HR: What Are Your New Year’s Resolutions for 2017?

Hey, everybody has been talking “New Year’s resolutions” so why not!  Just kidding…but now is a good time to tackle of a couple of compliance things to make sure you are kicking off the New Year on the right foot.

With everything else that comes with the New Year and end-of-year paperwork (like those W2s and Form 1094s and 1095s), the start of the new calendar year is a good time to give other parts a good look-over, just to make sure everything is up-to-date and you don’t get caught half-way through the year.

Here are a couple of suggestions to make time for this month:

1.  When was the last time you went and checked your Labor posters?

Now is a good time to check to make sure you have the latest AND that you have them posted where employees can see them.  Many people make sure they are visible in their “HR” department but what about employee breakrooms?  We had a lot of changes last year from classifications and minimum wage increases.  Make sure all of your workplace posters are up-to-date and the correct size. Check with your state labor department for any industry-specific poster requirements that may apply to your business. Note that certain localities may also have posting requirements.

Psst…. *You can visit the Federal and your state’s Department of Labor websites and download the new posters for free.

2. Put together an Employee Information Package. Were they any changes to your benefits?  How about those annual required notices, such as summary plan descriptions (SPDs) or COBRA- and FMLA-related notices?  Remember that employers are required under various laws to provide employees with certain information about their benefits and responsibilities.   While employees may be less interested in the annual required notices (yes, you still have to give it to them!), they will be very upset if they go to use their benefits this month and find out their FSA card is not valid or insurance deductibles changed.  Even if it is included in information that went out when the plan changed was being finalized, a quick snapshot memo of “Changes you need to know for 2017” brings it back to their attention so they can’t come back later and complain that you never told them.

3. When is the last time your reviewed your Employee files? Employers are required to maintain certain types of employee records in order to comply with applicable law but many only are required for a certain number of years.  What not declutter around the office!

  • Take time to review what documents you need to have paper copies of and what you can scan and save.
  • Check employee files to make sure your I-9s are up-to-date (and using the current form) with unexpired IDs.
  • Make sure each of your employees has an Emergency Contact sheet and that its not older than 3yrs (in my opinion) as contact names may not change but phone numbers frequently.
  • Make sure you have insurance beneficiary forms for all your employees that you are providing Life insurance and 401k plans for, including: make sure they signed it! So many employees worry so much about getting their beneficiary information correct that they forget the easiest part of all.

4. Review your current policies and procedures.  Again, a lot of employments laws changed last year or are slated to change during 2017 so this is a good time to review your current Employee Handbook as well as company policies and procedures.

Performance Review Time – Should You Keep Doing Them?

 

Its the beginning of the New Year and many companies may be getting ready to produce their employees’ annual performance reviews, so I’m sure the topic of whether or not its worth the time has started to come up.

There are a lot of different opinions out there as to whether or not companies should still be doing “performance reviews” for their employees.  Some say its too time consuming in this day and age.  Others say employees don’t really care because all they want to hear about is a raise.  And even more say that there’s just no purpose anymore.

I disagree.

Performance Reviews are more than just a “necessary evil we have to do once a year.”  Its an opportunity for the manager and the employee to have an open discussion on the employee’s work performance and continued employment with the company.

Today’s employees aren’t building lifelong careers with any one company anymore.  In fact, studies are out that actual encourage employees to change jobs every 3-4 years.  That “job-hopping” that used to be frowned upon in the past now…its acceptable and expected.  Turnover in a company does more than create open positions and slow down production for a short time – it costs the company money.  Money that has to be spent on recruiting the new employee and then training the new employee before they are ready to perform the job by themselves.  Companies that properly use “performance reviews” are able to control that amount of turnover and, quite possibly, find they have employees that they can promote from within again.

Employees today, more than ever, want to know what they are doing right, what they are doing wrong and what they can do to advance in the company.  Not communicating with the employee shows them that the company doesn’t care about them or their career path and before long, their performance will start to drop.    A negative attitude will develop…employees will begin missing work or coming in late as dedication to the job begins to slide.  By the time their manager finally does come around to giving them a review, all they will focus on is the employee’s poor performance – taking no ownership in the fact that they themselves contributed to the problem.

