Best human resources practices for writing and enforcing policies in the workplace.

Workplace dress code policy can address rules for tattoos

Maintaining professionalism in the workplace is important, but tattoos don’t necessarily take away from that. As tattoos gain popularity across society, acceptance in the workplace is changing.

An article from USA Today, “Workplace Tattoo Taboos Fading,” states that there are three underlying concerns employers have with hiring people with body art:

  • the belief that an employee will not be taken seriously by tradition-minded clients,
  • the concern that the organization’s brand or image might be compromised by outlandish tattoos, and
  • the concern that one person’s body art could be perceived as offensive or hostile to a co-worker or customer.

When discussing body art in the workplace, keep in mind that you are hiring someone based on education, experience and skill. You are hiring this person because they are qualified for the job, not for their appearance.

Some important considerations are: Will visible tattoos affect the work environment? Do our employees see any clients or customers during the work day when appearance may play a part in customer service? Will tattoos be distracting in the workplace or disrupt the work flow?

In some cases, applicants may hide body art that may prevent them from getting a position and then reveal the tattoo or piercing once on the job. You may be able to avoid an issue by taking the opportunity during the interview to discuss company policies and dress code standards that are important if you offer a candidate a position. It may even be significant to share these company standards in the job posting itself. Sharing these policies as early as the job posting could save the company time and weed out applicants that don’t meet your dress code standards.

If it is imperative to your company that tattoos and piercings cannot be visible, you should review your employee handbook to ensure that policies are in place to explain dress code and appearance while on the job. It is important to be specific in the policy if you don’t allow visible body art.

To discuss employee handbook policies and other guidelines, please contact your Human Resources professional at BCN Services 800-891-9911.

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Hayley Diehlman, HR Administrator

Time to take a fresh look at preventing harassment in your workplace

The “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements have garnered attention in the media, the legal community, the workplace and the agencies who protect our workplaces. There is a new culture beginning to emerge in the era of “Me Too” and “Time’s Up.” How should employers respond?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports increased inquiries about potential sexual harassment claims and the agency is prepping its investigators through intense training and education for a rise in complaints.  The legal community, for its part, reports an uptick in expectations and ever-increasing settlement demands.  There is a lower standard emerging for what constitutes pervasive harassing behavior.  Changes in legislation are anticipated to impact confidentiality agreements and business expense liability.  Both entities agree: It is time for employers to make meaningful cultural change and approach harassment prevention in a whole new fashion.

First, employers should focus on preventing all types of harassment including sexual harassment and harassment based on any protected characteristic such as gender, national origin, race, color, age, religion, pregnancy, genetics, military status, disability, etc.  Address the behavior before it escalates and consider behavior such as rudeness and incivility which leads to bullying and, left unchecked, leads to more pervasive, harassing behavior.

In other words, foster a work environment that is positive, comfortable and respectful.  To do so, take aim at these areas:

  • Leadership and Accountability: Establish a culture of respect in which harassment is not tolerated and make a commitment to assess harassment risk factors and take steps to minimize risks.  Allocate resources and time to a harassment prevention program and train mid-level managers and front-line supervisors to prevent and/or respond to workplace harassment.  Invest in best-practice preventive measures such as workplace climate surveys, training regarding civility in the workplace and bystander intervention training.
  • Anti-Harassment Policy: Establish a policy that is easy to understand, regularly communicated, and clearly states harassment of any type will not be tolerated.  It should be written in clear, simple words and in all languages used by members of the workforce.  A comprehensive policy will include:
    • A written description of prohibited conduct including examples.
    • A reporting system for those who experience or observe harassment. The reporting system must provide a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation.
    • A statement that identities of all (claimant, witness or target of the complaint) will be kept confidential to the extent possible.
    • A statement that any information gathered will be kept confidential to the extent possible.
    • An assurance that the employer will take immediate and appropriate corrective action if harassment has occurred.
    • A statement that retaliation against an individual who reports a claim or cooperates will not be tolerated and will be appropriately disciplined.
  • Complaint Procedure and Reporting System: This procedure should be available to employees whether they experience harassment or observe it. There should be multiple, readily accessible reporting channels. Employer representatives must be trained to: take reports seriously; conduct objective, neutral, thorough investigations; provide timely responses; protect the privacy of individuals to the extent possible; document all steps taken; take appropriate discipline action as warranted; and provide a reporting mechanism for individuals should they experience retaliation.
  • Investigation Procedure: Establish a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation protocol. Once an employer has knowledge of a complaint, an investigation must take place. This should include:
    • Meeting the minimum standard of the anti-harassment policy. Do what it says or more.
    • Identify who will conduct the investigation. More than one investigator is preferred.
    • In all cases, as information is gathered: Listen and document.  Offer assurance of non-retaliation.  Do not guarantee anonymity, but rather maintain confidentiality to the extent possible.
    • Gather information from the complainant, witnesses and from the accused.
    • Conduct an impartial review of findings and take appropriate corrective action if harassment occurred.
    • Communicate the determination of the investigation to all parties.
  • Training for Compliance: Establish a harassment prevention training program which provides bystander intervention techniques to teach people what they can say, and what to steps to take if harassment happens to them. A meaningful program will go beyond the legalese to focus on behaviors and non-verbal cues, encourage civility the workplace by stopping harassment where it starts, and promote a workplace culture that is positive, comfortable and respectful.  Harassment prevention training should include:
    • Examples tailored to the specific workplace and workforce.
    • Education for employees about their rights and responsibilities.
    • Using simple terms, a description of the reporting system.
    • An explanation of the consequences of unacceptable workplace conduct.
    • Encouraging managers and supervisors to practice situational awareness and address risk factors such as rudeness, incivility and bullying before the situation escalates to harassment.

Do you need help formulating a policy or taking action in workplace? Contact your HR specialists at BCN Services. We can help you begin the process for your company.

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Susan Price, Strategic Services Manager

No desk? No problem! It’s possible to create and maintain a deskless workforce

For many Baby N=Boomers or Gen X’ers, the concept of a deskless work environment seems implausible.  But many can, and have, embraced the concept.  But overall, it’s Millennials that have made the remote and deskless workforce a success.  And it’s the Millennial and Gen Z generations that will continue to elicit changes in how they work.

Technology is something anyone can keep up with and use to its full potential.  As technological advances continually reshape the workforce, younger generations will reap the most rewards.  They are more motivated to keep up with trends in technology and how it interacts with their current position within their company and how it will affect their futures.

What is a deskless workplace?  It’s giving your employees the tools they need to complete their jobs from anywhere, at any time.  With cell phone and tablet advancements, employees can complete work from home, from a favorite coffee shop, or in the breakroom or lounge area within your office space.  It means not being tethered to a desk and a desktop computer to complete day–o-day functions.  As the need for fluidity and flexibility grows, employers should consider evolving and embracing the deskless workplace potential.

Providing employees with access to company e-mail, shared drives and training materials in an electronic format can increase production and flexibility.  Employees who are used to sitting on their couch watching TV and working from their tablet at home will welcome a work environment that provides the same level of comfort.  If possible, create a seating environment with couches, chairs, coffee tables or stoops within the office to foster employee comfort and production.  A well-lit counter with accessible electrical and USB outlets is another example of creating a tech friendly and fluid workplace.  You may also see collaboration and brainstorming increase as employees interact with each other in an open environment as opposed to being limited to a cubicle or office.

Attracting and retaining talent may also create the need for deskless work access.  Many employees see the ability to work remotely, either within the office or out, as a benefit.  Retention can also increase in instances where an employee must move out of the area for any given reason.  Instead of hiring and training a new person which takes resources and time, allow the employee to work remotely as an option.

If exploring this, keep in mind some drawbacks to the concept.  One of the growing issues with is too much work.  Employees may sometimes feel the need to be constantly “plugged in” and may spend too much of their down time with their minds on work.  That is not a healthy mindset and can create additional stress and anxiety.  Be conscious of how much work your employees are putting in outside of the office.

