Captain America Comes to NEO: 5 Ways to Help Employees Battle the Traffic

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Captain America has come to Northeast Ohio, and the filming has likely already resulted in a ton of traffic headaches for your workforce and organization...tardiness, lost productivity, frustration, and the list goes on. With traffic at a standstill in Northeast Ohio due to the temporary closing of the Shoreway over the next two weeks, some local organizations are allowing affected employees a bit more flexibility than normal.

Your HR department can also join some these employers in the spirit of the filming here in our region and use its "superpowers" to help your affected employees avoid traffic. Here are some suggestions:
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Beyond FMLA: Other Leaves of Absence

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Approximately 76% of Northeast Ohio organizations provide benefits under the FMLA, with larger organizations (those over 100 employees), offering benefits with an unsurprisingly much higher frequency. These numbers put the region just slightly below the national sample reported by the 2013-2014 Policies & Benefits Survey - by about 5%.

In addition to exploring a number of questions related to FMLA administration and processes, this same survey also looks at how organizations manage leaves of absence that may not fall within FMLA. In fact, a strong majority of participating organizations provide their employees with at least one other type of leave of absence other than FMLA at both the local (68%) and national (74%) levels.
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The Ultimate Summer Workplace Checklist

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Sweet summertime is right around the corner. Bring on the company picnics, vacation schedules, and little league games!

The HR department is presented with plenty of opportunities and challenges when it comes to the summertime workplace. It can be hard at times to keep employees attention and focus when the sunshine is calling their name.

Here’s the ultimate summer workplace list for organizations working to make their workplace great:

1. Solidify Holiday Schedule

There are 3 national holidays U.S. employers recognize during the summer, Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. Make sure your employees know what days they will have off due to the holidays, especially the 4th of July. If the 4th of July falls on a weekend, be sure to clarify and communicate to employees what day the office will be closed. Also be sure to communicate that to customers as well.

2. Manage Vacation Schedules

Summer is the ideal time for many people to take a vacation. Unfortunately for the HR department and management team, that means many employees wanting to schedule time off at the same time. This can lead to a shortage of workers or disappointed employees if not handled properly. Require employees to schedule time off in advance, receive approval for time off, coordinate with the their coworkers and implement a fair system specifying criteria of the process and spell out whatever limits your organization may have around taking vacation.

3. Implement a Summer Dress Code

With the weather being warmer, it may be beneficial to implement and communicate a summer dress code throughout the organization.

Be sure to effectively communicate the new summer dress code, preferably in writing. Clarify what summer attire is and what it isn’t. Determine what is allowed in terms of apparel and shoes while providing examples (i.e. sleeveless tops, open-toed shoes, flip flops, shorts, capris, etc.) It may also be beneficial to let employees know to be mindful of their daily agendas and not dress inappropriately when meeting with customers or pitching an idea to corporate, depending on policy.

Also apply your dress code uniformly to all employees, and not to a specific gender or demographic.

4. Plan a Company Outing

Summer is an ideal time to organize a company outing or picnic to show appreciation. Hosting a company outing not only shows appreciation for employees but recognizes their efforts and gives them a time to interact and bond with one another outside of the office.

Many organizations host outings at a local attraction, golf course or park.

If the budget is right, it may be nice to include spouses, significant others, or children too.

5. Wellness Program

The summertime weather also allows for more creative outdoor activities and programs to support and promote wellness throughout the organization. Try setting up a bike-to-work program, walking program, fitness activity, or pick-up game.

In addition, the summer is a great time to emphasize nutrition and healthy eating habits with the increased availability of fruits and vegetables. Several organizations have begun to provide fresh produce whenever possible to their workforce.

6. Flexible Scheduling

Many families tend to need more flexibility in the summer. Kids are out of school with little league games and sick babysitters.

Great workplaces tend to provide a bit more flexibility, such as opportunities to leave early on Fridays, revised or shorter work schedules, compressed work weeks, and longer holiday weekends.

Flexibility options allow employees extra time with their families and help them achieve better work/life balance over the summer.

7. Address Attendance Issues

Having a more flexible schedule may lead to a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. Attendance can become more of an issue in the summertime when employees may call off, take unapproved time off, or be tardy/leave work early more often.

Make sure to have an attendance policy that is clearly communicated to employees and enforce the policy consistently.

Being flexible to employees’ needs to keep attendance issues to a minimum and keep in mind that results are what counts the most at work.

8. Take Advantage of Slow-Time Opportunities

Depending on the industry, summer time can be less busy and employees have a more relaxed workload. This is the perfect time to implement development initiatives that may have been pushed to the side the rest of the year in preference of other obligations.

Training, development, programs, and other HR projects are perfect opportunities to take advantage of in the summer months.

