Showing posts from 2013

What Does It Really Mean to Be in a Right to Work State?

In a Right to Work state an employee's employment is at the will or whim of the employer unless there is a contract such as an individual Employment Agreement or a union Collective Bargaining Agreement.  That is technically correct, but widely misunderstood in its practical application. Among my liberal friends this is a controversial topic.  The idea that in a Right to Work state an employee can be fired for any reason at any time is unconscionable and violates the dignity of the worker.  For my conservative friends who run businesses there is no controversy: they believe the law entitles them to make any decision they choose.  Both are wrong. At the heart of this misunderstanding is one huge exception to Right to Work: it does not apply to state or federal discrimination or harassment laws .  These laws are the majority of risk in employment. While retaining or terminating an employee may be at the complete discretion of the employer, if that discretion is abused such that t

What Constitutes a Hostile Work Environment

There is probably no more misused term or misunderstood concept in most workforces than "hostile environment".  For a whole generation of workers this term has become synonymous with harsh supervisors or rude co-workers. Legally that is just dead wrong.  Often complaints come in to HR departments using the "hostile environment" term as a hot-button to spur action against the offending supervisor or co-worker. It is the hollow "gotcha" of employee complaints. So here's the problem: there is no law against being an awful boss or a toxic co-worker unless the harassing behavior is based upon some protected class status.   A friend of mine is a great labor lawyer in Nashville who coined "The SOB Defense"  which goes something like this: "Yes, Your Honor, my client is a Son of a young, old, black, white, male, female, Jew, Gentile, and everyone in between." In other words, as long as you are a jerk to everybody then being a j

Tennessee Health Insurance Exchange Coverage

October 1st is less than two weeks away, and on that date adult U.S. citizens will be able to purchase health insurance from the Insurance Exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act.  If you live in Tennessee, however, it can be confusing as to how you enroll.  Here is a quick primer. Tennessee, like most Republican-led states, opted not to participate in the Exchange program.  There is no financial advantage to non-participation; actually not participating costs the state more money in the long run.  However the "anti-Obamacare" fever whipped up by Fox News and conservative talk radio made state participation tantamount to support of Healthcare Reform.  No Republican can survive a primary election if they are seen as supporting "Obamacare".  Instead these states, Tennessee among them, choose non-participation, which then requires the federal government to set up an Exchange for them. Since Tennesseans have to use the federal Exchange program let's look

Using Travel Company Loyalty Programs

If you travel for a living one of the perks of the trade is the ability to keep you "points" from airlines, hotels and rental car companies.  These once were a lot more generous than they are now, with almost all of them cutting back on benefits or devaluing their points during the Recession.  Once you get elite status and can board early, avoid bag fees, and get free weekend leisure rentals and rooms then losing that status feels punitive.  There is always a catch so you need to know the fine print. For instance after being Gold and then Platinum with American Airlines I took several trips on Southwest because their fare was lower.  I recently got on an American flight and found that I had dropped, without notice, all the way from Platinum to Schmuck in four months.  It didn't matter that I had been Gold with them since the 90's: you keep up your segments or board with the last group. I had a similar "catch" with Avis.  After having a Wizard number sinc

The Vocational Revolution: How the Best Jobs of the Next Decade Won't Require College

One way to look at the Great Recession of 2007 - 2012 is that it was one giant comeuppance for about three generations of Americans, mine included.  We have been "too good" to do blue collar work and have sent that message to our kids.  Now the Starbucks generations are facing a conundrum: long-term unemployment, long-term and low-wage under employment in fast food and retail, or a return to skilled trades. Starting in the 1980's college became the only acceptable route to success, and the skilled trades fell out of favor.  Working in manufacturing HR during the 1990s I recall the first signs of a critical shortage in tool and die makers and machinists, as more and more people flocked to college rather than vocational schools.  We have not turned out enough skilled trades graduates to feed the demand since the 1970's, but off-shoring of manufacturing and delayed retirements reduced demand and lessened or masked the problem.  No more. In trades all across the count

Obamacare 2013 and 2014: What You Need to Know Now

Earlier this year the Department of Health and Human Services announced a one-year delay in the implementation of key provision of the Affordable Care Act. Because of the highly politicized nature of this law there has been much said about the law "falling apart" and similar comments that would lead some to think that the whole act is on hold. Nothing could be farther from the actual situation so employers and employees must know what to do to keep in compliance. This law is already partially implemented and key provisions roll out this year and next. Here is where your company should be and what it should be preparing to do if it has 50 or more employees. 2013 Changes For the current benefits plan year, or for any plan year beginning during calendar 2013, health plans must execute the following changes: · Healthcare Flexible Spending Account (FSA) deductions are now capped at $2,500. · Women’s preventative health services now must be covered at 100%. ·

