Thursday, December 27, 2007

What Employers Must Do In 2008

Our annual Special Report: The 14 Things Employers Must Do In 2008 - is now available for free on our website.

Every year, new laws and best practices change. Here are the 14 things California employers need to do as the new year begins:

  • Military Spouse Leave
  • Minimum Wage Changes
  • Computer Professional Hourly Rate Lowered
  • Workers’ Compensation Temporary Disability Benefits
  • Notice of Earned Income Credit Rights
  • Cell Phone Usage While Driving
  • Changes to Itemized Pay Statements
  • New I-9 Form
  • New EEO-1 Form
  • New Posters/Pamphlets
  • Separate Arbitration Agreements Necessary
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Health Care and Whistleblower Protection
  • Employees Must be able to Cash Paychecks Without Cost

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Re-Connecting With Your Employees

When I received my first promotion in 1990, my fellow workers repeated the same phrase to me that we'd done with all the other 'suits': Don't forget where you came from.

I found out that it's virtually impossible to remember. Management has layers of responsibility and the need for a more 'global' perspective that by nature you forget where the day-to-day success of the business is predicated - on those very worker bees, of which you were one, once upon a time.

A really good way to re-connect with your employees is outlined here, in an article by Walker Lundy in the Charlotte Observer. Spend one day a month with the troops. The benefits are multitude:
  • You re-connect with the people who are most responsible for your success;
  • Your perspective changes when you work alongside the line;
  • Your employees get to know you as a colleague and not just a supervisor.
I would be very concerned about any manager working for me who did not want to do this. What are they afraid of? What weaknesses do they have that they're reluctant to show their line employees?

I found that most employees are incredibly encouraging when the boss shows up to work with them. Employees want their boss to see their expertise, hear their concerns (and more importantly see the issues face on).

Spend a day with your employees. Re-connect, re-energize and remember where you came from.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Credit Checks on Job Candidates.

Currently, it is legal to conduct a credit check on a job candidate, except in Wisconsin.

The usual pre-employment testing criteria applies: the candidate must give their written approval, and the check should be conducted after a job offer is extended.

Although attorneys and the courts will ultimately decide the legality of such a check, employers should carefully evaluate whether or not to conduct such a check. My rule of thumb as a best practice is to always make sure all pre-job testing as a valid business reason. (A secretary does not need to lift 100-lb. boxes, for example).

Here are some guidelines to consider before implementing a credit check:
  1. Is there a business need? If an employee will be handling cash, or managing financial transactions, the answer would be yes. But if the open position is working in a warehouse, or as a telephone operator, my suggestion would be 'no'.
  2. If you elect to conduct credit checks, you must be consistent: you can't just single out one candidate for a credit check; all candidates applying for the selected positions must be checked.
  3. Follow the guidelines establish by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
  4. Notify the candidate when an adverse action is taken (such as not hiring) on the basis of such reports.
  5. You must also identify the company that provided the report, so that the accuracy and completeness of the report may be verified or contested by the candidate.
(Courtesy Tampa Bay Online, via McClatchy Newspapers.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

What Are The Biggest Workplace Complaints?

Randstad USA surveyed workers to find out what bothers them the most in their workplaces.

The answers?

1. Gossip
2. Poor time-management skills
3. Messiness
4. Potent scents
5. Loud noises (such as speakerphones and cellphones ringing)
6. Overuse of PDA's
7. Misuse of e-mails (hitting "reply to all" instead of reply)

The good news is - all of these pet peeves can easily be managed away.

The solutions?

  1. Gossip - when you hear it, put an end to it.
  2. Poor time-management skills - this is usually a training issue. Consider sending the employee to a time management course or working with them yourself.
  3. Messiness - put in a policy in your handbook about cleaning workspaces every evening, and make sure to inspect what you expect.
  4. Potent scents - a tricky issue, one that must be dealt with in a private, one-on-one setting showing extreme sensitivity.
  5. Loud noises (such as speakerphones and cellphones ringing) - policy in the handbook should be: speaker phones only in private areas with the door closed. Cellphones are discouraged and should be used only during breaks (if they're in their workplace, they should have their own land line).
  6. Overuse of PDA's - policy should be same as for cellphones.
  7. Misuse of e-mails (hitting "reply to all" instead of reply) - when you see it happen, privately talk to the individual and ensure that 'reply' is preferable to 'reply to all'.
From San Francisco Chronicle via

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

How To Host a Company Party

Fisher & Phillips is out with their annual "Top Ten Ways To Host a Holiday Party", written by Michael Mitchell. It's excellent and practical advice for employers.

My recommendation is to never serve alcohol at a company party. There's simply too many negatives that can happen - and they override the positives. From companies I've worked for to companies I consult with, I've personally seen the following:
  • A 25-year employee left a party, ran into a telephone pole, was convicted of DUI, and subsequently terminated.
  • Another long-time employee left the party (which took place at the business), and as he was driving out of the parking lot, side-swiped two cars belonging to co-workers. A lawsuit was initiated, and the employee left the company.
  • Two sexual harassment lawsuits were filed (before I started consulting for the business) stemming from too much booze at the party. (Remember, sexual harassment does not need to be on company premises - if they're employees in a work situation - like a company party - that's enough).
Managers can be held personally liable for incidents stemming from the party and need to take every possible precaution if alcohol is served. There's simply no good reason to serve booze at a company party (I disagree with Mr. Mitchell in one area - I believe that at least 75% of all businesses - at least those I work with - no longer serve alcohol).

One final piece of advice if you consume alcohol at a company party: I've never seen a career made as the result of behavior at the party, but I've seen plenty of careers ended.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Cellphones in the Workplace

Using cellphones is a necessity of life in the business world. But employers need to strongly discourage employees from using cellphones while driving - because employers can be liable for road accidents caused by worker cell phone use.

Smith Barney paid a $500,000 settlement to the family of a motorcyclist killed by one of its employees making a work-related call after hours on his own personal cell phone.

What's the solution?

As usual, prevention is the major part of the cure. Your handbook should have a policy stating that using cell phones will driving is against company policy. If an employee must make a call, he/she should pull off at a safe spot to make that call.

You can't stop an employee from calling while driving, but if they violate a company policy, at least you can show that you tried to prevent the behavior from occurring, and this may help you if a legal action takes place.

And, a written policy provides a basis for disciplining or terminating that employee. Otherwise, the employee can always state they didn't know such a policy existed.

Even though more states are adapting 'hands-free' driving policies, it's still a wise course of action to get that policy in writing.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The End of the Company Christmas Party?

Whatever you decide to call it, the company holiday party has become nearly obsolete. Fewer and fewer businesses are having parties, whether it's concern about the liability of alcohol, things getting out of hand, or just a need focus on business rather than play.

Now comes news that this trend might be ending. It turns out that employers who are baby boomers (age 42 and up) are less likely to throw company parties, while younger employers are more likely to have them (and more likely to issue end-of-the-year bonuses as well). The American Express Small Business Monitor issued the survey, which sampled only businesses with less than 100 employees.

Perhaps the down economy is aiding this trend as well: 59% of employers are planning on giving gifts to employees - that's down from 70% last year.

