Red Hot Thoughts

Archive for the ‘Policies’ Category

SIGNS OF POTENTIAL DRUG USE

October 15th, 2014

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Last month we talked about the prevalence of prescription drugs use and their abuse in the workplace.  So, what can you do to keep your business, and your employees safe?  What signs might indicate the potential for drug misuse? 

The indicators listed below are “warning signs” of drug and/or alcohol abuse and may be observed by supervisors:

Moods:  Is an employee unusually…

  • Depressed
  • Anxious
  • Irritable
  • Suspicious
  • Complaining about others
  • Emotionally unsteady (e.g., outbursts of crying)
  • Moody (his/her mood changes after lunch or break)

Behaviors:  Do you notice that one of your employees is more…

  • Withdrawn or improperly talkative
  • Argumentative
  • Egotistical / Has exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Violent / displaying violent behavior

Absenteeism:  Are any of your employees experiencing…

  • An acceleration of absenteeism and tardiness, especially Mondays, Friday, before and after holidays
  • Frequent unreported absences, later explained as “emergencies”
  • Unusually high incidence of colds, flu, upset stomach, headaches
  • Frequent use of unscheduled vacation time
  • Leaving work area more than necessary (e.g., frequent trips to water fountain and bathroom)
  • Unexplained disappearances from the job with difficulty in locating employee
  • Requesting to leave work early for various reasons

Accidents:  You have an employee…

  • Taking of needless risks
  • Disregarding the safety of others
  • With a higher than average accident rate on and off the job

Work Patterns:  One of your employees is experiencing…

  • Inconsistency in quality of work
  • High and low periods of productivity
  • Poor judgment/more mistakes than usual and general carelessness
  • Lapses in concentration
  • Difficulty in recalling instructions
  • Difficulty in remembering own mistakes
  • Using more time to complete work/missing deadlines
  • Increased difficulty in handling complex situations

 

Relationship to Others on the Job:  One of your employees is…

  • Paranoid
  • Avoiding and withdrawing from peers
  • Receiving complaints from co-workers
  • Borrowing money from fellow employees
  • Complaining of problems at home such as separation, divorce and child discipline problems

Any one of these signs, alone or combined, could be a signal to a number of concerns, not necessarily substance abuse related.  However, if any signs are combined with other signs of impairment, you have cause for concern.  Some signs of impairment may include, but not be limited to:

 

Still, even with a number of signs, there may be other issues, such as illness, or a recent family situation, which are causing many of the above signs and symptoms.  You must be careful not to judge too quickly.  While you want to take care of your business, you do not want to falsely accuse anyone.

Next month, we’ll discuss what steps to follow if you do notice an employee exhibiting many of the symptoms above.  Remember, if you possibly have a current situation, and cannot wait for next month’s article on how to follow through on the warning signs, give one of our HR Coaches at Red and Associates a phone call.  We’ll be happy to walk through the situation with you and see how we can help.

 

WOTC

October 14th, 2014

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The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) was first introduced by the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996. Its intent was to provide employers with an incentive to reach out and hire employees from economically disadvantaged populations.  As the program demonstrated its success in increasing employer’s participation, there has been a succession of federal acts to keep this tax credit in existence.  In December of 2006, Congress passed the Tax Relief and Heath Care Act of 2006. The provision retroactively extended the WOTC through 2006. In 2007, the provision combined the Welfare-to-Work (WTW) tax credit with the WOTC and extended both through Dec. 31, 2007.

For an employer to benefit from the WOTC, it must determine whether its new hires come from one of the following groups:

• Qualified welfare recipients.

• Qualified food stamp recipients.

• Qualified Supplemental Security Income recipients.

• Qualified veterans.

• Qualified ex-felons.

• Vocational rehabilitation referrals.

• Qualified summer youth workers.

• High-risk youths.

• Eligible work incentive employees.