Business Travel is Easier Now

I am a 70-80% on-the-road consultant with clients from Annapolis to San Diego.  I have over 35 clients in 11 states.  I did this kind of work in the 90's with 40-50% travel usually involving regular trips to the same half-dozen-or-so destinations.  I can say after 9 months on this job that its easier now than it was back then, even though I travel more, because of advances in technology across a number of fronts: Smart Phones Mobile Computing (Wifi and VPN) Better Designed Luggage These developments make the travel less lonely and less taxing physically.  Phones I know it isn't news to you that smart phones are a game-changer in society, not just travel or business.  But take a moment to consider what we used not that many years ago.  I started travelling with one of the first Intel 286 laptops and a  pager . This was before the first cellular phones.  I was gone from Sunday night to Thursday night every other week and often travelling in Mexico or Canada.  For the fi

Travel Tip: Southwest Airlines is for Regionals

After eight months in this job I have gotten to know several people in this company and others who do what I do.  They may be in Sales, Marketing, Nurse Consulting or whatever field, but one thing they have in common is that they travel all the time.  The other thing they have in common is that Southwest is their airline of choice.  Why? Change Fees!  Southwest advertises heavily that they don't charge bag fees.  However most professional travelers rarely check luggage so that doesn't affect our expenses.  What really does hit our companies' pockets is the $150 per change fee that every other airline imposes if you change after your trip is ticketed.  In order to keep our expenses (and that of our clients) low we need to book as far in advance as possible.  However you never know what is going to come up and it is not unusual to change 30 - 50% of your travel arrangements post-ticketing.  The last time I tried to fly American for one project I had three $150 change fees

Travel Tip: IHG Rewards Club

For years I have been a frequent customer of the Holiday Inn brand of hotels.  Now before you turn up your nose know this: almost all their properties have been remodeled.  There are still some terrible ones (Louisville - North in Clarksville IN) but by and large everything from the Express to the Crowne Plazas are newly constructed or renovated in the last five years. But that isn't my point. These are owned by International Hotel Group or IHG.  IHG appears to be moving their customer loyalty programs into one branded Rewards Club and because they have nine brands there is enough critical mass to staff a 24-hour, 7-day per week customer line.  So as a Holiday Inn Priority Club member I can call and get a live person anytime. And what does said live person do? They find hotels nearby and make reservations for you on the spot. Several times I have ended up in a city only to find that the travel office or the client has failed to properly make my reservations.  Sometimes I

George Zimmerman and the "Low Ready" Solution

This is off-topic for me; it has nothing to do with HR.  It does have to do with a passionate belief of mine: that people have the right to protect themselves and their loved ones from harm. The exercise of that right, I believe, should include the measured and rational use of guns. In exercising this right I have received Conceal and Carry training and permits in two states. Believing as I do in the Conceal and Carry program, the Treyvon Martin case in Florida has grieved me considerably.  It highlighted to the nation, and to the delight of gun control advocates, the exceptionally rare occasion of a permit holder being involved in an unwise use of their weapon.  Permit holders are the most law abiding of citizens and almost never engage in an unjustified shooting. You could argue all day over whether the Martin shooting was or wasn't justified; people who go on about this all-day have no good information and just add their own prejudices about race and guns to the noise. That is

The Healthcare Reform Delay: What it Means for You

Yesterday's announcement by the administration, combined by a new approach by Congressional Republicans, changed the game completely for Healthcare Reform (HCR).  The White House, almost without warning to anyone, delayed by one year the key provision requiring employers to provide affordable coverage to all full-time employees (defined as 30 hours per week or more) or pay a fine. It was to take effect January 1, 2014 and now has been delayed until that same date in 2015. Most of the heat around implementation was coming from the law's quirky definition of a full-time employee.  The issues are: The definition of full-time as 30 hours is at odds with the Wage and Hour definition for purposes of calculating overtime at 40 hours. The definition only applies to medical coverage, leaving benefits administrators a choice to administer coverage differently for medical or adopt the extra expense of changing eligibility rules for dental, vision, etc... The 30-hour rule is not for

How To Administer Benefits to Same-Sex and Cohabitating Partners

This week the Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the Defense of Marriage Act, essentially clearing the way for same-sex marriages in states where those are allowed.  For Group Benefits Administrators in plans that only cover spouses in traditional marriages this presents a complex set of problems. Consider for a moment that only  13 states recognize same-sex marriages while the rest do not.  Add to that some states, such as Illinois, that don't allow same-sex marriage but do recognize domestic partnerships.  If an employer covers employees in multiple states but still only covers "spouses" under the traditional definition the complexity and potential for legal challenge is huge. Now add to that the growing phenomenon, especially among younger workers, of cohabitating opposite-sex couples with or without children.  While it may be practical administratively to draw the line at the marriage license ("we cover married couples but not unmarried ones&qu

Are You Saving Enough to Retire?

