The Hyman clan carried out our annual holiday tradition of watching “Elf.”

Since much of the story took place in and around various workplaces, this year I decided to watch with an eye toward shareable employment law lessons.

Early in the story, Buddy learns the harsh reality that he is not actually an elf but a human. He learns this lesson after falling 985 Etch A Sketches short of his production expectations and being transferred to Jack-in-the-Box testing (the job reserved for “special” elves).

Assuming that Buddy’s height is a disability in the North Pole (and if the ADA protects dwarfs down south, it’s safe to assume the North Pole’s disability discrimination laws would similarly protect Buddy’s heightened height up north), what ADA lessons does this parable teach us?

1. Reasonable production standards.

The ADA does not require an employer to lower production standards — whether qualitative or quantitative — that it applies uniformly to employees with and without disabilities. An employer may, however, have to provide reasonable accommodation to enable an employee with a disability to meet the production standard.

Thus, if Santa requires 1,000 Etch A Sketches per day, then Buddy is required to make 1,000 Etch A Sketches per day, disability or no disability. Santa may, however, have to offer Buddy a reasonable accommodation (if available) to meet that quota. Santa may also choose to lower or waive the production standard,  but he is not required to do so. Keep in mind, however, that if one waives or lowers the requirement for one employee, it makes it difficult to argue for future employees that the production requirement is truly essential, or that altering it is not a reasonable accommodation.

2. Transfer as reasonable accommodation.

The ADA specifically lists “reassignment to a vacant position” as a form of reasonable accommodation. An employer must consider this type of reasonable accommodation for an employee who, because of a disability, can no longer perform the essential functions of their current position, with or without reasonable accommodation. Reassignment is the reasonable accommodation of last resort and is required only after it has been determined that: (1) there are no effective accommodations that will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her current position, or (2) all other reasonable accommodations would impose an undue hardship.

There are, however, several caveats.

The employee must be “qualified” for the new position, both by satisfying the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position, and by being able to perform the essential functions of the new position, with or without reasonable accommodation. An employer is under no obligation to assist the employee is becoming qualified, such as by providing training to enable the employee to obtain necessary skills for the job.

“Vacant” means that the position is available when the employee asks for reasonable accommodation, or that the employer knows that it will become available within a reasonable amount of time.

The reassignment must be to a position equal in pay, status, or other relevant factors (such as benefits or geographical location). If there is no vacant equivalent position, the employer should reassign to a vacant lower level position for which the individual is qualified and which is closest to the employee’s current position in terms of pay, status, etc.

For Buddy, that position was Jack-in-the-Box tester, an open position for which he was qualified.

There you have it. ADA lessons from “Elf.” Happy holidays.

The post What Can the Holiday Movie ‘Elf’ Teach Us About the ADA? appeared first on Workforce.

The Northeast Business Group on Health recently released a new guide, the first of its kind. “Genomic Medicine and Employers: Separating the Hope and the Hype” seeks to educate employers on what’s occurring in this field, and it’s the result of a roundtable of many stakeholders including employers, clinical experts, benefits consultants and genomic vendors.

It was a pretty fascinating read on a topic that will only become more relevant over time. As this report pointed out, a May 2018 Health Affairs report stated that there are some 75,000 genetic tests on the market — such as Illumina, 23andMe, Abbott Molecular Inc. and Blueprint Genetics — with about 10 new tests entering the market daily. Meanwhile, there’s been a large spike in direct-to-consumer advertising. So, even if employers aren’t communicating with their employees about these tests, odds are that these employees are hearing about them somewhere else.

It’s great that a group of people, experts in different sides of this issue, could get together and talk about genomic medicine/genetic testing. [For reference: the term genomic medicine refers to “an emerging medical discipline that uses genomic information about an individual for diagnostic or therapeutic decision making,” according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. Genetic testing refers to a test that “identifies changes or mutations in chromosomes or genes. It can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition.” So, in a nutshell, genetic testing informs genomic medicine.]

“All of the genomic medicine topics we covered were fascinating. The innovations taking place in oncology diagnosis and treatment — gene therapy that actually can modify someone’s genes in order to treat or cure cancer, for example — are groundbreaking,” said Candice Sherman, CEO of Northeast Business Group on Health.

One area that she and NEBGH’s members are interested in is mental health. An issue for many employers and employees is when people need to cycle though different depression or anxiety medication before they finally find one that will work, she said. Although there’s still work to be done in this area, the prospect of being able to use genomic testing to identify what a person’s response would be to particular medication is exciting.

The major takeaways of the roundtable are mentioned in the report, but one important topic that the roundtable highlighted was the need for employers to approach health plans and benefit consultants and be “armed with questions about policies, outcomes data and cost when it comes to genomic medicine,” Sherman said.

Digging deeper into the report, it did bring up many solid ideas and questions for employers. Genetic testing benefits and where genetic tests belong in a health plan are not easy concepts to grasp for employers.

