4 benefits of positive recognition to boost employee engagement

As both employers and employees are facing difficult times both in their work-life and home life due to the circumstances that the coronavirus pandemic has brought into the world, it's important that the negativity does not take place of the positivity needed. Positivity is powerful and can play a critical role in the workplace. Read this blog post for four benefits of positive recognition.


With all that’s happening, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the negativity in the world. Our emotional state is important at work. Positive emotions transform our minds and increase our ability to bounce back from hard times.

The power of positivity should not be overlooked, and recognition plays a critical role in generating these emotions in a modern workplace. Open acknowledgement and expressed appreciation for employees’ contributions can go a long way.

Improve employee retention
The first benefit of positive employee recognition is improving employee retention. In fact, according to industry analyst Josh Bersin, companies that build a recognition-rich culture actually have a 31% lower voluntary turnover rate.

Gallup research on recognition also shows that employees who don’t feel recognized at work are twice as likely to quit within a year. In today’s current environment where many organizations are driving more productivity with fewer employees, leaders need to ensure that they’re not forgetting to focus on employee retention. You’d be hard-pressed to find an organization that isn’t concerned about retaining top talent right now; top performers will find new opportunities even when they’re hesitant to move.

Creating a workplace where people want to stay isn’t just beneficial for employees; it’s also good for the bottom line. Turnover cost can be difficult to compute, but I challenge you to consider the costs of recruiting, onboarding, training, and the lost institutional knowledge that comes with poor retention.

Increase employee engagement
The second benefit that is particularly important right now is increased employee engagement. Our own research showed that 84% of highly engaged employees were recognized the last time they went above and beyond at work compared with only 25% of actively disengaged employees. We also found that while 71% of highly engaged organizations recognize employees for a job well done, only 41% of less-engaged organizations did so.

Positive recognition is powerful and has a clear tie to engagement. Yet, many organizations still do not adequately measure engagement. When was the last time you measured engagement with your own team? How much opportunity is there to improve through recognition?

Boost employee morale
The third benefit of positive recognition is boosted morale. I already mentioned the transformative effect of positivity, but the simple act of thanking people can make a tremendous difference. When employees were asked about their experience at work,70% said that motivation and morale would improve “massively”with managers saying thank you more.

How did you feel last time you were recognized?

Positivity has an important impact on employees, but it also pays literal dividends to companies that have figured out how to encourage it. Research from author Shawn Achor shows that happiness raises sales by 37% and productivity by 31%. Consider ways you can encourage your team to recognize each other more often.

Leverage peer recognition
It turns out that peer recognition massively outperforms top-down recognition. Peer recognition occurs when individuals give and receive recognition from their peers, managers, and direct reports.

Being recognized by colleagues is incredibly powerful for employees, especially when it’s done publicly. Peer recognition is 36% more likely to have a positive impact on financial results than manager-only recognition, according to SHRM. Managers can’t see every positive action that occurs, so think about how to encourage everyone to participate in recognition of great work across the entire organization.

SOURCE: Crawford-Marks, R. (14 September 2020) "4 benefits of positive recognition to boost employee engagement" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/4-benefits-of-positive-recognition-to-boost-employee-engagement


Strategies for maintaining employee trust during executive turnovers

While being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to keep employee trust and confidence intact. As there may be turnovers and layoffs happening with executives, it's key to communicate with employees that their employers are listening. Read this blog post to learn more.


As businesses struggle with the obstacles of maintaining a new workplace normal in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, ambiguity and unpredictability can threaten employee trust and confidence.

Sweeping layoffs across all industries are putting more pressure on that delicate relationship between employers and employees. Employers increasingly must reassure employees about their job security and the stability of the company, and how they respond will have long-term ripple effects on loyalty and potential turnover, experts say.

“A CEO’s exit or a round of layoffs can have a detrimental effect on employee retention and well-being if not addressed properly,” says Laura Hamill, chief science officer and chief people officer at Limeade, an employee experience company. “It’s important to show employees as soon as possible that you are listening, that you understand their concerns, and that you are working to address them.”

Just before the virus took root in the U.S., former Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger unexpectedly stepped down at the end of February. Around the same time, Expedia laid off 12% of its global workforce, which came on the heels of Wayfair’s January layoffs. Online travel agency Booking announced in early April that CEO Glenn Fogel has tested positive for coronavirus but still plans to continue with his responsibilities.

These major changes can create a lot of uncertainty within an organization, leaving HR and senior leadership in charge of keeping the business on track and reducing employee turnover.

“CEO shake ups [and layoffs] can create two disharmonies,” says Dania Shaheen, vice president of people operations at Kazoo, an employee experience platform. “There is always a lot of noise created with things like this, gossip about why someone stepped down. This tends to be very distracting from what the business is actually doing.”

The often abrupt departure of a CEO can also lead to a shift in strategy, Shaheen says. While a CEO’s vision for a company can be a rallying cry within the organization when that changes, it can upset the company culture. But there are steps employers can take to get out ahead of this.

In the case of Disney, Iger has remained on board to insure the strategy he has established remains in place. This can help ensure a smoother transition of power.