In any case, it's critical to strategically determine whether or not to have a party, issue bonuses, or give gifts. Employees should not have an automatic expectation of such things, but this is the time of the year to show your appreciation and acknowledgment for the contributions they made on behalf of your business.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Motivating Generation Y (or anyone else, for that matter)

Only 30 percent of workers aged 21-30 (what we call Gen Y) would strongly recommend their organization as a good place to work.

How come?

Only 39 percent of the Gen Y workers said their boss did a good job of recognizing and praising their accomplishments. And that's what Gen Y workers want, according to a new study by Leadership IQ.

How little time and effort it takes to positively reinforce an employee. And the ensuing rewards - lower job turnover, more highly motivated employees, better production - are totally worthwhile.

It's fine to have high expectations of your employees, but it's not fine to have employees meet or exceed those expectations without a positive word.

I once worked for a C-level executive for several years (he's now the President of a company with 9,000 employees). I worked hard for him - late evenings and many weekends.

He'd walk out of the office at 7 or 8pm on a Friday or Saturday night, walk over to where I was working and say, "Eric - you can take the rest of the weekend off."

It was a small thing - he wasn't given to extravagant praise. But in that one small sentence, he acknowledged how hard I was working and that he appreciated it.

A small thing - but 15 years later, I still remember it fondly.

Know what motivates your workers. You cannot motivate others - but you can find out what is their individual motivation and use that for the betterment of everyone.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What's The Humor In Sexual Harassment?

Whenever I conduct a non-harassment seminar, the first several minutes usually meet with giggles and sophomoric humor from the managers I'm training. As the seminar progresses, however, the managers become more sober as they realize the impact that a harassment allegation can mean for their careers or the business they work for.

Lots of problems arise when humor turns bad. What can start as an innocent joke can often get totally blown out of proportion and turn from innocence to a hostile work environment. Here's an article in today's South Florida Sun-Sentinel on exactly that subject.

Managers need to prevent harassment from occurring - no silly jokes, no non-work-related e-mails and - when you see anything start, it's your job to end it immediately.

Bottom line: There is nothing funny about sexual harassment.

Harassment is not necessarily what is said or done, but how it's perceived.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Talking Politics on the Job?

The three taboos in social conversation are sex, religion and politics. The same taboos apply to the workplace - especially when a manager is talking with a direct report.

In this article from Ilene Wasserman on, the focus is more on how to properly engage a co-worker in a political discussion. Her ideas are sound.

But as a manager, the easiest way to avoid confrontation and difficult feelings is simply not to discuss politics - or sex, or religion - with your employees.

Keep your workplace a forum for business ideas and discussions, and not a political forum for your own (or others') beliefs.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Campaign Against Workplace Bullying

The first poll about the prevalence and nature of workplace bullying in the U.S. showed 37% of U.S. workers have been personally bullied -- 54 million Americans. An additional 12% of the workforce witnessed it.

While any good manager or business owner should immediately halt any issues of bullying in the workplace, it's obvious by those numbers that it's not happening.

Now, an organized campaign is mounting to end workplace bullying via state laws. 13 states have introduced legislation to prevent this issue from occurring - and/or to punish business owners who tolerate this behavior.

Harassment and discrimination continue to be major issues for employers. Preventing it from happening it is far easier than having to deal with it after it happens.

Courtesy Workplace Bullying Institute and
California Healthy Workplace Advocates

IRS & States To Share Employment Tax Results

29 states have agreed to work with the IRS to share the results of employment tax examinations.

"Combining resources will help IRS and the states reduce fraudulent filings, uncover employment tax avoidance schemes and ensure proper worker classification,” according to an IRS spokesman.

What this means is that employers who pay employees 'under the table' will be far more likely to suffer adverse consequences, since it now will be easier for the IRS & states to coordinate their efforts.

Many businesses have used a variety of methods in an effort to avoid federal and state employment payroll and unemployment taxes. They include:
  • Paying employees cash;
  • Classifying employees as 'independent contractors' or '1099's'
It's time to revisit your employment practices. The crackdown has begun.

Here's the press release from the Internal Revenue Service. The states involved in the program are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Pitfalls of Hiring a Jerk

The cost of employee turnover - in pure dollars - is ever increasing.

Although techniques are available to mitigate the cost of bad hires, it's up to the hiring manager to determine whether or not a candidate can work well with others. It's a difficult decision - if someone is highly qualified, but has an attitude - do you hire them? What is the effect of a 'jerk' on your team?

I once interviewed a candidate for a sales manager position. He had eight years of management experience, an MBA, and all the credentials.

Starting the interview, I asked him to tell me about himself.

"Why do you want to know? You've seen my resume."

"Yes, but I'd like to hear you talk about yourself."


"Because I'm interviewing YOU," I said.

It went on and on, and I realized that - although this person was highly qualified on paper, he was such a jerk that my other managers and employees would eventually have serious relationship problems with him (to say nothing of me - I was ready to kill him, and it was only the first interview).

Needless to say, he was not hired.

Companies are getting much more discriminating in weeding out potential jerks in favor of finding the best fit for the company.

From Newsday.

Friday, November 09, 2007

New I-9 Form Available for Employers

The U.S. Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services has revised the I-9 Form (that's the Employment Eligibility Verification Form that all employers must have for employees hired after November 6, 1986.

The new form is available here (you'll need Adobe Reader).

There are changes to what documents may be used for proof of eligibility to work in the United States:
  • Five documents have been removed from List A of the List of Acceptable Documents:

Certificate of U.S. Citizenship (Form N-560 or N-561)
Certificate of Naturalization (Form N-550 or N-570)
Alien Registration Receipt Card (I-151)
Unexpired Reentry Permit (Form I-327)
Unexpired Refugee Travel Document (Form I-571)

  • One document was added to List A of the List of Acceptable Documents:

Unexpired Employment Authorization Document (I-766)

  • All Employment Authorization Documents with photographs have been consolidated as one item on List A:

I-688, I-688A, I-688B, I-766

  • Instructions regarding Section 1 of the Form I-9 now indicate that the employee is not obliged to provide his or her Social Security number in Section 1 of the Form I-9, unless he or she is employed by an employer who participates in E-Verify.
  • Employers may now sign and retain Forms I-9 electronically.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sexual Harassment & Retaliation

One of the most important facets of a sexual harassment accusation is usually forgotten - the potential for retaliation.

Every employer should have a concrete non-harassment policy in their handbook, with a receipt page, as well as a grievance procedure. The standard non-harassment policy must ensure alleged victims will not be retaliated against in any way. Should an accusation take place, the employer must respond immediately with a thorough, and unbiased, investigation.

Even when all of these issues are done, the potential for retaliation is still there. I've dealt with this many times. Even when the employer does everything right, if retaliation can be proven, it can be quite costly in terms of legal fees and a potential buyout or judgement.

Here's a case from Richardson, Texas where even the slightest thought of potential retaliation has put an employer (who did everything right) back in court.

Courtesy of Fisher & Phillips.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Surfing While On The Job

The proliferation of the internet in business is cause for concern for employers - although many will not address the issue until it's out of hand.