A cost-benefit analysis of genomic medicine brought forth some important questions, including:

  • “Do tests provide enough meaningful data to make them clinically actionable? Are they specific and sensitive enough? Some vendors lack scientific data to prove their genomic tests have clinical value.”
  • “Interpreting the results of gene sequencing is art as well as science. Interpretations can vary, which in turn can generate different treatment paths.”
  • “Predictive genomics can help evaluate the risk of a disease developing in an individual. But whether such testing is worthwhile depends on several factors, such as whether the disease has a high genetic correlation and to what extent environmental factors play a role. Environmental and lifestyle factors in conditions like cancer and many chronic diseases can be more significant than a slightly increased predisposition to those conditions.”

There are some very real ethical challenges for employers in the genomic medicine arena, Sherman said. Employers may need to make difficult decisions on what they will and won’t cover. She gave an example of a dependent who has terminal cancer and who discovers a new type of gene therapy that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. What if an employee were to ask an employer to cover this?

Genomic Medicine Employers
A May 2018 Health Affairs report stated that there are some 75,000 genetic tests on the market, with about 10 new tests entering the market daily.

A situation like this would bring up many overwhelming, ethical questions that are in no way easy to answer, said Sherman, such as: Who decides what value to place on extending life by several months? Does it make a difference whether the dependent is young or elderly?  What if the initial data is promising, but no long-term data is available?

One last element I found interesting about this roundtable is that I found one important stakeholder to be missing: employees (the patients) or patient advocacy groups. Having any discussion about health care, which is specifically meant to treat patients, should include somebody fully representing the voice of the patient.

Sherman pointed out that privacy concerns would be a hindrance to including patients in a discussion like this. That made sense to me, considering how sensitive individual health data is for patients.

I’d hope employers would have the interests of their employees in mind for any discussion about a topic like this, especially when it comes to genetic privacy and discrimination. As I like to point out any time I write about genetic testing, it is not illegal to discriminate against a person based on results of a genetic test in areas like life insurance. Any employee considering genetic testing for any reason should be aware of that.

I’ve written about this before, and of course seeking genomic tests for cancer treatments is different than doing it just to check for general risk factors, but I think it’s important to stress. I have a good friend this past year who was so enthusiastic about getting a genetic test done, but once I mentioned the life insurance discrimination fact, she did more research to decide if the test was worth it.

Genomic medicine is a truly fascinating topic for anyone looking toward the future of health care delivery, and of course it’s possible to go much deeper on this topic. For the time being, this guide was an interesting source of information for employers beginning to think about where genomic testing belongs in their workplace. I hope you find it valuable as well!

For the time being, here are a couple more articles related to the topic I found in my research, if you’d like to read about this area further:

The post Employer Roundtable Explores Hype and Hope in Genomic Medicine appeared first on Workforce.

As I prepare to write an in-depth article on health care costs for Workforce’s March-April issue, one of the topics that has come up regularly is health care navigation among employees. That’s what I found the Deloitte “2018 Survey of US Health Care Consumers” to be interesting.

health care navigation
People navigate the health care system like Homesteaders, Trailblazers, Prospectors and Bystanders, according to the Deloitte report.

The survey broke down the types of consumers in the health care market as “Wild West” tropes and gave suggestions for how different stakeholders could appeal to these consumer segments. Corny? Sure. But corny little bits like this, at least to me, make it way more fun to write about health care navigation, which can be a pretty dry topic. Personally, I would have gone with the space theme, since my roommate and I have been rewatching the early 2000s futuristic space western drama “Firefly” recently, but the historical Wild West works, too.

Health care navigation is a term that refers to helping patients navigate their way through the often complex health system by giving them as much information as possible to make their own decision and guiding you to the most appropriate health professional. Different patients navigate different ways.

Their four categories Deloitte highlighted were: Homesteaders, who are reserved, cautious and traditionalist; Prospectors, who rely on recommendations from family and friends, find their health care providers to be trusted advisers and are willing to use technology; Trailblazers, who are tech-savvy, engaged in wellness and willing to share data; and Bystanders, who are unengaged, tech-reluctant and resistant to change.

The report compared these groups in several different categories, but the two that stood out to me were shopping behavior and willingness to share health information/data.

Let’s start with health data. The older, poorer groups (bystanders and homesteaders) were least likely to share tracked health information with a doctor or to use technology (like wearables) to monitor fitness. The younger, richer groups (trailblazers and prospectors) had the opposite tendencies toward health data.

Now, I know health companies and employers love have their own incentives to get health data, but, from the point of view of an employee, I would just like to point out that not everyone needs to be reliant on technology to keep track of their health. It’s not how everybody functions best, and trying to push wearables or health apps on someone who’s perfectly content in a more manual workout routine is silly.

Also, the data privacy laws in the U.S. aren’t necessarily promising for consumers yet. People should be able to feel like they have control of what happens with their own personal health data.