Another consideration is your hourly staff.  Hourly employees that check their emails and do work from home need to be compensated for their time.  Set strict guidelines about how and when hourly employees can complete work functions while not punched in at the office.  Be sure to provide the employee a way to track their time, whether they are punching in remotely to a timekeeping system, or logging time spent working away from the office.

Be sure, when possible, to have your employees interact with other employees whether at mandatory meeting and trainings, or regular phone or video conferencing to foster relationships and partnerships within the company.  It’s important for your employees to feel tied to the company’s goals and work with other team members helps create that sense of inclusion.

Lastly, if sensitive information is accessible to your employees such Social Security numbers, credit card information or company proprietary information, be sure to train your employees on concealing their screens from watchful eyes, or locking their computer when not using it.  Business needs are forever evolving as technology and accessibility continues to skyrocket.  It’s a good idea to change with the times and take advantage of proven trends to maximize potential for your company and your employees.

As always, please contact BCN Services Human Resources Department with any questions or guidance needed.

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Frank Lewandowski, Benefits Program Manager

Developing the best formula for happiness in the workplace

I was reading some marketing articles over the weekend and came across an article about “Happiness in the Workplace”.   Skimming it briefly, I didn’t see much in value for my marketing endeavors but then I came across another article on the same topic.

So it gave me pause. What is happiness in the workplace anyway?  It sounds a little ambiguous to me since “happy” is a relative term and can change from day-to-day.  After reading the article more in-depth, the point became clear: Happiness is really more of a choice than a feeling.  It’s an action.  I also think that the more engaged you are at your job the “happier” you are.

A happy person is also contagious.  If you work around people who always complain, the natural effect is to start looking at your work world a little more negatively.  But if you are surrounded by happy, positive people, you tend to see your environment in that way as well.

In the article “15 Proven Tips to Be Happy at Work,” John Rampton offers these tips that are worth repeating.  I picked my top 10 and expounded on them.

  1. Have a sense of meaning. Think about what your role is in your company. How are you impacting those around you?  Your clients, your co-workers, the UPS person.  You may dislike parts of your job, but they have meaning.  Your role can influence others and you may not even know it.
  2. Create an office nest. The environment that we create around us is so important in how we view ourselves. Pictures of people and phrases that are important to you or motivate you can be a reminder of why you do what you do.
  3. Smile– So simple, so easy — makes a difference J
  4. Be future-oriented.– Do you have goals? Does your company have goals?  If you keep those goals in front of you, your perspective will change as you go about your day.  Take time during each week to consider these goals and how you and your company are working towards them.
  5. Say “thank you.”– This is something so simple to do and it will impact those around you.
  6. Take a breather.– Taking time away from the office and daily stresses can help. We can recharge ourselves both mentally and physically by just taking a little time for ourselves.
  7. Eat healthy & stay hydrated.- Taking care of yourself can impact your life in subtle ways. Our concentration improves.  When we feel good physically, it makes an impact on our mental state and thus the result is “happy.”
  8. Accept people for who they are.– We are all different.  No one thinks exactly like you.  This is a great thing.  When we can embrace this concept and accept this you will naturally become happier.  Realize that you cannot change people.
  9. Reward yourself.- You work hard. Sometimes just a little reward for that work can change your perspective.  If you had a hard week or a big goal was met at the office, reward yourself with a nice dinner out or purchase that new gadget you have been wanting.
  10. Reflect- Why do you do what you do? Take time to evaluate what you do, why you do it and what brought you to this career path.  Reflection is a reminder that what you do is for a purpose. it may refocus you and the result is happiness.

While these tips seem basic, it is important to remember that we are all responsible for ourselves and how we interact day-to-day with our coworkers. If you are a leader in your organization, putting some of these tips into practice will transfer to your staff.  When employees see their managers and coworkers happier, they will naturally strive towards the same.

