3 summer workplace legal issues and how to handle them

Summer is right around the corner, leaving employers little time to brush up on seasonal employment law issues. Issues such as hiring interns, dress code compliance and handling time off requests can cause legal issues for employers. Read this blog post to learn more.


Summer is almost here and with that comes a set of seasonal employment law issues. Top of the list for many employers includes hiring interns, dress code compliance and handling time off requests.

Here’s how employers can navigate any legal issues that may arise.

Summer interns

Employers looking to hire interns to work during the summer season or beyond should know that the U.S. Department of Labor recently changed the criteria to determine if an internship must be paid. In certain circumstances, internships are considered employment subject to federal minimum wage and overtime rules.

Under the previous primary beneficiary test, employers were required to meet all of the six criteria outlined by the DOL for determining whether interns are employees. The new seven-factor test is designed to be more flexible and does not require all factors to be met. Rather, employers are asked to determine the extent to which each factor is met. For example, how clear is it that the intern and the employer understand that the internship is unpaid, and that there is no promise of a paid job at the end of the program? The non-monetary benefits of the intern-employer relationship, such as training, are also taken into consideration.

Though no single factor is deemed determinative, a review of the whole internship program is important to ensure that an intern is not considered an employee under FLSA rules and to avoid any liabilities for misclassification claims.

Companies also should be aware of state laws that may impact internship programs. For example, California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland and New York consider interns to be employees and offer some protections under various state anti-discrimination and sexual harassment statutes.

All employers should be clear about the scope of their internship opportunities, including expectations for the relationship, anticipated duties and hours, compensation, if any, and whether an intern will become entitled to a paid job at the end of the program.

Summer dress codes

Warmer temperatures mean more casual clothing. This could mean the line between professional and casual dress in the workplace is blurred. The following are some tips when crafting a new or revisiting an existing dress code policy this summer.

If the dress code is new or being revised, the policy should be clearly communicated. Sending a reminder out to employees may be helpful in some workplaces. In all cases, the policy should be unambiguous. List examples to make sure there is no confusion about what is considered appropriate and explain the reasoning behind the policy and the consequences for any violations.

To serve their business or customer needs, companies may apply dress code policies to all employees or to specific departments. They should also make sure the dress code does not have an adverse impact on any religious groups, women, people of color or people with disabilities. Company policies may not violate state or federal anti-discrimination laws. If the policy is likely to have a disparate impact on one or more of these groups, employers should be prepared to show a legitimate business reason for the policy. Also, reasonable accommodations should be provided for employees who request one based on their protected status. For example, reasonable modifications may be required for ethnic, religious or disability reasons.

Finally, failure to consistently enforce a neutral dress code policy or provide reasonable accommodations can expose a company to potential claims. As always, dress codes and any discipline for code violations should be implemented equitably to avoid claims of discrimination.

Time off requests

Summer time tends to prompt an influx of requests for time off. Now is a good time to review policies governing time off, as well as the implementation of those policies to ensure consistency. Written time off policies should explicitly inform employees of the process for handling time off requests and help employers consistently apply the rules.

An ideal policy will explain how much time off employees receive and how that time accrues. It also will include reasonable restrictions on how time off is administered such as requiring advance approval from management, and how to handle scheduling so that business needs and staffing levels are in sync.

Most importantly, time off policies and procedures must not be discriminatory. For instance, if a policy denies time off or permits discipline for an employee who needs to be out of the office on a protected medical leave, the policy could be seen as discriminating against employees with disabilities. Companies should train their managers on how to administer time off requests in a non-discriminatory manner. Employers generally have the right to manage vacation requests, however protected leave available to employees under federal, state and local laws adds another layer of complexity that employers should consider when reviewing time off requests.

To minimize employment issues this summer and all year around: plan ahead, know the relevant employment laws and train managers and supervisors to apply HR best practices consistently throughout the organization.