Not to say that patients/employees shouldn’t be open with their doctors. But, as I’ve written about before, although it’s great if a company genuinely wants to create a program that will improve the well-being of its employees, it should stay voluntary, and people who don’t participate shouldn’t be shamed, penalized or seen as backward or stubborn.

Shopping behavior is the other area of comparison, and this is the meaty part because it gets to the inherent differences in people and who they trust for advice on something as personal as health — and something as complicated and not-necessarily straightforward as choosing a doctor.

It also taps into the reality of how people in different socioeconomic situations make these decisions. Bystanders, the group with the lowest incomes, consider out-of-pocket costs and convenient hours when choosing a doctor and are less likely to change doctors or health plans even if they’re dissatisfied. Compare them to Trailblazers, the highest income group, who are the most likely to do their research on physicians, hospitals and health insurance companies and are the most likely to change doctors if they’re dissatisfied.

Using basic logic, this makes sense. Having a higher paying job with reliable hours and access to paid time off would make it much simpler to make health care provider changes. Meanwhile, if you’re living paycheck to paycheck and have a busy schedule, basing your medical off out-of-pocket costs and hours is perfectly rational.

The report also gave employers and other stakeholders like health systems and insurers suggestions on how to engage employees/patients in each segment.

Employers can begin to engage the tech-savvy, wellness-engaged Trailblazers by offering virtual health visits and creating a seamless technology experience. For those employees who rely on family, friends and trusted doctors for medical advice, employers can push online patient forums and patient advocacy groups.

I was most interested in stakeholder strategies for the two less tech-centric groups, mostly because those segments seem more like a challenge for employers. Connecting with these people and getting them engaged with health care can happen a number of ways, depending on what their barriers are.

  • A patient who makes health care decisions based off convenience of hours and location could benefit from having access to a physician or health system that offers off-hour appointments.
  • A patient who is open to trying tech solutions but still intimidated by it could benefit by having a nurse or clinician spend a few minutes at the end of a doctor’s visit and help set up a virtual appointment, as well as answer any questions about how virtual appoints work, how to access them, etc.
  • For a patient who isn’t likely to engage with the health care system on their own, stakeholders can address this by involving a caregiver, if applicable, who can encourage this person to get the care they need.
  • For the least engaged patients, what could also help is if community organizations like their local grocery store or place of worship encourages healthy behaviors. For example, a church could hold a healthy food potluck.

Now, none of these are employer-based actions, but I still think they hold some value to employers. For example, employers may have an employee with a chronic condition whose spouse and kids act as a caregiver; maybe they could consider how to engage spouses and children in chronic-condition care in their health plan. Also, employers could offer healthy good in the office, where employees spend a large chunk of their time, and think about partnering with health systems that offer appointments off-hours.

What do you think? What does your organization do to appeal to employees/patients with different preferences?

The post Taming the Wild West of Health Care Navigation appeared first on Workforce.

Millennials in such major Indian business hubs as Mumbai, Bangaluru and New Delhi likely can relate to a recent survey conducted by Cigna TTK Health Insurance Co. that states 95 percent of Indian millennials admit to being stressed — more millennials than any other nation in the world.India stressed millennials

It’s an alarming statistic, especially for a nation that thrives on relaxation techniques like mindfulness, meditation and yoga. The global average for millennials, who now range in age from 18 and 34 years old, by comparison is 86 percent, according to the study.

The survey was initially launched in 2014 to understand how employees perceived their well-being and personal health on the basis of five key factors — physical, family, social, finances and work. This year, the survey involved developed and emerging countries including Great Britain, the United States, Germany, France, China, Brazil and Indonesia where employees feel less stressed as compared to India.

Stress can have grave implications on the health and well-being of an individual.

Over a long period of time, stress can result in depression and also increase the risk of suicide. According to Bengaluru, India-based counseling and wellness company, millennial professionals face the highest risk of suicide with women at greater risk than men.

Archana Bisht, founder and director, said, “In the workplace, stress affects an employee’s performance, which has a direct impact on their productivity and efficiency.

The Catalysts

Work has been cited by millennials as the main trigger causing their stress. After logging long working hours, they find it hard to juggle work and personal life. Millennials prefer jobs that helps boost their personal as well as professional skills. But when their work doesn’t allow that, it makes them dissatisfied and can lead to stress.

Another major factor that’s adding fuel to the fire is financial worries. Some 60 percent of millennials in India feel that they are bearing the consequences of decisions taken by their previous generations, like the global financial crisis that began in 2008, and rising national debt in India. And 65 percent feel they’ll run out of money before they retire. Saving for retirement, paying off student loans and low income are some reasons wearing this generation out.

The reason this stress level is increasing at such an alarming rate is also that 75 percent of Indian millennials have said they don’t feel comfortable talking to medical professionals about mental illness largely because of the stigma associated with having mental health problems and the fear of discrimination in the workplace. Respondents have also cited consultation costs as an obstacle to seeking professional help.