“The more transparent [a company is] and the more open they are internally about what’s going on is going to be key,” Shaheen says.

Frequent and open communication is another necessity for employers during times of business tumult, Hamill says. By planning for the worst-case scenario and having a clear communication policy, organizations can address employee concerns, collect feedback, gauge sentiments, and implement change quickly. Employers shouldn’t wait until they have all of the answers buttoned up.

“When a major change occurs, organizations need to put employees first,” Hamill says. “Be transparent with employees and offer two-way communication – ensure that people feel supported. This needs to come from all angles — from leaders, managers, and internal teams like human resources.”

An organization’s culture is only as strong as the example being set by its senior leadership. In response to mass layoffs and financial losses, many CEOs and other executives have decided to take pay cuts or forego their salaries. New Disney CEO Bob Chapek will take a 50% pay cut, while Iger — who remains with the company as executive chairman — will forgo his entire salary.

Dick's Sporting Goods announced that CEO Ed Stack and President Lauren Hobart will forgo their salaries and Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson will not take home any salary for the rest of the year. The rest of the executive team will take a 50% pay cut.

When organizations set an example that you’re focused on protecting your employees, it will instill trust and create a more loyal workforce.

“Culture is absolutely critical for growth and success and you want to make sure that the culture stays steady,” Shaheen says. “You have to make sure you’re continuing to build a very purpose driven culture.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (06 April 2020) "Strategies for maintaining employee trust during executive turnovers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/strategies-for-maintaining-employee-trust-during-executive-turnovers


3 ways to support workplace well-being during COVID-19

The coronavirus has created many struggles for employees to deal with, and some of the struggles will continue even after measures become lifted. Read this blog post to learn more.


Personal and professional worlds are colliding in ways that have never been seen before, leading employees and employers to navigate new challenges in uncharted waters. As employees continue to struggle with balancing work and personal obligations at home, they are dealing with emotional, physical and financial consequences from the pandemic. Some of these struggles will remain even after social distancing measures are lifted and the economy stabilizes, and they could have a lasting impact on people’s overall wellness.

While many companies are rightfully focused on the bottom line and maintaining business operations throughout the pandemic, it is equally important that they take steps to ensure their employees are supported throughout this tumultuous time. Employee well-being is directly tied to business health, which is why it is so important for organizations to optimize their benefits and deliver the right health and wellness offerings for their workers.

 Reassess employee benefit programs

The pandemic is raising awareness that total wellbeing, not just physical health, is a key component to success for businesses and the economy. Employees that are facing at home pressures or feeling financially insecure may be less productive or distracted during the workday, which can impact company success. COVID-19 has hit companies hard. Many are looking for places to trim costs, but benefits and wellbeing programs are not an area they can afford to cut.

Diabetes, depression, mental health and financial stress are on the rise with the majority of employees dealing with unprecedented challenges like childcare, caring for family members who are sick or otherwise impacted by COVID-19 and general anxiety about their future. Cutting benefits programs now may save a few thousand dollars today only to spend tens of thousands of dollars on healthcare costs tomorrow.

Employers who understand the value of employee benefits programs will fare much better than those that guess which programs will be effective. This is an ideal time for businesses to re-assess their current well-being offerings to ensure the programs they are investing in align with the needs of their workforce. It’s also essential that employers make sure employees are aware of the wellness offerings available to them and how to use them. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to increase their communications to employees around wellbeing programs that can help provide physical, mental and emotional support through the pandemic and beyond.

Evaluate current and future employee needs

Not all people are the same, which is why one-size-fits-all programs fail. A successful well-being program should be personalized to best meet employees’ current and future needs. This can be difficult, especially when considering environmental and lifestyle factors, but with the right partner it can be done effectively. Many large employers are working with a partner that leverages social determinants of health data such as household composition, purchasing habits, education and income level and more, to identify individual employee needs.

Employers should also evaluate new types of resources to accommodate the “new normal”. Case in point: we have seen double digit increase in engagement with financial wellbeing and EAP resources. Telehealth and remote condition management programs are on the rise as well as stress management and resilience programs. For example, “Linda” has diabetes, so she needs to know the COVID-19 risks associated with her condition. She may also need extra support to ensure she is keeping up with her healthy eating and exercise regimen during quarantine. Connecting her with a remote diabetes program like Livongo or Virta Health can help Linda feel valued and stay on track. Or, “Tom” has been having severe back pain and his doctor recommends he have surgery to correct a spine-related issue. But not all health systems are offering elective surgeries right now, so he is better off with a telehealth pain management program like Telespine or Hinge Health, Physera and Simple Therapy.

This information allows employers to personalize the health and wellness plans they offer to employees and provide them with the right tools to make their healthcare journeys easier as they navigate this new way of life. Employers will also see the benefits in healthier, happier employers, increased productivity and potentially lower long-term healthcare costs.

Have a solid strategy for returning to work

COVID-19 return to work programs will require an increase in spending for heightened safety measures, such as enhanced cleaning and disinfection practices, employee daily temperature checks (which are now required by some states) and developing and implementing policies and procedures that address preventing, monitoring for and responding to an emergence or resurgence of COVID-19 in the workplace.