9. Have More Fun

The summer is a great time to have more fun at work, relax, build relationships between team members, and focus on collaboration and team-building.

Team-building activities, contests, socials, and philanthropic events help employees build camaraderie and foster open communication.

Consider setting up a volunteering day in which employees spend the morning or afternoon, as a team, helping out at a local nonprofit organization.

Planting and tending to a garden throughout the summer is another fun (and delicious) activity for the workplace.

10. Mid-Year Meeting

Encourage management to have a mid-year meeting with each of their employees to talk about their progress towards their goals and their performance thus far into the year.

Employees should not be surprised by the feedback they receive or the results of their end of year performance review.

Take steps to change performance now with employees who are not performing up to standard. Conversely, with great performers, let them know they are doing a great job and encourage them to keep up the good work.

It may also be beneficial to hold a company-wide mid-year staff meeting to bring everyone up-to-date on the year’s progress, where things are thriving, where things are falling short, and to boost morale.

Paid Summer Holidays in Northeast Ohio Consistent with National Numbers

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With Memorial Day unofficially kicking off “summertime” in Northeast Ohio for 2013, vacations, time-off and holidays for the upcoming summer months are top of mind for employees and employers alike. While official paid-time-off and vacation policies have a different look and feel based on each employer’s organizational culture, paid holidays are more consistent across the board.

In 2012 the ERC Paid Holiday Survey found that on average, most employers were planning to offer between 9 and 10 paid holidays to their workforce in 2013, an average that has remained steady for a number of years. The range of total holidays offered also remains fairly consistent from past years with one employer reporting as few as 3 and one reporting as many as 16 days.

As the chart below demonstrates, the region is very much in line with the national standards in terms of which holidays employers choose to offer to their employees as paid holidays. All three major “summer” holidays are nearly universally part of this holiday time-off plan.


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ADA Compliance: How Much Is Enough?

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. But how much accommodation is enough? When does an accommodation become unreasonable? How reasonable is reasonable?

Reasonable Accommodations Defined

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), reasonable accommodations are any effective changes or adjustments to a job or work environment that allow a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job.
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The Smart Guide to Managing Smartphones in the Workplace

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Smartphones and mobile devices have become critical business communication tools in the workplace, making it essential for organizations to establish policies. This guide summarizes important things to consider in managing legal risks of smartphone use outside of work, providing smartphones to employees, creating smartphone policies, and allowing smartphone use at work.

Smartphone Use Outside of Work & FLSA Compliance

Increasingly, non-exempt/hourly employees may use smartphones and mobile devices after hours for work, which creates challenges for complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In fact, a 2013 employment lawsuit involving policemen in Chicago seeking overtime pay for "off-duty" time using their Blackberrys clearly illustrates this risk.
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Internet and Email Use in the Workplace

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Internet and email use has unquestionably become a necessary part of conducting business for the vast majority of organizations and their employees. According to the bi-annual ERC Policies & Benefits Survey, the percent of organizations with employees accessing the internet has remained fairly constant since 2008, at about 96% of non-union employees. The largest variation in this accessibility is found, unsurprisingly, among non-union maintenance and production workers, where access may vary according to specific job duties or departments at about 30% of organizations.

With such a large proportion of the workforce accessing the internet at their place of work, a heated debate over the pros and cons of internet and email use for personal purposes while at work has naturally evolved. Regardless of which side of the debate you fall on or what fits best into your organizational culture, clear policies around internet and email use are key- so let’s take a look at what organizations are doing in Northeast Ohio and across the country to effectively manage this 21st century workplace challenge.
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The Growing Problem of Work Stress & How to Address It

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It's not uncommon to encounter employees who are concerned about work stress these days. Work stress is compounding across the workforce. What's to blame? Research shows that most of the time it's the workplace itself. How can employers solve it? Changing the workplace.

Work Stress: A Growing Problem

Three 2013 national surveys show that work stress is a growing problem. A survey by Harris Interactive shows that 10% more workers are stressed in 2013 when compared to 2012, and that about 8 in 10 workers (of 1,019 surveyed) report being stressed by something at work. Only 17% of workers say that nothing stresses them out about their jobs.
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FMLA & Facebook: 6 New Lessons for Employers

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FMLA & Facebook: 6 New Lessons for Employers

Increasingly, Facebook and other social media postings are entering the courtroom as employers use them as evidence for taking adverse action against employees. Here are two cases regarding Facebook and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which serve as models for employers on this issue and offer six (6) important lessons.

Case Law Overview

Case #1

In Lineberry v. Detroit Medical Center, a federal district court ruled that an employer is entitled to fire an employee if they have an "honest belief" that he or she is abusing FMLA leave.

