When a job seeker fails a pre-employment drug test, often the company rescinds the offer and both parties move on.

That scenario wasn’t working for the Belden wire and cable factory in Richmond, Indiana, which in 2016 faced a labor shortage due to a spike in retirements and a dearth in qualified applicants. So they tried something dramatically different.

Belden’s factory, which sits near the Ohio state line and employs more than 400 people, began offering drug treatment to those who failed their drug screening with a promise of a job if they successfully complete the program — all on the company’s dime. The pilot program, called Pathways to Employment, was launched in February 2018 and is believed to be the first of its kind.

“We had many people who were retiring and we needed to fill dozens of positions, but it was getting harder to find candidates because so many were failing their drug test — around 10 percent,” said Dean McKenna, Belden’s senior vice president of human resources. “There was no mechanism to deal with this except to say, ‘Sorry, you can’t work here.’ The CEO and others talked about what would happen if we hired these people. They said, ‘How bad would it be to give them the opportunity to get back in the workplace?’ ”

Also read: Construction Industry Nailing Down Opioid Addiction Woes 

Belden teamed with Richmond-area organizations including Centerstone, a mental health and drug addiction provider, Meridian Health Services, Ivy Tech Community College and employment agency Manpower of Richmond, to manage the program. Participants are referred to a health care provider for evaluation and to develop a treatment plan, according to McKenna. So far, 26 have been through the program.

Opioid Treatment Programs

“The success rate is better than what we could have hoped for,” he said. “My peers probably thought we shouldn’t do this. There are risks of injury and litigation. You need the right level of support from the community.”

While many states are struggling with the opioid epidemic, Indiana is among a handful that is also facing a growing labor shortage, according to research from Indiana University. The economic damage caused by opioid abuse cost the state $4.3 billion in 2018 and will exceed $4 billion again this year, the study showed.

In 2015, nearly a million Americans were not working because of opioid addiction, according to a study by the American Action Forum, a nonprofit advocacy group. Between 1999 and 2015, the decline in labor force participation cost the U.S. economy $702 billion as the result of 12.1 billion worker hours lost, the study found. In some industries, such as construction, trucking or manufacturing, the numbers are even higher.

In neighboring Ohio, which leads the country in drug overdose deaths per capita, opioid addiction, abuse and overdose deaths cost the state anywhere from $6.6 billion to $8.8 billion annually, according to a 2017 report from the C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy at Ohio State University.

Also read: State Chamber Fights Workplace Addiction With Employer Opioid Toolkit  

In order to help employers improve worker health and safety, the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation launched a pilot program in October to reimburse companies for drug testing and to provide training that helps managers deal with workers in recovery.

“In Ohio we are almost at zero unemployment, but we have employers that can’t find candidates who can pass a drug test,” said Dr. Terry Welsh, the bureau’s chief medical officer. “We aim to help employers hire and manage folks in recovery no matter their addiction. Normally, drug testing is an expense that employers bear themselves, but we are incentivizing them to do it by offering reimbursement. We are also providing professional training to folks in management for second chance employees.”

The agency has been a pioneer in tackling the opioid crisis, according Welsh, who pointed to the 2011 overhaul of its pharmacy program to better monitor and reduce addiction to potentially dangerous prescription drugs. In 2016, the agency also created safeguards to hold prescribers accountable if they don’t follow best practices. The agency saw a drop in opioid addiction among injured workers of 59 percent between 2011 and 2017.

The bureau’s Opioid Workplace Safety Program will provide up to $5 million over two years to employers in the state’s hardest-hit counties for expenses related to both pre-employment and random drug testing, manager training and support for workers in recovery.

At Belden in Indiana, the cost to treat a candidate classified as low-risk for relapse is around $16,000 and up to $25,000 for someone who is considered a high risk. McKenna said it’s a small price to pay.