As businesses begin reopening workspaces, it is critical for leaders to have a solid employee engagement plan in place to keep workers safe. Be sure to clearly and effectively communicate new safety protocols to employees, so they can feel safe going to work as offices reopen. Invite employees to discuss any concerns they may have in an open forum or via a survey and involve them in problem-solving. Listen to their needs both personally and professionally as our lives will be complicated for months, and possibly years to come. It sounds cliché to say that people are companies most valuable assets. However, it could not be more true right now. It’s time for businesses to make employees’ wellbeing a priority and step up to the challenge of evolving their programming to meet current and future needs. Both the business and its employees will benefit.

SOURCE: Hinkle, C. (19 August 2020) "3 ways to support workplace well-being during COVID-19" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/3-ways-to-support-workplace-well-being-during-covid-19


Bad managers are costing employers their workforce

Although poor management can create a difficult work environment, there ways that organizations can create a more effective manager as well as a more engaged and productive workforce. Read this blog post to learn more.


Most employees have had an encounter with someone they would describe as a “bad boss,” a manager who makes things more difficult through bullying and incompetence. These ineffective leaders can cause employees significant stress on top of the pressures they are already facing.

At some point in their careers one in two employees has left a job to get away from a toxic manager, according to a Gallup study. Poor managers aren’t just an issue for employees; a bad boss can have a powerful impact on company cost. Indeed, companies lose about $7.29 per day for each poorly communicating manager in their organization, according to Vital Learning, a management and leadership training program provider.

“Managers have a profound impact on the well-being of employees,” says Laura Hamill, chief people officer at Limeade, an employee engagement company. “That just makes sense — how could you feel good and have a sense of purpose if your manager works against you? We know that our feelings about work can play a huge role in our overall quality of life — it can be a main source of stress or something that brings purpose to our lives.”

A good manager can be identified by three qualities, says Alexander Alonso, chief knowledge officer at the Society for Human Resource Management. First, they are someone who is in constant contact with employees, providing engaging, open and transparent communication. Second, a good manager is focused on performance management, meaning that supervisors need to prioritize evaluating each employee's personal growth, and their role within the team, so there is consistent productivity.

“The third thing is not making a mess and not falling into a hornet's nest of a mess associated with people management,” Alonso says. “There are some basic things that are just absolutely critical. Don't be the person who tells an inappropriate joke or who tells somebody that you don't like them.”

A team leader with all of these qualities can have a significantly positive impact on employee mental health and well-being.

A good manager can empower, challenge, educate, enable employees to feel part of a team, and find opportunities for professional and personal development, says Patricia Elias the chief legal and people officer at ServiceSource, an outsourced go-to-market services provider that delivers digital sales, customer success and renewal solutions to B2B enterprises.

“Of course, a bad manager does the opposite — at best, creating a disengaged team, and at worst, destroying confidence and potential,” Elias says.

While a poor manager can create a difficult work environment for employees, there are steps organizations can take to create a more effective manager and a more engaged and productive workforce.

There are five skills employees say people managers could improve to create a more positive work environment, according to the SHRM survey: communicating effectively (41%), developing and training the team (38%), managing time and delegating (37%), cultivating a positive and inclusive team culture (35%) and managing team performance (35%).

“There is no relationship in the workplace more powerful than the one between people managers and employees," says SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor. "As working Americans challenge organizations to manage and lead differently, those that don't will find themselves left behind. By skilling up managers, HR can spend more time strategizing, cultivating culture and delivering bottom line results.”

Bad managers tend not to recognize that quality in themselves and employees typically don’t report these incompetencies to upper management out of fear of retaliation or of losing their jobs. So it is up to HR to identify and fix these issues.

“Where HR really comes in is their one-on-one interactions with the managers,” Alonso says. “Bad managers tend not to be self reflective, and one of the things that stands out is, they will not hear the things that they say. And HR plays an important role in sort of parroting back what it is that they need to do.”

Another tactic HR can utilize to deal with this issue is interviewing the staff beyond the onboarding and exiting processes, Alonso says.

About 84% of American workers say poorly trained people managers create a lot of unnecessary work and stress, according to the SHRM survey. A further 57% of American workers say managers in their workplace could benefit from training on how to be a better people manager. Half of those surveyed feel their own performance would improve if their direct supervisor received additional training in people management.

“Unfortunately, many of us have had bad managers and have learned how we don’t want to manage others — so we’ve rejected those approaches and embraced a more human management style,” Limeade’s Hamill says. “But it’s hard to be effective without also having positive manager role models and the psychological safety in our organizations to stand up to traditional command-and-control models.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (20 August 2020) "Bad managers are costing employers their workforce" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/bad-managers-are-costing-employers-their-workforce


Employees say ‘feeling stressed’ is top reason for lying about sick days

Many employees use their sick days for their physical and mental health when they feel as if they won't be at their peak to perform their job. With that being said, employees may also use sick days when they feel stressed. Read this blog post to learn more.


A third of employees have lied to their employer about their reasons for taking a sick day, with the most common reason being stress, according to a new report by international health benefits provider Aetna International.

