restore the victim’s identity. Specialists make the calls during business hours, complete the necessary paperwork, and manage the process. They free up the employee to focus on their job, and alleviate the stress of dealing with the challenges of identity restoration.

There are a range of features to look for when evaluating restoration services across plans. Some plans only offer advice and information kits to guide members on what steps they need to take. Those services typically do not do the work for the member.

For plans that provide a full restoration process, consider if the plan provides victims with a dedicated restoration specialist as a single point of contact. Since the restoration process can take months or years, it’s best if a victim has a consistent person to speak with who knows the case and can provide periodic updates. Restoration services should be available 24/7 so victims can initiate the process immediately to lessen the damage. Plans should also provide multilingual specialists to best serve all members and handle all types of identity theft.

Although monitoring may alert individuals that are a victim of identity theft, the even greater value is in fixing the situation. Be sure to fully evaluate the restoration features of an identity protection plan as part of the selection process.

SOURCE: Hazan, J (31 August 2018) "Identity theft protection benefits and the business case for employers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/identity-theft-protection-benefits-and-the-business-case-for-employers


10 creative ways to help working parents

Do you have working parents at your organization? Employers can take an active role to help relieve daily stressors that affect working parents. Continue reading to learn more.


Can working moms have it all? Say goodbye to the broad-shouldered power suits of the ’80s and ’90s. Juggling a career and raising children is no longer a women’s-only issue.

While mothers are now the primary or sole source of income for 40% of American households with children, 75% of employees of all genders report their biggest concern as a working parent is not having enough time for their children. From single dads to same-sex couples, breadwinning moms to full-time working grandparents, the parenting workforce is changing.

No matter a family’s parenting makeup, employers can take an active role to help alleviate daily stressors affecting all working parents in the new, high-demand workplace. Here are 10 ways to do so.

1. Get real about childcare.

One of the biggest challenges working parents face is finding good quality, reliable, affordable care. Employers can help by offering programs and services such as backup childcare, onsite childcare, or dependent care flexible spending accounts. An employee assistance program with comprehensive dependent care resource and referrals, adoption assistance and personal finance services can relieve a lot of the hassle and pressures of finding childcare services for working parents.

2. Offer flexibility.

Many working parents report that the resource they value most is the ability to have some control over where and when they work. A policy allowing for fixed alternative hours, or the opportunity to work at home as needed, can be a big help. Providing the further ability to have some flexibility on a day-to-day basis — whether to get to a parent conference or accommodate a missed school bus — is even better.

3. Make it convenient.

The ability for working parents to get some of life’s necessities taken care of right at the workplace is a huge plus. On-site amenities that employers offer range from big-ticket items like childcare and fitness centers to postal and banking services, take-home dinners to dry cleaning pick-up and delivery, and car washes to oil changes.

4. Help tackle the “hate-to-do” list.

Often without the support of the village, working parents are saddled with overwhelming responsibilities at home and a laundry list of ‘hate’ to-dos. From grocery shopping to laundry services, employers can offer convenient concierge and errand running perks to save employees time, money, and stress in all areas of life, house, and family management. These services help free up golden personal time, so working parents can focus on more fulfilling family experiences rather than constantly catching up on personal tasks and errands.

5. Promote total health.

Being a working parent is stressful. Don’t underestimate the power of wellness offerings to provide much-needed support. From standing desks to yoga classes, walking meetings to meditation rooms, there are many ways to promote a healthy lifestyle at work.

6. Prioritize mental wellness.

Mental wellness should also be a top priority, and employers can partner with an engaged EAP to build strong stress management solutions and reduce the stigma around mental health at work. Mental health support should be confidential and available at all stages of parenting, from pre-natal to post-partum, empty-nesting and beyond. Mental wellness benefits should be promoted year-round and available to all family members.

7. Remember the older kids.

Parenting doesn’t end when children graduate from grade school. Many employers offer programs such as homework hotlines to help kids through their teen years; EAPs can also provide a wide range of resources and referrals on parenting and education. Services and activities like college coaching, financial counseling, and “lunch and learns” with scholarship or admissions experts can be invaluable to parents facing the next adventure.

8. Simplify travel.

Business travel can be hard when you’re a parent, especially of young children. Careful planning can help ensure working parents don’t have to spend precious weekend time traveling or head to meetings that might have been just as effective by phone. Increasing numbers of employers are also offering breast milk storage and shipping services; some even pay for childcare while employees are out of town.

9. Don’t forget the “working” in working parents.

Becoming a parent doesn’t automatically mean losing interest in your career. Leave it up to employees to decide if they want to take up educational or advancement opportunities.

10. Stay inclusive.

Remember that caregiving responsibilities can encompass a wide range of family situations. Make sure programs and policies — as well as communications about them — support fathers, single parents, adoptive and foster parents, same-sex couples and grandparent-caregivers.