“When you look at the difference in cost between a manufacturing job we can’t fill and a machine we can’t run versus what it costs to help someone get back on their feet, you see that it’s worth it,” he said. “These are people with real illnesses. They aren’t choosing to be in that situation. It’s unfair to discount them from society because of the problems they’ve stumbled into.”

The post Opioid Treatment Programs Offer Second Chances to Workers Facing Addiction appeared first on Workforce.


Workforce‘s March issue focuses on benefits, and this year we honed in on health care costs. As health care costs steadily rise and as health care law changes on the federal, state or local level, plan sponsors like employers have a lot to be confused or concerned about. With that in mind, the editorial team compiled a list of statistics to paint a broader picture of what’s going on in the health care sector, including salaries and workforce size. Also, see exactly how much health care contributions have risen for both employees and employers since 2000.

health care statistics

More in By the Numbers: The Latest Statistics on Public Sector Employees

More in By the Numbers: How’s Your Performance Review Performing?


The post By the Numbers: The Latest Health Care Statistics appeared first on Workforce.


In a presentation at McDermott’s Employment and Employee Benefits Forum, Jeffrey Holdvogt discussed qualified plans, including student loan repayment benefits and the rise of DOL/IRS/PBGC plan activity. He also commented on the scrutiny on plan governance and fiduciary process materials. He addressed the legal challenges and mandates, such as state laws protecting against balance billing by out-of-network providers.

View the full presentation.


In 2018, Microsoft surprised employers and policymakers alike when it announced a new requirement for its vendors: give contract workers at least 12 weeks of paid leave after having a child, or risk losing the tech magnate’s business. For HR managers nationwide, this was just one of many signs that the conversation surrounding paid family leave is growing from a slow burn to a steady fire.

While federal action on paid family leave has been a nonstarter in decades past, large organizations along with state and local legislatures are pushing Washington to reassess its commitment to national paid time off. As an HR manager, understanding the following national trends and local changes surrounding paid family leave will help you better assist both employers and employees in navigating future policies and complex legislation.

Expect vendor-leave mandates to become more common

While only some organizations are currently mandating vendors to implement paid family leave, it’s likely that trends like these will only increase over time. After all, it’s no secret that paid family leave is rapidly growing in popularity. Around 6 in 10 Americans say they have taken or are very likely to take time off from work for family or medical reasons at some point, and around 8 in 10 support paid family leave for new mothers (around 7 in 10 support paid family leave for new fathers). These numbers are expected to grow, with employers seeking to provide additional benefits for high-quality employees in an increasingly competitive talent market.

Watch for paid family leave on the federal agenda in 2019

The midterm elections shifted political balances in many states. With major shifts in both the House and Senate, it’s likely that a reinvigorated version of the FAMILY Act will move forward. The 2017 bill proposed 12 weeks of paid leave for family and personal medical needs, seeking funding through a 0.4 percent payroll tax split between employers and employees. Previous pre-midterm legislation is less likely to gain new life — this includes the Economic Security for New Parents Act and Workflex in the 21st Century Act.

While a divided federal government may make the likelihood of paid family leave reform less likely in the near future, there has been significantly more bipartisan discussion on this topic than in years past. Both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House are discussing introducing legislation this year. In addition, longtime congressional veterans, political newcomers and even presidential candidates have made it a core component of their platforms, signaling a renewed interest in moving the needle on this topic.

Look to states for the future of paid family leave

Three states launched or approved paid family leave in 2018:

  • New York’s Paid Family Leave Act went into effect last year, with up to eight weeks of paid leave for covered employees. This has increased to 10 weeks in 2019, along with increases to benefits and payroll deductions.
  • Washington state will launch its paid family and medical leave program on Jan. 1, 2020. The program offers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, 12 weeks of paid medical leave, or 16 weeks paid leave total. Employers will have to choose between the state-run plan or otherwise submit their own plan.
  • Massachusetts signed paid family and medical leave legislation that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021. The program will offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave for family member care or caring for a new child, plus 20 weeks of paid leave for personal medical issues.