Chaitanya N. Sreenivas, vice president and human resources head at IBM India in Bengaluru, said urbanization is a major contributor to the problem.

“People are coming into big cities,” he said. “There’s less family support, more distances being traveled, less work-life balance.”

There also is the impact of social media on the millennial generation. With highly engaging platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, the need to live up to a certain perceived social media lifestyle is high. And the inability to match these standards leads to stress and anxiety.

Employee Assistance Programs

More Indian employers are becoming aware of the dangers regarding mental health problems and lending support to their employees.

Mumbai-based Indian multinational car manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra has implemented stress management and stress inhibiting systems. They have a compulsory 14-day annual leave policy so that employees can de-stress and spend the two weeks away from work, which makes employees more refreshed and energetic when they return, and they are found to be more focused and engaged.

Mumbai-based industrial conglomerate RPG Group is planning to have an in-house counselor, said HR head Pratima Salunkhe.

“We are planning to have one in every location so people can just walk in. We are also sensitizing people including managers about mental health issues — anxiety, depression. We invited a counselor from outside who talked about mental health. People have been opening up.”

Recognized as one of the best companies to work for in India in 2009, Noida-based RMSI Pvt. Ltd. provides a lot of options under its health and wellness program. They help employees de-stress through yoga, meditation, pranic healing, physiotherapy and regular check-ups.

Arianna Huffington’s U.S.-based wellness company Thrive Global aims to “end the stress and burnout epidemic by offering companies and individuals sustainable, science-based solutions to enhance well-being, performance and purpose, and create a healthier relationship with technology.”

Thrive Global is expanding to India — its first foreign expansion — because Huffington believes India’s ancient wisdom and spiritual techniques are the answer to end the stress epidemic. The culture of meditation, yoga, contemplation and compassion has the power to “change our lives and our world,” Huffington said.

Whether India’s millennial stress level will decrease from such alarmingly high totals could depend on their willingness to seek help. Wellness programs that include caring for an employee’s mental well-being can help break the stigma attached with mental health. Because, as the popular hashtag among millennials goes nowadays, #mentalhealthmatters.

The post Millennials in India Lead as the Most Stressed in the World appeared first on Workforce.

A mayor in Ohio has gotten himself in some hot water for his selective use of pre-employment medical examinations for hirees.

How selective? According to WKYC, one woman claims that the mayor required her and other women, but not men, to be examined by his personal doctor. For his part, the mayor denies the allegations as an act of a “fertile imagination” and claims that he sends all city workers, male and female, to the same doctor for pre-employment exams.

Why would her allegations rise to the level of unlawful activity?

Aside from the obvious sex discrimination (an employer cannot apply one set of policies to male employees a different set to female employees), it also violates the ADA’s requirements for pre-employment medical examinations.

The ADA applies a traffic-light approach to employer-mandated medical exams.

    • Red light (prior to an offer of employment): the ADA prohibits all disability-related inquiries and medical examinations, even those that are job related.
    • Yellow light (after employment begins): an employer only may make disability-related inquiries and require medical examinations that are job-related and consistent with business necessity.
    • Green Light (after an applicant is given a conditional job offer, but before s/he starts work): an employer may make any disability-related inquiries and conduct medical examinations, regardless of whether they are related to the job, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same job category.

Because these exams fall in the “Green Light” category, the city is in the clear, right? Wrong. Pre-employment medical exams are permitted as long as the employer does so for all entering employees in the same job category. This employee alleges the females were singled out. Thus, unless she worked with all women in her job category (another legal red flag), the city violated the ADA by sending some, but not all, employees for pre-employment medical exams.

Also, pay attention to state laws when conducting medical exams. For example, Ohio prohibits an employer from shifting the cost of any pre-employment medical exam to an employee: “No employer shall require any prospective employee or applicant for employment to pay the cost of a medical examination required by the employer as a condition of employment.”

As for this mayor, these allegations are just the tip of his legal iceberg. It’s also alleged that he uses the n-word to refer to African American residents, and sexually harasses female employees by talking about his private parts and how pistachios contribute to his sexual prowess. Sounds like a great place to work.

The post Do You Know? Pre-employment Medical Exams appeared first on Workforce.

For some businesses beyond retail, the holiday season — November through February — is the busy season.

holiday rush

This means heavy workloads, tight deadlines and the need for collaborative teamwork more than ever as many companies are winding down. Research from my company’s research arm, the Limeade Institute, shows that burnout happens when employees have high stress but low well-being. So we’ve come together as a company to keep our people balanced, productive and healthy during this time.

Here’s what we found works best:

Reorganize annual events to alleviate employees’ schedules: Like most companies, we launched annual employee reviews at year-end. Now we’ve moved our annual reviews to February, so employees can approach them thoughtfully and reflect on all they’ve accomplished. We also pushed our holiday party to  midyear so our employees can spend their time with family and friends. And while most companies send customers holiday gifts in December, we send gratitude gifts just before Thanksgiving.