I have written before on the subject of retirement savings estimates.  So many of the calculators put out by investment firms are scare tactics designed to help market their products.  Today via a New York Times article I came across the non-profit Employee Benefits Research Institute and their calculator .  I recommend it highly.  Similar instruments from investment houses tell me I have 19 - 20% of what I need for retirement already saved.  This calculator shows 47%, and this with 20 years left before my intended retirement date. I don't recommend this calculator because it is telling me something I want to hear: I am recommending it because the organization behind it is not trying to sell us anything.  That gives it great credibility in my eyes. Of course no calculator can take into account other non-investment events or strategies you can use to prepare.  Moving to a smaller house, moving to a smaller town with a less-expensive real estate market, inheritance from parents,

How to Legally Use Criminal Background Checks

This week the EEOC filed suit against Nashville's own Dollar General as well as BMW over the use of criminal background checks.  The comments I have read on-line about this move test the bounds of ignorance even for on-line comments.  What the EEOC wants employers to do is what departments I run have done for years.  It really isn't that complicated. The EEOC is concerned with an overreach and/or misapplication of background screens to the point that they exclude non-white minorities at a disproportionate rate. This is a valid concern, as non-whites are arrested and convicted at a higher frequency than whites.  The EEOC's complaints primarily center around using arrest records rather than convictions, going back too many years, and having a blanket policy that excludes criminal histories that have no bearing on the job sought by the applicant. In April the EEOC issued  guidance on how to legally apply background checks.  In case you don't want to wade through all th

Five Reasons Why You Should Hire Someone Just Released from Thomas Nelson

This past Friday was "it" for some really good people in the Service and Ops departments of Thomas Nelson.While this is certainly not the first or the last reduction happening in the wake of the Harper purchase of  Nelson, it is one of the more significant.  If you own a business, manage a business unit for someone else, or know someone who is hiring you should grab one or more of these folks and soon.  Here is why: 1.   This is a shut down of whole departments, not a "thinning of the herd" - Harper has an operations center in Scranton, PA and is shutting down some Nashville support departments. 2.   These people have been carefully vetted prior to Harper's acquisition - During the recession years we executed 6 rounds of staff reductions across all divisions.  Since then the organization has done little hiring in support areas.  Each of the people being released this week were reviewed multiple times and deemed to be the strongest players. 3.   These peopl

Employer Property Rights vs Human Rights

Two conflicts of employer property rights vs the rights of employees have come up in different places, but with similar questions of priority and principle.  In both cases employers have taken what is a legally and morally untenable position that their right to control their property is a superior consideration to the rights of their employees while on that property. In Tennessee the "Guns in Trunks" bill makes it illegal for an employer to terminate or discipline a state-licensed Conceal and Carry permit holder for keeping a gun in their vehicle on company property.  The essence of the law is that the permit holder's right of self defense should not be compromised  throughout the entire day , nor their job endangered,  because they spend part of that day on the property of an employer with a no-guns policy. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and gun-control advocates have opposed the law on the basis of safety. Those policies, just so you know, have exceptionally litt

New Post: Four Reasons Why You Don't Have to Hire Medical Marijuana Users

Medical marijuana is now legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia .  As these states proliferate the number of doctors willing to write such prescriptions and the sources for medical marijuana grow. Inevitably users with valid prescriptions are starting to show up in the applicant pool of your workplace.   It is not unusual in one of these states to get an applicant who fails a pre-employment drug test.  As is standard procedure, the Medical Review Officer of the drug testing company or the HR professional asks the applicant to explain, and hears that they have a valid prescription. Then my phone rings... "Do I have to hire this person?" is the usual question I get.  The answer is simple:  "NO!" Here is why: 1. Marijuana is still an illegal drug - There is misalignment between the federal and state governments on this matter, but regardless of the state statutes marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Your policy against "illegal drugs"