As the world’s attention turns to the mental health impact of COVID-19, these confessions suggest that the stigma remains in workplaces.

“If employees have physical or mental health problems, then they're not going to be at their peak to be able to do their job,” says Dr. Hemal Desai, global medical director at Aetna International. “When people lie to take a day off, it really hides the problem, and when they are at work, presenteeism is a really big issue.”

The Employee Perceptions of Mental and Physical Health in the Workplace report explores the views of employees in regards to taking sick days, discussing health issues at work and the impact a mental health diagnosis can play in reducing their experiences of stigma.

Out of the employees surveyed in the U.K., the U.S., Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, those in the U.S. are the most likely to lie to their employer about their reason for taking a sick day. While “wanting a day off” was the second most frequently cited reason for lying, the most common reasons overall related to mental and emotional health, ranging from feeling stressed or down to not thinking their boss would understand.

In the U.S., about 40% of people reported a mental health diagnosis, but less than half of adults receive treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The fear of stigma around these mental health challenges is an issue employees must address, Dr. Desai says.

“Employees don't feel that taking sick leave for mental health problems is something that will either be accepted or considered as good practice by their employers,” Dr. Desai says. “It’s important employers address this hidden problem, because it will ultimately drive better productivity and wellbeing of their workforce.”

Creating a culture of acceptance, especially from a company’s leadership team, is a first step employers can take to easing the stigma of speaking up.

“Employers can do a lot to try and foster more transparency and reduce stigma. Making that parity between mental and physical health will create much more transparency and build trust within an organization, especially if there’s an open culture, particularly by senior leaders, where you can talk about mental health issues,” he says.

Employers also need to ensure employees are aware of and are using mental health resources and benefits, Dr. Desai says. A large majority of companies offer mental health benefits through an EAP, but utilization rates for these services are typically below 10%, according to SHRM. Boosting usage is key to supporting employee wellbeing.

“Employers need to be working with health and benefits providers, because the providers will have a lot of support tools that can help employees,” he says. “Making sure that that support is there from the employers is really key, so that you can drive a really happy and healthy workforce that can be productive, which is particularly important during this COVID-19 situation.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (11 June 2020) "Employees say ‘feeling stressed’ is top reason for lying about sick days" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employees-say-feeling-stressed-is-top-reason-for-lying-about-sick-days


Strategies for making mental healthcare core to your organization

Mental health in the workplace has been a topic of discussion for a continuous-time, but due to the coronavirus and many rules and regulations beginning to rise, there has been a rise in mental health numbers these past few months. Read this blog post to learn more.


American workers’ mental health improved last month after hitting a three-year low, but overall remains poor, as people struggle with the physical, psychological and financial stressors of the pandemic.

According to HR technology company Morneau Shepell’s May Mental Health Index, which surveyed 5,000 U.S. employees, the overall mental health score for May was -6, up slightly from April’s score of -8, the lowest in the last three years. However, with negative scores indicating worse mental health, the results show that American sentiment remains low.

The rise in May is likely due to state decisions to begin a phased reopening of non-essential retail businesses and restaurants, as well as employers allowing workers to return to the physical workplace, says Paula Allen, the senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation at Morneau Shepell.

“People are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “But this is for sure not going to be linear. The possibility of a second wave of COVID is quite high.”

The coronavirus and its economic impact is not the only uncertainty that employees are facing. Protests demanding racial equality and justice for the victims of police brutality have erupted across the nation in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Thirty-percent of Americans experienced symptoms of anxiety last week, according to data from the CDC.

“It’s kind of like having the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement all at the same time,” Allen says. “It would be unusual if that doesn’t impact people’s mental health and well-being because you really are taking away a sense of predictability, a sense of certainty, a sense of safety, with all of these things happening at the same time.”

The coronavirus crisis has brought to light the necessity of promoting better mental health in the workplace. Seventy-eight percent of companies offer an EAP with mental health resources, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Ninety-three percent of companies have encouraged employees to take advantage of EAP resources like telehealth and virtual mental health programs in response to the pandemic, a recent Business Group on Health survey found. Morneau Shepell recommends that employers make mental health more visible in the organization and continue to provide support for employees.

“It works very well when an organization doesn’t look at mental health as a separate program or a separate project that they have a coordinator working on. It’s really built into their business culture as something that they see as valuable and they look for opportunities in every single way to help their employees,” Allen says.

With organizations feeling the effects of the economic downturn, 34% of companies in North America are considering or have implemented pay cuts, according to research from Korn Ferry.

The Morneau Shepell research shows, however, that this can actually be more detrimental to morale: Employees whose salaries were cut had lower mental health scores on the Mental Health Index than those who lost their jobs.

Those who experience a salary cut are put in “a position of limbo” as opposed to having “a clean break” from an employer, Allen says. While an organization may look at reducing an employee’s salary as a lesser evil when compared to terminating them outright, this can cause more anxiety than actually letting the employee go.