To help you determine whether a new hire is an individual from one of the targeted groups, the “Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Form for the Work Opportunity and Welfare-to-Work Credits,” the IRS Form 8850, must be completed on or before the date a job offer is made. Although the WOTC is a federal program, it is administered by each state, and some of the administrative processes may vary depending on the state.

If it is found that the new hire is from a targeted group, the employer may then need to send the form to the state WOTC coordinator within 28 days after the employee begins work. For employees who have been conditionally certified, the “Conditional Certification” form, ETA Form 9062, may need to be completed. For employees who have not been conditionally certified, the “Individual Characteristics Form,” ETA Form 9061, may need to be considered instead. Please check with the state WOTC coordinator for additional information and guidance.  The HR eBook will have a listing of all state coordinators to help you locate the state specific information you’ll need!

When the company files its taxes, it should complete the IRS Form 5884, (use the appropriate year when filing) to take the tax credits for the employees who qualify. The value of the tax credit is 40 percent of the first $6,000 of wages paid the first year to a certified employee who works at least 400 hours. For employees who work less than 400 hours but more than 120 hours, the tax credit is 25 percent of the first $6,000. For youth hired for summer work, the percentage is applied to the first $3000.

While filing federal forms might seem intimidating and time consuming, the effort can be well worth it.  It can add up to a real win—for your business and for your community!

Safety

August 11th, 2014

Regardless of the size of your business, you need to be vigilant about workplace safety.  Although safety can be a bigger concern in some industries than in others, no company can afford to ignore efforts to instill safety consciousness throughout its workforce.  Ensuring that the workplace is safe and free from hazards is a key role in business and human resource management.

What are the elements needed in designing an effective safety program?  The following factors are essential for an effective safety management program:

Management Commitment

A Safety Management Program cannot be successful without the active support of the company’s management team.  Necessary support includes allocating resources to safety programs and demonstrating the organization’s commitment to safety.  Managers should be involved in implementing and communicating the program so all employees understand management is committed to the program’s success.

Communication

The overall effectiveness of workplace safety and security measures will depend on an organization’s ability to effectively communicate safety and security goals and objectives. A communication strategy should be developed and implemented in a manner that supports the goals and objectives of the safety management program.  The business will want to ask how, when and where will employees be the most receptive to communication and retain the information provided.

Employee Participation

Employee participation is another key element in an effective safety plan.  If you do not have employee buy-in, the program may not ever fully be implemented.   For example, group decisions have an advantage of the group’s wider range of experience.   Employee participation means that employees are encouraged to participate fully in the program, including the review and investigation of injuries and illnesses, periodic workplace inspections, and regular safety and health meetings, and recommendations to the employer with respect to the overall safety program.

Analysis of the Work Environment

Work environment analysis helps the business with the identification of hazards by conducting baseline reviews for safety and health.  Additionally, employers should have a system in place for completing periodic updates to ensure continued safety.

Work environment analysis involves a variety of worksite inspections to identify not only existing hazards, but also conditions and operations in which changes might create hazards. Effective safety programs have systems in place to actively analyze the work tasks and the work setting to anticipate and prevent harmful occurrences.

Hazard Prevention and Control

Hazard prevention and control procedures ensure all current and potential hazards are corrected in a timely manner and safe work practices are understood and followed by all members of the work team.  Also, the company needs to ensure that all appropriate personal protective equipment is provided, and all other necessary actions are in implemented and followed.  Workplace rules should provide guidance for employees’ behavior. The entire organization needs to continually be mindful of safety…it should be part of the culture.

Additionally, as part of the overall safety plan, management should focus on encouraging employees to report unsafe behaviors. Reporting of close calls and unsafe conditions may help keep tragic incidents from occurring.

Training

An effective safety prevention program includes training for all employees and managers. In addition to initial training during the safety program’s implementation, and when new employees are hired, on-going training and any other needed updates need to occur in order to support a safe culture within the Company.  Besides in person training, there are many other options for training including on-line courses, DVD’s as well as written materials.  Companies will need to consider their employee demographics to determine what type of training may work best.