Performance reviews are basically feedback we give our employees.  While many managers claim it takes too much time and limit it to once a year, it actually should take place more often during the year.  The biggest complaint employees have about the process when its only annual is the manager will only focus on what he or she has done recently.  So, if they were a star employee for 9 months but the last 3 months ran into issues because of family problems, for example, the manager will typically use that as the focal point and the review will talk about how they “need to improve their attendance and performance.”  No wonder employees get frustrated!

If you decide this year to change how you do things and turn it into shorter, but quarterly reviews, the goals you set for the employee will seem more attainable – setting them up for success instead of failure – because you will be discussing the progress throughout the year as issues are coming up.  What you are truly showing your employee is that the two of you are working together as a “team.”

Keep in mind – feedback sessions do not have to be formal reviews.  Call it a “strategy meeting” or “career planning” if it makes it easier for you not to label it a “performance review.”  You will sit down your entire department to talk about a goal and strategize how to accomplish it.  Well, why not do the same with your employees?

These sessions should be two-way feedback sessions with your employees also sharing their observations, expectations and suggestions for both personal and company improvement.  Remember – while you are focused on managing these employees, they are the ones carry out the tasks and will have more insight into the effectiveness of the plans you have put into place.

Talk about what additional training the employee should also look into and whether or not the company would be willing to absorb the cost.  Let them research training and classes on their own to show you how serious they are about improving themselves.  Not all employees will be motivated to do so and that’s okay.  The point is that you created the opportunity for it to exist and by including it in a performance review session, you also have a speaking point to come back to in future sessions.

You don’t need fancy programs or long forms to fill out – keep it simple and stick to only what’s relevant:

  • Attendance and punctuality
  • Quality of work produced
  • Communication skills: following directions, asking questions, offering help
  • Knowledge of the job
  • Interaction with customers and other employees

And then, set some goals:

  • What is the specific goal as it applies to the employee (not overall for the department)
  • Give a timeline of when you want to see the goals completed
  • What training will the company assist them with or help them find to complete the task
  • What are your expectations: that the employee let you know how things are going, ask for help when needed, make suggestions for changes along the way

That’s it!  Let them know how you feel they are performing right now, what areas you would like to see them improve in and what goals you would like them to work toward before the next discussion.  You are creating a positive and growing environment for the employee and “a happy employee = a productive employee!”

Bonus: By following this method, if an employee’s performance starts to deteriorate and the company decides to end their employment, you now how documentation to show that you (as the company) did try to help the employee improve and can show that the company offered their part in helping improve the matter. 

 

New Federal Overtime Rule Effective December 1

Effective December 1, a new rule updates the regulations governing which executive, administrative, professional, and highly compensated employees are entitled to the minimum wage and overtime pay protections of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Current Rules
The current federal rules provide an exemption from both the minimum wage and overtime pay requirements of the FLSA for bona fide executive, administrative, and professional employees who meet certain tests regarding their job duties and who are paid on a salary basis at not less than $455 per week ($23,660 per year). “Highly compensated employees” (HCEs) who are paid total annual compensation of $100,000 or more and meet certain other conditions are also deemed exempt.

New Rule
The new rule updates the salary and compensation levels needed for executive, administrative, professional, and highly compensated employees to be exempt. In particular, the final rule:
• Raises the salary threshold from $455 a week to $913 per week (or $47,476 annually) for a full-year worker;
• Increases the HCE total annual compensation level to $134,004 annually;
• Amends the regulations to allow employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses, incentives, and commissions to satisfy up to 10% of the new standard salary level, so long as employers pay those amounts on a quarterly or more frequent basis; and
• Establishes a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels every 3 years, beginning on January 1, 2020.

Note: When both the FLSA and a state law apply, the employee is entitled to the most favorable provisions of each law.

2017 HSA and Health FSA Contribution Limits Announced

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced the inflation-adjusted contribution limits for health savings accounts (HSAs) and health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs) for tax year 2017.

2017 Contribution Limits
The tax year 2017 contribution limits for HSAs and health FSAs are as follows:
• HSAs: The annual limitation on deductions for an individual with self-only coverage under a high deductible health plan (HDHP) is $3,400 (up from $3,350 for 2016). The annual limitation on HSA deductions for an individual with family coverage under an HDHP is $6,750 (unchanged from 2016). For 2017, an HDHP is defined as a health plan with an annual deductible that is not less than $1,300 for self-only coverage or $2,600 for family coverage (unchanged from 2016), and annual out-of-pocket expenses (deductibles, co-payments, and other amounts, but not premiums) that do not exceed $6,550 for self-only coverage or $13,100 for family coverage (unchanged from 2016).
• Health FSAs: The annual dollar limitation on employee contributions to employer-sponsored health FSAs rises to $2,600 (up from $2,550 for 2016).