“The main thing is we’ve put people in a position of uncertainty, and that increases anxiety, ” she says. “It’s an important thing for organizations to pay attention to because often they will feel that it is a benevolent thing not to terminate someone but to keep them in a way that they can afford, which is to reduce salary. But the other side of the coin is recognizing that this does have a very real impact on people, and anything that those organizations can do to continue to make those people feel connected, to continue to make them feel valued and recognized, make sure that there’s outreach to them by managers, anything to balance the situation is what we would recommend.”

To improve mental health in the workplace, leaders should talk about the importance of good mental health and make employees aware of support services offered, such as an employee assistance program, Allen says.

“Make mental health a very visible thing in the organization. Communication from senior leadership that speaks about the importance of mental health, that the organization cares about the employees’ mental health, and makes sure that people are aware of services that the organization might sponsor,” she says. “That strong voice is important to build awareness and to reduce stigma.”

Organizations must also train their managers on how to handle mental health issues in the workplace. Sometimes managers will notice a change in an employee’s behavior and be at a loss as to how to deal with it, Allen says.

“They might ignore it, they might let it get worse, they might try to step in and become a counselor when they’re not a counselor,” she says. “But if a manager handles that situation well, often it’s a good trigger point for the employee to get the kind of help that they need.”

SOURCE: Del Rowe, S. (12 June 2020) "Strategies for making mental healthcare core to your organization" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/strategies-for-making-mental-healthcare-core-to-your-organization


How to Maintain a Professional Presence on the Phone


If you are job hunting, start thinking about how you will handle employers' responses to your resume. While some recruiters will e-mail you, others may call. All too often, this happens when you're sitting down to dinner, the dogs are yapping, the kids are yelling or you're settling into a favorite Netflix binge. Don't get caught off guard. There's an easy way to know that a call is of a professional nature before you pick up the phone.

Protect Your Image

You can manage calls that come at awkward times by adding a phone number to your smartphone or landline. Many cell and landline companies offer multiple lines on a phone, each with a distinctive ringtone. With a second line, you can have a dedicated and confidential number with a voice mail message tailored to the professional image you wish to present to the world, and you can use this number exclusively for your job search and career management activities. If this line rings at an inconvenient time, you'll know to get yourself into a space where you can switch to your "professional voice" and talk without distraction, or to return the call in a few minutes when the mayhem at home is under control. Use this number on your resume, in your LinkedIn profile and for all other business communications: This can enhance your professional image, and it also acts as a buffer between your professional and personal life.

 Put Your Extra Line to Work

Unemployment due to the pandemic has hit 30 million workers, or about one-quarter of the U.S. labor force. Record unemployment means that getting back into the workforce will require upgrading your job search and sharpening your interview skills.

In such a disrupted world, it would also be a good idea to think about a side gig that might leverage some of your professional skills. An additional revenue stream never hurts, particularly in times like these, and a side gig could even lead to full-time employment. Plus, every nickel you bring in can help ease the financial strain.

Just as it can help with your job search, your extra phone line can help you field and make calls related to your side gig. When that distinctive ringtone sounds, you'll know the call is about money, whether it's for a new job or a potential customer. Either way, you're alerted that the call requires you to answer in your professional voice.

It can take time for that side gig to start making you real money. Not all ideas take off like a rocket, but you'll learn more from your mistakes than your successes. Meanwhile, your efforts may bring in a little extra cash and keep your spirirts up.

If you've always had a dream for a side gig and you've been laid off, now is a great time to put your dream into action. If you need some inspiration, check out these ideas:

Make sure to set up a differentiated LinkedIn profile for your new business to act as a website for your side gig. Think of it as a resume written around your business's goals. With a phone number and a starter website, you have the two foundational basics for a 21st century global business.

SOURCE: Yate, M. (10 August 2020) "How to Maintain a Professional Presence on the Phone" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/career-advice/pages/how-to-maintain-a-professional-presence-on-the-phone.aspx


What to Do When Scared Workers Don’t Report to Work Due to COVID-19

Throughout the globe, many are terrified of contracting the communicable disease, the coronavirus. With this being said, many essential workers are refusing to go to work with that fear in their minds. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Some essential workers are refusing to come to work out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. Their employers must weigh the employees' legal rights and understandable health concerns with the organizations' business needs. It can be a tough balancing act.

"A good first step for an employer to respond to an essential worker who's expressing fears of returning to work is to actively listen to the employee and have a conversation," said Brian McGinnis, an attorney with Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia. "What are their specific concerns? Are they reasonable?"

McGinnis said that employers should consider whether it already has addressed those concerns or if additional steps are needed. Often, having a conversation with the employee "will avoid an unneeded escalation," he said.

Employees' Legal Rights

What if that doesn't work? Tread cautiously, as employees have many legal protections.

An employer usually can discipline workers for violating its attendance policy. But there are exceptions to that rule, noted Robin Samuel, an attorney with Baker McKenzie in Los Angeles. Putting hesitant employees on leave may be a better choice than firing them.

Christine Snyder, an attorney with Tucker Ellis in Cleveland, cautioned, "If an employer permits employees to use vacation or PTO [paid time off] for leave, it may soon find itself without a workforce sufficient to maintain operations. Therefore, an employer may want to rely upon the terms of its existing time-off policy, which typically requires approval to use vacation or PTO, to require that leave for this reason be unpaid."