If your business needs assistance with creating or updating an Accident Prevention and Safety Program, give us a call at 866.599.1733.

 

Vehicle Policy

August 6th, 2014

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Most companies conduct at least a little business ‘on the road’.  Whether it is having specific jobs dedicated to driving delivery trucks or just having the filing clerk drop off the mail after her lunch hour, many companies have employees who complete assigned tasks by driving a vehicle during work hours.  Do all of these companies have Vehicle Policies in place to protect the business as well as the employee?  Sadly, many do not.

Here are some recommended policies for you to consider including in your Employee Handbook.  Not all policies will work in all situations; however, by carefully examining how and when company vehicles and/or employees are used both during the work day and after hours, you can craft a policy that will work best for you.

No matter if the job’s primary functions include driving a company vehicle or if it is just a once a week errand, have a policy in place that clearly defines your expectations of the driver. 

-  Address safe driving habits.  If the driver gets a moving violation, who is responsible to make sure it is paid (and paid on time)?  What about parking tickets—and what if this ticket was issued when the employee was on an ‘emergency’ delivery at the request of his supervisor?

- What if there is an accident?  Make sure the policy outlines the steps the employee needs to follow when reporting an accident, both to the proper outside authorities and to the designated internal person.  Are there forms that need to be completed?  If so, be sure to have these forms readily available to the employee.

-Cell phoning while driving is illegal in most states.  The vehicle policy must include a section on cell phones…and texting!  We are always amazed at clients who report that their employee didn’t know that texting while driving falls under the same policy as cell phoning!

- Who is allowed to ‘go along for the ride’?  Can employees drop their children off at school on their way to the job site in a company owned truck?  Can they pick up hitch-hikers?

- Can the vehicle be used during non-work hours for personal purposes?  Who pays for the insurance and the gas?  How is mileage calculated and how is this reported?

-It should be obvious that the driver should  not drink or take illegal drugs while driving.  However, even the most obvious needs to be addressed in a vehicle policy.  Companies should also include a section on legal drugs that could affect a driver’s ability.

What about the vehicle, itself?  If it is a company vehicle, the policy should include:

- Expectations of how the vehicle needs to be maintained—who is responsible for common maintenance (oil change, gas, etc.)?  Who is accountable for making sure it is clean (both inside and out)?

- A certificate of insurance should be on file for everyone who drives a company vehicle AND for anyone who does company business while driving their own personal vehicle.  Many insurers are now demanding this be done.

 

 

Legal Marijuana and the Workplace

July 29th, 2014

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As you likely are already aware, Washington and Colorado have passed initiatives to permit the use of marijuana for “recreational” purposes.  If you are like many of our clients, even those who don’t live in either of these states, you are probably wondering how these laws will affect your company.

These new laws are of particular concern to employers who have employees in safety-sensitive positions such as those positions typically found in healthcare and manufacturing – and rightfully so.  In fact, due to the number of concerns they have received, the Department of Transportation recently released a notice stating that the state initiatives will have no bearing on their drug testing program and that the regulation does not authorize the use of Schedule 1 drugs, including marijuana, for any reason.    Therefore, if you have an employee who has to abide by the Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation (49 CFR Part 40) in order to retain their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), and he/she tests positive for marijuana, that test will not be ruled negative because the employee admits to using marijuana for recreational purposes as allowed under WA or CO state law.  The same also holds true for employees who test positive for marijuana and admit to using marijuana as recommended by his/her physician for medical purposes, even though some states have passed “medical marijuana” initiatives.

While WA and CO have passed these initiatives, marijuana still remains a drug listed in Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act.  Employers who hold contracts with the government should follow appropriate regulations pertaining to employee drug and alcohol use/testing.

Although the federal government, in conjunction with the WA and CO state governments, have yet to determine exactly how to administer these laws, there are several steps you can take as a business owner to ensure you are prepared to properly deal with employee drug and alcohol use.