SOURCE: Starkman, J.; Rochester, A. (23 May 2019) "3 summer workplace legal issues and how to handle them" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-handle-summer-workplace-legal-issues


Working from home for medical reasons poses challenges for employers

There has been an 11 percent increase in remote work since 2014, according to SHRM. This increase in remote work is posing new challenges for HR teams when the request is due to medical reasons. Read this post to learn more.


While working from home has become much more popular in recent years – an 11% increase just since 2014, according to SHRM – this can pose challenges for HR teams when the request is due to medical reasons.

Even if your workplace has guidelines for remote workers, requests to telecommute as an accommodation must be carefully reviewed to assure you’re in compliance with ADA regulations

The ADA prohibits discrimination in employment based on disability, and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees. A reasonable accommodation entails any changes in the work environment, or in the way things are customarily done, which enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

In these cases, it’s important for both the HR rep and a physician to gather information about the accommodation request to gauge if telecommuting is medically necessary or simply a personal preference.

The HR rep needs to gather specific information from the employee, including the following:

  • Explanation of why it’s medically necessary to work from home
  • The essential job functions the employee finds challenging to perform in the office
  • The duration of the request to work from home
  • Whether telecommuting for a period of time enables the employee to return to work in the office and perform essential functions of the job
  • Confirmation that they have a dedicated workspace with phone, Wi-Fi and other essential technology

Meanwhile, the physician should gather certain information from the HR rep, including:

  • A description of the medical condition
  • How working from home will help the employee better manage that medical condition and perform the essential job functions
  • The restrictions (things the employee cannot do) and limitations (things the employee should not do)
  • Why the employee can work from home but not in the office
  • How long the employee will require the accommodation (short or long term)
  • Likelihood that the employee will ever be able to perform their essential job functions from the office

With more offices adopting an agile model with open workspaces, employees now have more natural lighting, feel less cramped and have more opportunity for collaboration with their colleagues. However, these advantages to many people can be challenges for others.

Light and odor sensitivity, as well as distractions, are some of the most frequent triggers of medical conditions that drive the need for accommodations. In many cases, some simple modifications to the workplace can help solve or alleviate some of the employee’s challenges.

Light sensitivity, or photophobia, is intolerance to light, which can cause a painful reaction to strong lighting. Adjustments can be made to help alleviate this, including head lighting modifications, window shading, cubicle shields for fluorescent lights, polarized glasses and/or prescription eyewear.

Odor sensitivity is another common issue in open workspaces – especially for employees who previously were in a contained space with infrequent interaction with colleagues. Consider workplace signage prohibiting perfume or cologne in the office, enforcing a fragrance policy, air purifiers throughout or in select areas, a transition to scent-free cleaning products, or upgrading the ventilation system in the office to allow more air flow. For food smells, ask employees to eat in a designated area and not bring food to their workspace.

Distractibility is the inability to sustain attention or attentiveness to one task. With agile workspaces often involving moving around frequently or being positioned in a high-traffic area, this can be challenging to some employees. Consider providing noise-canceling headphones, white noise machines, cubicle shields, noise barriers or an adjustment to the office configuration. Consider allocating space within the open work plan that’s off-limits for meetings and away from heavy foot traffic.

While agile workspaces have many benefits, they can pose challenges to your workforce. It’s your responsibility to work with employees to accommodate medical requests which may result from light sensitivity, distractions or even odors. Following these simple tips can help assure a healthy, happy and productive workplace for your team.

SOURCE: Holliday-Schiavon, K. (23 May 2019) "Working from home for medical reasons poses challenges for employers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/remote-work-for-medical-reasons-challenging-for-employers


Taking the first steps to a long-term benefits strategy

Many companies are struggling in the search to find cost-effective, successful employee benefits strategies that HR professionals and finance professionals agree on. Read this blog post to learn more.


The quest for a cost-effective and successful employee benefits program can feel like a search for the Holy Grail. To most, it’s an elusive goal within the context of rising and unsustainable costs.

Unlike “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” in which a comedy of errors made for a hilarious movie, nonsensical benefits strategies can have serious consequences.