OSH Act

Employees can refuse to work if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger, according to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. They must have a reasonable belief that there is a threat of death or serious physical harm likely to occur immediately or within a short period for this protection to apply.

Samuel explained that an employee can refuse to come to work if:

  • The employee has a specific fear of infection that is based on fact—not just a generalized fear of contracting COVID-19 infection in the workplace.
  • The employer cannot address the employee's specific fear in a manner designed to ensure a safe working environment.

NLRA

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) grants employees at unionized and nonunionized employers the right to join together to engage in protected concerted activity. Employees who assert such rights, including by joining together to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, are generally protected from discipline, Samuel noted.

"That said, the refusal must be reasonable and based on a good-faith belief that working conditions are unsafe," said Bret Cohen, an attorney with Nelson Mullins in Boston.

ADA

Employers should accommodate employees who request altered worksite arrangements, remote work or time off from work due to underlying medical conditions that may put them at greater risk from COVID-19, Samuel said.

The EEOC's guidance on COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) notes that accommodations may include changes to the work environment to reduce contact with others, such as using Plexiglas separators or other barriers between workstations.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, unlike the ADA, does not have a reasonable-accommodation requirement, pointed out Isaac Mamaysky, an attorney with Potomac Law Group in New York City. Nonetheless, he "would encourage employers to be flexible in response to leave requests from vulnerable employees," such as older essential workers, as the right thing to do and to bolster employee relations.

FFCRA

If a health care provider advises an employee to self-quarantine because the employee is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the employee may be eligible for paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), Cohen noted. The FFCRA applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and the quarantine must prevent the employee from working or teleworking.

FFCRA regulations permit employers to require documentation for paid sick leave, noted John Hargrove, an attorney with Bradley in Birmingham, Ala.

Employers may relax documentation requirements due to the difficulty some employees could have obtaining access to medical providers during the pandemic and to encourage ill employees to stay away from work, said Pankit Doshi, an attorney with McDermott Will & Emery in San Francisco.

Hazard Pay

Although not currently mandated by federal law, hazard pay—extra pay for doing dangerous work—might be appropriate for an employer to offer to essential workers, McGinnis said.

If hazard pay is offered, similarly situated employees should be treated the same, he said. Otherwise, the employer risks facing a discrimination claim.

Andrew Turnbull, an attorney with Morrison & Foerster in McLean, Va., noted that companies with multistate operations may have legitimate reasons for offering hazard pay to employees working at locations with a high risk of exposure and not where the risk is minimal.

Hazard pay might be a good choice for public-facing jobs, where employees may not be able to observe social distancing, said Román Hernández, an attorney with Troutman Sanders in Portland, Ore.

Some localities require hazard pay in some circumstances, Doshi noted. These localities include Augusta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., and Kanawha County, W.Va.

Inform and Protect Workers

Lindsay Ryan, an attorney with Polsinelli in Los Angeles, said that employers should keep employees apprised of all measures the employer is taking to maintain a safe workplace, consistent with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and local health authorities.

If employers have the means to do so, they should screen employees each day by taking their temperatures and send workers who have fevers home, Snyder said. Alternatively, employers can require employees to take their own temperatures before reporting to work, she added.

"Finally, in light of recent CDC guidance regarding the use of cloth masks to prevent infection, employers should allow employees to wear masks in the workplace and consider providing employees with cloth masks if they are able to acquire them," she said.

SOURCE: Smith, A. (20 April 2020) "What to Do When Scared Workers Don’t Report to Work Due to COVID-19" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/coronavirus-when-scared-workers-do-not-report-to-work.aspx

When Should Managers Call HR?

When one thinks of contacting the HR department, it's often associated with filing a complaint or discussing a workplace issue that is in need of a resolution. There are often more reasons as to why the HR department needs to be contacted. Read this blog post to learn more.


Employers expect supervisors to resolve some issues on their own and to report other things to human resources—or possibly to in-house counsel—rather than to resolve them independently.

But do you know which is which? For example, you probably know that you should report to HR all complaints of unlawful discrimination, harassment or retaliation, even if:

  • The employee requests that the complaint be kept confidential.
  • The employee implores the supervisor not to consult with HR.
  • The complaint appears to lack merit.

But in other instances, the line is less clear. For example, if an employee is frequently late, it's your job to resolve the issue by confronting the employee about his lateness and handling it according to established company policies. But what happens if the chronically tardy employee responds by saying that he has been late because of chemotherapy appointments? That's the kind of information you need to report to HR so a determination can be made about whether a work accommodation is appropriate.

Here are some other clarifications of when to report in suspect categories:

WAGE COMPLAINTS

An employee complaint about not being paid as much as he deserves usually is an employee relations issue, not a legal issue. But when an employee complains that the employer has failed to pay him for time worked or has made improper deductions from his pay, savvy supervisors will see legal red flags. For nonexempt employees, improper deductions may include things like not paying for short breaks. For exempt employees, improper deductions may include deductions inconsistent with the salary basis requirement of the overtime regulations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), such as not paying an exempt employee for a holiday when the employer is closed.