In the case, Carol Lineberry was employed by Detroit Medical Center as a Registered Nurse. She injured herself on-the-job when moving stretchers, was treated by her physician, and was told not to return to work. As a result, Lineberry received approved FMLA leave from her employer.

While on leave, Lineberry took a vacation to Mexico. The trip was approved by her physician who stated that the vacation would not conflict with her recovery nor would be as physically demanding as performing her job duties. During her vacation, however, Lineberry posted photos on Facebook suggesting that she misrepresented her need for FMLA. Her coworkers saw these postings and complained to Lineberry's supervisor.

When questioned, Lineberry informed her supervisor that she used a wheelchair during her travel, however during a subsequent disciplinary meeting, when reminded that airports have cameras, admitted to lying about using a wheelchair. As a result, Detroit Medical Center terminated Lineberry for dishonesty and falsifying information. Lineberry sued the hospital, alleging that it interfered with her FMLA rights and retaliated against her.

The court considered Lineberry's Facebook postings and dishonesty about the use of a wheelchair as facts which led Detroit Medical Center to reasonably believe that she had misused FMLA leave.

Case #2

A similar case, Jaszczyszyn v. Advantage Health Physician Network, involved Sara Jaszczyszyn, a customer service representative employed at Advantage Health Physician Network. Sara requested and obtained the appropriate medical certification for intermittent FMLA leave as a result of a car accident.

After receiving certification, Sara was absent for a continuous and open-ended length of time. While on FMLA leave, Sara posted pictures of herself at a festival, socializing and enjoying time with friends. Her coworkers viewed these pictures and complained to their boss. Sara was eventually terminated and filed a retaliation claim against Advantage Health Physician Network.

Sara's claim was dismissed by court, primarily because the organization was able to show that it had an honest belief that she was engaging in fraud and relied on facts in its decision to terminate her. Also, the organization conducted a complete and thorough investigation of the issue and inquired about the discrepancy between her claim and Facebook photos.

Employer Takeaways

These two cases have some important implications for employers in terms of managing social media postings and FMLA leave, specifically:

  1. Social media postings may be legitimate evidence, coupled with other relevant facts and evidence from many different sources, to aid in an investigation and substantiate that an employee is abusing or misusing FMLA leave.
  2. Coworker complaints or reports about behavior on Facebook and other social media websites can be taken seriously and may prompt further investigation.
  3. Employers are permitted to properly investigate an employee's FMLA leave if they suspect that an employee is violating the terms of their leave.
  4. It's important to follow your disciplinary policy and procedure. These organizations remained compliant and consistent with their disciplinary policies and procedures, and took steps to obtain the appropriate information prior to terminating the employees.
  5. Organizations should obtain the appropriate information about an employee's medical restrictions under FMLA before taking adverse action on an employee.
  6. Employers should focus on responding to complaints about Facebook and other social media behavior, rather than routinely "spying" on employees' Facebook profiles and social media behavior.

There will undoubtedly be much more case law to glean insights from as Facebook and other social media postings make their way into the courtroom. As these cases unfold, employers should use them as models and lessons for how to manage FMLA and other employment laws.

Please note that by providing you with research information that may be contained in this article, ERC is not providing a qualified legal opinion. As such, research information that ERC provides to its members should not be relied upon or considered a substitute for legal advice. The information that we provide is for general employer use and not necessarily for individual application.

Additional Resources

FMLA Administration & Services: ERC's Preferred Partner, CareWorks, provides ERC members with discounts on services related to day to day management, tracking, and overall administration of FMLA. CareWorks' approach is outcome-based, streamlined, and cost-effective, and ensures that claims are handled consistently and in compliance with state and federal laws. 

Employment Law Fundamentals: This seminar is designed to provide managers and supervisors with an overview of relevant employment law considerations and to support a proactive, positive work environment. Presented in an interactive style, this seminar can be customized to specific topic areas desired by the employer.

ERC Preferred Partner CareWorks provides Absence Management and FMLA Administration. ERC Members save 5% off per EE per month fee or a $500 discount off Initial Set-up Fee

Social Media Policies Guide Employees and Protect Companies

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Your employees use social media.

It’s a safe assumption to make—almost 70% of internet users use social media. And because your workers are using social media, it’s crucial that you supply a social media policy.

Why do social media policies matter?

Social media policies establish guidelines for how your employees use social media. These policies outline what is and is not appropriate for employees to post on social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and other related platforms.

Successful social media policies:

  • Offer guidance to employees.
  • Protect companies.
  • Are clear and straight-forward.
  • Are easy to understand easy to use.

An effective policy will inform employees of the boundaries of acceptable posting. It should encourage employees to avail themselves of social media, both independently and as an employee.
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