As the conversation around paid family leave continues, it’s important to take note of these major state-level policies. As of Jan. 1, 2019, 21 states have had a version of a paid family and medical leave bill introduced in either chamber of their state legislature. State legislation will likely serve as a framework for future employers and politicians looking to provide paid family leave in their respective districts.

Expect increased regulation and complexity

While policymakers are responding to the need for paid family leave, complex legislation may make the process of providing leave across state lines a difficult process. It will likely fall to HR managers to sort through the various paid family leave policies that multistate employers face.

Keeping track of individual state legislation and paying attention to national discourse surrounding parental and medical leave trends will help tremendously as paid family leave administration becomes increasingly complex. Additionally, outsourcing help as needed when faced with the prospect of new legislation will free up the valuable time required to study and implement new or revised programs.

Above all, be ready

While each of these trends point to a renewed interest in providing quality paid family leave to millions of Americans this year, the broader message is clear: Leave policies and the administration surrounding them will only become more complex in 2019. As an HR manager, your best frontline defense is a thorough understanding of the local and national trends surrounding leave policy.

Your organization will look to you to make sense of where the conversation is moving — and, when the time comes, they will seek your insights when putting a revised or new paid family leave plan into action. Getting a jump-start on the larger conversation, paying attention and outsourcing as needed are your best tactics for success in 2019. It’s up to you to use them wisely.


The post 5 Paid Family Leave Trends to Watch in 2019 appeared first on Workforce.


Earlier this week, Republican Sens. Joni Ernst and Mike Lee introduced the Child Rearing and Development Leave Empowerment Act (the CRADLE Act). It is a first step toward providing some measure of paid parental leave to American workers.

Yet, it has some serious flaws.

The Cradle Act would provide up to three months of consecutive paid parental leave benefits to new moms and dads following the birth or legal adoption of a child. It not only applies to biological parents and those that legally adopt children, but also those who intend to maintain the same abode as the child for more than six months of the year following the birth or adoption. Further, its coverage is much broader than the FMLA, applying to any employee that meets certain minimum Social Security contribution requirements.

How are the benefits paid? The Cradle Act would allow workers access some of their Social Security retirement income during the parental leave. For each month that workers access these benefits on the front end, they delay their Social Security eligibility by twice as many months on the back end. In other words, an employee who takes their full entitlement of three months of Cradle Act benefits would delay their later eligibility for Social Security benefits by six months.

In discussing this bill, Sen. Lee said the following:

Working families are the heart and soul of our nation. If young people can’t afford to marry and start a family, then the American dream literally has no future. Unfortunately, the cost of family formation and child-rearing today is higher than ever. …

But in today’s economy of working moms and dual-earner couples, we also need updated social insurance programs that support workers at different times of their lives, rather than just starting at retirement. The Cradle Act is a step in that direction.

He’s 100 percent correct. Yet, the Cradle Act has some serious flaws:

    1. It will stress our already overstressed Social Security system.
    2. It will require employees to delay retirement and work longer.
    3. It offers no job protections for those who take leave. The Cradle Act’s coverage is significantly broader than the FMLA, yet provides no restoration or re-employment guarantees for employees not otherwise protected by the FMLA. Thus, an employee could take Cradle Act leave, yet lose their job.
    4. It provides no protection against retaliation for employees exercising their rights under the Act.
There is no doubt that we need a paid parental leave solution. We are the only industrialized country that does not guarantee paid parental leave to our employees. We should be embarrassed. And while most agree that we need to provide paid parental leave, the rub seems to be how to pay for it. The Cradle Act is not the correct solution. Yet, anything the moves this discussion forward is a debate worth having.

The post Be Wary of What’s Rocking in the Cradle Act appeared first on Workforce.


The District of Massachusetts court struck the plaintiffs’ jury-trial demand in their ERISA complaint for damages and equitable relief against 401(k) plan fiduciaries. The court followed the “great weight of authority” in ruling that there is no right to trial by jury in ERISA actions for breach of fiduciary duty.

