ADA accommodation just has to be reasonable

Originally posted May 29, 2014 by Eric B. Meyer on

This is my son's first year playing t-ball. The rules, in case you're not familiar with them, are simple: Everybody hits. Everybody (eventually) rounds the bases. Everybody scores.

Some games, my son wants to lead off. Some games, he wants to hit last. Ultimately, it doesn't matter where he hits. The coach can place him anywhere in the batting order because he will hit, he will round the bases, and he will score.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is similar in that respect. It requires an employer to accommodate an employee with a disability if doing so will not create an undue hardship for the employer and will allow that employee to perform the essential functions of the job.

The ADA regulations include a non-exhaustive list of reasonable accommodations. Does the employee get to choose which one? Sure, the employee can express his/her desire. But, ultimately, the employee should get one that is reasonable, whether it is the employee's choice -- or not.

A recent case reflects this. In Bunn v. Khoury Enterprises, Inc., Mr. Bunn, who is disabled (visual impairment), sought an accommodation to allow him to perform his essential job functions. So, the employer restructured the employee's job. The accommodation worked. But, since it was not the accommodation Mr. Bunn wanted, he sued, claiming a violation of the ADA.

The lower court granted summary judgment to the employer and, on appeal, the 7th Circuit affirmed, because the job restructuring, while not the employee's preference, nonetheless allowed the employee to perform the essential functions of the job:

"In short, it was exactly the kind of accommodation envisioned by the regulations applicable to the ADA....the undisputed facts show that Khoury did what it was required to do by law....In this area of the law, we are primarily concerned with the ends, not the means...Bunn's apparent displeasure with the way in which Khoury decided on that accommodation, or with its failure to provide the exact accommodation he would have preferred, is irrelevant."

Does this mean that employers should resort to the my-way-or-the-highway approach to workplace accommodations? Certainly not. Oftentimes, providing the employee with a preferred accommodation will not increase expense or inconvenience and, instead, will satisfy the employee.

And although the 7th Circuit underscored that an employee will not prevail on a "failure-to-accommodate" ADA claim by merely showing that the employer failed to engage in an interactive process with the employee or that it caused the interactive process to break down, an employer that goes through the interactive process should have an easier time establishing it acted reasonably when responding to an employee's request for accommodation.

Because, after all, an employer just needs to act reasonably.

Worker Fatalities Show Importance of Safety Training

Originally posted May 28, 2014 by Paul Lawton on

Today’s Advisor reports on several workplace fatalities that may have been prevented with more effective safety training.

Case studies provide real-life examples of why it is important for learners to complete safety training and apply that knowledge back on the job.

In the month of June 2013 alone, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued statements regarding citations to five companies where training might have helped save a worker’s life.

1. OSHA proposed fines of $157,000 against a plumbing company as a result of a January 16 incident in which a worker died from injuries sustained when a trench collapsed at a job site in Hastings, Nebraska. The company was cited for failing to train workers on trenching hazards and four other safety violations.

“This tragedy might have been prevented with the use of protective shoring that the company planned to bring to the job site that afternoon. All too often, compromising safety procedures has tragic consequences, and hazards like these cause numerous deaths and injuries every year,” said Bonita Winingham, OSHA’s area director in Omaha. “No job should cost a worker’s life because an employer failed to properly protect and train them.”

2. OSHA also cited waste treatment facility for 22 safety and health violations and proposed $325,710 in fines as a result of a December 28 fire and explosion at the Cincinnati waste treatment facility in which a worker was fatally burned. The violations include failure to provide new training to employees assigned to handle waste materials, to train workers on the selection and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for protection from various materials that are part of their routine assignments, and to provide training and PPE to employees assigned to work on energized circuits.

3. Penalties totaling $116,200 were proposed against a lumber company in Timpson, Texas, stemming from a December incident in which a worker was killed after being struck by a broken band saw blade. The 17 alleged safety violations include failure to provide easily understood lockout/tagout training for energy control and to certify that energy control training was completed and current.

4. Among other things, OSHA cited a trucking company in Ross, North Dakota, for failing to train workers on chemical hazards and precautions after a worker was fatally injured on March 27 while cleaning the inside of a crude oil tanker that exploded.

5. OSHA also cited tool manufacturer for 17 safety violations, including lack of training, after a maintenance worker was electrocuted on March 6 in Fenton, Missouri.

Each company had 15 days to comply with the citations, request a conference, or contest the citations and penalties.

Learn from the failures of these companies to protect their employees, and make any needed changes in your own safety training programs to ensure such tragedies don’t happen in your workplace.

