Records Retention in the Electronic Era

The advent of text messaging and e-mail have made a substantial impact on employers – especially since business-related communication has the potential of ending up in front of a jury.

How – and how long – information must be kept is becoming critical. There are state and federal laws that also apply.

The first step is to review your employee files and other documents and determine how long they must be kept – and in what form they can be kept.

A good start is to review this article from McGuireWoods LLP.

Weight Discrimination in America

According to the journal Obesity, weight discrimination is now as common as racial discrimination in US workplaces.

About 17% of men and 9% of women have reported race discrimination; and about 12% of all adults have now reported weight discrimination.

Yet no federal or state law exists that prohibits weight discrimination (for now, at least). The cities of San Francisco and Washington D.C. prohibit weight discrimination.

Discrimination involves health care, education or workplace situations, such as cases in which people said they were fired, denied a job or a promotion because of their weight.

Even though no law currently exists to prohibit this discrimination, why test it? It’s extremely expensive to litigate – even when you believe you’re right.

Do not make a workplace decision that takes weight into consideration. Use unbiased decision-making that is the best decision for your business.

Thanks to USA Today.

California’s Hands-Free Cell Phone Law

On July 1, California is prohibiting all cell phone use for drivers unless a hands-free device is used.

What does this mean for employers?

It means your employee handbook policy should be updated to include the following:

1) You – as an employer – are not responsible for paying violation if a ticket is received; and
2) Since you can be held liable for accidents while an employee is driving on company business, you should prohibit cell phone use unless the employee can pull off to a safe area and make or receive a call;

And remember – California is usually on the forefront of new laws that ultimately get adopted by other states. It’s best if you put these policies into place now.

More tips – and an overview of the new law – from Jackson Lewis.

How To Become A Caring Boss

Maureen Moriarty, a Seattle-based executive coach, offers some excellent tips for becoming a more ‘caring’ boss in this article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Why would you want to become a more caring boss?

1) Reduced turnover. Studies consistently show that the number one complaint of employees is not pay, but rather that they don’t receive enough feedback from their boss. 40% of all employees say a poor boss will likely lead them to leave their employer, and the cost of turnover is prohibitive for any business.

2) Improved business performance. Employees who are happy are better performers, leading to better productivity.

Moriarty’s best tip, of course, is for managers to listen more.

But I’ll offer my own tip, one that I learned from a colleague who’s now the Senior Vice President of Sales for a major insurance company:

You’re always on stage.

Whether you realize it or not – you need to understand that as a leader, people are always watching you and feeding off your body language. What you say to employees is magnified in their eyes – even though you may be making what you consider an ‘off-the-cuff’ remark. People are watching – you are always on stage – so make sure what you do and say always reflects what you expect.

Pre-Employment Drug Testing

There’s a fine line between what is desirable and what is legal in the workplace. Many employers would like to institute random drug testing of current employees, or pre-employment drug testing.

If you have such a policy or are considering one, make sure to consult an employment attorney. The laws in this area change so frequently, it’s difficult to know what is acceptable and what isn’t.

For example, a candidate for a part-time page at a city library in Oregon was required to take a drug test. She refused and sued. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal upheld, deciding this was a violation of the 4th Amendment. (Lanier v. City of Woodside)

In California, pre-employment testing is – in many cases – acceptable. But ask yourself what would require the need for drug testing? If it’s a receptionist, what is the rationale? It’s more understandable if the position requires an employee to drive, or handle cash, or operate machinery. Make sure your decision to drug test is correct for the position and your company, and always consult counsel before implementing such a plan.

From Barker Olmstead & Barnier.

Pets in the Workplace? Don’t Count on It

So, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association polled working Americans 18 years of age and older. According to this survey, about one in five companies allow pets in the workplace.

I find that hard to believe. Although there’s little doubt that having a pet reduces stress and increases longevity in humans,

However, allowing pets in the workplace is akin to allowing children in the workplace. It is a distraction that hampers productivity.

A better idea is to have a “Bring Your Pet To Work Day” once or twice a year, just like many employers have a “Bring Your Child To Work Day”.

Pets at work might be good for the pet, it might be good for the employee, but it’s not good for the workplace.

From the Daily O’Collegian at Oklahoma State University

Personality Tests Prior to Hiring

The phalanx of assessment tests available to employers as they interview job candidates continues to grow.

The challenge is to decide between purely objective criteria (who is the most qualified person for the job) and subjective (who will be the best fit for my company).

Not all assessments are suitable for use as pre-employment assessments. Psychological assessments that were designed for clinical or diagnostic use, for example, should not be used. The courts have consistently ruled that psychological testing generally has no place in the business environment.

An assessment – properly administered – is invaluable to the hiring process and can increase your productivity while reducing your turnover. I personally favor and administer the Kolbe Assessment program. But find out what works best for you – make sure to involve an expert in the process.

Some excellent advice – some of which I’ve included here – is from Penny Morey in this article at

Why Have An Employee Handbook? Part II

I’ve written before about the need for a business of any size to have legally reviewed, written policies in force.

My favorite example is when an employee chronically comes to work late. If you try to discipline that employee, he or she can simply say, ‘no one told me that’. And they could continue to get away with it.

Some employers fear that written policies bind them too much, but a well-written handbook avoids those pitfalls.

Do not use the internet or buy a software program – it takes more time than you think; you don’t know how recent those policies were legally reviewed; you won’t know if your company needs to have certain policies; and you don’t know if those policies are specific to your state.

Get a professional – collaborate – and get the policies legally reviewed to ensure you can consistently – and properly – manage your employees.

Courtesy Kyle R. Still, Ward and Smith, P.A.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Job References

A highly valued, long-time employee of yours decides to move out of state and asks you to write a reference letter. A no-brainer, right?

Then another employee, whom you’ve been trying to fire for the past few months, also asks you for a reference letter. Now what do you do?

Yes, you can be held liable for references – and whether you provide them or not. It’s possible you could open yourself up for discrimination or defamation charges if you write a letter for one employee but not another.

Often in seminars, I advise clients not to provide references at all. You’re under no obligation to do so, and the negative clearly outweighs the positive.

But a written policy must be established, and you must be consistent in following that policy. Many businesses simply provide dates of employment, which is a good practice.

Some employment attorneys recommend a signed waiver, where you only provide information under certain circumstances.

Consistency and communication are the key. Establish that policy, make sure all your employees understand it – and make sure you consistency follow that policy.

From Elarbee Thompson.

When Its Time To Leave Your Job

I’m often asked by unhappy managers if they should leave their job. It’s a somewhat complicated question which boils down to a simple question: “Are you happy?”

Happiness in a job is critical – more critical than the money you earn or the uncertainty of trying to find a new job. We spend at least a third of our lives working; why would you want to spend all that time being unhappy?

Unhappy employees are far less productive and – whether you realize it or not – your unhappiness manifests itself on other employees, even if you don’t say anything. People know.

Is the grass greener on ‘the other side’? You’ll never know until you find out.

People hate losses, say Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, authors of “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” And “losing something makes you twice as miserable (than) gaining the same thing makes you happy.” They call this being “loss averse.”

We often are so focused on holding on to something we forget there are better things out there. The old saw, “the best time to look for a job is when you have a job,” maybe true; but it’s also a device for procrastination.

Don’t spend your life ‘stuck’ in a job. Ask yourself every morning if your truly excited about going to work. If the answer is no, you have your answer.

Life is too short.

From Andrea Kay via Courier Post Online.