One major challenge is that many HR and finance professionals have conflicting objectives. HR’s mission is to design a program that is competitive in the marketplace for human capital needs while supporting the organization’s culture. Finance, on the other hand, is charged with managing to a budget by controlling expenses to mitigate year-over-year increases. The result, in spite of best intentions, leaves organizations unable to commit to a multi-year plan and opt in favor of living year-to-year.

So, how do you overcome this challenge?

Step 1Key HR and finance stakeholders need to align on goals and objectives. They also need to remain engaged in the process throughout the year (not just at renewal). Once you achieve alignment, these objectives should be memorialized into a benefits philosophy. Why? So the collective team has guiding principles for future decisions.

Step 2: Identify the cost drivers of the program. Many employers have little line of sight into how their plan is performing until it’s too late. Once you are staring down the barrel of a 25% increase, an organization may be forced to make swift changes to soften the blow to their bottom line rather than follow a strategic approach that comes with preparation. Unfortunately, this type of knee-jerk reaction only temporarily relieves the pressure and may create unintended consequences to the employee value proposition.

Step 3Understand where you were, where you are and where you want to be. After 25 years in the consulting industry, one thing I know for certain is there are only so many levers you can pull to rein in escalating benefit costs. Identify the levers and how far you want to pull them.

Step 4: Determine success metrics. I’ve seen many organizations implement new tactics, such as a health savings account. When I ask them if it was successful, they can’t answer because they didn’t set an internal bar for success. That barometer will help you gauge success and determine what changes need to be made to your approach to achieve your goal.

Step 5Commit the plan to writing and review it periodically. Just like your company’s overall business plan, you will need to make adjustments along the way as your business changes.

Regardless of strategy, I recommend employers take steps toward a self-funding benefits model. Historically, self-funding was for groups with 1,000 lives and above. But that’s no longer the case. Self-funding provides that all-important line of sight into cost drivers because of access to claims data. Having a deeper understanding of the “why” behind costs allows an organization to implement a data-driven approach to the overarching benefits strategy. Self-funding also provides more plan design flexibility and eliminates the internal costs that an insurance carrier builds into a plan for profit.

It’s more effective to create a benefits strategy that is sustainable over time, so when you inevitably endure a higher-than-normal renewal cycle, typically every three to five years, you are prepared to stay the course.

Consider timing. When you make changes to a benefit plan is just as important as what changes you make. Evaluate the timing of benefit changes, how they are implemented and how adjustments will impact your workforce now and in the future.

For example, if you plan to add new voluntary benefits, such as indemnity plans, it may make sense to run them “off cycle” from the core medical benefits open enrollment season. This gives employees more time to conduct research about the new product option and make an educated decision.

Strive for simplicity. I can’t stress this enough. The Affordable Care Act, an increase in voluntary benefit options, new funding models and benefit trends have created an enormous amount of noise in the insurance industry. Tune it out and simplify your process as much as you can. Your HR and Finance teams are overwhelmed and so are your employees. Instead of throwing new benefits at them each year, focus on educating them and making choices simple. In fact, any long-term benefits plan worth its weight always includes an education and communications component.

Benefit illiteracy is rampant, and confusion over options at open enrollment can have consequences for the employee throughout the plan year. If your employees choose their benefits online, spend the open enrollment meeting educating them on how to buy and consume insurance, rather than just what the benefit choices are for the plan year, or how to use the online enrollment tool. You should also communicate throughout the year, rather than just at open enrollment to support employees’ understanding of their benefits program.

Identify other areas where employees might struggle. One trend is to offer transparency tools to help them choose a doctor or specialist. But be aware that the sheer number of doctors in a given list can be overwhelming. Rather than offering employees a choice of 50 doctors, narrow it down to five providers with the best healthcare outcomes.