For more information, please see IRS Revenue Procedures 2016-28 and 2016-55.

Election Day is November 8th–Are Your Employees Entitled to Voting Leave?

With Election Day quickly approaching, private sector employers should be aware of their obligations under state law to provide voting leave for their employees.

While there is no federal law that requires private sector employers to provide employees with time off from work to vote in a national or state election, numerous states require that private sector employees be provided with either unpaid or paid time off to vote.

The chart below summarizes the general voting leave requirements of all 50 states and the District of Columbia:

Are Your Employees Planning a Mutiny?

Think about this…
Are your employees showing up to work late consistently? Are they more “on edge” or angry all the time?  Are they making more mistakes that usual?  Are their “attitudes” now affecting how they handle your customers? Are they just getting through the day so they can go home?
These are all RED FLAGS trying to get your attention! Ignoring it won’t make it go away and disciplining your employees won’t correct it.  But there is a simple way to reverse the trend = Introduce some play time!
What are the biggest problems companies face concerning employees right now?
  1. Absenteeism
  2. Poor morale
  3. Poor productivity
  4. Workplace violence
What is the common cause of each? = Stress!!
When we talk about incorporating “Play Time” into the workplace, it simply means incorporating some fun into the daily work routine to break up the mundane routine of the day.  Let’s not forget, most of us will spend more time at work during the week than with family, friends or just outside activities.
What will “play time” do for the employee? It helps alleviate some of the daily stress, especially during high peak seasons, which helps improves employee morale.  It can become overwhelming for an employee if he/she doesn’t have an avenue to release the daily stress build-up, especially if they go home to more of it.  You invested your time and money into hiring and training these employees, so why not put as much effort into keeping them?
First argument I expect to hear is: “employees need to earn their paychecks by working the full amount of time” or “an employee’s focus should be on how many billable hours they can pump out on a daily basis.” Do NOT think of this as “slack off” time.  Am I expecting companies to pay employees for time to just goof off? Okay, in a way, yes! But, think of the long-term payoff regarding employee morale and performance simply because the company set aside a small amount of time each day for stress relief.
What are some examples you can do in the workplace?
  • Community Service projects
  • Walk/Run Fitness challenges (sponsor a group for a local 5k!)
  • Desk Massages / Manicure Mondays
  • On-site fitness facilities
  • Company sponsored sports such as Softball or Volleyball
  • Company-wide learning classes….such as Cooking or Photography classes
Let’s break down a couple of the examples to you can see the benefits:
Community service = An activity either on-site or off can break the tension of the workday and build a sense of teamwork among your employees. For example: Organize a food drive or holiday cards/care packages to send to our troops. Employees like the distraction from their everyday duties plus it makes them feel good knowing they are doing something to help others. And in some cases, companies can also publicize their employees’ efforts – so it becomes free advertising for the company.
Early morning or lunch time workout = Ask one of the employees to lead a brief 20-30min workout session that can be as simple as a 1k walk or a weight loss contest. Remember that line from Legally Blonde about working out – “working out gives you endorphins and endorphins make people happy!” It also helps improve your employees’ health which, in turn, helps decrease costs associated with the company’s health insurance when it comes to renewal time.  See…another win-win!
What will adding “fun” to the work day really help do?
  • Reduce sick time taken…including those “mental health” days that employees partake in more and more these days.
  • Improve employee retention. It shows the employees that the company is truly interested in them and their well-being.  When employees feel appreciated – they are happy!  And happy employees don’t start looking for other jobs…even if they wish they had more pay.
  • Helps to recruit new employees. A happy employee will tell others about how great their job is…and others will want to work for you! Jobseekers today know that most companies aren’t using job boards as much as they used to in the past and rely on networking and referrals. Because employees are more likely to only refer those candidates that they truly feel are a fit for the company, you have cut down on advertising and time-to-fill costs because candidates are being brought to you!
But, for Play Time to “catch on” and be effective, the Employer needs to let their employees that it fully suports this new “way to work”.  If employees worry that they will be looked at poorly if they participate, they won’t give it a try.  So, it is imperative that you not only promote some “fun” in the workplace, but let them know you WANT them to participate in it.  Here’s an idea: Lead by example = YOU get out there and show them how to have fun during the day!
Remember: Happy Employees = Productive Employees

Jumping on the “Employee Engagement” Bandwagon: Part 3

You’ve talked to or surveyed your employees to find out what they would like to see around the office that would make them feel more appreciated or part of the “team.”  You researched different Employee Engagement programs to find out which ones could be implemented right away and at little to no cost to the company.  Now, here in Part 3, we will talk about the “how” to keep your employees engaged once you launch these programs.