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Wendy Allen, Marketing Manager

When can you dock a salaried employee’s pay?

Docking an exempt or salaried employee’s pay is only allowed in certain circumstances.

Generally, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not permit deductions from exempt employees. According to the regulations, the amount of money a salaried employee earns isn’t dependent on the number of days or hours he or she works. You also can’t deduct money based on the quantity or quality of work the employee produces.

However, there are some exceptions to the rule:

  • Exempt employees do not need to be paid for any workweek in which they perform no work.
  • Deductions may be made for exempt employees who are absent for a day or more for personal reasons other than sickness or accident. (Deductions must be made in full-day increments, not for partial-day absences.)
  • Deductions may be made for exempt employee absences of one day or more caused by sickness or disability, if the company maintains a plan that compensates for loss of salary caused by sickness and disability and the employee has exhausted his or her “bank” of leave.
  • Deductions may be made for penalties imposed for safety rules violation of major significance
  • Amounts received by an employee for jury or witness fees or military pay may be offset. Beyond those offsets, deductions may not be made for absences caused by employee jury duty, attendance as a witness or temporary military leave.
  • Deductions may be made for unpaid disciplinary suspensions of one or more full days for breaking workplace conduct rules.
  • Payment may be adjusted for partial weeks worked during the initial or final weeks of employment. For example, if Joe resigns in the middle of a workweek, pay him only for the days actually worked in that week.
  • In some cases, when a salaried/exempt employee has worked a reduced or intermittent work schedule under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA),pay may be adjusted. (You can convert a salaried employee to an hourly rate during the time he or she is on intermittent or a reduced workweek FMLA leave without destroying the person’s exempt status.

If your company inadvertently makes an improper deduction, it must be corrected immediately to avoid penalties.  If an employer is found to be “intentionally” engaging in improper pay docking, they will lose the overtime exemption for the pay period the docking occurred for other employees working in the same job classification for the same manager responsible for the deduction.

This means that the employer must pay normally exempt workers overtime wages if their hours exceed 40 hours for one work week.

If you are not sure when to dock a salaried employee’s pay or have questions regarding pay practices, please contact your BCN Services specialist for guidance.

List of permitted deduction courtesy of TrackSmart

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Lisandra Garrow, Partnership Manager

Accommodating fragrance sensitivities in the workplace

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against an employer for its failure to accommodate an employee with fragrance sensitivities.   The lawsuit in North Carolina alleges the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  In its complaint, the EEOC claims that the employee’s supervisor ignored an employee’s multiple requests to telecommute as a means to avoid fragrances in the workplace which worsened her asthma and COPD.   The EEOC argues that the employer had a responsibility to individually assess the requested accommodation before refusing it.  If this case sounds familiar, it’s because it is.

In 2016, a court ruled that fragrance sensitivity is a disability under ADA because, in that case, it compromised the major life activity of breathing (McBride v. the City of Detroit).  Furthermore, the court ruled that the employer should have first engaged in an interactive process to identify a reasonable accommodation before denying the accommodation request outright.  The takeaway message is clear.

The use of fragrance in products is on the rise and, not surprisingly, so are a growing number of requests for accommodating it.  Employers must be ready to respond and understanding when to initiate the interactive process and consider accommodation options is key to a successful outcome.

Fragrance sensitivity is best described as either an irritant or allergic reaction to a chemical in a product or may also be referred to as chemical sensitivity.  Common allergic reactions to exposure may include headaches or migraines, worsening of respiratory issues such as asthma or COPD, and skin irritations such as contact dermatitis or hives.  Repeated exposure over time may trigger or intensify these reactions or symptoms.

A first step for employers is recognizing that fragrance sensitivities and symptoms vary by individual and an accommodation must be tailored to that employee.  Start by consulting with the employee to identify a reasonable accommodation.  This critical step begins the interactive process.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers three primary options to consider as accommodations:

  • Remove the offending fragrance when possible.  For example, discontinuing the use of air fresheners and using unscented cleaning products.  Educating employees about fragrance sensitivities and asking for cooperation to voluntarily refrain from fragrance use.  Giving consideration to adopting a fragrance free work environment or fragrance free work zones.
  • Remove the employee from the area where the fragrances are located.  For example, a different workspace, private office or telecommuting.
  • Reduce the employee’s exposure to the fragrances to an acceptable level. For example, a private office with its own ventilation and minimum exposure to others.