Being a parent is a rewarding and enriching experience — but it can also be exhausting and thankless, especially for those juggling work and family. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to make the workplace a more supportive, less stressful place for working parents, who will likely return the favor with greater productivity, engagement and loyalty.

SOURCE: Krehbiel, E (2 July 2018) "10 creative ways to help working parents" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/slideshow/10-creative-ways-to-help-working-parents#slide-6

Do employees know where to go in a health crisis?

Often, employees are unsure who they should go to first when they have a health crisis at work. Many employers don’t have a consistent process in place for addressing health crises. Read this blog post to learn more.


When talking to employers about their disability programs, I often ask, “Who do your employees go to first for assistance when they have a health condition?”

If I ask that question of a direct supervisor, it’s met with a quick response of “Me!”, which is quickly followed by the statement, “My employees know that my door is always open and I’m here to help them!”

Sadly, this is not true. Another insurance company recently surveyed employees who experienced a health condition in the workplace and asked that same question: Who did you go to for assistance? The responses varied.

For example, we found that at midsize companies with 100 to 499 employees, it varied:

· 44% went to their HR manager
· 33% went to their direct supervisor
· 18% went to their HR manager and direct supervisor
· 5% went elsewhere

What this shows is that many employers don’t have a consistent process in place for addressing employees with health conditions. This confusion or misunderstanding about whom to approach for assistance can create an inconsistent process for your clients and their workforce — potentially resulting in a negative experience for employees and lost productivity for employers.

Based on the survey findings, employees who worked with their HR manager tended to have a more positive experience and felt more valued and productive after speaking with them about their health condition.

For instance, 54% of employees felt uncomfortable discussing their health condition with their direct supervisor, versus only 37% of employees who went to their HR manager. In addition, 73% of employees who worked with their HR manager felt they knew how to provide the right support for their condition versus 61% of employees who worked with their direct supervisor.

There are several reasons why working with an HR manager can be more beneficial for employees, and ultimately, your clients. Typically, working with an HR manager can lead to more communication while an employee is on leave. Our research shows employees who worked with an HR manager were more likely to receive communication on leave and returned to work 44% faster than when they worked with their direct supervisor.

HR managers also are usually more aware of available resources and how to connect employees to necessary programs to help treat their condition. HR managers who engaged their disability carriers saw a 22% boost in employees’ use of workplace resources, such as an EAP, or disease management or wellness program, when involved in a return-to-work or stay-at-work plan.

This connection to additional resources is essential, as it can help employees receive holistic support to manage their health condition — whether it’s financial wellness support, connection to mental health resources through an EAP or one-on-one sessions with a health coach. HR managers also are usually able to better engage their disability carrier to provide tailored accommodations, which can help aid in stay-at-work or return-to-work plans.

Providing your client with these findings can help them understand the importance of creating a disability process that puts HR as the main point of contact. Not only does this create a consistent experience that helps provide employees with the support they need, it can improve employee morale and reduce turnover.

SOURCE: Smith, Jeffery (16 August 2018) "Do employees know where to go in a health crisis?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/do-employees-know-where-to-go-in-a-health-crisis


Retirement ABCs: How employers can help baby boomers prepare

Sixty-six percent of baby boomers are working past the traditional retirement age. There are specific rules and regulations regarding contributions and withdrawals in retirement. Continue reading to learn how employers can help prepare their employers for retirement.


Seventy-four million: That’s the estimated number of baby boomers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And 66% of baby boomers are working past traditional retirement ages for a variety of reasons. Some feel they can’t afford to retire, particularly with the looming high costs of healthcare; others may choose to work longer to keep their brains active or because they fear the adjustment to a less structured lifestyle.

Older workers approaching full retirement age (which varies, depending on when they were born) where they can begin receiving 100% of Social Security, face some daunting decisions about Medicare, Social Security and retirement plans such as health savings accounts and 401(k)s — unchartered territory until this point in their lives. There are specific rules about contributions and withdrawals in retirement, and employers should help with the education process. Here are three ways to do so.

Break down the HSA rules from a retiree perspective. If you offer HSAs to your employees, it’s important they understand how HSAs work with Medicare: The IRS dictates that a person can’t contribute to an HSA if they’re enrolled in part of Medicare (Part A, Part D, etc.) However, they can draw on funds already in the account to pay for qualified medical expenses and premiums for Medicare Parts B, C and D (but generally not Medicare supplement plans or Medigap insurance premiums).

Importantly, your employees may be penalized for delaying Medicare, depending on the number of employees you have and whether you have group health insurance. These requirements may not be well known by your employees and should be communicated clearly.

Of course, because Medicare, Social Security and any retirement plans involve several layers of government rules and financial regulations, there are some tricky issues your employees need to know about. One is retirement “back pay.”