Push for real PTO: We encourage employees to use their vacation time by year-end. In fact, our research shows those who take all of their vacation days are more engaged. Some employees prefer to take a long break just after the busy season. Because of this, we roll over up to 160 hours of PTO per year.

Support employee well-being: Throughout the busy season, we developed a Refresh Yourself campaign that promotes employee well-being — something often neglected when the pressure is on. We’ve offered chair massages, fruit-infused water, smoothies, yoga and meditation sessions, stretching stations, brain games and had the leadership team cook breakfast for employees. An optional office decorating contest and ugly sweater competition brings spirit to the office. In the meantime, remote employees receive care packages so they feel included and supported.

Help employees manage stress: Stress is inevitable during the busy season, so we help employees feel energized and motivated versus run-down or overwhelmed. We coach managers on how to help their team deal with stress and bring in guest speakers on how to stay positive in stressful times.

Our advice to those whose holiday rush ramps up during the holidays? Test new ideas, measure success and improve every year.

— Laura Hamill is chief people officer at Limeade and chief science officer of the Limeade Institute.

The post Handling the Workplace Holiday Rush appeared first on Workforce.

When we think of pregnancy protection, most of us immediately think of maternity leave — the colloquial term for the 12 weeks of federally mandated unpaid leave available to new mothers under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Some employers offer pay during this 12-week period. Others offer more than 12 weeks. All covered employers are required to hold the employee’s job and reinstate her with the same benefits after the 12 weeks.

However, most employers have additional obligations to pregnant employees. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers with more than 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees suffering from certain pregnancy-related disabilities, unless the accommodation would be an undue hardship on the employer. These accommodations can include modified work schedules, additional leave, temporary reassignment to light duty or modifying work policies to allow more frequent breaks.

Many employers forget about another federal law that protects pregnant employees: The 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy (past, current or potential), childbirth or related medical conditions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — the agency that enforces the Pregnancy Discrimination Act — has provided specific examples of prohibited discrimination. Broadly, an employer may not deny a pregnant employee or applicant access to a job, promotion or opportunities for fear she will have physical limitations, require significant time off or impose high health care costs.

pregnancy discriminationPut another way, an employer must hire, train, promote, accommodate and otherwise treat any pregnant employee who is able to perform the essential functions of her job in the same way non-pregnant employees are treated. This means an employer is prohibited from requiring a pregnant employee to undergo additional medical clearances not required of other employees.

Likewise, if an employee is unable to perform her job due to pregnancy-related conditions, her employer must treat her the same as other disabled workers (i.e. providing light duty, disability leave, etc.).

A number of additional obligations come from often-overlooked state and even city/municipal laws. In fact, most states now have pregnancy protection laws prohibiting discrimination and/or requiring specific accommodations.

 Is my state one of them? Most likely, yes. The states with no additional pregnancy discrimination laws are North Carolina, Indiana and Georgia. Even in these states, employers should consider whether local ordinances impose additional regulations.

If my company complies with federal laws, are we automatically complying with state and local laws? Not necessarily. State and local laws are intended to provide additional protections, above and beyond those provided by federal laws. Thus, these laws will often cover more employers and/or require additional accommodations for employees.

An important consideration for small employers is whether state laws are applicable even where federal are not. Title VII, and therefore the PDA, applies to employers with more than 15 employees. However, 13 states and the District of Columbia all have statutes that may apply to smaller employers.

Likewise, employees may have more protections. In Minnesota, for instance, pregnant employees are not required to provide medical documentation when requesting more frequent restroom or water breaks, seating and limits on lifting more than 20 pounds. Neither can employers assert undue hardship in response to any of these requests. These are more stringent requirements than those under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act or ADA.

So, what does it mean if my state has additional pregnancy protection and anti-discrimination laws? Read your state and local laws, and consult with legal counsel about how to ensure compliance with the law.

Review your company’s light duty and reasonable accommodations policy. State and local legislation often require employers to provide pregnant employees with the same accommodations provided to employees with non-pregnancy-related disabilities, such as employees with work-related injuries and disabilities. Some local laws specifically designate the accommodations to which pregnant employees are entitled.

Include pregnancy discrimination education in management training. Supervisors and managers should know how to handle requests for accommodations from pregnant workers as they may field these inquiries before, or more often than, HR. Again, legal counsel can help you create training that covers laws in your specific jurisdiction.

 How can a multistate/national employer ensure compliance with all local, state and federal laws? Adhere to the state laws in the most stringent jurisdictions. Or, create a broad policy that does not violate any federal laws and yields to state or local laws as appropriate.