An Call to Noble and Ethical Competition in Christian Publishing

I wrote this post in 2008 and continue to stand behind every word.  For a group of people who profess to follow Christ, the use of gossip as a form of industry competition is disappointing.  I have interacted with all the publishers in Nashville and can paraphrase the industry's best seller when I say that there is none without sin in this manner.  Christian publishing is my third industry. I started my career in retail, moved to durable goods manufacturing (auto industry), and then came to Thomas Nelson. In all three industries, as I'm sure is the case in every industry, there is off-campus interaction among competitors. Not only is Christian publishing not an exception, it is the most incestuous and interconnected industry I've experienced. Its practitioners, whether acting on behalf of their companies or not, often engage in some of the lowest forms of competition I've experienced. Mind you, people have been hitting Nelson below the belt long before I got

Why You Don't Get Hired (Even if You Are Christian)

(This post, recently updated, was first written in 2008 after a series of applicants who tried "Christian guilt", unsuccessfully, as a strategy for getting an interview.) There is, unfortunately, a sub-culture within Christianity that believes an undesirable outcome means that those responsible are unchristian.  I've been in HR for over 30 years in four industries and I can say that this is unique to staffing Christian businesses. In the mind of the applicant the narrative goes something like this: 1.  God spoke to me and told me that I was supposed to work at your company. 2.  You aren't interviewing me or hiring me. 3.  You must not be Christian because you're not doing God's will So just to be clear, here are the reasons (either singularly or in combination) why we don't hire someone: 1.  There isn't an opening  (I can't make a spot that doesn't exist) 2.  There is an opening, but you are not qualified 3.  You cannot tell me

I Know This Much is True

Note: This post was written in September of 2011 and was never published until now. This year I passed my 30th anniversary doing corporate work. There is nothing like an anniversary to make you reflective.  Here are ten things that I've learned, much of it the hard way. 1. Work for Good People .  Stay at your current job, in school or even on unemployment rather than working for people you can't trust.  All other truths that follow below go out the window otherwise. 2.  Trust the People Who Employ You .  See #1 above if you can't.  Trust is seen by your employer as loyalty and good people will trust and reward you in return if they feel that you trust them (and work hard). 3.  Hire Good People .  It is a false choice that you have to look over bad behavior to keep good performance. Set as your standard that you require solid citizens who have the skills and the work ethic to do the job.  Overlooking schmuck-like characteristics because you need to fill a job now , o

Listen to The Conversation

What is being talked about inside your company?  Growing companies have a language all their own, and so do contracting ones.  Listening to what is being said is harder than it seems because, like the proverbial boiled frog, changes are subtle and sometimes elude notice.  Hearing what is being said, and knowing what it means, can be two different things but hugely important to your career. I was in the Japanese auto industry in the 90's during its period of frenetic growth.  The opportunities it afforded me propelled my career years ahead of what it would have been in a slower environment. We could not build factories or hire people fast enough, and the emphasis was on how to find, retain, train and develop people.  The competition was for who got responsibility for new business, plants, customers, and product lines.  The tension in the company was typically about how much could get done and who could get to a hot spot (usually Mexico, Canada, Japan, El Paso, or Detroit at that t

What I Couldn't Say at Thomas Nelson

Looking through past posts in the editing section of this blog I came across no less than 35 that I wrote and never published. A couple were withheld because they did not turn out well.  The majority, however, were self-censored because of my position at the time in religious publishing.  They aren't "sex, drugs and rock & roll" posts by any means.  They are those that I felt might offend the most intolerant of that company's stakeholders. That is no longer my concern. I worked in Christian Publishing for over a dozen years.  During that time I met a wide variety of authors, ministers, book store owners, and end users of our product.  What I discovered was that the vast, vast majority of Christians are far more tolerant and liberal in private than they dare be in public.  There is a shrill minority of loud, intolerant bullies within the Church that punish moderation.  Within the Church there is often insufficient courage to stand up to them and so they go unchal

Should You Relocate and Soundproof Your HR Office?