Other accommodation ideas:

  • Maintain good indoor air quality
  • Use only unscented cleaning products and soaps
  • Provide scent-free meeting rooms and restrooms
  • Modify an employee’s workstation location, as needed, and modify the work schedule
  • Allow for fresh air breaks
  • Provide an air purification system designed specifically for the irritant in question
  • Modify or create a fragrance-free work place policy
  • Have a policy to allow telecommuting or home office work to help an employee avoid the problem fragrance

Employers must be aware of any employee fragrance sensitivities and be prepared to take action if a problem arises. If you have questions about how to deal with this situation in your workplace, reach out to your BCN Services specialist for help.

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Susan Price, Strategic Services Manager

Opioids and the workplace: How should employers handle abuse or other issues?

It is hard to escape the headlines about America’s opioid crisis: A new viral video seems to circulate on a daily basis, celebrities tragically dying from overdoses and staggering statistics on overuse of the drugs.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), physician prescribing continues to fuel the epidemic, as nearly half of the 33,000 opioid overdose deaths per year involve a prescription.  Examples of common opioid drugs include: OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Demerol, Vicodin and their generic counterparts, as well as the street drug heroin.

As a business owner or Human Resources leader, you may have taken notice of this, or perhaps been affected in your workplace.  A survey completed this year by the National Safety Council of 501 HR decision makers found that 71 percent of employers have seen direct effects of prescription drug misuse, most notably opioids.  Of those individuals, 29 percent cited impaired or decreased job performance and 15 percent stated the drugs have caused a workplace injury or near-injuries. Alarmingly, 10 percent reported having a worker overdose from opioids on or off the job.

This same survey found that only 19 percent of employers feel well prepared to handle an opioid-related situation with an employee.  Many cite their fears of violating an employment-related law such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the drugs are legally prescribed.  =

Following are guidelines for protecting your business in these types of situations:

  • Understand that if an employee tests positive for an opioid on a drug test, the drug may have been prescribed for a protected reason covered by the ADA. Where your first reaction may be to discipline or fire the employee, you may be required to engage in the interactive process to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be provided.
  • Supervisors should be trained to recognize the signs of impairment. They should also be trained on the company drug-testing policy for reasonable suspicion and how the ADA could overlap.
  • Work closely with your human resource providers, healthcare benefits providers and workers’ compensation carriers to educate employees on the risks associated with opioid prescriptions and to make them aware of their options for confidential access to help and treatment.

BCN Services is here to assist you in determining if an employee is covered by the ADA, designing a compliant drug test policy and training for supervisors and employees.  If you have questions, please contact us at 1-800-891-9911.

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Alicia Freeman, Operations Manager

Working from home and the benefits of flexible work arrangements

Working from home or offering a flexible work plan can be an attractive arrangement for both employee and employer. Oftentimes during interviews, when a candidate is asked what they need or want in a new employer, candidates will reply with “a good work-life balance.” Allowing an employee to do work from home or to work a flexible schedule can offer that.

Examples of flexible work arrangements can include: working from home or having varying hours for when work is done (working four 10-hour days, for example, as opposed to five 8-hour days); different start and end times; job sharing; or compressed work-week schedules. Please keep in mind that all federal and state laws still apply in these flexible work situations.