Making it simpler for employees to be better consumers of healthcare will help you cut costs and get on the right path to a long-term benefit strategy. Of course, you’ll have to check in each year and consider making small adjustments to the program, and data will help guide these changes. Adjustments should all be in service of a long-term plan. If you begin your long-term plan by asking the question, “Where were we, where are we now and where do we want to be in the future?” you’re halfway there. You may eventually find that your Holy Grail is within reach.

SOURCE: Bloom, A. (14 May 2019) "Taking the first steps to a long-term benefits strategy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/taking-the-first-steps-to-a-long-term-benefits-strategy


Bringing Design Thinking to HR

Design thinking has continued to rise in popularity across many industries. Continue reading this blog post from UBA for things to keep in mind when implementing design thinking processes.


Across industries, design thinking has continued its rise in popularity. At its core, design thinking is about centering people in the creation of products. Whatever you’re designing, whether a process or a tool, connecting your work to the people who will use it makes a better solution.

As HR Executive points out, design is more than logos and graphics. It’s the plan for anything produced, including the policies, tools, and systems of an HR Department. Ensuring those are designed with intention for today’s busy workforce means a better chance of them being successful. While HR in the past has been all about adoption, today’s departments have to think toward more than just first use to continued use. This means not just understanding, but connecting with, the people who will be using the tools, following the policies, and using the systems. The sheer number of workplace components HR manages, from compensation to workforce experience to productivity also means HR creates an immense amount of data. When that data is rooted in design thinking approaches, it becomes more valuable to the company as a whole.

If you’re already convinced of the value of design thinking, the Harvard Business Review has a few things to keep in mind to help ensure implementing design thinking processes goes smoothly.

  1. Encourage your team to think differently. Not just differently, but divergently. Outlier ideas, big reaches, and unexpected notions are more than useful, they’re essential.
  1. Empower your team to fail, more than once. Iteration and testing are parts of the design process and lead to improvements that don’t come from running with a safer idea.
  1. Embrace it yourself. For HR teams used to having clear directions and focusing on efficiency, these are new experiences so it’s up to managers to lead the way.

Read more:

The Right Way to Lead Design Thinking

How to Incorporate Design Thinking into HR Processes

SOURCE: Olson, B. (9 May 2019) "Bringing Design Thinking to HR" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/bringing-design-thinking-to-hr


Background Screenings and Second Chance Employment - 3 Tips for Success

Nearly seven out of 10 companies reported that they conduct criminal background checks on all job candidates, according to a 2012 SHRM survey. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Today’s employers may choose to run background checks on job applicants for variety of reasons. Concerns about negligent hiring, verifying a candidate’s honesty and accountability, and other safety- or performance-related issues may all play a part in this decision. In fact, according to SHRM's 2012 survey, nearly 7 out of 10 companies report that they conduct criminal background checks on all job candidates.

Understandably, employers want to do everything they can to protect their businesses and to ensure (as much as possible) that they’re also protecting their employees. And while an interview is an important opportunity to learn about a job candidate’s character and experience, a background screen provides tangible and practical verification of a candidate’s past, and that is reassuring. What’s important to keep in mind is that background screens are most effective when they’re used judiciously and carefully. Here are a few suggestions to consider.

  1. Tailor background screens to search for information relevant to the specific responsibilities of the job. While it can be tempting to want to know all the information available about a candidate’s past, the ethical and legal use of background screens means that a motor vehicle report, for example, isn’t relevant for a candidate who won’t be driving as part of their job. Limiting searches to the information that is most relevant to the execution of the job functions will keep you in EEOC compliance and will yield more effective background screens.
  1. Use a professional background screening company to assist you. There are many excellent and affordable screening companies to choose from, and we at Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation have had great experiences in our work with Occuscreen, GoodHire, and Checkr, among others. A professional background screening company can help you get the most out of your background checks and can work with you to ensure you’re soliciting the right information for the right purpose. Additionally, quality background screening companies are able to verify information through court runners and other means, which improves accuracy and reduces the likelihood that you’ll see or use irrelevant data (arrest records not leading to convictions, for example).
  1. Remember to be consistent. If you have two or more applicants applying for the same job, you should be requesting the same information about them when you run their backgrounds. Varying types of job responsibilities and roles might require varying levels of inquiry, but if multiple candidates are applying for the same job with the same title, it’s important to keep your process consistent. This will help you avoid the appearance of discrimination or favoritism.