Employers want and need their employees full attention during the workday, and if an employee is online shopping, or surfing, or doing anything unrelated to business, productivity drains. If other employees notice a 'surfer', then morale issues arise. Because what you allow, you encourage.

Without a written policy regarding internet usage in advance, it's very difficult to enforce your desires as a manager.

A policy should be very simple - internet and e-mail are for business use only. And a business owner can be held responsible for the actions of their employees while using business-sponsored internet and e-mail (think sexual harassment, for example).

The major uses of internet at work are personal, not business. (The number one use of the internet at work? Looking for another job!)

Like all HR issues, the goal is to prevent issues from happening, and not waiting for the issue to get out of control.

Courtesy of the Cincinnati Post via Joyce M. Rosenberg of the Associated Press.

Friday, November 02, 2007

When Employees Blog

The proliferation of blogs invaded the workplace some time ago, but employers have been slow to put policies in place to mitigate what can (and cannot) be blogged.

Without written policies, employees can rightfully claim they were never told they can't do anything.

Here's a thoughtful article, from Fisher & Phillips, on steps to take when employees blog.

Get in front of this issue rather than suffering the consequences later.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

California cracks down on exploitation of workers

Today's Los Angeles Times reports on a crackdown by the California government on businesses that don't pay minimum wage - or who classify people as 'contractors' who should properly be employees.

The program, led by Attorney General Jerry Brown, is called a 'crackdown on the exploitation of workers', but it's really not new.

The state and federal governments are closely looking at all businesses who have Independent Contractors (1099's), because many businesses use this classification to avoid payroll taxes, workers' compensation, etc.

If you have 1099's, make sure to review their status (this is a helpful IRS page). You don't want to be on the wrong side of this issue.

Why Employees Quit

Do employees quit because of a bad relationship with their boss, or because they don't like a company?

I've seen numerous columns and surveys that have conflicting answers, like this one in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Douglas Klein of Sirota Consulting contends it's a company culture.

Others, like Wayne Hochwarter, a professor at Florida State University maintain it's about the bad boss.

In reality, it's a combination of both. Leaders must create a corporate culture where employees feel respected and empowered. But even with a positive culture, a bad relationship between employee and supervisor will cause the employee to leave, or sick another position in the company.

I always counseled the follow to employees who work for large companies: don't transfer solely because you don't like your boss, because supervisors tend to move around frequently, and you could end up working for him or her again.

What goes around, comes around.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

California Computer Professional Exemption's Hourly rate of pay requirement declines to $36

Down from the previous $49.77 per hour, the rate-of-pay requirement for a computer professional to be considered 'exempt' becomes $36.00 per hour effective January 1, 2008.

Click here for California' current wage orders.

California Abitration Agreements Becoming More Difficult to Enforce

Employers who have employees sign an arbitration agreement, especially with wage-and-hour class action waivers, are having a tough time enforcing them.

Once again, the California Court of Appeal rejected an agreement as 'unconscionable and unenforceable'.

Make sure you review any arbitration agreements with your attorney.

Courtesy of Jackson Lewis.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The "Engagement Gap"

Towers Perrin recently published a study of over 86,000 workers around the world showing that only 21% of employees are 'engaged' (meaning, they have a total and complete dedication to their job and company).

More and more small businesses are looking for solutions to reduce employee turnover, and the best way do to that is to develop systems to engage your employees.

Today's article in the Baltimore Sun explains.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Managing Sexual Harassment Complaints

There's so much gloom and doom among employers when a employee files a harassment complaint. Much of is justified; however, when an employer handles the investigation properly, the results are (usually) justified.

In this case - an example of an employer doing the right thing - an appellate court recognized the Faragher/Ellerth defense of an employer (even though a jury thought differently).

From Ogletree Deakins.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Democratic Workplace

Wow. Many of the things Traci Fenton is talking about go to the core of today's modernized management principles, but in a much more global way of thinking.

Here is her article in the Christian Science Monitor.

Something to think about - it's the 'really big' picture.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

California Military Spouse Leave Law

Effective immediately, California employers with 25 or more employees must allow employees who have spouses in the military ten days of unpaid leave with that spouse is on leave.

This article, courtesy of Ford & Harrison, explains.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Office Romance and The Employer

I generally advise clients to adopt a 'bright line' approach to employee romances; that is, prohibit supervisors from dating direct reports. However, other options are available, with the exception that businesses in California may not prohibit employees from dating (just supervisors dating direct reports).

This article, by Jennifer Brown Shaw of Shaw Valenza, identifies many more pitfalls to an employer if some steps are not taken.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Managing Your Boss

You always need a plan when reporting to a manager. The most successful employees are able to adapt to their boss - thus ensuring their long-term success.

This article, from the Harvard Business Review via Business Week, explains.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Workers' Compensation Costs plummeting in California

The Workers' Comp reforms enacted several years ago are beginning to show results, according to the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

Employers can also manage these costs on their own through wellness programs, worker awareness, and health prevention information.

Free HR Newsletter Now Available

Our quarterly newsletter is now available here.

Playing Online Games At Work

Several years ago, I heard a speaker mention the number one use of the internet by employees at work was to look for another job.

Today, at least 24% of all employees play online games at work, according to both PC World and the New York Times.

The Times quotes the CEO of the Stress Institute as saying this is a way for employees to 're-charge', but you may feel differently.

Do you have a policy that says internet use is for business use only? Are you enforcing it?

The problem is, if one employee sees another playing games at work, that tacitly gives him/her permission to play as well. And suddenly, you have a productivity problem on your hands.

Workplace Violence Continues - How To Prevent It

The fourth leading cause of workplace deaths in America? Homicide.

Workplace violence continues unabated. In this article from the law firm of Helms Mulliss Wicker, attorney Ryan Buchanan discusses the responsibilities employers have in reducing workplace violence.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Alternative Work Schedules & Telecommuting

The cost of employee turnover is significant - about 50% of an employee's salary. Between interviewing, hiring, training, and getting a new employee up-to-speed, the time and money it takes to replace a good employee has a significant impact - especially to small employers.

When you've got good employees, it's critical to find out what's important to them - and often, it's a balance between work and life.

Even small businesses can easily develop flexible options for employees - and if the benefit is increased employee retention, it's worth it.

An article in today's Newsday outlines the benefits of such a program.

And today's Delaware Online shows how an employee can propose a program to their employer.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Immigration Enforcement Affecting Small Businesses

Here is a reprint of an article recently forwarded to me and is used with the permission of Clark & Trevithick.

What do temporary employment and contract employment agencies in Oregon, Illinois, and Ohio; meat packers in Arkansas, Iowa and Colorado; construction companies in Mississippi, Missouri and Kentucky; a landscaping company in Florida; a textile company in Boston; and a chain of Japanese restaurants in Baltimore all have in common with the former owner of ten Dunkin’ Donut shops in Connecticut?