 Here is a sample handbook policy:

“(Your organization) is firmly committed to protecting the rights of expectant mothers and complying with Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. [Your organization’s] policy is to treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions in the same manner as other employees unable to work because of their physical condition in all employment aspects, including recruitment, hiring, training, promotion and benefits. Discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sex, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, disability or handicap, any other category protected by federal, state, or local law is a violation of this policy and will be treated as a disciplinary matter.

“Further, (your organization) fully recognizes eligible employees’ rights and responsibilities under the Family and Medical Leave Act, applicable state and local family leave laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Pregnant employees may continue to work until childbirth or until they are certified as unable to work by their physician. Additionally, reasonable accommodation will be made for pregnancy, although state laws usually provide specific guidelines for accommodating pregnant applicants and employees.”

Ultimately, when in doubt, err on the side of offering reasonable accommodations — especially if the company has offered similar accommodations to any employees in the past. A few small accommodations for pregnant employees can go a long way toward maintaining employee morale, retaining valuable talent and minimizing the potential for expensive discrimination claims.

The post Workplace Pregnancy Protection Laws: More Than Just Family Medical Leave Act appeared first on Workforce.

winter workinglandBalancing personal and work obligations is a struggle for busy professionals any time of the year.

But the holiday season — when intense work deadlines collide with a whirlwind of shopping, parties, travel and more — adds an extra layer of pressure and stress that can make employees feel, shall we say, less than festive.

And then, just like that, the holidays are over. Employees are back at their desks, facing a mountain of to-dos that they were desperate to finish before the break but just couldn’t find the time to get to. Silently, they promise themselves that next year will be different: “Next year, I will do everything I can to make sure I have time to actually enjoy the holidays.”

Managers can help them out. Supervisors can make it easier for their workers to find time to experience the joy of the season by rethinking office traditions such as the company-hosted holiday party. While this annual celebration can be fun and meaningful, it is also one more commitment for employees in an ultra-hectic season. In fact, only about one-third (36 percent) of workers surveyed by my company, OfficeTeam, describe this event as entertaining. A nearly equal percentage of professionals — 35 percent — give it a big thumbs down.

However, there shouldn’t be a rush to cancel the eggnog and tinsel just yet. Taking a different approach to how the office celebrates the holidays could be all that’s needed to make employees feel they’re attending an event that’s well worth their time — and for the company to feel satisfied that its budget is well spent.

Take Justin Gray, founder and CEO of LeadMD, a marketing and sales consultancy company based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He brings his entire team together for an annual holiday weekend at a local resort. The company pays for remote team members and their significant others to travel to the event.

“It’s a great team-building exercise, and it lets people know that we care,” Gray said. “I think of everything we do for our teams as an investment. If you want the best from your employees, you have to create experiences where they feel appreciated.”

Hosting a low-key get-together before the holiday break can be a good option for employers, too, said Susan M. Heathfield, a human resources expert and writer. Heathfield is the owner of two Michigan-based businesses: management consulting firm Heathfield Consulting Associates and software company TechSmith Corp.

“We decided a long time ago that the holiday season is the absolute worst time of year to have a company party,” she said. “It’s so hard to get people together. They just don’t have the time. Plus, they would rather spend what time they do have with their family and friends.”

Heathfield said TechSmith officially closes for the holidays at noon on Christmas Eve and hosts a casual lunch at a local tavern for any employees who want to attend — and they are welcome to bring their family members, too. Then, in February, the firm really pulls out all the stops.

“We hold an extravagant party to celebrate our company’s founding birthday,” Heathfield said, adding that almost all of TechSmith’s 285 employees usually attend this annual event, and most invite their family and friends along, as well.

Giving All Employees a Break

Shutting down the office between Christmas and New Year’s Day has become a common practice for many employers. Heathfield and Gray both agree that doing so has a strong, positive impact on employee morale — and can help with retention and recruitment efforts, too. Gray said he has received “so many notes ” from staff members over the years, expressing their appreciation for this simple gesture. “And we have an unlimited paid time-off policy, too!” he said.

For companies that can’t close down their office during the December holidays, Gray offers a suggestion: “Consider providing a ‘floating week’ option that can be used around Thanksgiving, during the Christmas holiday season, or during the summer,” he said. “There are low productivity valleys in every business. You can capitalize on them to provide big value for your team while still providing great service to your customers. Just be sure to clearly communicate to your teams the number of staff who can be off at a given time.”

Flexible scheduling practices throughout the year can also help workers maintain their work-life balance — and prevent them from facing a mad rush during the holidays, said Heathfield. “A lot of pressure at the holidays is self-imposed,” she said. “People are trying to do too much in too little time.”

Like Gray, Heathfield also encourages employees to take their vacation at less busy times of the year, when they can really rest and come back to work recharged.

Welcome in the New

While the end of the year is a logical time to reflect on team accomplishments and set new goals, managers might want to wait until after Jan. 1 to dig into numbers and talk strategy with their staff. However, they need to be careful not to pile on too much too soon in the new year: Taking time off and then coming back to heavy workloads can be stressful for professionals during the holidays.

