Cutting Costs with Staffing

March 20th, 2013

As a strategic tool, staffing can enhance your company’s profitability by controlling employment and hiring expenses.

 

Build a better bottom line

February 12th, 2013

Top 10 supervisory survival tools for 2013

By: A. Kevin Troutman

As the new year unfolds, supervisors may have even less time to manage all the complexities that arise in the world of employment law. With goals and deadlines to meet, well-intentioned managers may be tempted to rely on experience and “common sense” to guide them.  Unfortunately, this approach often creates headaches and even litigation, despite managers’ good intentions.

Today’s alphabet soup of employment laws (ADA, ADEA, FMLA, OSHA, NLRB, etc.) is simply too vast and complicated for most supervisors to digest on their own.  Other issues are so subtle or counterintuitive that even seasoned HR professionals can find it difficult to recognize and/or deal with them.

But there is a silver lining to this cloud.  A few basic practices can help supervisors avoid many problems, or at least recognize when to turn to HR for guidance.  With this in mind, here is our “Supervisor’s Top 10 Survival Rules for 2013.”

1.  Always tell employees the truth 

This rule encompasses more than avoiding outright falsehoods.  Instead, it emphasizes the importance of making sure that employees always know how you assess their job performance.  Of course this includes telling employees what they are doing well.  But perhaps even more important, it means telling them how and where they are not meeting expectations.  While many supervisors may prefer to avoid delivering “bad news,” this rule is an increasingly critical aspect of their jobs.

Performance evaluations illustrate this point.  Audits routinely show that well over half of all evaluations rate employee performance above average, a defacto impossibility.  Unfortunately, evaluations that overrate employees’ job performance can be devastating during litigation.   Judges and juries are generally unsympathetic toward supervisors who suggest that they did not really mean what they wrote on a performance evaluation.  This simple rule is so important that companies should consider discontinuing annual performance evaluations unless they can be done accurately and honestly.

2.  Communicate clearly and directly 

Going a step beyond Rule No. 1, supervisors should expect employees to do their jobs and cannot let “politically correct” language obscure their message. Specifically, they must communicate clearly without being insensitive or disrespectful.

For example, instead of telling an employee that he or she has an “opportunity” to improve, identify what specific aspect of performance is below expectations and what must be done to improve.  Offer to assist, but make it clear that you expect improvement.  When documenting these communications, be succinct and explicit.  Always try to address, “who, what, when and why.”  (As simple as it seems, this includes ensuring that documentation is legible, dated and signed where appropriate.)  This rule applies to policy violations, poor attendance and simple coaching or reminder sessions.

3.  Avoid surprises 

Many lawsuits result from anger or hurt feelings, which may be the result of an employee being surprised by disciplinary action or a termination.  Remember, a supervisor’s silence is typically interpreted as approval. But if communication is consistent, clear, and direct, employees should never be surprised by disciplinary action.  They may not agree with the supervisor’s decision, but they should never be able to say truthfully that they did not see it coming.

4.  Always get both sides of the story 

It’s surprising how often supervisors violate this simple rule. As a practical matter, there should be no exceptions to it.  No matter how egregious or clear-cut the facts appear to be, always give accused employees a chance to tell their side of the story.  (The only possible exception might be when there is a legitimate, objective, safety concern that would prevent this from occurring.)   Consistent with this rule, do not document conclusions or prepare termination paperwork until the investigation is finished.

5.  Keep your promises

And don’t make promises that you cannot keep.  Supervisors who promise to meet periodically with employees or to provide periodic feedback must do so.  Again, jurors are unlikely to forgive supervisors who criticize an employee’s job performance, but fail to  abide by their own follow-up schedule.  So do not set deadlines or timetables that you cannot meet.  Instead, maintain some flexibility.  And don’t make oral promises such as, “as long as you do your job, you will always have a place here.”  In some states, these promises can be legally enforceable.

6.  Do not ignore protected status in making employment decisions 

At first blush this rule may seem illogical, but when considering disciplinary action it is always important to consider how you have handled similar situations in the past.  If an employee in a protected classification (race, sex, religion, age, disability, etc.) is treated differently under the same circumstances from someone who is not in the protected class, supervisors and HR must be able to justify the reasons clearly.