 

¨ Ensure that your company has a policy that prohibits employees from being on your property and/or performing the duties or his/her job when there are detectable amounts of illegal drugs (as per federal, state, or local law) or alcohol in their system.

 

¨ Ensure that the policy specifically covers drugs that are illegal under federal, state, or local law and addresses drugs that are prescribed by a physician.

 

¨ When writing/revising your policy, use the phrase “detectable amounts of illegal drugs” instead of the phrase “under the influence of illegal drugs.”  The focus should not be on when the employee used the drug because what an employee does on their own time is not of your concern.  Instead, the focus should be on whether or not the drug is currently in their system because if it is, it could potentially have a negative impact on their work performance.

 

¨ Notify your employees that while recreational marijuana use under WA and CO state law is allowed, marijuana can show up on a drug test days, and possibly weeks, after taken in and if detected, it may be grounds for disciplinary action which should be clearly stated in your policy.

 

While personal and professional lives are often intertwined, it is necessary to compartmentalize the two whenever possible and focus simply on job performance.  If an employee is showing up to work drunk or stoned, there will obviously be an impact to job performance.  If an employee has a drink or smokes a joint over the weekend, it shouldn’t be a concern of yours unless of course the residual effects of those actions impact their work performance on Monday.   If an employee is selected for random drug and alcohol testing or is required to submit to a post-accident drug and alcohol test, and tests positive for marijuana but swears she smoked only a joint two weeks ago, the possible discipline that might result is a risk she runs.

 

Undoubtedly there will be much more information to come. We will keep abreast any new developments and share them with you when appropriate.  If you have any questions regarding your current policy or need help writing a policy, please do not hesitate to give us a call.

 

Tips to Keep Your Company More Secure

July 14th, 2014

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Most companies keep sensitive personal information in their files and on their computers (names, Social Security Numbers, insurance numbers, account data, etc.) that identifies customers or employees.  Businesses need this information to fill orders, meet payroll or perform other necessary business functions.  However, if sensitive data falls into the wrong hands, it can lead to identity theft and potentially….FRAUDSafeguarding sensitive data is just plain good business.  Even if your industry or business does not have to comply with current Federal and/or State confidentiality laws (such as the Red Flag regulations), what steps should you be taking to protect personal information at your company?

Listed below and on the next page are 15 ways to protect sensitive information in your organization.  Next month, we’ll provide our readers with 15 MORE ways to make their workplace more ’identity theft-proof’.

1. Do you have a written policy in place to ensure that sensitive, confidential paperwork is unreadable before you throw it away?  Have shredders by every work station where sensitive data is handled; if an area has a large amount of sensitive paperwork to be shredded, consider hiring a third party company to shred and dispose of the material.

2. Do you have a system in place defining how all personal information on customers and employees are destroyed once it is no longer needed?  Having shredders available is just one step.  Be sure you have identified all forms, letters, files, etc. that contain personal identification then have written specific steps on what needs to occur when a specific form, etc. must be destroyed.

3. Do you check references and/or complete background checks before hiring employees who will have access to sensitive data?  Companies can significantly reduce their exposure to internal criminal risk if they follow a policy of checking both references AND backgrounds prior to hire.  If they do so, they need to have the appropriate forms for potential employees to sign that gives them permission to seek this information.  Because potential employees must provide confidential information for background checks to be completed, the company will be subject to Red Flag regulations (see question 4)

4. Is your company subject to Red Flag regulations?  The Red Flag Rules require financial institutions and creditors to implement a written Identity Theft Protection Program to detect, prevent and mitigate identity theft in connection with new and existing “covered accounts”. 

5. Have you appointed someone within your management team as Information Security Officer?  Because a majority of identity breaches occur through a company’s technology, the Information Security Officer is usually someone in the IT department who can keep abreast of the latest threats and make adjustments rapidly.