Instead, managers can consider planning a team celebration to ring in the new year and get energized for the first quarter. This event could take the place of the traditional team celebration in December — thereby also helping to reduce employees’ end-of-year stress. In early January, when all staff members are back from the holiday break, everyone can be taken out to a restaurant. Just going out for burgers doesn’t cut it: Supervisors should try to invite employees somewhere special.

Please also read: Handling the Workplace Holiday Rush

During the meal, people are encouraged to talk about their holiday experiences. After everyone has had a chance to catch up, the conversation can shift to business. Leadership should outline the company’s objectives for the year and get everyone focused on working toward them.

“Goal setting is important at both the individual and departmental level,” Heathfield noted in an article that discussed the New Year’s lunch strategy. “Employees also need to see where their job and goals fit into the bigger picture.” She urges employers to keep the atmosphere of the post-holiday lunch “positive, uplifting and forward-looking.”

Managers should also make a point to let all their employees know how much they are appreciated — both before and after the holidays, and really, all through the year. Failing to do so could not only undermine employee morale and productivity but also jeopardize the firm’s ability to retain talent. 

The top three types of recognition that employees value most? Money, paid time off and a personal thank-you from their employer. And the return on investment for a sincere thank-you can be significant for managers, according to Gray. “I hand-write notes to each employee every year, and that has been one of the most appreciated activities I do — beyond even big commission checks, charitable donations and sharing stories of customer success,” he said. 

He added, “To create a connection with your staff, you have to be willing to go one-on-one. I know that if I foster individual connections with my employees, in return, they are going to go deep when I need them to.”

The post Easing the Holiday Pressure in Your Winter Workingland appeared first on Workforce.

This month, I spent a long weekend before the midterm election supporting my brother-in-law’s campaign for a state Assembly seat in rural Wisconsin.

We traveled to several campaign offices and spent the days knocking on doors in small towns. Approaching strangers’ houses to ask them about their political affiliations or their plans to vote can be an uncomfortable experience at first. But it quickly becomes energizing as you encounter incredibly interesting people and witness their reactions.

For me, being part of the boots-on-the-ground effort to motivate voters was deeply inspiring, and it renewed my appreciation for the tireless work that happens outside the cable news cycle.

I was struck by the varied examples of people stepping up and stepping into an opportunity to do something for their community. Whether actually running for office, as my brother-in-law did, or staffing a field office, managing a campaign, hosting an event or attending a town hall meeting, there are countless ways to engage in local issues. And it got me thinking about all the other ways I — and our industry — could be adding to important local and national dialogues.

Given the big challenges facing our country, I can think of no group more qualified or capable of influencing our political climate than HR and benefits leaders, who all have expertise in many of the areas being debated at the national level. HR leaders know all about balancing competing interests, creating equal opportunities and managing complex health and financial programs.

We know how to create policies and programs that can scale. We also know that a solid safety net benefits not only those who need it but also the community around them.

benefit of politicsKatherine Eyster, deputy director of workplace programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families, agrees that HR leaders have valuable insights: “HR professionals have a key role to play in sharing their experiences with policymakers and advocates to ensure that legislation is thoughtfully and effectively designed with real companies and workers in mind.” Through her organization’s work, more than 75 companies and business leaders recently endorsed the need for a strong national paid family and medical leave policy.

“For too long the false narrative has endured that what is good for workers is bad for business, when evidence shows time and again that when workers thrive, businesses and the economy grow,” she said.

Adding our voices to the national debate is an idea gaining momentum among HR leaders. Rosemarie Day, founder and CEO of Day Health Strategies, has a forthcoming book about engaging in politics to protect access to health care. In it, she presents a “continuum of involvement” that shows the various ways to get involved.

She shares ways you can speak as a private citizen or spokesperson for your organization. The first step is getting (and staying) informed, followed by sharing information, supporting a cause, speaking up, showing up (at events, rallies and more), organizing people and even running for office.

“As a society, we need safeguards and safety nets,” she said. “Benefits managers can represent the human side of capitalism, and they know the limitations of what private companies can do and the gaps that are very critical for the government to fill.”

Renee Lutzen, director of health care product management at UMB Healthcare Services (one of our clients), is a member of the Employers Council for Flexible Compensation. In that capacity, she has been able to visit legislators and regulators and educate them about the issues we face every day.

“Legislative offices are interested in and very receptive to hearing real stories from real people — those of us who are working in the industry of health care, HR and benefits administration. We’re not just sitting at a desk crunching numbers against theoretical concepts. We have real-life examples we can share on how current health care policies are impacting individuals along with insights on the potential effects proposed policies will have,” she said.

This year, I’m vowing to get more involved and helping others do the same. As for my brother-in-law, he lost by a tiny margin, but I have no doubt he’ll have a fantastic career in public life. His efforts and the integrity and vision that guided his campaign inspired thousands of people in his district and beyond. I hope our efforts will do the same.