When considering which employees fall in a protected classification, don’t overlook employees who recently took FMLA leave, sought an accommodation under the ADA, or provided information in response to an investigation of alleged workplace discrimination.  These activities protect employees from retaliation and likewise require consideration of comparable situations where no employee had engaged in protected activity.

7.  Think before hitting “send” 

Email traffic provides increasingly fertile ground for both sides in employment cases.  Supervisors must therefore recognize that their email messages are potential trial exhibits.  A quick, off-hand message has the potential to be extremely embarrassing if presented, out of context, to a jury.  Therefore, it is never a good idea to fire off quick responses, especially when emotions are running high.  Wait a few moments before hitting “send” – and be especially carefully about using the “reply to all” button.

8.  Document important facts when they’re still fresh

Important details can easily get muddled in today’s fast-paced work environment, so make a habit of jotting down those key facts when they occur.  When doing so, be sure the documentation is dated, legible and understandable (see Rule No. 2).  Always include objective language describing “who, what, when, where, why” and identifying any witnesses.  Identify the author of the documentation.  Sometimes nothing can be more difficult than retrospectively trying to determine who prepared unsigned material.

9.  Send it to HR 

When supervisors keep files containing notes or information that has not been forwarded to HR, it almost always creates problems when litigation ensues.  This can force the employer to change a representation it has already made to the EEOC or plaintiff’s counsel.

More importantly, it can support a plaintiff’s contention that the supervisor (who is usually the alleged wrong-doer) cannot be trusted or is hiding something.  On a related note, always refer employment verification and reference inquiries to HR, who will ensure companywide consistency in responding.

10.  Never forget that you are the boss 

Even during meal breaks, after hours, on weekends, or away from the workplace, supervisors still carry the mantle of company authority.  Unguarded, inappropriate, or “joking” comments can and do come back to haunt supervisors who forget this.  When an employment relationship goes bad, seemingly innocuous comments often emerge.   Comments made in jest rarely look good in front of a jury.  This is a critical and sometimes painful lesson for supervisors to learn.

Bonus Rule 11 

Always strive to be fair, considering, “how would this look to a sceptical third party (like the EEOC or a jury) who knows nothing about me or the employee?”

The workplace is complex and demanding, especially for supervisors striving to meet deadlines, maintain positive employee relations, and avoid legal pitfalls.  While they are not a “cure all,” these Survival Rules for 2013 can help supervisors manage more effectively and save considerable time by keeping many small issues from mushrooming into big ones

ADP Research Institute: Just Over Half of Eligible Part-Time Workers at Large Companies Elect Health Care Coverage

February 5th, 2013

Reuters (02/04/13)

The ADP Research Institute’s 2012 Study of Large Employer Health Benefits, based on data from about 300 nonunion U.S. companies employing 1,000 or more workers, reveals that 68% of the full-time work force selected employer-sponsored health coverage, versus 8% of the part-time work force. However, the number of part-time employees eligible for benefits is expected to rise in 2014, as the Affordable Care Act specifies that employees who work at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours per month are automatically eligible for employer-sponsored health plans. The study also shows that employers with more than 5,000 workers pay 14% less in health insurance premiums as a group than employers with 1,000 to 2,499 employees.

American Staffing Association Opposes Extending Unemployment Benefits

December 6th, 2012

ASA Opposes Expansion of Unemployment Benefits American Staffing Association (12/06/12) Toby Malara

Earlier this week, the White House and Congress made proposals on how to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff-billions of dollars in government spending cuts and the expiration of tax breaks set to take effect in January. Although both plans focus mainly on tax increases and spending cuts, the president’s proposal is also seeking $50 billion in additional stimulus spending, which includes a one-year expansion of unemployment benefits.

As negotiations continue over the next few weeks, there will be political pressure to further increase spending for regular extended unemployment compensation and for emergency unemployment compensation-despite the fact that unemployment rates are decreasing and that the account funded by employer-paid taxes to cover regular extended benefits is already $20 billion in deficit.

ASA has joined other trade associations and more than 25 state chambers of commerce in a letter reminding congressional leaders that now is not the time to increase payroll taxes paid by employers and that it is imperative that any deal that is struck between the White House and Congress not make it more costly for businesses to hire employees.