6. Do you ask every new employee to sign an agreement to follow your company’s confidentiality and security standards for handling sensitive data?   This form should be part of every new hire packet; regardless of how little the new employee will be exposed to confidential data.

7. Do you audit your confidentiality agreements periodically to be certain no employee has been missed?  Not only should a company audit these agreements to assure all have signed them, but the document itself needs to be reviewed at least on an annual basis to assure it covers all the areas needed to protect the identity of clients, the vendors, the company and its employees.

8. Do all employees understand that abiding by your company’s data security plan is an essential part of their duties?  Data security responsibilities and tasks need to be included in the employees’ job descriptions to focus their attention that abiding by the policies and procedures of the security plan is an important part of their job.

9. Do you regularly conduct training to remind employees of your company’s policy—and any legal requirement—to keep customer information secure and confidential?  Training…and enforcing…are key to assuring your policies are followed consistently.

10. Do you limit access to personal information to only those employees with a “need to know”?  Sensitive information is needed for some tasks to be completed adequately.  Companies have a duty, however, to assure that only those who need the information to complete their job have access to it.

11. Are your fax machines in a secure area?  While you can control most of the information that leaves your office, you also need to take adequate steps to assure that information coming to your office through your fax machines are handled in a secure environment.

12. Do you have a policy for receiving mail to assure only approved employees have access to confidential information?  Different departments might receive mail that has sensitive information enclosed; however, steps should be taken to assure that only those who need the information have access to it.

13. Do you review how confidential personal information is stored and accessed?  The company must take adequate precautions that all departments and branches follow the same policies and procedures when it comes to personal information storage and retrieval.  If the company has employees that travel with technology that contains sensitive information, policies and procedures need to be applied consistently through the organization.  Examples would be policies for employees who store customer information on their PDAs, for safeguarding financial information being stored on an employee’s laptop who sometimes works from home, for an outside salesperson who’s Blackberry contains sensitive emails from the home office, etc.

14. Do you regularly assess what personal information you really need to collect?  Just a few years ago, many job applications asked for the social security number and most insurance companies used the insured’s social security number as their policy number.  Companies must constantly manage their risk for identity theft exposure by limiting access (and collection) of personal information wherever and whenever possible.

15. Do you keep all written confidential information such as employee personnel files and customer information in locked file cabinets?  It may seem obvious, but too often sensitive information falls into the wrong hands not because of some complicated technology breach but because a file door was left unlocked…or there was no lock on it in the first place.

 

 

Harassment Charges

June 26th, 2014

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Growing up, many of us were fortunate enough to have a parent who would bring out a few words of wisdom whenever we were about to embark on a new adventure (or test out the new driver’s license).  Taking a poll in our firm, we found the following parental advice had the most impact on our impressionable youth: ‘Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want written up on the front page of the paper tomorrow!” 

Many times over the years we’ve read about an employer in the paper who would have been well served to heed that warning.  No matter how innocent the situation or well-meaning the intent, harassment charges are being filed, tried and won in record numbers.  What are you doing to protect your company and your employees?  What SHOULD you be doing?

The spotlight on sexual harassment in the workplace has never shown brighter.  Public awareness of this issue has increased significantly over the past few decades and it’s no longer the extreme cases that make it to the courts.  With lawsuits filed in record numbers, formal complaints run from fostering of a hostile work environment to demands for prostitution.  While the media focused much of their attention on the plight of women in male oriented workplaces, 15.40% of last year’s claims to the EEOC were made by men. It is truly a problem that can have a disastrous effect on any business or organization.

Every organization, regardless of size, should have a written harassment policy in place.  Without clear evidence of a harassment policy, the employer has little chance of creating an affirmative defense against harassment claims. A review of this past year’s data from the EEOC indicates that only 47.5% of employers were able to cover their burden of proof to stop a sexual harassment claim.