And remember, background screens may involve some level of technological or human error. The information provided from a background screen is a valuable tool to help you in your hiring decision, but it is only one tool. Thoughtfully integrating this information—with your intuition, your experiences with the candidate in the interview, and your willingness to suspend bias or assumptions about an applicant’s character based on their past—can help you to make the best hiring choice every time.

Have questions about how to proceed with a report’s findings? Many employers aren’t criminal code experts, and don’t have to be. Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation is here to help. Get in touch.

SOURCE: Martin, G. (16 April 2019) "Background Screenings and Second Chance Employment - 3 Tips for Success" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://blog.shrm.org/blog/background-screenings-and-second-chance-employment-3-tips-for-success


Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation is the nation’s only nonprofit foundation dedicated to inspiring and equipping employers to embrace Second Chance Employment

This post is part of a series for Second Chance Month, which highlights the need to improve re-entry for citizens returning to society and reduce recidivism. One of the primary ways to do this is by providing an opportunity for gainful employment. To sign the pledge and access the toolkit with information on how to create second chances at your company, visit GettingTalentBacktoWork.org


4 signs top talent may leave: Best strategies to keep them

Employers usually dread receiving a two-weeks notice from one of their top employees. Landing new top talent in today's tight labor market is no easy task, making retention a top priority. Read this blog post to learn more.


There are few things an HR pro dreads more than when a great employee hands in their notice. The challenge of having to replace them can be overwhelming. 

And in this tight labor market, landing new top talent is no easy task, making retention an important priority.

Luckily, there are usually signs a valued employee might be thinking about jumping ship, and some proactive steps you can take to try and keep them.

Subtle signs

Experts agree there are a lot of reasons great employees decide they need to move on. Apart from salary, boredom and a lack of recognition and engagement are the biggest issues causing workers to seek employment elsewhere.

While it might seem sudden and jarring when an employee announces their resignation, there were most likely subtle signs it was coming.

Here are the main ones to watch out for, according to Janine Popick, Chief Marketing Officer of Dasheroo:

1. Private calls during work. Everyone needs to take private calls in the office from time to time, but if someone seems to be answering the phone in hushed tones and dashing to the nearest empty office frequently, that’s probably a sign your employee is interviewing somewhere else.

2. Declining work ethic. Many employees mentally check out before they leave a job. While there could be personal issues causing a change in attitude, if an employee seems less enthusiastic and is consistently only doing the bare minimum, they’re most likely ready to move on.

3. Lack of socialization. Someone actively wanting to leave probably won’t go out of their way to make chit chat with co-workers or be overly friendly anymore. Pay attention to any employee who’s suddenly keeping to themselves more than usual.

4. More activity on social networks. If you’re worried an employee may be getting ready to leave, take a peek at their online presence. Is their LinkedIn page completely updated and polished? Are their tweets looking more professional than personal? This kind of online activity could be an indicator an employee is trying to make a good impression on a new employer.

While it may be too late to convince some people to stay, there are still steps you can take to prevent talent from leaving in the future, according to HR Daily Advisor.

Presenting new challenges

Boredom is what’ll disengage your workers the fastest and cause them to seek a new project elsewhere. To get a basic idea of where your employees stand, an engagement survey is a great tool to see who needs a change.

An easy fix is to ask your people if they’d like to tackle different types of assignments. The more you keep things fresh for them, the more likely they are to remain engaged.

Another way to avoid boredom: See who’s due for a promotion. If someone’s been stuck in the same position for so long they’ve grown tired of it, see if there’s a new opportunity for them. The new responsibility could be just what they needed to respark their enthusiasm.