By immediately reporting a wage complaint to HR, you let the organization determine whether the complaint has merit. If no money is owed or no improper deductions made, HR can correct—or at least try to correct—the employee's misunderstanding. On the other hand, if there was a mistake, HR can correct it before the employee files a complaint with an administrative agency or court. This should go a long way toward minimizing the employer's exposure to liquidated damages for willful violations of the FLSA, and it also may mitigate an employer's liability under state wage and hour laws, whose requirements and penalties are often more stringent than federal law.

Remember, you must report even minor wage claims. A single employee's small wage loss may signal a systemic problem affecting other employees—in other words, a class action waiting to be born.

ALLEGATIONS OF WRONGDOING BY OTHERS

More and more employees are "blowing the whistle" on alleged wrongs that may not directly affect their terms and conditions of employment—alleged corporate fraud, for example. Managers should report immediately complaints of criminal or fraudulent activity, or violations of statutes such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. You also should report alleged violations of core employer policies that may have material legal and business consequences, such as conflict of interest policies, business ethics standards or codes of conduct.

DISCLOSURE OF MEDICAL INFORMATION

Any disclosure of a serious health condition or a physical or mental impairment by a job applicant or employee should be reported to HR—even if the applicant or employee doesn't specifically seek an accommodation. During interviews, you may ask applicants whether they can perform the essential functions of the job for which they have applied—but you may not pursue any medical inquires before making a conditional offer of employment. Likewise, where a current employee's performance or behavior is below standard, managers need to focus on the deficiencies—and not inquire or speculate as to any suspected medical reason that may underlie them.

But what if an applicant says that he cannot perform a particular function because of clinical depression, or an employee acknowledges her performance deficiencies but says that lethargy resulting from her heart condition has caused them? In these cases, even though there was no direct request, the disclosure puts the employer on notice that the applicant or employee may need an accommodation. Accordingly, the employer—that is, HR and not you—may need to begin the interactive process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation is needed.

ACCOMMODATION OR LEAVE REQUESTS

An applicant or employee need not use the legal words "Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation" or "Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)" to trigger statutory rights. The key is whether a reasonable supervisor would recognize the individual's communication as a request for an accommodation or a leave of absence. With regard to accommodations, for example, you should report requests for help, support, job changes, etc. if the employee—contemporaneously or previously—has disclosed the existence of a serious health condition or impairment.

As for leave, report requests for "time off" for medical or other potential FMLA situations, even if the employee does not utter "FMLA." Even if the employee clearly is not eligible for FMLA leave, you need to report a request for time off because a leave could be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA regardless of FMLA eligibility.

EVIDENCE OF UNION ACTIVITY

If 30 percent of eligible employees in an appropriate bargaining unit sign union authorization cards, the union can petition the National Labor Relations Board for an election. Even if an employer wins the election, the victory can be very costly. The key to avoiding elections is early detection of and rapid response to union activity. But employers often begin their counteroffensive only after the union has obtained the 30 percent showing of interest. Sometimes, this is because supervisors fail to report to HR what they may see as "isolated" signs of union support. A bundle of isolated, minor occurrences may amount to evidence of a serious union campaign.

Direct signs of union activity would include an employee handing out a union flier in the parking lot or wearing a pro-union T-shirt. Indirect warning signs would include unusual off-site gatherings of employees—at barbecues, bowling alleys and bars. You also need to be aware of the restrictions on your behavior under the National Labor Relations Act. Supervisors cannot:

  • Spy on employees to see who may be engaging in union activity.
  • Promise employees benefits for refraining from union activity.
  • Interrogate employees as to whether they or others are engaging in union activity.
  • Threaten or take adverse action against employees for engaging in union activity.

While you cannot spy, you can report what you see in plain view. And while you cannot interrogate employees about their union sympathies, you can report what is volunteered or what you inadvertently overhear.

GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS

Inform HR immediately if you receive any communication from a government agency, official or entity, including everything ranging from a charge of discrimination filed with the EEOC or other agency to an on-site visit from a U.S. Department of Labor investigator asking to review certain files in connection with alleged overtime pay violations of the FLSA. It's not your duty to decide whether and to what degree to cooperate. Sometimes, government officials ask for more than they are entitled to have. And even where they have a legal right to the requested information, the manner in which the employer communicates can determine the legal outcome and damages that may flow from it. If an official contacts you by phone, be polite and say, "Our organization/company will cooperate with your request; however, I do not have the authority to respond. Let me give you the name and telephone number of the HR professional with whom you should speak. I also am going to contact HR right now."

LAWYER COMMUNICATIONS

Report immediately—and don't respond—to any subpoenas or letters from lawyers who do not represent the employer. In case of "friendly calls" from lawyers who are "just curious" about a few things, don't provide any information. There is no duty to cooperate with an attorney on a fishing expedition. Instead, say something like this: "I do not have authority to talk with you. Please give me your name and number and I will forward them to HR."

SIGNS OF WORKPLACE VIOLENCE.