Additionally, training is a critical element to establishing a defensible position against harassment claims.   Establishing a defensible position against claims of discriminatory harassment, including sexual harassment, goes beyond just having a policy against harassing behaviors. It requires that employees understand what harassment is and what to do if it is occurring in the workplace. Employers will also want to establish that managers and supervisors understand not only what harassment is, but also how to meet their responsibility to maintain a harassment free workplace.

Harassment policy?  Employee Training? 

If you do not yet have a written policy regarding harassment in the workplace, including sexual harassment, or if you have not conducted employee training on this policy, now is the time!  To assist you, we have compiled some tips on how to create and implement a policy within your organization…

  • Be sure your policy is formally written.  Do not assume that making a statement during new hire orientation that your business does not tolerate harassment is enough.  To meet EEOC guidelines, your policy needs to be in writing.  Also, be certain the document is written clearly enough that all of your employees, regardless of education level or background, will be able to read it.  Does your workforce speak more than one language?  If you have employees who speak a primary language other than English, provide the policy in that language as well.
  • Your policy should clearly define what constitutes sexual harassment.  Your definition should be clear enough that employees will recognize sexual harassment if is should ever occur.  You should also include a statement that sexual harassment includes same-sex harassment as well.
  • Establish an easy to follow complaint procedure.  The procedure should include understandable steps to follow so employees know who they should talk with and what they can expect to happen once a complaint is filed.  The complaint procedure should also include a way for a victim to bypass the alleged harasser to file a complaint.  Therefore, if someone’s immediate supervisor is the harasser; the employee can turn to someone else in the company.
  • Train and educate both your employees and supervisors.  Your training should cover your company’s intolerance of harassment, how to recognize sexual harassment and other types of harassment, how to file a complaint, and what steps the complaint process entails, including timelines for responding to employees.  Refresher training should be offered on an at least an annual basis.
  • In addition to general training, you’ll want to educate your supervisors on how to recognize sexual harassment before a complaint is ever filed and how to intervene appropriately.  Supervisors will also need to know how to respond to an employee filing a complaint.
  • When communicating your policy, use as many methods as possible to inform employees about your intolerance of harassment and your policy against it.  Put the policy in your employee handbook, talk about it at orientation, and post it somewhere employees will see it, such as in the break-room or by the time clock.

In next month’s Red Alert, we’ll talk about how to investigate a claim if one happens to land on your desk. Remember, if you need any additional assistance; please give one of our HR coaches a call.  Also, as a value added service, Red and Associates can assist your company with supervisor and employee training. Call us at 866.599.1RED.

 

 

 

Employee Files and HIPPA Regulations

June 16th, 2014

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For years there has been confusion as to whether or not information contained in employment records is considered to be Protected Health Information (PHI) under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.   There now is a clear answer to this question/confusion – No!

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) website (www.hhs.gov) reports, “The Privacy Rule excludes from protected health information employment records that a covered entity maintains in its capacity as an employer and education and certain other records subject to, or defined in, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. §1232g.”

Other clarifications and new changes to HIPAA have recently been communicated by HHS.  These changes have come about for many reasons, including new kinds of entities holding health information (i.e. “the Cloud”), objections to some uses of health information, lack of breach notification for health information, lack of control over business associates, and enforcement seen as lacking teeth (the Office of Civil Rights has been criticized as being too lax in enforcing the regulations).

 

Regardless of the origin of the change, the outcome is the same – HHS is getting serious about enforcement of the Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.  Previously, an entity was audited only in response to complaints or breaches; now HHS is required to periodically audit covered entities and business associates.  There is a random audit program now under way with 20 initial audits due by April 2012, then a recalibration based on those, followed by up to 150 total random audits by the end of 2012.

If you are audited and found to be out of compliance, you could receive a penalty up to $50,000 ($1.5 million maximum for all violations of a similar type in a calendar year).  New definitions (Reasonable Cause, Reasonable Diligence,  Willful Neglect) have been created and new tiered penalties have been established. Tier 1 Violations equal $100-$50,000 per violation with Tier 4 Violations resulting in $50,000 per violation.