Recognition, feedback

When your people don’t feel appreciated, they’ll have no qualms about leaving the company. To correct this, it’s important to give frequent feedback and let people know when they’ve done a good job.

Gallup research shows employees who are praised are more committed to their work and organizations. Even just quick feedback, positive or negative, can motivate employees and boost their engagement.

Extra communication can only make employees feel more connected to the company.

SOURCE: Mucha, R. (1 February 2019) "4 signs top talent may leave: Best strategies to keep them" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/4-signs-top-talent-may-leave-best-strategies-to-keep-them/


4 Simple Reasons Why Texting Can Lead to Better Hires

If your recruiters are continually getting "ghosted" by job candidates, it may have something to do with their communication method. Continue reading this blog post for four reasons texting can lead to better hires.


It’s no secret that recruiters spend the majority of their time researching to find the right candidates for the right job, and even more time reaching out to talk to these potential candidates. So it’s natural that they become frustrated when candidates ignore communications like emails and LinkedIn InMail messages from recruiters. While these communication methods can work for some, they definitely aren’t preferred for all — especially these days.

With people busier than ever before, especially passive millennial candidates, recruiters are seeing more and more recruits “ghosting” them. If you are continually getting no responses to your outreach, it likely has something to do with the other 100-plus emails that are hitting candidates’ inboxes every day. Reaching out via SMS (text messaging) can help you break through the noise and make it easy for potential candidates to take the next step.

Here are four simple ways to use text messages to make better hires:

Texting is quicker

In a highly competitive market, speed matters more than ever. How quickly you can secure the talent you need impacts how quickly your business is moving forward. Seventy-three percent of U.S. millennials and Gen Zers interact with each other digitally more than they do in real life. If you want a fast answer, texting is the way to go.

Scheduling via text is also quicker

Nothing good ever comes from never-ending email chains, especially when the topic is as dull as “Are you available Wednesday morning between 9 am and 11 am?” Sending your candidate a link to your favorite scheduling client via SMS puts an end to group-email fatigue and gets the interview on the books in a matter of minutes.

Don’t forget reminders

There’s nothing worse than a candidate showing up late or missing an interview.
A quick text message is a perfect way to give your candidates a quick heads-up, give them an extra tip, a quick pat on the back and send them in ready to win. No one likes tardiness and no-shows. A quick reminder ensures everyone’s on the same page.

Accelerate the hiring process

Text messages make the candidate experience way more enjoyable by simply shortening the hiring process. Hiring typically involves emails, scheduling, and so much admin. A great SMS can make hiring human again, not to mention faster. By communicating directly with someone at a time that works best for them, especially in a way that they’re much more likely to respond quickly, it will help shorten the overall hiring timeline.
When used alongside other awesome tools, such as a chatbot, text messaging could even help qualify leads more quickly and immediately put you in touch with the best candidates.

The bottom line: utilizing text for recruiting can help you revitalize your talent pipeline and create a more engaging candidate experience.

SOURCE: Bounds, D. (25 April 2019) "4 Simple Reasons Why Texting Can Lead to Better Hires" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://hrexecutive.com/4-simple-reasons-why-texting-can-lead-to-better-hires/


Working interviews: How hiring trend can cause compliance issues

Do you have job candidates participate in working interviews? The federal government prefers that companies do not bring in applicants for a working interview and without paying them. Read this blog post to learn how this hiring trend can cause compliance issues for companies.


News flash: The feds don’t like it when you bring in “applicants” for a “working interview” – and then refuse to pay them for the work they perform.

The lesson is going to cost a Nashville dental practice $50,000 after a settlement in federal district court.

The practice will pay $50k in back wages and liquidated damages to 10 employees for FLSA minimum wage, overtime and recordkeeping violations.

According to the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, Smiley Tooth Spa:

  • violated the federal minimum wage requirements by requiring candidates for hire to perform a “working interview” to conclude their application, but failed to pay the individuals for those hours worked
  • failed to pay registered dental assistants and hygienists time-and-a-half for hours worked over 40 in a workweek
  • authorized their accountant to falsify and alter time and payroll records to make it appear that the employer was paying proper overtime for all hours worked, and
  • periodically required employees to attend training during their scheduled lunch breaks without paying them for that time.