Things to consider when creating a flexible work environment:

  • Timekeeping
    • A flexible work arrangement or work-from-home scenario can make timekeeping much more difficult. Wage and hour laws still apply and non-exempt employees still must be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours per week.
    • Some timekeeping systems allow mobile or computer-based punch systems. If you are considering a flexible work arrangement, BCN Services has a timekeeping system that  offers this capability.
  • Workers’ compensation:
    • A worker’s injury at home may be compensable.
    • Travel that occurs during the commuter’s work day may be compensable
      • Travel to-and-from work and home usually is not compensable but may be in a flexible work arrangement.
    • Employer’s must comply with a hazard-free work zone
  • Privacy/Security
    • Will you want to provide company owned equipment or allow employees to use their home computer? You may want to provide equipment to ensure privacy and security of company information.
  • Liability Insurance:
    • Make sure liability insurance covers the employee’s home.
    • Make sure the employee has homeowner’s insurance.
    • Be sure to obtain any home office permit or license required by local zoning laws.
  • Payroll taxes:
    • Taxes are based on an employee’s home address and work address and are different from state-to-state. If the company office is in one state and employee lives and works from home in another state, there could be different tax implications.
    • There could also be different city taxes depending on where the employee lives and works.

 

Working from home may prove to be a great option for some employers as a way to boost morale and commitment to the job, reduce tardiness, help with employee retention and reduce turnover of staff.

 

BCN Services recommends creating a specific, detailed policy on the expectations for flexible work arrangements that includes a place for the employee to sign and acknowledge the arrangement. Please talk to your HR expert at BCN Services to help create a policy and discuss compliance concerns.

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Kari Stanley, HRCCC Supervisor

Work-life balance: Easy to say. Harder to achieve.

Your most dedicated employees are likely the ones that struggle with work-life balance.  They are committed to their employer and, in addition to working extra hours, they are likely checking and responding to emails during off hours and even on scheduled vacation days.

Although employers may appreciate, or even encourage, this behavior, this practice may not be good for your employees or for the company.

Several studies show that those who work long hours or feel stressed at work are more apt to have health concerns such as high blood pressure, weakened immune systems and risk of heart attack.  Even those that like their jobs and enjoy their work can get burned out by being “plugged in” too much.

Employers should:

  • Encourage and reward employees who work more efficiently instead of longer hours.
  • Establish a flex-time policy that works for both the company and employees.
  • Offer training opportunities, continuing education and teamwork exercises.
  • Insist employees “unplug” during their scheduled vacation time. If they must be contacted for an unexpected emergency, be sure to reward them or give them additional time off.

Employees should:

  • Take the time to get in some exercise even if it’s simply parking further away from the office or store.
  • Set limits by turning off your phone during family time or your kids’ events.
  • If you must get some work hours in at home, set a designated time and stick to it.
  • Make your work time more productive by prioritizing tasks so you aren’t trying to squeeze them in at the end of the day.

BCN’s professional HR staff can help you sort through your concerns on work-life balance and help you design policies that work for you and your employees.

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Sue Kester, HR Manager

Tips and policies for avoiding sexual harassment issues in the workplace

The Bill O’Reilly sexual harassment controversy has been making headlines for several weeks now.  Many have criticized Fox News and parent company 21st Century Fox for paying the host of their highest-rated show $25 million upon his exit (equivalent to roughly one year of pay under his recently negotiated contract with the network) when the amount paid to settle with five of his accusers was only $13 million.

There are several HR takeaways from this situation that business owners and managers should consider to prevent harassment lawsuits:

  1. Have clearly stated organizational policies that stress zero tolerance for harassment and implement training at all levels of the company based on these policies.
  2. Even if you have taken precautionary steps to prevent harassment, you may still have a claim. It is important to take all claims seriously and conduct a full investigation when a claim arises.
  3. If you determine that harassment has occurred, you must take corrective action. Depending on the severity of the situation, this could be a written disciplinary action, suspension or termination.  The action you take should be appropriate as to ensure that the behavior does not happen again.
  4. Remember to apply the same rules to all employees at all levels, no matter their rank or title within the organization.

BCN Services can assist you in writing and implementing harassment-free policies, conducting workplace investigations and determining appropriate disciplinary action.  If you have questions, please contact us at 1-800-891-9911.

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Alicia Freeman, Operations Manager