When employees sign up for Social Security at least six months beyond the full retirement age, they’ll receive six months of retirement benefit back pay. This is problematic if your employees contributed to their HSAs over the previous six months — they are liable for tax penalties on HSAs. Create an education strategy that includes this information for employees looking to retire, so that they can stop contributing to their HSA six months before retirement and avoid costly mistakes.

Help employees understand how all their benefits work together. Your employees have contributed their knowledge and skills to you; it’s important to help them understand their options as they work toward retirement. For those just a few years out from retirement, your education plan may include helping employees understand eligibility requirements for both Social Security and Medicare, as well as any penalties that might arise from applying late to Medicare.

As your employees age, they are also eligible to contribute “catch-up” funds to HSAs, IRAs and 401(k)s in preparation for retirement. Your 401(k) partners and financial wellness resources can help employees assess their financial situations and prepare for retirement. For example, it’s a good idea to encourage employees who may have multiple 401(k) plans to consolidate them into one — this will make it easier to manage when they retire. They may ultimately roll these into an IRA to access additional investment options.

Maintain a focus on wellness. If you have a wellness program in place, take measures to boost participation and steer employees, especially older participants, toward healthy habits to help them live well and be productive leading up to retirement.

Wellness may extend outside of physical, emotional and mental wellness to professional development. Help them improve their retirement outlook by keeping job skills up to date so they are better prepared if they need to take on other employment to supplement their retirement.

For anyone nearing retirement age it’s a good idea to become acquainted with “Medicare and You,” the government’s official Medicare handbook. While each employee’s situation will differ, there’s no doubt that planning and education are key to a successful retirement strategy and, as an employer, you can support these efforts.

SOURCE: Metzger, L (14 August 2018) "Retirement ABCs: How employers can help baby boomers prepare" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-best-educate-baby-boomer-workers-on-retirement


A vacation can't undo the damage of a stressful work environment

Researchers say employees experience chronic stress during their workday and vacations aren't helping to fix it. Take a look at why a stress-free work environment is critical for productivity.


That easy breezy feeling after taking a vacation slips away pretty quickly when people have to face the same systemic workplace issues that wore them down in the first place, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2018 Work and Well-Being survey.

The Harris Poll surveyed 1,512 U.S. adults who were employed either full time, part time or were self-employed, and found that nearly a quarter (24 percent) say the positive effects of vacation time – such as more energy and feeling less stress – disappear immediately upon returning to work. Forty percent say the benefits last only a few days.

“Employers shouldn’t rely on the occasional vacation to offset a stressful work environment,” says David W. Ballard, head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. “Unless they address the organizational factors causing stress and promote ongoing stress management efforts, the benefits of time off can be fleeting. When stress levels spike again shortly after employees return to work, that’s bad for workers and for business.”

More than a third (35 percent) of respondents say they experience chronic stress during their workday, due to low pay (49 percent), lack of opportunity for growth or advancement (46 percent), too heavy of a workload (42 percent) and unrealistic job expectations and long hours (39 percent each).

However, just half say their employer provides the resources necessary to help them meet their mental health needs. When adequate resources are provided, only 33 percent of the respondents say they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday, compared to 59 percent of those who say their employer doesn’t provide sufficient mental health resources. When it comes to overall well-being, nearly three-fourths of employees supported with mental health resources (73 percent) say their employer helps them develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle, compared to 14 percent who say they don’t have the resources.

“Chronic work stress, insufficient mental health resources, feeling overworked and under supported – these are issues facing too many workers, but it doesn’t have to be this way,” Ballard says. “Psychological research points the way in how employers can adopt effective workplace practices that go a long way in helping their employees thrive and their business grow.”

Even in a very supportive workplace environment, encouraging vacations can boost morale and performance even more, according to the survey. Upon returning from vacation, employees who say their organization’s culture encourages time off were more likely to report having more motivation (71 percent) compared to employees who say their organization doesn’t encourage time off (45 percent). They are also more likely to say they are more productive (73 percent vs. 47 percent) and that their work quality is better (70 percent vs. 46 percent).

Overall, respondents are more likely to say they feel valued by their employer (80 percent vs. 37 percent), that they are satisfied with their job (88 percent vs. 50 percent) and that the organization treats them fairly (88 percent vs. 47 percent). They are similarly more likely to say they would recommend their organization as a good place to work (81 percent vs. 39 percent).

“A supportive culture and supervisor, the availability of adequate paid time off, effective work-life policies and practices, and psychological issues like trust and fairness all play a major role in how employees achieve maximum recharge,” Ballard says. “Much of that message comes from the top, but a culture that supports time off is woven throughout all aspects of the workplace.”

SOURCE:
Kuehner-Hebert, K (13 July 2018) "A vacation can't undo the damage of a stressful work environment" [Web Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.benefitspro.com/2018/07/02/a-vacation-cant-undo-the-damage-of-a-stressful-wor/