They’re all facing investigation and/or criminal prosecution in federal court by the newly invigorated and very aggressive United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or “ICE”, for short1. As the result of what in many cases started as a so-called administrative “Worksite Enforcement” investigation, the companies listed above, including individual owners, officers and managers, are facing criminal charges including hiring illegal aliens, harboring illegal aliens, money laundering, identity or document fraud and Social Security fraud, to name just a few. The consequences of conviction of many of these crimes includes jail time (harboring illegal aliens provides for a 10 year prison sentence and money laundering is a 20 year felony). In addition to prison time, ICE also has forfeiture authority to go after a company’s or individual’s assets. In FY2006 alone, ICE seized $29 million dollars through forfeiture from various employers around the country.2

Worksite Enforcement
Among its many tasks, ICE has recently focused its Worksite Enforcement teams on identifying and prosecuting companies in industries that employ unskilled or lower skilled workers that historically include undocumented aliens. The examples cited above certainly fall into this target group. While this kind of investigative activity was part of the now assimilated Immigration and Naturalization Service’s charter, the approach by ICE since 2003 is dramatically more aggressive and noteworthy.

By way of example, ICE agents recently investigated a small chain of Japanese restaurants in the Baltimore area. In March 2006, ICE agents executed search, arrest and seizure warrants at three of these restaurants and four related houses where they found 15 undocumented workers living in “deplorable conditions”.

Under the old INS approach to such a case the investigative agents would have proceeded administratively, conducting an investigation of the restaurants to determine whether necessary paperwork and forms were up-to-date and in compliance with immigration laws and regulations. Finding the undocumented workers would have generated an administrative fine in the neighborhood of $20,000, or less and probably no criminal charges.
Under the new regime instituted by ICE, the following actions were taken against the restaurant owners:

The owners were arrested and charged with money laundering (possible 20 year sentence) and harboring illegal aliens (possible 10 year sentence);

ICE agents seized 8 luxury vehicles, 10 bank accounts, 3 safety deposit boxes and cash found during the searches of the homes and restaurants;

Ultimately, the owners pleaded guilty to several felony charges and agreed to forfeit approximately $1.1 million in assets.3

Compliance Requirements
Current laws and regulations require that all employers in this country employ only individuals who are authorized to work in the United States. In order to comply, employers must verify on a Form I-9 the identity and employment eligibility of all employees, including U.S. citizens. These I-9 Forms are retained (including electronically) by the employer and must be made available for inspection by ICE, the Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices or the Department of Labor. Failure to properly complete and retain the Form I-9 can subject an employer to civil penalties ranging from $110 to $1,100. Perhaps more significantly, ICE agents frequently use the agency’s Forensic Documents Laboratory to determine the authenticity of the various documents (including I-9’s) used to establish employment eligibility.4 Maintaining fraudulent documents can lead to the kinds of investigations and prosecutions noted earlier in this article.

Any employer, but especially one who employs lower-skilled alien workers, needs to pay particular attention to the laws and regulations that dictate the verification of employment eligibility of its workers. A new day has dawned in the form of new Worksite Enforcement investigations conducted by an aggressive and well-funded agency with a clear mandate to arrest and prosecute not just undocumented workers, but their employers and managers as well. The consequences of failure to comply with the laws in this area can include large fines, asset forfeiture and even prison.

1 ICE was created on March 1, 2003, combining the investigative and intelligence arms of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the U.S. Customs Service, and is part of the Department of Homeland Security. (ICE Fiscal Year 2006 Annual Report.)

2 “No More Slaps on Wrist for Work-Site Violations”, Julie L. Myers, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as appeared in the Kansas City Star, June 26, 2007, ed.

3 ICE Fact Sheet, dated June 16, 2006, “Case Example—Worksite Enforcement”.

4 ICE Fact Sheet, dated April 26, 2005, “Electronic Signature and Storage of the I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form”.

Eric Dobberteen focuses his practice in the areas of commercial litigation and trial work, white collar criminal defense and local, state and federal regulatory enforcement proceedings. For more information regarding the Firm’s litigation practice, go to

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The New Reality of Overtime Violations

Overtime is an incredibly complicated issue and generally misunderstood by both employers and employees. Yet the growth rate of lawsuits in this area is astounding.

Today's New York Times has a good article on the new realities of overtime.

Keep in mind - especially in California, the overtime rules are significantly more restrictive than federal laws.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Managers - And A Sense of Humor

Last month, Robert Half International published a survey which showed 97 per cent of those surveyed responded that they are more inclined to follow managers who make them laugh or laugh at themselves while maintaining professionalism.

Your employees don't have to like you, but they have to like working for you.

The corollary: Don't take yourself too seriously!

Courtesy Toronto Globe & Mail

Love Contracts

As much as many employers would love to regulate and/or minimize relationships between employees, they rarely work, according to today's Asbury Park Press.

It is brutally difficult to regulate employees' behavior away from the office. And in California, it is illegal to prevent employees from dating each other. (Although you can prohibit supervisors from dating direct reports).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

How To Handle Maternity Leave

Maternity leave is always a tricky issue - not just because of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (which applies to businesses with 15 or more employees), or California's Pregnancy Disability Leave (which applies to all businesses).

The additional issue is 'reasonable accommodation'. While you as a manager must treat pregnant women equally, it is advisable that you treat them with utmost courtesy and accommodate their needs as much as practicable.

Although each situation is always difficult, consistency in treating your employees is essential.

This article, via CePro, is a good start.

And get your policy in writing right way!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Howard Stern A Great Boss? It's True!

One trademark of a great leader is the ability of that person to engender loyalty among their employees. How long those employees stay with their boss is a measurement of loyalty.

An example of that is Howard Stern. Yes, that Howard Stern: the controversial radio show host. No matter what you might think of Stern's shtick (and I for one am a fan), there's no denying the fact that he's a great boss, by the benchmark established above.
  • Robin Quivers, his on-air castmate, has worked with Stern for 1981 and followed him through three radio stations, two cities and now to Sirius Satellite Radio.
  • Fred Norris, Stern's writer and sound effects expert, has been with him since 1979.
  • The Stern Show producer and majordomo, Gary Dell'Abate, has worked for Stern since 1984.
  • Even Stern's engineer, Scott Salem, has worked for Stern for 15 years.
Despite the inevitable moments of pique or petty fighting, the fact that these (and more) people have stayed with Stern for this period of time shows they like working for and with him.

Your employees don't have to like you, but they have to like working for you.

It would be easy to say that these individuals are only staying with Stern because of the lucrative compensation they receive, or the notoriety and level of fame associated with the show.

But there's more to it than that. If an employee is truly unhappy with their boss, they're going to eventually leave. All of Stern's employees have had those chances - through station changes or the move to satellite radio. But they stayed, and the reason is they love their jobs. Study after study shows that happiness in the workplace is the number one reason people stay with their job.

And as the years pass, professional relationships inevitably evolve. You become used to each other's idiosyncrasies and are able to adapt (or, get used to) the quirks of your co-workers.

In Stern's case, his well known quirks (a penchant for timeliness, low tolerance for fools, and his fastidiousness) were once a sore spot for his co-workers. But they've learned how to tolerate them and indeed embrace them. Whereas 15 years ago, Fred Norris would be subjected to teasing from Howard and threaten to leave the show; today the same teasing merely evokes genuine laughter.