Why It Matters

  • Safety on the job is a top priority for employees and employers alike.
  • Safety training is a key component of every safety program.
  • Keep your employees safe—and avoid expensive citations—by continually evaluating your safety program and its training component.

Financial services companies renew focus on talent management

Originally posted May 29, 2014 by Michael Giardina on

As the financial services industry recovers from the recession, HR leaders at companies such as BNY Mellon and Invesco are re-examining their talent management programs and putting a new emphasis on corporate culture.

Following the recession, many executives in the financial services HR field began to question the industry’s focus on top-down management. At BNY Mellon, combining the firm’s traditional corporate structure with a new focus on talent management was an important part of its business strategy.

The global investment company has more than 50,000 people in 100 different locations, which makes culture and communication integral to its growth.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about culture,” says Sarah Allen, global director of HR strategy and talent solutions for BNY Mellon. “We really do try and reinforce the values.”

The company is in the process of implementing a year-long rotational development program, also known as a management training program, for interns and current employees.

“We think it’s really important because it gives us a chance to offer a differentiated experience, and gives these new employees a chance to see the company from a completely different perspective, from a 360 [degree] perspective,” says Allen. She notes that BNY Mellon is also rolling out a new employee career center to foster development, networking and coaching for motivated employees looking to grow.

According to Nancy Lupinski, head of people development at Invesco, the company is developing numerous programs with a focus on its more than 6,000 employees.

“We are continuing our focus on robust talent management processes, with enhanced efforts related to leadership development, as well as succession and development planning for key roles,” she says. “We work closely with business leaders to target development solutions that accelerate top talent development.”

Identifying, developing and managing talent in an industry as complex and global as financial services is a constant challenge, says Chris Farbo, global leader of Towers Watson’s talent and rewards financial services practice.

“We’re seeing a difference now,” he says. “We’re seeing organizations challenging what have been the historic norms on the staffing pyramid. Do we really need that many seniors to this many middle managers to this many juniors or should we change the slope of that pyramid?”

In a recent poll, Towers Watson found that approximately 44% of financial services companies said that identifying and developing talent would be the primary focus of their HR department over the next 12 months. Also, manager effectiveness, performance management and career architecture were cited by executives as being part of their 2014 HR roadmap.

“I think the industry has been very good at creating very good vertical executives who know their particular area of expertise incredibly well,” says Farbo. “But, as I speak with executives in the industry and boards of directors, where they want the industry to go is having executives grooming talent with a broader horizontal perspective on the business, so they can see and understand the different pockets of activity that are taking place across what are increasingly global and very diversified business portfolios.”

Allen says BNY Mellon is launching a manager feedback component to its employee review process this year, which will allow employees to rate the effectiveness of their managers.

“The manager will use that as input into their professional development plan, but it’s something that our employees have asked for that we think will be pretty powerful,” Allen says. “It just ensures that greater two-way communication.”

Forty-two percent of respondents to the Towers Watson survey said both manager effectiveness and performance management would be the talent initiatives receiving the most attention over the next 12 months.

Do You Have an Employee Wellness Plan?

Originally posted May 19, 2014 by Bridget Miller on

Employee wellness plans have been gaining popularity in recent years, and with good reason: they can benefit both employees and employers.
 An employee wellness program is simply a program that intends to promote the health and well-being of employees. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but the key is that the program has a goal of improving employee health.

The benefits for employees are fairly obvious:

  • The potential for improved health
  • Support in the form of encouragement, goals, or even team activities
  • A focus on healthier choices
  • Maybe a reduction in cost

But the benefits for employers are sometimes overlooked. This is unfortunate because employers actually stand to benefit a great deal as well. Here are just a few examples:

  • Improved employee health can mean fewer absences for illness and higher employee productivity levels.
  • Investing in employees can improve employee morale. Over time, this can even reduce turnover.
  • Healthier employees often cost less to insure over time.

These benefits are there regardless of company size or industry. Every organization can benefit.

Starting an Employee Wellness Program

Starting an employee wellness program can be quite simple. (Of course, it can be quite involved too, depending on how far the employer wants to go with the program.) Here are some examples of easy ways to get started focusing on employee health:

  • Provide health screenings. Examples include blood pressure or Body Mass Index (BMI) screenings.
  • Provide food fact sheets. Simply having access to more information can allow employees to make healthier choices.
  • Start employee fitness groups. Examples include walking groups or even sport team creation to compete in local leagues.
  • Conduct individual health-risk assessments (i.e., questionnaires that help assess overall health and risk factors at an individual level). These are usually administered by a third party and come with personalized reports on health risk factors.
  • Give away health-related promotional items. Examples include pedometers or water bottles.
  • Remove on-site food that does not promote good health; replace it with healthier options. This can be implemented in many areas, such as vending machines, cafeterias, catering for meetings, break room options, etc.
  • Provide information on the health benefits of quitting smoking.
  • Distribute other wellness-oriented communications, such as health-related newsletters.
  • Conduct training sessions on health or wellness-related topics.
  • Allow longer lunch breaks to give time for exercise.
  • Provide discounts on health insurance or otherwise reduce the cost.