Even the best thought-up programs have to be managed and monitored in order to truly have a long-term impact on the organization.  That means having someone dedicated to “running” the program, making changes and adjustments as time goes on, and updates management on the progress and how they can help improve participation.

Keep in mind, as well, that these types of changes to engagement aren’t going to be realized overnight or even 2-3 months down the line…you are looking at possibly 6-12 months before you can truly gauge whether or not the program is having the overall impact that you were hoping for.  Yes, getting people involved in the beginning and sticking to it will give you an idea early on if its working or even being welcomed, but don’t give up right away.  Tweak some things, change how you communicate, when the programs are being held, etc. before you throw in the towel.

So, how does management keep employees “engaged” in these engagement programs?
1) Don’t micro-manage them

2) Don’t make them feel obligated to be a part of it

3) Practice some simple “best practices”

As a Manager, your best practices should be:

  • Communicate – Get out from behind the text messages and email notifications and go talk to your employees. That human touch makes a much bigger impact and will encourage your employees to share more with you that you can use to change or improve not just these engagement programs but general day-to-day tasking.
  • Provide basic training (if needed) – Don’t just assume that people will know what to do or how to approach their fellow employees when getting these programs off the ground. Basic training can be something as simple as showing them how to advertise or set up group emailing…all depends on the program being initiated.
  • Develop your people – This is where you go to those employees you wouldn’t normally think of putting in charge and let them spread their wings. Support them, let others know that you have them leading the programs, check-in with them from time to time on progress…most will shock you at how well they do, once given the chance.
  • Recognize your employees – This is most important! Yes, the personal “thanks” and “great job” are still a necessity but make the time to also recognize them publicly…company announcement, newsletter with quote and picture and even during a company-wide meeting.
  • Encourage teamwork – Its natural for the other employees to feel they don’t have to step up and help, so communicate why the company is doing these programs and how you would like to see these programs as “special project teams” that share success stories. Ask them for suggestions and feedback as the programs are on-going and hold “team meetings” to talk about, from their point of view as the “user,” what changes can be made or things added to make them even more successful.
  • Last, but not least, ACT on their feedback! – The quickest way to shoot down any program or idea is for management to listen but then not follow-up or make any changes. Even if it is determined that no changes will be made, communicate that and explain why.  Remember – employee “buy-in” comes from them feeling that are truly a part of the success and not just an employee doing just what they are told.

Knowing the make-up of your particular company and what your employees would like to see, and then creating programs based around that rather than following the “most popular” programs, makes it much easier for these programs to be a long-term success.  What will start as simply making the employees feel good about being part of the company will quickly transform into company pride and dedication…factors in today’s workforce that have been thought to be lost.  It can be brought back – for the “right” reasons – with just a little investment, time and determination.

Jumping on the “Employee Engagement” Bandwagon: Part 2

In Part 1, we talked about first getting to know what your employees would like to see.  Here in Part 2, we will talk about some general ideas to consider integrating into your workplace.  While there are plenty of different options available, sometimes its best to start with some simple ideas and let the company build upon it once you see how welcoming the employees are to these new “perks.”

Today’s employees want to know and feel that their work matters…regardless of what generation they fall into.  They want to be known as a vital member of the team and not just overhead getting a paycheck.  If a company isn’t meeting their other “needs” (respect, growth, recognition, etc), then employee “disengagement” leads to low morale and a focus on …money.  And here is where a company can start spiraling downward.

So, how can an Employee Engagement plan help?

We heard all about “work life balance” these past couple of years, but the truth is its all about work-life integration now.  Smartphones keep us in contact 24/7 not just with voice and text but now emails and social media.  We’re not just “connected” to close friends and family because we now have co-workers, acquaintances, mentors, etc. as part of our life “circle” thanks to social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We can’t honestly expect a true separation anymore between work and home life.