Access the full article.


By now may have heard that the Department of Labor announced its intent to increase the qualifying salary threshold for its white collar exemptions from $455 per week ($23,660 annually) to $679 per week ($35,308 annually).

I’m here to tell you that this increase just doesn’t matter.

Why? Because for an employee to qualify as exempt, he or she still must meet one of the various white-collar duties tests.

  • Administrative: The employee’s primary duty must be the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer’s customers, and which includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.
  • Professional: the employee’s primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction, which work is predominantly intellectual in character and which includes the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment.
  • Executive: The employee’s primary duty must be the management of the enterprise or a customarily recognized department or subdivision of the enterprise, in which the employee customarily and regularly directs the work of at least two or more other full-time employees, and the employee has the authority to hire or fire other employees (or the employee’s suggestions and recommendations as to such are given particular weight).

If you’re paying someone with whom you vest this level of discretion and judgment in your business a salary less than $35,308, either you are grossly underpaying them or they really aren’t all that indispensable to your business (and therefore fail the duties test).

Case in point? Drake v. Steak N Shake Operations, Inc., in which a federal judge awarded a class of 286 Stake N Shake restaurant managers a hair over $3 million in unpaid overtime. The lead plaintiff earned an annual salary between $35,000 and $38,000, and the court determined that managers failed the duties test for both the executive and administrative exemptions.

You will read a lot over the next few months about the DOL increasing its white-collar salary threshold by nearly 50 percent. I’m here to tell you that it just doesn’t matter. The classification of your exempt employees is most definitely an issue to which you should be paying attention, but from the perspective of whether they truly meet the narrow duties tests, and not whether you pay them enough to hit a particular salary threshold.

Whether that minimum salary is $455 per week or $679 per week, if you truly vest your exempt employees with the level of discretion and judgment necessary to meet the duties test, you should already be paying them enough to meet the salary test, too.

The post The FLSA’s Salary Test Just Doesn’t Matter appeared first on Workforce.


My favorite television show is airing its final episode in a few weeks.

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” follows the life of Rebecca Bunch, a wealthy New York lawyer who has a mental breakdown and, when she runs into her high school boyfriend on the street, decides to follow him to West Covina, California. The show does a lot of things well including dismissing the sexist “crazy ex-girlfriend” stereotype and showing the nuances of how people deal with mental health problems like depression and alcoholism — all while being a musical!

Some of the best songs include a parody of the “La La Land” tune “Another Day of Sun” called “Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal,” a romantic Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers-inspired number called “Settle for Me,” and “This Session Is Going to Be Different,” in which a therapist sings about her frustrating patient in a song that sounds very much like Liza Minnelli’s “Maybe This Time” from the movie “Cabaret.”

One of the best parts of this show is how is deals with Rebecca’s eventual diagnosis, borderline personality disorder. I never knew much about BPD, and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has taught me a lot about it. I learned about the many misconceptions about people with personality disorders. Also, I got to see how a person with BPD manages their symptoms and goes through the ups and downs of recovery and treatment.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it’s estimated that 1.6 percent of adults in the U.S. has BPD, but that number could be as high as 5.9 percent. Experts believe it’s underdiagnosed in men.

As employers increasingly address mental health in the workplace, it’s worth learning about BPD and how it could potentially impact an employee.

BPD is “a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes a pattern of unstable intense relationships, distorted self-image, extreme emotions and impulsiveness,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

Online resource Verywell Mind goes through some of the symptoms of BPD at work. One major one is unstable interpersonal relationships. A person with BPD tends to see the world in a very absolute, black-and-white way. A job or a coworker is either completely good or completely bad, with not much room for nuance. They may enter a new job loving and idealizing everything and everyone. The idealization phase eventually disappears, leaving basically the opposite scenario, with the employee seeing nothing positive about anyone, “instead experiencing them as hostile backstabbers.”