Of course, employee wellness programs can also be implemented on a much broader scale, too. Here are some more in-depth examples:

  • Adding an on-site fitness center or partnering with a nearby fitness center to offer free employee memberships; and
  • Sponsoring employee contests. (Be sure to follow the latest guidelines under the Affordable Care Act when it comes to participation and rewards.)

Be aware that there are some rules governing wellness programs, particularly when a bonus or discount is based on an actual change in health status (e.g., lower blood pressure or cholesterol) as opposed to simply participating in an activity (e.g., a health screening).

No matter what type of employee wellness programs you implement, be sure to have a plan to communicate the program details to employees. Getting employees excited and involved is the first step to gaining the benefits. Focus on the benefits for the employees in all communications and make it easy to participate, even offering incentives where appropriate.

Survey: Diverse structures point to a more tailored approach in family benefits packages

Originally posted May 22, 2014 by Nick Otto on

Even against the backdrop of a stronger economy, modern families are still feeling the pinch of financial security, pointing toward the need to tailor products to the needs of specific family structures that are considerably different than the traditional nuclear family.

As a result, the increased diversity will require more comprehensive offerings on the part of benefits managers hoping to provide the best to an increasingly diverse workplace.

Traditional families — or those married to someone of the opposite gender with at least one child younger than 21 — were found to have fewer struggles with financial security than their modern blended, multi-generational or same-sex counterparts. Nearly 36% of modern families were reported to have collected unemployment versus 21% of traditional families, according to a recent report from Allianz.

The LoveFamilyMoney Study analyzed the financial security of a more diverse household landscape. According to the report, only 19.6% of today’s households constitute a “traditional” family, a drop from 40.3% in 1970.

The study included:

▪       Multi-Generational Families — Three or more generations living in the same household.

▪       Single Parent Families — One unmarried adult with at least one child younger than 18.

▪       Same-Sex Couple Families — Married or unmarried couples living together with a member of the same gender.

▪       Blended Families — Parents who are married or living together with a stepchild and/or child from a previous relationship.

▪       Older Parent with Young Children Families — Parents age 40+ with at least one child younger than 5 in the household.

▪       Boomerang Families — Parents with an adult child (21-35) who left and later returned to rejoin the family.

Each structure brings different dynamics to the inner workings of the family, Allianz says. For example, while traditional families provide hierarchy, collaboration and structure; boomerang families, while closely traditional, view their adult children more as friends.

Additionally, the study notes, only 30% of modern families feel financial secure, unlike 41% of traditional families. For example, twice as many modern families say they have declared bankruptcy — 22% compared with 11% of traditional families.

“New family structures have a direct impact on a family’s relationship with money and finances—and we found that, while modern families have similar strong emotional ties, they often feel financially less secure than their traditional counterparts," said Katie Libbe, Allianz Life vice president of Consumer Insights.

"While family structure plays a prominent role, our study of these different modern family cohorts uncovered a number of unique insights into each group’s attitudes, perceptions and beliefs around money and financial planning," she adds.

Although most employees understand the need for medical and dental insurance, the value of voluntary benefits is less understood and can open doors to the modern family structures seen in today’s society. Voluntary products are changing the employee benefits game and can help employers meet objectives while providing more choices for employees.

Employers want workers to be accountable for their own health: Survey

Originally posted May 19, 2014 by Stephanie Goldberg on

DALLAS — Employers are implementing healthy lifestyle programs and activities for workers and developing workplace cultures in which employees are responsible for their own health, Julie Stone, leader of business process benefits, health and group benefits at Towers Watson & Co., said of the new health care landscape.

“The commitment to workforce health is clear, and that translates in many different ways in organizations — from building a culture … in your worksite, onsite health care, to just how you design your plans and what you incent people to do or not do,” Ms. Stone said Monday during a session on navigating health care reform at WorldatWork's 2014 Total Rewards Conference in Dallas.

Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health asked employers what their top priorities were via the 2014 “Employer Survey on Purchasing Value in Health Care,” released in March. Ms. Stone, who is based in Parsippany, New Jersey, said developing a workplace culture where employees feel personally accountable for their health was at the top of employers' list.