Of course there's another reason for Stern's success as a leader, and it's a strategy that any great leader must adopt: Stern is intensely loyal to his employees. He is loathe to fire anyone, almost to a fault. And loyalty from a boss is repaid by loyalty to a boss. His people are equally loyal to him.

So - despite the antics, the strippers and the crassness - Howard Stern has built a hugely successful empire not just because of his talent, but also by his success as a leader.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Limiting Employee Internet Access

Today's Baltimore Sun talks about the trend of businesses limiting employee access to the web. The article cites 'security' and 'productivity' concerns, which are obviously true.

But having access to the web at work also creates employer liability of harassment and discrimination - for example, if one employee sees on a monitor something that would make him or her uncomfortable (sexually explicit photographs, religious statements, etc.) - that could make a case for harassment.

In addition to a firewall, businesses should absolutely have a statement in the Employee Handbook stating access to the internet is for business use only. Most lawyers I speak with would also add a statement indicating the employer has the right to monitor employee usage of the internet and e-mail.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Investigating Harassment Claims

From the website comes advice from Steven Adler at Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard, P.A.

It is always advisable, especially with smaller businesses, to have an outside consultant working with counsel, conducting the investigation - especially to have the sense on an unbiased person who questions the parties involved.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sue Your Boss - 2007

The trend with employees who are mistreated by their bosses is only escalating. Most poor managers are simply in denial that they treat their employees poorly.

Now comes word that four more states (in addition to California) are considering a sue your boss law.

It's particularly sad because behavior is something we have the ability to control.

(Thanks to Bob Rosner of ABC News' Working Wounded blog).

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Worst Bosses In America

Although these stories are amusing, it's a sobering reminder for all managers to apply the "Golden Rule" when leading people.

It's easy to forget where we came from, but the effect that even our smallest comment can have on an employee can be substantial.

From Working America.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sexual Harassment Training Does Not Invite Lawsuits

A fear of some business owners is that the teaching of sexual harassment training to employees is an invitation to encourage lawsuits.

This study, from Caren M. Goldberg at American University, disputes that notion.

In fact, she concludes, the very fact that training was provided may be the best defense in case of a lawsuit.

California mandates sexual harassment training for businesses with 50 or more employees(California AB 1825, now Government Code 12950.1) - and other states are expect to follow soon.

Friday, August 17, 2007

How To Screw Up An Employee Handbook

Many small businesses - in order to save money - often "borrow" and modify a handbook from another company, and often times that other company must comply with requirements that don't impact a small business.

Case in point: a company who doesn't need to offer FMLA benefits, but mention it in their handbook, may be required to offer it anyway.

(From Sedgwick, Detert Moran & Arnold LLP)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The "No-Match" Letter

From our friends at Allen Matkins...

Significant Changes Announced To Employer's Obligations Upon Receipt of No-Match Letter

The Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") announced on August 10, 2007, its adoption of regulations identifying specific steps an employer should take as a "safe-harbor" upon receipt of a No-Match Letter from the Social Security Administration. Employers are encouraged to take immediate action and review and modify their No-Match Letter response procedures to comply with these recent changes. Failure to do so could result in a finding that the employer had "constructive knowledge" that the employee named in the No-Match Letter was an unauthorized worker, thereby exposing the employer to significant civil and criminal penalties.

A No-Match Letter is:

  • a letter to the employer from the Social Security Administration stating that the combination of name and social security account number submitted on an employee's W-2 earnings report does not match the agency records; or
  • a letter from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency notifying the employer that the immigration-status document or employment-authorization document presented or referenced by the employee is not consistent with DHS records.

In the past, there has been uncertainty regarding how an employer should respond to a No-Match Letter. Now, employers who follow the Safe-Harbor Procedures are protected from being found to have constructive knowledge that an employee is an unauthorized worker. While employers are not required to follow the Safe-Harbor Procedures, the DHS warns that not doing so exposes the employer to the risk of being found to have constructive knowledge of unauthorized status. This carries with it considerable civil and criminal penalties.

The Safe-Harbor Procedures do not safeguard against liability where an employer has actual knowledge that an employee is an unauthorized worker.

The new regulations will take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, which is expected shortly. Accordingly, employers should review and modify their No-Match Letter response procedures to the extent necessary to comply with these recent changes.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Re-Recruiting Your Employees

Said it before, we'll say it again: employees consistently state they don't get enough feedback about their performance from their bosses. This affects your retention - if an employee doesn't feel appreciated (or doesn't know where they stand with their boss) - they'll leave.

MRINetwork has a list of 10 questions to ask your employees; their answers to these questions can often determine whether or not they'll stay on their job:
  1. If you could make any changes about your job, what would they be?
  2. What things about your job do you want to stay as they are?
  3. If you could go back to any previous position and stay for an extended period of time, which one would it be and why?
  4. If you suddenly became financially independent, what would you miss most about your job?
  5. In the morning, does your job make you jump out of bed or hit the snooze button?
  6. What makes for a great day?
  7. What can we do to make your job more satisfying?
  8. What can we do to support your career goals?
  9. Do you get enough recognition?
  10. What can we do to keep you with us?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Meal & Break Provisions in California

Generally speaking, workers in California must be given a 30-minute meal break for every five hours of work, plus 10-minute rests every four hours.

The penalty for non-compliance is an hour's pay for every day the law was violated - going back three years.

Today's Sacramento Bee discusses the issue, and the controversy it's creating.

Benefits of Paying Employee Tuition

NEW YORK -With the start of the school year not far off, employees of small businesses might have a hankering to take some courses. And company owners might want to think about paying for them to take some classes - the learning may help their careers and in turn, help the business retain its best workers.

Many companies are willing to pay for courses that will help employees upgrade their skills or learn new ones. Others go further, making tuition reimbursement an employee benefit that even covers courses not directly related to the job.

"For me, it's really straightforward: We value the employees we have here," said Kyle Corkum, president of Landquest, a land development company in Raleigh, N.C. "We're not interested in having people come and go like a revolving door. We're trying to upgrade the capability and knowledge of our people."

Landquest is currently paying for a staffer to take a preparatory course for the Law School Admission Test, and it is paying undergraduate tuition for another employee. Its director of philanthropy is taking business writing and literature courses at company expense.

"We have 20 employees. If we lose one, we're in a tough spot. Everyone we've got is hand-picked, and we want them to stay for the rest of their careers," said Corkum. He added that the company will pay for law school for the staffer now studying for the LSAT.

Human resources professionals say that paying for employees' courses is a great motivator and retention tool for all companies, so a small business that offers tuition reimbursement will make itself more competitive when it comes to attracting and keeping good workers.

Beverly Kaye, an employee retention consultant in Sherman Oaks, Calif., said research has shown that one of the top reasons why workers stay with their companies is they're learning and growing on the job. Taking courses helps that process along.

"I'm a believer in paying for anything that in any way helps them be more effective on the job," said Kaye, co-author of the book "Love 'em or Lose 'em: Getting Good People to Stay."