BPD also causes people to have intense reactions to rejection or perceived rejection, potentially leaving a person prone to abandonment issues.

The Women’s Centre for Health Matters suggests ways in which managers or coworkers can help an employee struggling with BPD. Stable environments are important for people with BPD, so providing the employee as much consistency is their job as possible is helpful. This excerpt explains more strategies:

It can be a challenge interacting with individuals with BPD so it is essential to set limits clearly and stress proper workplace conduct, remind about completing assigned tasks and take consideration of coworker’s feelings. An explanation of the appropriate time and place for different interactions such as meetings, problems and complaints may be necessary. Also be prepared for protests and the possibility that the employee will be mad with you for unknown reasons. Demonstrate validation of emotions and stay civil. You don’t necessarily want to validate an employee’s perspective, instead validate the feelings attached to this perspective – “I hear you” or “I understand the way you feel.” Do not cross boundaries and try to document everything.

The Women’s Centre also lists 20 potential accommodations for employees with BPD, including:

  • Encourage attending counseling or psychotherapeutic appointments and allow flexible work scheduling to fit the appointments.
  • Provide confidential weekly/monthly meetings with the employee to discuss workplace issues and performance.
  • Allow telephone calls or phone breaks during work hours to therapists and others for needed support.
  • Offer appropriate praise and reinforcement for positive work interactions.
  • Consider a program that allows employees to work from home on some days.

I want to stress that I’m not a medical expert, but I did get this information through trustworthy research. Also, there are realistically resources out there for safety-concerned employers who don’t want disruptive employees to cross any lines — for example, this 2010 guide from the Australian Human Rights Commission.

What I can say from my own point of view, based on years of reporting on health and benefits issues, is that you may very well come across an employee with a physical or mental health issue. Just because it takes some accommodations to ensure they can get along in your workplace, that doesn’t mean you should dismiss them as viable candidates.

As one article stated, “While BPD symptoms can make things more complicated, many people with BPD go on to have very successful careers.”

The post ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ Offers an Honest Look at Borderline Personality Disorder appeared first on Workforce.


In a presentation at McDermott’s Employment and Employee Benefits Forum, Andrew Liazos discussed areas of focus for Section 162(m) and third-party loan funding for employee stock purchase plans (ESPPs). He also provided insight on the new SEC final rule on hedging, and the 21 percent excise tax on pay over $1 million to covered employees at tax-exempt organizations.

View the full presentation.


Employers should consider a more inclusive definition of “caregiver,” argues employee caregiving platform Torchlight, which released its annual report titled “Modern Caregiving Challenges Facing U.S. Employees” in January. While caregiving has traditionally been defined as “care for an aging loved one or child with a diagnosis or disability,” the report says, the “modern caregiver” may or may not fit in that limited box — but they may have similar problems regardless.

Torchlight analyzed its user data to see the top caregiving challenges people face whether caring for a child or an elder. Some of these relate to a specific disability, but others don’t.

For elder care, the most pressing problems include housing (tasks such as helping a loved one move or helping them create safe home environments) and cognitive impairment (managing Alzheimer’s or other causes of dementia). For child care, the most pressing problems are mental health (addressing anxiety or depression in one’s child with a concrete strategy) and executive functioning (teaching children organizational skills and basic skills like managing time and setting goals).

This fine line between a caregiver and someone who simply has family responsibilities outside of work is difficult to define, according to Adam Goldberg, founder and CEO of Torchlight. Still, what makes it necessary is that it provides proactive rather than reactive caregiving support, he added. “So many of the things associated with caregiving can be mitigated or avoided by taking steps upfront, and we feel that’s a really important part of caregiving,” he said.

For example, an employee’s child might be experiencing “homework hell” at school. An employee knows to look out for red flags that might signal a problem like a learning disability, executive dysfunction or emotional issues like budding anxiety — all things that can be chronic, costly disorders. These red flags might not turn out to be a traditional caregiver challenge like a diagnosed disability, but if they do, employees can be proactive.