If you are a Covered Entity or Business Associate (yes, Business Associates are now directly responsible for complying with HIPAA), you should conduct an audit of your HIPAA compliance policies and procedures.   If you clearly understand the new clarifications, changes and definitions, you could conduct an internal audit yourself and make changes based on your internal findings.

If you do not have the internal resources to conduct an audit or to make the changes found necessary, you should contact a professional services group to assist you.  Or call us—we’re here to help!

 

If I don’t have to comply with HIPAA what is there to worry about?

Although employment records are not subject to the HIPAA Privacy Rule, there are many laws that do include rules regarding the safe-keeping and retention of employment records.  This newsletter focused on HIPAA regs; more will be highlighted in our future newsletters.  As always, please contact us at red for more detailed information and/or help with your records retention!

 

 

Safety

June 10th, 2014

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Regardless of the size of your business, you need to be vigilant about workplace safety.  Although safety can be a bigger concern in some industries than in others, no company can afford to ignore efforts to instill safety consciousness throughout its workforce.  Ensuring that the workplace is safe and free from hazards is a key role in business and human resource management.  

What are the elements needed in designing an effective safety program?  The following factors are essential for an effective safety management program:

Management Commitment

A Safety Management Program cannot be successful without the active support of the company’s management team.  Necessary support includes allocating resources to safety programs and demonstrating the organization’s commitment to safety.  Managers should be involved in implementing and communicating the program so all employees understand management is committed to the program’s success.

Communication

The overall effectiveness of workplace safety and security measures will depend on an organization’s ability to effectively communicate safety and security goals and objectives. A communication strategy should be developed and implemented in a manner that supports the goals and objectives of the safety management program.  The business will want to ask how, when and where will employees be the most receptive to communication and retain the information provided.

Employee Participation

Employee participation is another key element in an effective safety plan.  If you do not have employee buy-in, the program may not ever fully be implemented.   For example, group decisions have an advantage of the group’s wider range of experience.   Employee participation means that employees are encouraged to participate fully in the program, including the review and investigation of injuries and illnesses, periodic workplace inspections, and regular safety and health meetings, and recommendations to the employer with respect to the overall safety program.

Analysis of the Work Environment

Work environment analysis helps the business with the identification of hazards by conducting baseline reviews for safety and health.  Additionally, employers should have a system in place for completing periodic updates to ensure continued safety.

Work environment analysis involves a variety of worksite inspections to identify not only existing hazards, but also conditions and operations in which changes might create hazards. Effective safety programs have systems in place to actively analyze the work tasks and the work setting to anticipate and prevent harmful occurrences.

Hazard Prevention and Control

Hazard prevention and control procedures ensure all current and potential hazards are corrected in a timely manner and safe work practices are understood and followed by all members of the work team.  Also, the company needs to ensure that all appropriate personal protective equipment is provided, and all other necessary actions are in implemented and followed.  Workplace rules should provide guidance for employees’ behavior. The entire organization needs to continually be mindful of safety…it should be part of the culture.

Additionally, as part of the overall safety plan, management should focus on encouraging employees to report unsafe behaviors. Reporting of close calls and unsafe conditions may help keep tragic incidents from occurring.

Training

An effective safety prevention program includes training for all employees and managers. In addition to initial training during the safety program’s implementation, and when new employees are hired, on-going training and any other needed updates need to occur in order to support a safe culture within the Company.  Besides in person training, there are many other options for training including on-line courses, DVD’s as well as written materials.  Companies will need to consider their employee demographics to determine what type of training may work best.

If your business needs assistance with creating or updating an Accident Prevention and Safety Program, give us a call at 866.599.1733.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Employee Handbook Tips

June 4th, 2014

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It is very important that your Handbook stays current with employee laws.  In reviewing our clients’ handbooks, we first look at compliance issues—are the policies included in the handbook within the laws currently in place?  Second, and just as important, we look at how these policies are followed in the workplace.  On page four we provide some tips on some typical policies found in an employee handbook (and what to do if you’re not following them!).