Kaye suggests owners take the initiative and offer tuition reimbursement to staffers rather than waiting for workers to request it; employees will appreciate the goodwill behind the offer.

"It loses some of its panache if you wait for them to ask," Kaye said.

And don't presume to know what kind of course is right for a given staffer. Don't assume that a graphics designer, for instance, should only be taking a computer graphics course.

"What you need is to understand what challenges and motivates each individual employee," Kaye said.

Joyce Gioia-Herman, president of The Herman Group, a management consulting firm in Greensboro, N.C., doesn't have employees now, but when she did in the past, all staffers, as long as they worked at least 20 hours a week, were offered tuition reimbursement.

"We wanted it to be something that would develop them, but we gave it a very wide latitude," she said. "If somebody wanted to take a course, for instance in balancing their budget or some other real practical skill or ability they could acquire, that would help them feel better about themselves and their ability to function personally as well as professionally."

Tuition reimbursement isn't the only way to help employees learn; some businesses offer onsite learning.

Alfred Portale, owner of the upscale Gotham Bar & Grill in New York, has arranged for classes to be given at the restaurant, including English classes for workers who wanted to improve their language skills. Portale has also paid for individual language classes for some employees.

He also offers culinary education classes, including a wine program planned for later this year.

"I feel that people want to continue to learn in their positions," Portale said. "It's a very important component of the workplace _ if they feel they're learning, they're happy and stay on."

--from AP Online

AB 1825 Regulations Now In Force

The Office of Administrative Law has adopted the Fair Employment and Housing Commissions regulations for AB 1825 Sexual Harassment Supervisor Training.

What is a supervisor or supervisory employee? An employee who works in California means any individual having the authority, in the interest of the employer, to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward or discipline other employees, or the responsibility to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend such action to the employer. The exercise of that authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature but requires the use of independent judgment.

How do I determine if I have "50 or more" employees? Employees include full-time, part-time and temporary workers or contractors for each working day in any 20 consecutive weeks in the current calendar year or preceding calendar year. The 50 individuals do not need to work at the same location or within the state of California.

What if I do not provide this training to my supervisory employees? The Fair Employment and Housing Commission may issue an order that compliance with these regulations occur within 60 days of the order.

What if my supervisors were trained in 2007 before these regulations were final? An employer that has made a substantial good faith effort to comply with the sexual harassment supervisor training requirements before the effective date of the regulations will be deemed in compliance.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Drug-Free Workplace

A Business Week article describes how to establish a drug-free workplace at your place of business.

I always warn clients - if you wish to establish a random drug-test policy - make sure to have employment counsel draft it for you. The laws simply change too frequently in this area.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Don't Get Scammed - Get your labor poster for free!

Today's Modesto Bee illustrates a popular scam, one we see every year.

You should place the updated poster in your workplace, but don't pay a dime for it.

Download it for free here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Biggest Hiring Mistakes

From our friends at Gevity:

1. Offering candidates uncompetitive compensation. Offering prospective hires a competitive compensation package is critical for small businesses, which often struggle to compete with larger companies on the basis of pay and benefits. While a competitive salary is a key part of any compensation package, candidates aren't just looking for cash. Benefits, such as health insurance and retirement plans, opportunities for growth and advancement, a positive work environment and flexibility also play a large role in a candidate's decision-making process. Focus the prospective hire on the total compensation package.

2. Relying strictly on traditional recruiting sources. Knowing where to find employees, both internally and externally, is essential for small businesses. While placing a classified ad in a newspaper may work in some markets and for some jobs, employers need to understand the full range of options that are available to them -- such as online job boards, university job fairs, recruiters or employment agencies. You can often build a pipeline of quality candidates by establishing relationships with key talent sources, such as schools and professional organizations.

3. Failing to market your company. Don't forget that while your company is evaluating applicants, those applicants are evaluating your company. Make their choice easy by showcasing your company's strengths, opportunities and positive culture.

4. Waiting until someone leaves -- or is long gone -- to fill critical positions. Not planning for or turning a blind eye to turnover is one of the most common mistakes small employers make. Start building a talent pipeline now, so when you do have a position to fill, you can quickly fill it with top talent.

5. Hiring solely based on job fit, not organization fit. While employers large and small tend to hire based on candidates' job skills and experience, research has shown that job fit is less important than organization fit. So when interviewing prospective hires, make sure that a good organizational fit is the ultimate goal of your selection process.

"The key to attracting exceptional employees lies in avoiding these hiring mistakes and establishing a well thought out recruiting plan for your business," explains David Sikora, Director of Research at Gevity. "You can't expect great employees to find you. You have to develop a recruitment and hiring strategy to identify, target and reach them. Once you do this, you'll greatly improve the caliber of your job candidates, lower your recruiting costs and ultimately produce better business results."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Re-Hiring Of Employees

Should you re-hire a former employee? Theories vary.

Lew Wasserman re-hired just one employee in his 60 years at Universal (Frank Price).

Jerry Perenchio, one of the savviest managers I've ever heard of, has 20 "Rules of the Road". Number 3 on his list is "Never rehire anyone."

There doesn't have to be a hard and fast rule for your business, but if you are considering a re-hire, here are some good tips (courtesy of Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP).

Monday, July 09, 2007

People Don't Quit Bad Companies, They Quit Bad Bosses

From the Orange County Register:

An interview with an expert who discovered that only 3 in 10 employees are highly motivated - and found that the discontent is directly related to dissatisfaction with their bosses.

The answer: people management skills training for managers. We've said it before - managers are trained in everything except how to manage people.

The expert is Terry Bacon, who wrote this book based on his findings.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Great Management is a Skill

An interesting article in today's Seattle Post Intelligencer, which we totally agree with.

A corollary, which is only alluded to, is that you should look at all the managers you've worked for to see what talents they have which you can learn as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Employees and their Blogs

Here's a common sense, straight-forward way to manage the issue of employees blogging at (or about) work.

Remember - this, like all areas of HR - is about advance prevention. You need policies and procedures in advance of a situation happening and NOT waiting for the situation to happen, and then making a policy!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Problems With Reporting to Two Bosses

When an employee reports to two bosses, it creates a number of problems - especially when creating performance appraisals.

I'm spending more and more time with businesses redefining their organization chart to avoid the perils of employees having multiple reports.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Violence in the Workplace - Warning Signs

Five percent of all US businesses had a violence problem in 2006. It could literally happen to you.

The concern is identifying the person who may have the potential of violence. All of your employees should be on alert - and management should encourage any employee who has a concern to report it promptly.

A prominent author worked next to Ted Bundy for years and never knew.

It could happen to you.

Was Tony Soprano A Good Boss?

Of course not!

Although I'm not intimately familiar with the inner workings of New Jersey mobs, it's safe to say that Tony didn't exactly exemplify the characteristics of great managers.

Here's the article (thanks to USA Today).

To Micromanage Or Not To Micromanage

As tempting as it is to be involved in every facet of your business, you'll never be successful doing so - and you'll burn out your employees in the process.