The post How HR Benefits By Getting Political appeared first on Workforce.

As the population of the United States ages, millions of adult workers are already providing care for an elderly parent or family member.elder care

Providing such care while working a full-time job is both physically and mentally taxing for most employees, and studies even show that burnout from caregiving responsibilities cost companies nearly $13.4 billion each year in health care expenses.

To make matters worse, employees who care for their aging parents are more likely to be less productive, take more time off, and arrive to work late on a regular basis. This is troubling news for many companies, especially since lower productivity often equates to lower revenue. Some companies are beginning to offer a variety of support resources to employees doubling as caregivers.

Backup elder care is a benefit some organizations are considering for employees. In general, there are two primary types of elder care benefits:

  • Dependent care assistance plans. These plans deduct a certain portion of an employee’s paycheck (gross amount before taxes) to pay for elder care costs. According to Forbes, currently, 41 percent of employers offer this benefit.
  • Respite care. Offered by only 7 percent of companies, this benefit offers short-term care to family members when an employee needs to rest, take time off or go into work.

Some other types of elder care benefits include:

  • Flexible work options. These options include allowing caregiver employees to work from home, have flexible hours during the day, or providing paid time off.
  • Care subsidies. This benefit would help employees with the cost of elder care with subsidies covering either direct costs or backup care.
  • Support groups. Employers can create onsite caregiver support groups for employees. This will allow them to speak with fellow coworkers dealing with caregiving of senior parents and perhaps find some value in communicating. The employer may also provide online support group resources if onsite isn’t an option.

Respite care is the benefit most commonly referred to as backup elder care, and it is provided through the private insurance companies employers contract with. It is a voluntary benefit, so employees who do not need backup elder care do not have to enroll. If an employee does not know whether they have these benefits, they should speak with a human resources or benefits manager.

The Professional Impact of an Aging Population

 According to the U.S. census, nearly 70 million Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2030. This may sound like a shocking statistic to many, but as the baby boomer population ages and exits the workforce, their children and younger relatives might be required to act as caregivers in many situations.

Also read: Elder Care: You Can’t Buy, Pray or Prescribe Your Way Out of It

Backup elder care benefits helps employers reduce the amount of stress caregiving employees experience by allowing them to know that their loved ones will be cared for while they are at work.

Studies show that employees prefer to work for companies that offer a reasonable work-life balance. Companies should keep this in mind when deciding whether to provide backup elder care. Caregiving can be exhausting, even for the most dedicated individual and when paired with a demanding work schedule, employees become overwhelmed.

By providing elder care, caregiving employees will have more flexibility. This means limiting the choice of missing a workday or taking care of an infirm parent.

Scheduling Flexibility

According to a 2012 CareerBuilder study, nearly 40 percent of employees who voluntarily left the workplace did so because of a poor work-life balance. Few employees appreciate being called in at the last minute to work abnormal hours, but sometimes it is unavoidable. Most managers and supervisors are aware of this, but if their employees have outside caregiving obligations, they simply will not be able to depend on them to work outside of normal work hours.

Many employees also have difficulty balancing their caregiving responsibilities with regular work hours. Caregivers are more likely than other employees to leave work early and use paid time off to look after loved ones.

Also read: How to Confront the Elder Care Challenge

This can place a strain on the workplace when a valuable employee is not able to work their normal hours, especially if other workers are forced to pull their weight for them.

Millennials make up 35 percent of the American workforce, and as members of the baby boomer generation age millennials will have to accept the role of family caregiver. As of 2013, nearly 19 percent of caregiving employees were under the age of 40, and this percentage is only expected to increase in coming years. If a company fails to keep such statistics in mind when recruiting younger professionals, it may start to notice its talent pool shrinking because of its perceived lack of concern for its employees who double as caregivers.

Offering Backup Elder Care

As time continues to prove backup elder care should be a benefit offered by an employer, more companies are taking responsibility in offering these benefits. A main provider of backup elder care is Bright Horizons. They offer 24/7 backup elder care to employers. The organization is understanding of both the employer and employee’s needs and even provides an online self-service support for if the employee wants to choose and hire the caregivers themselves. Other providers include Care.comLifeCare and Town + Country Resources.

Prices vary per provider, with some backup benefit providers estimating a minimum of $15,000 per year to be paid by the employer. The average amount of an employee paying for elder care services is estimated at $4 to $6 per day if the employer subsidizes the cost.

Offering backup elder care is not only beneficial for employees and their loved ones but a company’s bottom line as well. Caregiving employees cost companies millions of dollars in lost hours each year, and by offering backup elder care, you may be able to make up for these losses and retain your most valuable employees who want to work for a company that understands their needs and the importance of family.

The post The Benefits of Offering Backup Elder Care to Employees appeared first on Workforce.