Not all workplace violence is preventable. But sometimes there are warning signs that supervisors need to report to HR and/or security immediately, including:

  • Discussions of or particular fascination with perpetrators or victims of violence.
  • Talk of weapons that seems abnormal in frequency or content.
  • Statements about hearing voices or receiving signals.
  • Threats of suicide.

SOURCE: Segal, J. (21 July 2020) "When Should Managers Call HR?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/when-should-managers-call-hr.aspx


Facial Analysis Technology in the Workplace Brings Risks

Technology is a forever-changing topic and a forever-advancing field. Most recently, facial recognition technology has been a topic of discussion when talking about technology. Read this blog post to learn more.


Facial recognition technology has been under the microscope as organizations and lawmakers re-evaluate its use in the wake of global protests about racial injustice. Technology giants Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all recently announced that they would stop selling facial recognition technology to police departments in the United States, citing the technology's potential for violating human rights and concerns about racial profiling.

Recent research has shined a light on some inherent dangers of using the technology. One study by MIT and Stanford University found that three commercially released facial analysis technologies showed skin-type and gender biases. The study found that the technology performed better for men and lighter-skinned people and worse for darker-skinned women.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as well as other human rights groups and privacy advocates also have raised concerns about privacy and surveillance issues tied to use of the technology.

Evaluating Job Candidates

Some vendors in the human resources industry have long used facial analysis technology to help evaluate video interviews with job candidates. These artificial intelligence (AI) tools scan facial expressions and movements, word choice, and vocal tone to generate data that help recruiters make hiring decisions. Vendors say the tools can help reduce hiring costs and improve efficiencies by speeding the screening and recruiting of new hires.

But experts say that if these facial analysis algorithms aren't trained on large or diverse-enough datasets, they're prone to consistently identify some applicants—such as white men—as more employable than others. For example, the MIT and Stanford study found that one major U.S. technology company claimed an accuracy rate of more than 97 percent for a facial recognition algorithm it designed. Yet the dataset it was trained on was more than 77 percent male and more than 83 percent white.

Josh Bersin, a global HR industry analyst and dean of the Josh Bersin Academy in Oakland, Calif., said some HR vendors have embedded facial analysis technology into their video-interviewing tools with the goal of identifying job candidates' demonstrated stress, misrepresentations and even mood.

"These vendors have tried very hard to validate unbiased analysis, but they are taking risks by doing so," Bersin said. "The best solution is to use these tools very carefully and make sure you perform tests across very large samples before you trust these systems."

The use of facial analysis technology to evaluate job candidates is "very problematic," said Frida Polli, founder and CEO of the New York-based assessment company Pymetrics. "The science of the technology in terms of what it really says about someone is extremely new and not well-validated, and certainly not well-validated for HR uses," she said.

Results should be viewed with a skeptical eye if the technology is used for any assessment of job candidates' character or behavior, said Elaine Orler, CEO of the Talent Function, a talent acquisition consulting firm in San Diego. "The technology solutions aren't accurate in this area, and they leave too much to chance in terms of creating false positives or negatives," she explained. "To understand micro-expressions, for example, would require a deeper understanding of that one person's behaviors and not just a crowdsourced base line of everyone's expected expressions."

Some experts say facial recognition technology isn't without value in the workplace, especially in the age of COVID-19. Orler said using the technology as a biometric tool to grant access to parts of a building or as a touchless replacement for time clocks can be a good solution to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

"Badges and other products that hold credentials often need to touch products that have been touched by others, and fingerprint scanners also have such dangers," she said.

Legal and Privacy Concerns

The use of facial recognition technology is now governed by laws in a growing number of states. Kwabena Appenteng, an attorney specializing in workplace privacy and information security with Littler in Chicago, said most employers are now aware of the landmark Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) that requires companies implementing facial recognition technology in that state to obtain consent from subjects and to provide a written policy about how collected data will be stored, protected and used. Appenteng said more states—including California and Texas—also now require employers using the technology to satisfy certain compliance obligations.

Illinois and Maryland also have placed restrictions on facial analysis technology specifically for use in evaluating job candidates. California and New York have proposed similar legislation to regulate the use of artificial intelligence in assessing job applicants, said Monica Snyder, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Boston and New York City and a member of the firm's data security and workplace privacy practice.

Illinois enacted its Artificial Intelligence Video Interview Act earlier this year, a law that requires companies using the technology to notify applicants in advance that the technology will be used to analyze their facial expressions, to obtain consent for its use, to explain to applicants how AI works and to destroy video interviews within 30 days if a candidate makes such a request, Snyder said.

"Employers need to tread carefully on how they use this technology," she said.

Appenteng said there's also the issue of getting employee buy-in for using facial recognition technology since many may consider it a risk to their privacy. "Employers may therefore want to consider providing their employees with a notice that explains facial recognition technology in easy-to-understand terms to placate any of those employee concerns," he said.

SOURCE: Zielinski, D. (09 June 2020) "Facial Analysis Technology in the Workplace Brings Risks" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/technology/pages/facial-analysis-technology-workplace-brings-risks.aspx