So, engaging your employees is more than just finding ways to make them “happy” at work…its about finding ways to incorporate their passion and creativity into the workplace.  While the hope is that these different programs will increase work performance, employer loyalty and even generate profitable ideas, don’t make decisions based solely on that.  When employees feel “heard,” their talents used and recognized and a sense of teamwork returns, you will shift the work environment to where performance will naturally increase.

What are some ideas to consider?

There are so many different articles out there that talk about different engagement programs that you may feel a bit overwhelmed reading them over and thinking how to make them work at your workplace.  When I looked many of them over, I looked for things that were simple but would have the quickest return:

  • Look for resources already available to you…for free!

Many Healthcare providers also provide free workshops and seminars on a variety of topics, not just health.  Take a look at see how often they will provide one to your company and what other topics they offer.  Some offer programs such as: Stress Management, Debt Reduction, Wellness Coaching, etc.

  • Review (or Create) Work-Life Options

Does your company have a work-from-home option available for certain circumstances?  How about Flex Hours?  These ideas don’t have to be limited to just salary employees anymore and employees knowing they can ask when faced with family/personal circumstances goes a long way to showing yours is a company that cares.

  • Don’t leave family out!

When you start planning Company activities, such as Holiday Parties, include family members…and yes, children as well.  Employees generally spend more time at work than at home so it is important for family to feel that they matter as well.  That will help them be more understanding when your employee has to travel or work long hours.

  • Tap into the talents of your employees…do you know what they are?

How many of your employees are writers or aspiring photographers?  Let them share their talents with their co-workers!  Not only does it create a sense of pride but you also uncover a whole other skill set aside from their job that may help the company.

> Let your employees lead a “Learning Club”…be it before work, during the lunch break or after hours.

Employees have talents and interests outside their job – why not let them share it.  Have someone who is financially savvy at playing the stock market and you want to boost your 401k participation?  How about instead of having a seminar to explain to employees why to join you ask that employee to lead an Investment Club, where he/she has share tips and ideas with the employees.

> Set up an internal newsletter for employees-only.

Communication, even in the world of technology and “apps,” is still an area of struggle for most companies.  Enlist those aspiring writers and photographers to publish a monthly company newsletter that highlights events, recaps of projects, quotes from customers, pictures of completed projects/events, etc.  Lets employees see what is going on in the company aside from the people they interact with everyday and shows the company has pride in what their employees do.

> Create a TEDx type of event!

If you aren’t familiar with TEDx, it is an event that basically allows people to speak about a topic they are passionate about in the hopes of educating others.  So why not setup a monthly event at your company to allow your employees to do the same thing.

Did they attend a training session recently? Let them get up and talk about the experience: what they learned, how they are applying it now, what they hope to do next – it may generate additional interest from other employees.

Is there an outside organization or event they are a member of?  Let your employee share that with their colleagues.  Shows interests they have outside of work and, again, may get others to want to join or find their own outside interests.  These side projects are a great stress relief and sense of pride – which helps employees find balance and happiness in their own lives…so encourage it.

> Give Back and encourage Volunteering

Its not just the Millennials (as you may have read) that are interested in volunteering or giving back to their community!  Donating their time makes employees feel that they are helping make a difference.  Sponsor charity events – such as a fun 5K – and encourage employees to participate.  Give them paid time off to attend the events and acknowledge their participation on social media.  It supports “social responsibility” while also boosting morale…and giving your company some free, positive press.

  • Promote perks that boost mental and physical well-being.

To quote Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy!”

> Have an onsite work-out activity: could be a morning yoga class, fitness class or even organize a daily employee walk.

> Have “themed days” at work: pick a day a month or every Friday.  During football season, for example, have a Team Pride Day and let them where their team’s gear or colors.  Have a “Flashback Day” and tell employees to dress up from the 80s and play only 80s music that day.  Let them have a little fun at work!

> Create a Scavenger Hunt!  Want to get your employees out interacting with other departments?  Challenge them to take photographs of certain things in each department that you will hide and be the first to find them all.

> Bring back the “Bring Your _____ to Work” Days.  What ever happened to the “bring your child to work” days?  Its most appreciated during Winter and Spring breaks when its hard for parents to find someone to watch them when there aren’t activities or camps to join, as in the summer.