Several of my clients are smaller employers in the 75 -200 employee range.  As such the HR department is more often than not housed in the suite of offices around the Executive Director.  In some cases it is because in the early days of the organization the HR Director and Accounting Director were the same person.  After the workforce and operation grew the roles were split but the office stayed the same.  In some cases the roles are still combined. The problem with this arrangement is that it is a gauntlet of management that an employee must run to get to HR.  It is highly unlikely that the visit will be confidential, even if the door is closed. Part of the inhibition employees feel in coming to discuss concerns is that their boss will know that they came to HR about "something", and any visit could cause reprisals if the supervisor is of such disposition. Another issue in HR offices is privacy due to the construction of the office itself.  Often air ducts allow adjacent

Balancing Caregiving and Work

People are living long and working longer; as a society we are seeing possibly the largest portion of the workforce in our nation's history who are both still at work during their later years and caring for a parent, sibling, or other older relative. Our family lost one of our dear neighbors this week after a long health struggle related to his age; and we see family members reaching that age where they need more from us.  In HR we see more and more of these types of situations showing up at work every year. Aging isn't the only issue driving care giving among the workforce.  Medical science has saved many lives, but those are often lives lived thereafter with a disability of some sort.  From combat to car wrecks, more people who would have died a generation ago survive but require care.  Coincide that with the two-job couples that didn't exist in our grandparents time and the result is that no matter who in the household ends up as the caregiver, they will usually have

Employee Benefits and Same-Sex Couples

The Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments over California's Proposition 8 banning Same-Sex Marriage, and then will immediately turn its attention to a challenge to the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  That law prohibits same-sex couples from receiving the same federal tax and other benefit considerations as traditionally married couples. For benefits administrators this is severely needed.  I have in my region states where same-sex marriage is legal.  In those states those employees with same-sex partners must be allowed to elect benefits for them under a group health plan.  However DOMA, prohibiting any favorable tax consideration to such couples, denies the employee the pre-tax benefits status of the heterosexual married couples.  The result of this inconsistency between state and federal law is that the benefits administrators and payroll processors must process deductions and remit payments under the same plan two different ways. Regardless of how you feel

Just What is Obamacare?

Twice in my career I have worked for someone whom almost everyone at work was scared to death. In both experiences the same dynamic was present in the workplace: there was an inner circle around the boss who did as they pleased and blamed him for it.  If they wanted to see something happen, they just told their staff "he said so" and nobody dared ask him.  The unpopular boss, while maybe justifiably challenging, had no idea about half of what was done in his name. Such is the case with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also commonly referred to as Healthcare Reform (HCR) and "Obamacare."  During the election I heard tales of small businesses that were going to have to discontinue benefits or fire staff because of the onerous tenants of this legislation. When I would dig deeper 90% of the time that business had less than 50 employees and was exempt from the law. Obamacare has become that unpopular boss on which you can blame everything because the b

Hiring Your Friends: The Biggest Mistake You Are Likely to Make

This may sound obvious, but the subtleties around this topic are hugely important.  When you hear of someone "hiring a buddy" the first thing that is likely to come to mind is the hiring of an incompetent crony.  While that is certainly a dumb thing to do, that is not the pitfall into which smart managers fall.  Hiring the completely competent friend with whom you have worked before, and know well, is where smart managers often fail. Why?  Because such a person often does not compliment your own strengths and weaknesses.  The problem is simple: with whom do we bond as friends?  Usually people who are very much like ourselves.  Conversely, who do you need as a trusted team member? Someone who is enough different from you that they fill in your own skill or attention gaps.  Regarding their own development, what do they need in a supervisor?  Someone who can show them what they don't know or help them develop where they are weak. Not only is this not good for you as a

Stages of a Union Campaign

For years I have had to endure the eye rolls of managers when I would talk to them about policies and procedures to keep unions at bay. The "that will never happen here" argument never quite went away over the decades when union membership was in decline. While it is not making a huge comeback, the Obama administration's friendliness with big labor and rule changes at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) have made organizing easier than it has been in years. Big labor, to its credit, is also getting smarter in its recruitment of young ideologues as organizers and its use of social media. So it comes as little surprise to me that I find myself fighting my first union organizing campaign in years.  A client in the upper Midwest has been petitioned and now I find myself enjoying the Great Lakes snow in February helping to defend them and prepare for a mid-March vote.  Working with the management here I see how much understanding of unions and union organizing attemp

Get Out There In Person

From where does your reality come? I mean, really, where do you get the information necessary to form your opinion of the world around you? If you are like an alarming number of people you get it digitally from your laptop or TV in the form of media, main stream or social.  The problem is that so much of that is tainted: not part of a sinister plot like is often claimed, but filtered and edited for to serve a purpose. Where ever you get your information in too many cases you are not getting it from the real, physical world around you and that is a problem. If you have read this blog before you know I get snarky and impatient with my fellow southerners about how they react to winter weather.  I have a recent weather example that illustrates my point about your reality. A couple of weekends ago my wife was on her way from Nashville to Indianapolis during what was supposed to have been our most recent "Snowmageddon".  The local weather from Indianapolis to Nashville tal