THE CARDINAL RULE

Although it’s hard to believe that any employer could think such an approach could fly in this day and age, this case is a good reminder that people who perform duties for the benefit of any organization are, almost universally, entitled to be paid.

Even if they aren’t yet considered an “official” employee, they’re performing the work of one, and must be paid for it.

Some good news: With working interviews, employers don’t necessarily have to pay the position’s advertised salary. The law only says workers must receive at least minimum wage for their work, so companies do have some flexibility.

SOURCE: Cavanaugh, L. (1 March 2019) "Working interviews: How hiring trend can cause compliance issues" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://www.hrmorning.com/working-interviews-how-hiring-trend-can-cause-compliance-issues/


7 tips for keeping shift workers healthy

Is your employer open for more than 10 hours a day? Most companies that are open for more than 10 hours a day have some sort of shift work or work pattern. Read this blog post for seven tips on keeping shift workers healthy.


For companies open for more than 10 hours a day, it’s likely that you have some sort of shift work, or a pattern of work involving rotation through different fixed periods across a working week or month. Employees who work in healthcare, call centers, manufacturing and in a warehouse all regularly work round-the-clock shifts, and these are some of the most common industries utilizing this type of model.

While shift work can have numerous positives for the company and even the workers, it also can have many negative impacts on health — both physical and mental. Beyond the most common health impact — sleep disruption — there are numerous other ways shift work can negatively impact a worker’s health including: mood disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, injuries and accidents, metabolic disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disorders, interference on family live and limited social life.

Shift workers also experience high levels of annual leave requests and short-term disability claims.

For employers in one of these industries, or any industry with non-regular shift hours, there are a few best practices that will help improve worker productivity and minimize leave.

Provide schedules that are as predictable at possible. Allowing an employee to settle into a regular schedule will allow them to establish a routine both at work and at home. Interference with home and social life can be a key trigger for a variety of negative health habits.

Limit the number of nights worked consecutively. Just like a traditional Monday-Friday, 9-5 worker, those working night hours need a weekend of their own, too. While this may not always be Saturday-Sunday, allowing them a couple of consecutive days off will give them time to disconnect and recharge.

Designate areas and times for employees to rest in the workplace. Whether a nurse in a busy ER department or a warehouse worker stocking shelves, everyone needs a break during their workday. Work with the shift manager to map out regular breaks and a calm and quiet place for employees to take a break.

Provide health and wellness programs that are accessible at night and on weekends. Since most HR professionals work office day jobs, they often forget about accessibility of services to employees working different hours. Assure your EAP provider is accessible 24/7 and if you have on-campus programs, be sure to offer them at different times for your shift workers. A factory employee working third shift should have the same level of access as a first-shift office worker.

Give employees more control over their schedules with shift-based hiring. This is an approach of hiring people for individual shifts rather than hiring employees, then scheduling them into shifts. Employees come to companies with a range of responsibilities outside of the workplace. Allowing them to match with the shift that best works with their personal lives will result in greater productivity and fewer health impacts.

For those returning to work following a leave, keep the schedule as close to their normal schedule as possible. While it’s not always possible to perfectly align with their previous schedule, you’ll want to get those returning from a leave back into the routine of their previous shift work. While on leave, many will have transitioned into a different sleep routine, so getting them back to the previous patterns will help with the transition back to work.

Provide resources on good sleep health. For shift workers, a healthy sleep routine can be challenging. However, there are simple and well-proven approaches to establishing sleep patterns regardless of the time of day. Be sure to regularly promote resources in the workplace and through regular communications. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine is a good place to start.

SOURCE: Willett, S. (26 April 2019) "7 tips for keeping shift workers healthy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/tips-for-keeping-hourly-employees-healthy?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds

Workplace wellness programs do not cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers' health, according to a recent study from JAMA. Continue reading this blog post to learn about this recent study and workplace wellness programs.