Find them, train them, develop them, and let them go.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Performance Review On Yourself

The number one complaint we hear from employees is they don't receive enough feedback from their boss.

Many bosses are too busy, or aren't aware that feedback - positive or negative - is what employees crave from them.

If you're the boss - make sure to provide frequent feedback.

If you have a boss - now is a good time to review yourself.

Unauthorized to Work? They're still protected!

Although federal law prohibits the employment of aliens unauthorized to work in the United States, California law still protects them.

Make sure every employee hired since 1986 has a valid I-9 on file. Now's the time to do a self-audit - the likelihood of being audit by the INS (now Bureau of Citizenship) is increasing daily.

(Thanks to our friends at Shaw Valenza LLP)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Wage & Hour Tips

Courtesy of Fredrikson & Byron, a really good article that talks not just about the problem with wage and hour issues (overtime, meal breaks, etc.) but offers excellent tips for managing these issues.

Recommended Reading

The Tallahasee Democrat poses a question - why is sexual harrasment is prevelent?
(Answer is - because there's still ignorant people out there, and businesses aren't doing enough to prevent it).

Gannett News Service interviews the former Chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison, who believes that there are lots of lousy bosses out there.
(He's right!)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Risks of E-mails

E-mail is a positive and negative. What's surprising is how many businesses have not taken steps to adopt a policy regarding e-mails. (Hint: Business use ONLY!)

This article is a little too legal in style, but it does a good job of presenting the perils of e-mails in the workplace.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Love Contracts" are a bad idea

Despite the growing popularity of so-called 'love contracts', they're a really bad practice.

While any manager would strongly prefer to eliminate workplace romance, the fact is that they've been going on for generations and will continue to do so.

You walk a fine line between imposing your will on an employee's private life and their performance at work.

In California, it's against the law to prohibit employees from dating, although it's acceptable to prevent supervisors from dating subordinates.

A good 'best practice' is to monitor your employees performance. If it drops off (for any reason - including a workplace romance) - then manage the performance, and not their personal life.

Are You A Bully (or just a demanding) Boss?

Nearly half of all workers feel their boss is a bully.

There's a fine line between being a demanding boss, and crossing that line as a bully. The best practice is to clearly lay out your expectations to each employee, and inspect what you expect.

One of the most important management practices is to constantly self-evaluate your performance as a manager (and those of your supervisors). A 180 degree survey is an excellent first step.

Friday, April 20, 2007

There Are Good Bosses Out There!

Some encouraging news out of this survey from CareerBuilder and Robert Half. Not all bosses are bad!

(Which one are you?)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Pregnant Employees - DO NOT Fire Them!

I continually get questions about pregnant employees, just like the question in this article.

This is a really good response - and a caution to any employer who'd like to terminate or discipline an employee just because she's pregnant.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Policies on Blogging

In the never-ending world of revising your Employee Handbook, here's the latest need for an additional policy - blogging at work.

Don't laugh - it's becoming a major issue, and you have the right to make sure that only business-related activities are conducted at work.

If you don't have a policy in writing, then how can you possibly discipline an employee? You cannot discipline an employee if there was no policy they violated!

The Carrot or the Stick?

I just bought this book on the basis of an article I read at It goes to one of the principles in my book: employees want and need to be rewarded, and the rewards to you for positive recognition are just about unlimited.

Do your managers regularly recognize good performance, or are they ignoring good performance with the expectation that 'that's what they're supposed to do'?

Positive recognition - and knowing how and what to praise for - is essential. Make sure it's happening.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What Are You Doing To Retain Your Employees?

Wow. 75% of all employees are looking to change jobs before the end of the year. The cost to interview, train, and manage an new employee is approximately 70% of that employee's salary (if they earn $50,000 per year, then it costs you - the employer - about $35,000 extra!

This is a good article on the basics of retaining employees. Remember - the single most important reason an employee stays with a company is if they're happy. That should be of paramount importance to you and your managers.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sexual Harassment - It's Not What Your Preconception Is

The traditional notion of sexual harassment is man-woman. That's no longer the case!

Even if your company has all female (or all male) employees, the need for training is still critical (and in California, mandatory for businesses with 50 or more employees).

Update your training - or start your training - right away.

The Pitfalls of Layoffs

If you need to layoff employees, make sure the criteria you use is both consistent and business-related. There is a huge potential for accusations of discrimination when laying off employees.

Also, note the differences between a 'lay-off' and 'termination'.

A lay-off is done for business reasons and it means the elimination of a position(s) that will not be re-opened again (or at least for a very long time).

A termination is a specific action against a specific employee. The position will be filled again.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Don't Wait - Determine If They're Exempt Now!

The number one area for all California employers should be the proper classification of their employees. Too often, employers don't know the guidelines for determining if an employee is exempt or non-exempt from overtime provisions.

You've probably seen the headlines - Wells Fargo recently settled for $12.8 million...IBM ponied up $65 million, and many small businesses have written large checks as well - all because they misclassified their employees.

This article is a good attempt and trying to simplify a very complicated issue. Get your labor attorney or HR consultant to review all of your job descriptions to avoid writing that big check.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sex Harassment - All is not Lost

Sexual harassment lawsuits justifiably worry many business owners and managers. But if you do the right thing - that's prevention, investigation, resolution, and non-retaliation - you can prevail.

This article shows that - dispite a supervisor's improper behavior - the company did the right thing: before, during, and after the incident.

Friday, March 23, 2007

E-Mail Etiquette in the Workplace

There's way too much overuse of e-mail in the workplace. And many managers are using e-mail for the ultimate no-no: reprimanding employees. That should only be done in person (or, if necessary, by phone).
E-mail is a wonderful tool for disseminating information quickly to a group of people. Unless it's absolutely necessary, though, make sure your one-on-one communication is in person.
Here's a typical story of how e-mail can be abused, and some good tips on preventing its improper use.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Time to Add Flexible Work Schedules?

More businesses are looking at ways to reduce employee turnover. They're evaluating compensation and perks as the panacea to their problems. However, a less costly and potentially more effective method is to evaluate flexible work schedules.

As our workforce continues to age, the benefit of a flexible work schedule may be more important in keeping (or recruiting) an employee than salary or benefits.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

FMLA Abuse

Yes - it happens. Although the FMLA is in the best interests of employees, it can (like anything else) be abused by employees.

This article (courtesy Constangy, Brooks & Smith via Ceridian) shows how you can take steps to prevent abuse by employees who take FMLA intermittent leave.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Harassment - Same Sex

The EEOC reports that there's a sharp increase in men filing sexual harassment charges.

Harassment of the same sex is prohibited; make sure your handbook is updated (and your employees are aware of this policy as well)...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Preventing Violence in the Workplace

Not only should there be a policy in your handbook on violence in the workplace, you should reinforce with your employees that awareness and reporting is the best possible prevention of a violent act. An employee may think they're doing the right thing by not reporting potential behavior, but they're not.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Stupid Managers - Part 85

The tragedy of this story is that it's likely the business owner - the one who had to write a check for $85,000 (plus attorney's fees) didn't know one of his managers was acting so irresponsibly.
Yet the business owner is responsible for all of his/her manager's actions.
Get your managers trained, get a grievance procedure in writing.
Oh, and make sure not to promote people who don't have the faintest idea on how to manage people.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Stop Driving Your Boss Crazy

There are so many things that drive a manager crazy, it's hard to list them all. Author Anita Bruzzese has tried to do it; here's an interview with her.