What about “bring your dog to work”?  Studies show that petting your dogs naturally brings down stress levels and invokes happiness – hence why dogs are used as therapy companions.  Let your employees show off their 4-legged kids!

> Host a company luncheon or BBQ.  Sometimes, a company just needs to shut down and relax as a whole, especially after a busy season.

 

Coming in Part 3…Best Practices for Employee Engagement

Medical Marijuana: How Does It Affect Your Workplace?

Today officially marked the first day that medical marijuana is now available for sale in the state of Illinois…so now that it is really a reality, what does that mean for employers?

  • Will there be this huge influx of issues to address and deal with?
  • How does this affect our workplace safety?
    Do we have to re-write our Employee Handbooks with a new drug and drug testing policy?

Before your mind starts spinning in circles, let’s look at some facts to help answer those questions:

There are over 20 states that currently have some sort of legislature in place concerning the legal marijuana for medical use only.  In Illinois, the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act (“Cannabis Act”) allows patients diagnosed with one of 42 specific, debilitating medical conditions to use medicinal marijuana.  Examples include: cancer, glaucoma, positive status for HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, closed head injury, post-concussion syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, MS, severe fibromyalgia, and spinal cord injuries.

State medical marijuana laws do not completely legalize the manufacture, distribution and possession of marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law…and here is where some of the hype and confusion needs to be talked about.

To be a part of this program, patients have to go through an application process.  Only persons aged 18 or over with specific medical conditions may apply and they may not have a felony drug conviction in his or her background.  Once they are “approved” they are issued a “Registry ID card” that then allows them to purchase medical marijuana from one of the registered dispensaries.

There are certain jobs that the Cannabis Act prohibits from being a part of the program: law enforcement officers, firefighters, correctional officers, school bus drivers or anything requiring a commercial driver’s license.

Those that qualify are not allowed, by law, to use the medical marijuana at their place of employment or used in public or in any location where smoking tobacco is forbidden by the Smoke Free Illinois Act.  The Act pretty much restricts use of medical marijuana to the approved patient’s personal residence.

The Cannabis Act does NOT prohibit an employer from enforcing a policy concerning drug-testing, zero tolerance or a drug-free workplace.  It also does not permit any person to engage in any task while under the influence of medical marijuana that could potentially impair their ability to carry out their job or endanger the safety of themselves or others in the workplace.  The best way to look at this: The Employer should treat a medical marijuana patient like any other employee who is on prescribed medication.

Employers can accommodate a worker’s medical marijuana use but aren’t required to.  Since medical marijuana remains an illegal drug under Federal law, its use is not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  It will come down to how you, the Employer, will want to handle the situation…however, the key to remember is to create consistency in your decision or new policy.  Risk and liability are the two issues that the Employer will need to personally identify to determine the best course of action.  Many employment attorneys have been reporting that most employers are not changing their workplace policies, in particular those with a Drug-Free Workplace policy…and for the most part, the way the Act appears to be written there isn’t a quick need to.

What the Cannabis Act does make clear is that an employer may not penalize a valid medical marijuana card-holder solely because he or she is in the registry and is entitled to use cannabis as medicine.  The employer can discipline an employee for use while on the job if it violates company policy or adversely affects their work performance (including safety issues).

The issue that is left outstanding and should be a concern at the back of everyone’s mind: Workers’ Compensation.

How the insurance companies intend on dealing with employers with employees covered under The Cannabis Act seems to still be unsure…and this is where employers may run into issues.  This will not only potentially affect renewal rates (depending on whether or not the use of medical marijuana comes up when a case is filed) but on how the employee may face challenges in receiving benefits or compensation as a result.  While medical marijuana is not the first “medication” with side effects that can cause performance problems for an employee (and one would assume the same standards would apply), its not clear if the insurance companies will treat them the same…so this is an area to watch as things continue to unfold.

Bottom line:  The introduction of medical marijuana isn’t as bad a topic as we may have braced ourselves for.  Yes, there are some considerations to be made but, for the most part, provisions are in place to protect the employer and the employee.  Don’t rush out to change policies based on the hype or fear that has been spread around….but also don’t wait until one of your employees comes to you with their new Registry ID card.

Talk about it now – how you would handle it and how you want to handle it – and everything can still continue as “business as usual.”