Workplace wellness programs have become an $8 billion industry in the U.S. But a study published Tuesday in JAMA found they don’t cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers’ health.

Most large employers offer some type of wellness program — with growth fueled by incentives in the federal Affordable Care Act.

A host of studies over the years have provided conflicting results about how well they work, with some showing savings and health improvements while others say the efforts fall short.

Many studies, however, faced a number of limitations, such as failing to have a comparison group, or figuring out whether people who sign up for such wellness programs are somehow healthier or more motivated than those who do not.

Now researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard may have overcome these obstacles with one of the first large-scale studies that is peer-reviewed and employs a more sophisticated trial design.

They randomly assigned 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all employees, then compared results with 140 stores that did not.

The big-box retailer employed nearly 33,000 workers across all 160 clubs during the test.

After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled.

But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

“The optimistic interpretation is there is no way we can get improvements in health or more efficient spending if we don’t’ first have changes in health behavior,” said one study author, Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. (Dr. Zirui Song, an assistant professor of health policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, was its co-author.)

“But if employers are offering these programs in hopes that health spending and absenteeism will go down, this study should give them pause,” Baicker said.

The study comes amid widespread interest in wellness programs.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey of employers found that 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle change. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Some programs are simple, offering gift cards or other small incentives to fill out a health risk assessment, take a lunch-and-learn class or join a gym or walking group. Others are far more invasive, asking employees to report on a variety of health-related questions and roll up their sleeves for blood tests.

A few employers tie financial incentives to workers actually lowering risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol — or making concerted efforts to participate in programs that might help them do so over time.

The Affordable Care Act allowed employers to offer financial incentives worth up to 30% of the cost of health insurance, leading some employers to offer what could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars off workers’ deductibles or premiums to get them to participate. That led to court challenges about whether those programs are truly voluntary.

In the study reported in JAMA, the incentives were modest. Participants got small-dollar gift cards for taking wellness courses on topics such as nutrition, exercise, disease management and stress control. Total potential incentives averaged $250. About 35% of eligible employees at the 20 participating sites completed at least one module.

Results from those workers — including attendance and tenure data, their self-reported health assessment and results from lab blood tests — were specifically compared with similar reports from 20 primary comparison sites where workers were not offered the wellness gift cards and classes. Overall employment and health spending data from all worksites were included in the study.

Wellness program vendors said details matter when considering whether efforts will be successful.

Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes.

Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.

An accompanying editorial in JAMA noted that “traditional, broad-based programs like the one analyzed by Song and Baicker may lack the necessary intensity, duration, and focus on particular employee segments to generate significant effects over a short time horizon.”

In other words, don’t give up entirely on wellness efforts, but consider “more targeted approaches” that focus on specific workers with higher risks or on “health behaviors [that] may yield larger health and economic benefits,” the editorial suggested.

It could be, the study acknowledges, that 18 months isn’t enough time to track such savings. So, Baicker and Song also plan to publish three-year results once they are finalized.

Still, similar findings were recently reported in another randomized control trial conducted at the University of Illinois, where individuals were randomly selected to be offered wellness programs.

In one interesting point, that study found that wellness-program participants were likely already healthier and more motivated, “thus a primary benefit of these programs to employers may be their potential to attract and retain healthy workers with low medical spending.”

Everyone involved in studying or conducting wellness agrees on one thing: Changing behavior — and getting people motivated to participate at all — can be difficult.

Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps, a wellness program vendor, said that for the efforts to be successful they must cut across many areas, from the food served in company cafeterias to including spouses or significant others to help people quit smoking, eat better or exercise more.

“Behavior is more complicated than simply taking a few wellness modules,” said Aldana. “It’s a lifestyle matrix or pattern you have to adopt.”

SOURCE: Appleby, J. (16 April 2019) "Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/workplace-wellness-programs-barely-move-the-needle-study-finds/