HR Checklist

This is by no means a comprehensive audit checklist, but it's well written and focuses on the major issues California businesses needs to know.

I particularly like their focus on the single most important area you can do to improve our Human Resources and Employee Relations issues - communication.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Grievance Procedures

Every Employee Handbook should include a defined grievance procedure, which outlines the steps an employee must take when he/she has a problem, from potential violence in the workplace, to harassment, or even a common complaint.

The very first step should be to encourage the employee to talk to the person they feel is causing the problem. 90% of problems go away after this, without the necessity of management involvement.

The next steps should be hierarchical - if you're uncomfortable going to that person, or unhappy with the outcome, go to your supervisor, and so on.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Employee E-Mail Policy

The number of harassment cases involving the e-mails of employees is on the rise. Make sure you have an air-tight, written policy stating that use of company e-mail and internet access is strictly limited to business use only.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Workplace Discrimination on the Rise

It's official - and somewhat surprising:

Discrimination complaints to the EEOC are on the rise - especially race, sex and retaliation.

What's disheartening about this is that all of these complaints are preventable - through strong handbook policies, management training, and good investigation techniques.

It's the 21st Century - and it's time to manage properly!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Recommended Book Of The Month

What People Want, by Terry Bacon.

Simple, common-sense based principles for managing people. A really good read.

What Employees Want

We've been saying it for years - a good boss is not a buddy nor a dictator. He/she is somewhere in between.

Employees look for a professional relationship and value that so much in their manager that it's the primary reason why an employee will stay or leave a company.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Romantic Behavior in the Workplace

Happy Valentine's Day Eve!

Yet another article on the pitfalls of dating in the workplace - for both employers and employees. What really struck me is the finding that 84% of employees say their employer either doesn't have a policy regarding dating in the office (or that they don't know of such a policy).

Monday, February 12, 2007

Shop Your 401(k) Now!

The trend is finally happening - if you don't compare your 401(k) plan, not only are YOU losing money, but your employees are losing thousands of dollars through hidden fees.

And now is the time - if you don't have a defined contribution plan - to establish one for your business. High reward, a valued benefit, and low cost to your business.

Sexual Harassment Training

Non-harassment training for supervisors is mandated for businesses with 50 or more employees (and/or independent contractors) in California.

It's also strongly recommended for all businesses - in case of a claim, you as an employer need to be able to answer such questions as:
  1. Where is your non-harassment policy in writing?
  2. Where is your grievance procedure in writing?
  3. When was the last time you trained your management in non-harassment training?
  4. Did you properly manage the investigation?
  5. Do you have a non-retaliation policy in writing?
It's for these reasons - and more - that a comprehensive review of your policies, procedures and training is necessary on an annual basis.

Friday, February 09, 2007


Any competent HR professional or consultant will tell management the first rule of good human resources practices is to document, document, document.

Yes, it's time consuming, but it provides the foundation for solid employee communication, as well as your back-up in case of lawsuit or grievance.

Make it business related, and never personal.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Employee Romance in the Workplace - Part Deux

An excellent article regarding what you can, and cannot do regarding employees dating in the workplace.

The key? Be proactive - it's much easier to put policies in place before something happens than afterwards.

Employee Expense Reimbursement

The concept of reimbursing employees for expenses incurred in the course of their job has always been somewhat vague in California.

Not only should there be a policy in your handbook on expense reimbursement, but it looks like the state is going to be setting some regulations for all businesses very soon.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Employee Romance in the Workplace

In California, you can't prohibit employees from dating (although you can prevent supervisors from dating subordinates).

The problem is, 50% of all sexual harassment cases come when the relationship was consensual. And, nearly half of all workers have been romantically tied to somebody from work!

Get a policy in your handbook that puts your procedures in writing. Have your attorney review it, and make sure that all parties in a relationship understand business - from your perspective - always comes first.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Managing Down The Middle

It's always wonderful when a survey supports the theories you wrote about years ago.

People will work harder and better for someone they WANT to work for, not who they HAVE to work for.

It's worth keeping in mind.

Monday, February 05, 2007

401(k) - The Hidden Fees

I don't manage 401(k) or retirement plans, but I'm a huge proponent of them for all businesses - it is a highly desired and inexpensive employee benefit.

I find that a number of small businesses are content to use a friend or acquaintance to manage the recordkeeping and money management of their 401(k)'s - and this is where it backfires.

You should immediately demand that your fund manager disclose all the fees - most of them borne by participants - in the plan. It should be Priority One as the new year gets underway.

It's great that government is finally doing something about it - but I fear the solution will be a long time away, and those fees add up every day.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Why Have an Employee Handbook?

Don't let anyone talk you out of having an employee handbook. You need written policies in order to consistently manage your employees.

You can still maintain flexibility with your business policies, but the foundation of any good employer/employee relationship starts with the handbook.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Employee Satisfaction

It's so simple to make sure your employees are happy. It's not just about the money they make - happy employees are more productive and less likely to cause problems. You can focus on the important things and not always deal with problem employees.

Managing Up - Part II

I spoke with a friend last night who's not sure if she's truly happy in her job. She's working for a stable company for the first time in ages, and making decent money.

I told her - as I've told many people - you have to weigh everything and make a decision:
Is It Worth It? Is the money and the stability more important than anything else?

Many studies show that a relationship with the boss is the most important factor in determining job satisfaction.

I disagree with the writer in this article - if you're unhappy, you have to leave. Life is too short to be unhappy in your work.

(But as a boss, you need to know that when an employee is unhappy and manage that process carefully - especially if you value that employee).

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Managing Your Manager

Someday, I'm going to write a paper on techniques for people to "Manage Up" - that is, how to manage your manager. It's just as important as your ability to manage your subordinates.

A Cardinal Rule of Managing Your Manager is: tell your boss when you screw up!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Firing For Fun & Profit?

Why is it that the first resort of employers in trouble is to fire their employees?

Termination should always be your last resort - always ask yourself: Did I do everything I could to help this employee's success?

And terminating employees to show a quick fix to your stockholders is - at best - unethical.

Employee Internet Access

Good news for California employers - you might not be liable when your employees use your internet access to do dumb things.

But play it safe - it's wise to include a policy in your Employee Handbook indicating that e-mail and internet access is for business use only.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Overtime Without Permission

If an employee takes overtime without permission, you must pay him or her.

If (and you should) you have a policy in your Employee Handbook that prohibits overtime without prior approval from a supervisor, you still must pay, but now you can impose discipline for violating a company policy.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The High Maintenance Employee

Virtually every manager I've known (including myself) prefer the 'low-maintenance, high-production' employee over any other category. The toughest to managers are the 'high-maintenance' employees - even if they are highly productive. They sap your energy and your time.

But ignore the 'high-maintenance' employees at your own risk...