Bring Back The Pink Slips!

Back in the days of the Personnel Department, the “pink slip” was a notice included with the employee’s paycheck notifying them that their employment had ended, either by termination or layoff.  No one knows when this practice came into being, or how it was even labeled with the color pink.  Even Peter Liebhold, a curator at the National Museum of American History, spent ten years searching for literal evidence of the pink slip as a firing device and came up empty.  But regardless of who or how it started, it became a common-place term that many employees knew of and feared.

Should we literally bring back a pink piece of paper that says “You’re Fired” as a method to separate or terminate employees?  No…but we should do something similar for much better reasons.

In some states, such as California, there are laws in place that require an employer to give their workers a written explanation for their termination when they are being informed.   The employee is clearly told the violation or reason behind the company’s decision so there is no “speculation” or “ulterior motives” as to why the employee was separated from the company.  The assumption is that the written explanation includes concrete reasons, including facts and dates, to clearly support management’s decision.

But, what about those states that are “At Will” and technically don’t require notice to terminate an employee or provide a reason?  You are not as protected as you think.  Remember, if the employee believes that they were unjustly terminated, discriminated against or their firing was a form of retaliation from their manager, they will have ground to file not only an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint but also a lawsuit for unlawful termination.

Some employers fear giving a written explanation for termination of employment.  They worry that somehow the employee will find a way to use it against them so they feel its easier – and safer – to simply cut ties and leave it at that.  Except, sometimes it doesn’t end that easily.

So, why “bring back the pink slip?”

Bottom line: You are creating a final piece of documentation that will be valuable if you have argue why a termination should be help both in court and with unemployment (if terminated for cause).

The best reason, however, is it serves as a final “catch” for management and HR to ensure that the process was handled correctly and legally.  Think about it – How many managers have terminated employees in the heat of the moment?  At that point, words are exchanged – words that can later be used against the company.  Add to that, if the employee had never been previously counseled or reprimanded but the manager simply let his frustrations build up and explode, then unemployment (and the courts) will argue that the company didn’t do enough to address or correct the employee’s performance problems.  All of which will work AGAINST the employer…even if overall it was the right and financially responsible action to take.

Before you do anything!…Have a sit down discussion with the Supervisor and review all documentation in the employee’s file.  If the employee has never had a performance issues and now suddenly the supervisor wants to terminate, you are going to have quite the uphill battle in defending your decision in court.  Claims of “retaliation” or “personality conflict” may be raised in that case leaving the courts to side with the employee.

If you feel you have a strong enough case and all signs point to terminating the employee, then put together a Letter of Termination (or Termination Notice) to present to the employee when you are letting them go.

What do you include in the Termination Notice?

  • You want a clear statement stating the reason why the employee was terminated. Don’t beat around the bush or try to appear vague thinking that will protect the company.

Take a look at your Employee Handbook.  What are some of the reasons cited as to why an employee can be terminated?

For example: Excessive tardiness or absence, Neglect/misuse of company property, Intentional violation of safety rules, Excessive personal use of phones, Taking extended breaks, Intentional violation of policy, Use of abusive language, Drug or alcohol use on the job, Substandard work or performance, Insubordination or refusing to follow orders, Conduct which disrupts business activities, Harassment of fellow employees/customers/suppliers, Deliberate injury to another person, Conviction of a crime. 

  • List previous disciplinary actions or verbal discussions that were held with the employee. You want to remind them the steps the company took to work with them to correct the problem…and word it in that manner when you cite the information:

“We have previously attempted to address and work to correct this issue in the past….(list dates)”

  • List any benefits or pay information still due to the employee:
  1. If you are paying them any severance or unused vacation time, make sure you note it here.
  2. Let them know when their final paycheck will be processed (next payroll date) and how they will receive their check (mailed or they can pick it up).
  3. Let them know when their health benefits will expire (immediately or end of month) and what options they have to enroll in COBRA.
  4. And finally, give them information on how to withdraw or rollover any 401k money they have.

Times have changed and employees are more informed of their rights.  Your best defense – is a strong offense…and that means taking the time to make sure you have a process in place to protect the company.  No one likes to terminate an employee, but there will be times that it becomes inevitable.  Thinking proactively will help eliminate potential employee issues after the fact, so if your company isn’t already doing so – revisit your termination procedure and see how adding this can benefit you in the long run.