Healthy workers tend to be more productive, present and fully functioning, which has a direct link to the employer's bottom line, Ms. Stone said.

“The healthier your workforce, the lower your cost,” she said. “It's another way of reducing your spend before the excise tax without having to take away from a benefit design perspective.”

She said it's important for employers to build a strategy around the health care reform law's 40% excise tax on high-cost health coverage that takes effect in 2018.

“About 60% of the organizations that we've surveyed and work with are likely to hit the excise tax if there aren't changes made to the costs of benefits,” Ms. Stone said, adding that 71% of employers surveyed expect to change their health plans in preparation for the excise tax.

Understanding FMLA Basics

Originally posted May 21, 2014 on

Is your organization subject to the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? Do all of your employees qualify? What would it take for both your organization and your employees to qualify? And what does all of this mean in terms of employer obligations?

Let’s start with the basics: What employers are subject to the FMLA regulations?

Here are the basics of what employers are covered:

  • For private companies, the employer must have at least 50 employees to be subject to the FMLA, and these employees must have worked at least 20 or more workweeks in the current or prior calendar year.
  • Additionally, there must be at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius for that location to be covered.
  • Public (government) agencies and schools are subject to the FMLA regardless of the number of employees.

What this means in practice is that any private employer with fewer than 50 employees does not have to provide FMLA leave. And even employers with more than 50 employees do not have to provide FMLA leave to employees who work in locations where there are fewer than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, even if all other employees are covered.
Bear in mind, an employer with fewer employees than this threshold could still choose to allow unpaid leaves that are in alignment with the FMLA standards, but they would not be required to do so by law.

Now let’s look at employees: Which employees qualify to take FMLA leave?

What must an employee do to qualify under the FMLA?

  • First, the employee must have been employed by the employer (the same employer who is subject to the FMLA leave based on the criteria above) for at least 1 year. This requirement does not have to be the preceding year calendar year and need not be consecutive. For example, if an employee worked for the employer in the past, that time could count toward this requirement as long as it was fewer than 7 years ago (or if the absence of more than 7 years was due to military obligations).
  • The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer in the preceding 12 months. Vacation or PTO time does not count toward this requirement.
  • The employee must work at a location that has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius, as we noted above.
  • Finally, the employee must have a qualifying condition. This includes:
    • The employee’s own serious health condition.
    • The need to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. “Immediate family member” refers to a spouse, child, or parent.
    • Placement or birth of a child. (The right to leave in this instance extends for up to one year after the birth or placement of the child.)
    • Any qualifying exigency related to an immediate family member being in the military on “covered active duty.”

And if both the employer and the employee qualify, what does that mean the employee is entitled to?

If the employer is subject to the FMLA leave and the employee qualifies for it, then the employee has the right to up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period, which can be taken in one or more blocks of time. For some conditions, when medically necessary, the leave could also be taken intermittently or on a reduced schedule.
The FMLA also entitles the employee to:

  • Job reinstatement upon return from leave, in the same or equivalent role.
  • Continuation of group health benefits during the leave period. The employee is still obligated to pay his or her insurance premium contributions during that time.
  • Up to 26 total weeks of leave (instead of 12) in the case of caring for a covered service- member with a serious injury or illness.

Beyond employee entitlements, covered employers also have an obligation to:

  • Post an FMLA notice explaining employee rights under the FMLA program.
  • Give all new employees information about the FMLA, either in the employee handbook or separately upon hire.
  • Tell an employee when he or she may have an FMLA-qualifying leave, as soon as the employer reasonably should know that an absence or leave request may qualify.
  • Give employees an official eligibility notice for FMLA leaves.
  • Explain the employee’s rights and responsibilities under the FMLA.
  • For all FMLA leaves, note the FMLA designation and how much of the total leave allotment will be deducted from the employee’s leave bank.

These basic components of the FMLA can help employers to understand their obligations under the FMLA. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg; proper FMLA administration will require a more in-depth understanding of how to ensure employees are qualified, how to curb FMLA abuse, and how to ensure employees are treated fairly and consistently under the program.

Work-life balance study offers model for success

Originally posted May 16, 2014 by Dan Cook on

Work-life balance is out of balance in the United States, and it extracts a toll both on the job and at home. An oft-referenced 2010 survey starkly revealed how out of whack work-life balance is. Since, there’s been no evidence that it’s improved, despite the amount of discussion the subject generates.

But a recent controlled study that examined the effect of giving employees more say in their work schedule indicates that such an approach to addressing the issue could provide quantitative and qualitative benefits to employers.