An Employee Handbook can be an excellent tool to inform employees on the policies of your business. It can also be a minefield of problems if the handbook is not (1) up to date with current federal and state laws; and (2) consistently followed throughout the company.

The Red Alert eNewsletter provides our readers the opportunity to stay current with changes in employee laws.  The Federal and State Laws and Guidelines portion of the HR Subscription Service is updated as soon as a new law goes into effect.  We strongly encourage businesses to add any new policies that apply to their company because of a change or addition to employment law as quickly as possible.  Some recent laws that affect most employers include changes in FMLA guidelines, broadening the law to include special groups/individuals such as military families and victims of domestic violence (in some states).  If your company falls within FMLA (federal and/or state), you should update your handbook immediately to reflect the changes.  Remember, if your state has tighter restrictions than the federal law, you must follow the state’s guidelines in those areas.

Having up to date policies is extremely important.  Just as important, however, is how these policies are worded and how they are followed within the organization.  It is not an old wives’ tale that ’it is better not to have an Employee Handbook than to have a poorly written one’.  It is the truth.  It is also the truth that you can have the Pulitzer Prize for Employee Handbooks but if the policies are not followed consistently, you would be better off throwing the handbook in the garbage.

Here are three of the more common issues we come across when reviewing a client’s handbook:

1. Use of ‘Absolutes”.  If you have ’absolutes’ in your policy (words like always and never), you had better be certain you follow them absolutely!  Many companies are now using “Progressive Discipline” and have a policy that outlines the steps that are followed included in their Employee Handbook.  Made popular during the ’3 strikes and you are out’ movement of the 80s and 90s, progressive discipline, in principle, provides management and employees with a process to address performance issues and a way to resolve them.  However, if this process is not followed consistently, ex-employees can have recourse if they were terminated without going through the process as outlined in the handbook.

It is better to have a discipline policy in place that lets the employee know that as an employer you follow federal and state guidelines and reserve the right as defined by these laws to terminate an employee (some states are not an At Will state so be sure to check with your state laws regarding this matter).  We suggest that you include a discipline policy that states that discipline counseling is an option that will be used as the employer sees as needed and will be done on a case by case basis.

2. Use of detailed checklists.  Many handbooks we have reviewed have policies that have very specific ‘checklists’.  An example of this is a Termination Policy that includes “an employee will be terminated for the following reasons (list here).”  A policy with such a checklist puts handcuffs on the employer by limiting choices based only on the reasons provided.  It is much more preferable to avoid such language.  Instead, the handbook could use language such as “The Company reserves the right to take appropriate action.  Following are examples of conduct that could result in immediate termination (put examples here).  These are examples only and are not inclusive.” 

3. Going overboard on ‘thou shalt nots’.  Often, handbooks contain a litany of things an employee can’t do.  Many make perfect sense.  There are a few, however, that need to be taken out of the employee handbook.  Two we see most often have to do with compensation.  The first instructs the employee that all pay and benefit information is confidential and is not to be shared with others.  If you have such a policy, take it out!  The courts have decided that such a policy is an unfair restriction placed on the employee and is therefore illegal.  Anyone can discuss their pay as they see fit.  It is the employee’s decision, not the employer.

The second compensation policy concerns overtime pay.  We have reviewed overtime policies that states: “Overtime must be approved in advance by the employee’s supervisor.  If approval has not been given, employee will not be paid overtime.”  Again, if you have such a policy—take it out!  It is not legal to withhold earned pay, even if they did not get permission to work the extra time.  Instead, a company may have an overtime policy that states:  “Overtime must be approved in advance by your supervisor.  If approval is not given, unauthorized overtime will be paid but employee will be subject to disciplinary action.”