Adam Goldberg

Many caregivers don’t report their caregiving challenges to their manager or HR until there’s a crisis, Goldberg said. That means that when HR hears about it and they want to help, they’re often struck by the suddenness of it. What may end up happening then is that HR decides to deal with the situation by implementing a point solution, also known as coming up with a solution without considering the underlying issues.

“Leading employers are speaking out and saying the traditional benefits approach [to caregiving] has not worked, so we need to take a fresh look at this,” Goldberg said.

One of PepsiCo’s strategies to address the caregiving population includes something that a company of any size could consider: It looks at the perks it already provides and considers how they could be expanded to help caregivers. For example, the company extended its second-opinion medical service provider perk to extended family members and parents of employees, said PepsiCo Vice President of Global Benefits and Wellness Erik Sossa. It’s a good example of taking advantage of something they were already paying for.

The large organization — with 108,000 U.S. employees — offers other perks that caregivers (as well as other employees) benefit from, like flexible schedules and compressed work weeks, parental leave for mothers and fathers, and onsite day care.

Erik Sossa

“I don’t think an employer is going to distinguish themselves anymore in having a really great pension plan or a really great benefits plan. Those are the prices of admission now. How do you bring value beyond that? That’s going to distinguish some of the leading employers,” Sossa said.

Also read: Caring About the Employee Caregiver Crisis  

In general, large organizations have more resources and opportunities to offer richer caregiving benefits, like leave time, but small- and medium-sized employers can get creative, said Candice Sherman, CEO of the Northeast Business Group on Health.

Even the smallest employers, she said, can do things like provide a list of nonprofits that offer services caregivers could take advantage of, she said. Also, many communities have community organizations, religiously affiliated or otherwise, that may offer relevant services.

“The more recognition there is about the fact that in any employee workforce, there are caregivers in our midst, I think employers will definitely get more creative and expansive in terms of the kinds of things they think about offering,” Sherman said.

Law firm Balch & Bingham, based in Birmingham, Alabama, is another organization trying to appeal to the broader needs of the modern caregiver. While 20 years ago the term primarily described a woman caring for a child or parent, now it applies to a much bigger demographic, said Director of Human Resources Lisa Arrington. The law firm’s caregiving population includes men caregiving with a partner, grandparents caring for a grandchild and employees in less traditional, blended families.

Also watch: Workplace Policies, Resources and Benefits That Support Caregivers

Candice Sherman
Candice Sherman

With caregivers in different circumstances, their first and foremost approach is to listen to employees and ask questions, Arrington said. “What are their needs? We have people in all different seasons of life, and all those needs are completely different from one another. It’s important to find and target things for each of those different groups.”

Balch & Bingham, which has about 425 employees, promotes getting this type of feedback from employees through ongoing discussions rather than one-time conversations. This could happen in a formal context like a one-on-one meeting between a manager and an employee or an organized discussion among the workforce to tackle a specific topic. It can also happen informally, just by passing someone in the hallway and asking how their day is going.

Some of the ways the law firm uses to appeal to caregivers include flexible work arrangements; EAPs that offer caregivers support resources about budgeting, dealing with stress and navigating blended families; and hosting family-friendly holiday events like a Halloween costume parade.

One major thing employers of any size can do differently is have top level executives be open about their caregiving experiences, Sherman said. Many executives have personal experience with it, and as more of them that share their experiences, that can help unveil some of the stigma that may exist in the organization around caregiving.

For example, employees may worry that if they label themselves as a caregiver and admit they have competing caregiving responsibilities outside of work, they may not get put on a big project they’re interested in or get the promotion they’ve been working toward.

Senior leadership has a promising role in relating their own personal stories to their people, Sherman said. “That goes a long way in creating what we as a business group call a ‘caregiving-friendly working environment.’”

The post Caregiving Perks Enter the 21st Century appeared first on Workforce.