The study involved 700 employees of a Fortune 500 IT corporation. Designed and conducted by two University of Minnesota researchers, the study offered half the participants considerable control over their work schedules. The other half put shoulder to the wheel in the “normal” fashion, the researchers said — meaning they let the boss set their schedule and simply followed through.

The upshot, according to the study: “Workplaces can change to increase flexibility, provide more support from supervisors, and reduce work-family conflict.”

The study revealed “significant improvements” in how the schedule-controllers reported feeling about life on the job and at home during the six-month study period.

“Not only did they have a decrease in work-family conflict, but they also experienced an improvement in perceived time adequacy (a feeling that they had enough time to be with their families) and in their sense of schedule control,” the study said.

Those who benefited the most from the additional schedule control were working parents and employees who said their bosses didn’t support work-life balance prior to the study. On average, the schedule controllers worked about an hour less a week than their counterparts, and they continued to be as productive as they had been prior to the study.

“There was no evidence that this intervention increased work hours or perceived job demands,” the researchers said.

In a news release, the researchers, Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Erin Kelly, claimed that their work offered corporations a path toward enhancing employees’ lives without risking lost productivity. Too, they said, it would be important to establish a formal work-life balance program as opposed to the types of informal, case-by-case work-life balance experiments many companies have dabbled in.

“Work-family conflict can wreak havoc with employees’ family lives and also affect their health,” said Rosalind King, of the Population Dynamics Branch at the National Institutes of Health. “The researchers have shown that by restructuring work practice to focus on results achieved and providing supervisors with an instructional program to improve their sensitivity to employees’ after-work demands, they can reduce that stress and improve employees’ family time.”

Workplace Happiness

Originally posted by United Benefit Advisors (UBA)

At the recent SXSW (South by Southwest) entertainment and technology conference, one of the seminars that seemed out of place among the usual presentations of innovative ideas, thought leadership, and ways to get noticed by venture capitalists was one titled, "Make Yourself the Happiest Person on Earth." The article in Employee Benefit News mentioned that this seminar was led by Chade-Meng Tan, a former Google engineer who devoted 20% of his time to projects he was passionate about -- a company policy of which he took full advantage.

So why is this important to note? The fact that over-worked, technology-minded individuals who basically live off caffeine and energy bars are starting to recognize the value of happiness, well-being, and overall life balance. The article focused on how business professionals were noticing that their best and brightest recruits wanted more out of life than just money and clout.
Today, it seems that youthful entrepreneurs aren't just looking to sacrifice everything for the ultimate job; they simply want a good job where they can make a decent amount of money, while at the same time making the world a better place and having some free time to pursue their dreams. This new work-life priority appears to follow the "pay it forward" maxim that if someone makes others happy, then they will in turn be happy.

Is Facebook "Liked" For Job Searching?

Originally posted by United Benefits Advisors (UBA)

"I haven't had an orthodox career, and I've wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!" -- Sally Field, Academy Award acceptance speech for Best Actress in 1984's Places in the Heart.

It's nice to be liked and it seems as though everyone is on Facebook these days, but is that the best social media website when it comes to finding a job?  The answer depends on whom you ask, but based on an article in Human Resource Executive Online it appears that LinkedIn is still king when it comes to job seekers as well as recruiters.

As social media becomes more popular, the line between personal life and professional life is starting to fade. However, at least for now, people still use various websites for specific objectives. Facebook, which is arguably the dominant social media site, is almost never used as the primary method for finding a job. According to the article, there are 1.3 billion users on Facebook and only 277 million users on LinkedIn, yet the latter is preferred with 94% of recruiters citing it as their go-to social network for finding talent, according to a Jobvite poll.

Furthermore, according to a recent Link Humans poll, nearly 70% of employees surveyed say they have never turned to Facebook in search of employment opportunities, with almost 95% indicating they've never found an opening and subsequently been hired via Facebook.

That doesn't mean that Facebook is completely useless when it comes to the job search, especially if the job is specific to marketing, social media, or relevant technology. Facebook has several advantages when it comes to building a corporate brand in which top talent would want to work, and also for potential job candidates to do research and familiarize themselves with an organization before their interview.  Many Human Resource professionals already use social media to research potential job prospects, so it's only natural that these prospects use social media to examine companies and their C-level executives.

It could be only a matter of time before all those people who grew up using Facebook as a way to connect will become senior executives who will then use Facebook to expand the corporate culture. The bottom line is that both job seekers and recruiters need to be aware of all social media avenues as their online personal and professional lives may soon converge into one.