Stopping Gossip In The Workplace

What can an employer do about gossip?

Supervisors need to regularly communicate with their employees about what’s going on in the workplace. Make sure everyone knows what’s going on in the workplace – future plans, etc. Employees need to feel part of the process of the company – especially in small businesses – and if they don’t, they’ll make it up in the form of speculation and “gossip.” The attention and communication will work wonders in stopping the gossip.

Incorporate into your Employee Handbook a policy that discourages employees from spreading of gossip and rumors. For example:

  • Do not participate in spreading gossip and rumors, and do not tolerate it from others. Rumor and gossip sabotages the team’s ability to work together effectively. It is disrespectful, nonproductive, and a selfishly motivated act that impedes employees from performing their jobs. If you hear about an issue that pertains directly to you, verify the accuracy of the information by asking the supervisor or the coworker involved, rather than simply passing on the information.

Tell the rumormonger that you’re aware of his/her behavior. Describe how his/her behavior results in others not trusting them because no one wants to be the subject of the “gossip.” For some, this single statement will be a realization that will result in immediate change. You should also describe the impact the employee’s behavior has on the workplace and that his/her continued participation in the spreading of rumors and gossip is a violation of the company policy.

Incorporate the impact the employee’s behavior has had on the workplace in his/her performance evaluations.

Your Job Application May Be Cause for Age Discrimination

Among the myriad of problems a business owner faces is compliance with the numerous federal and state laws pertaining to discrimination.

While experts and consultants see these issues as relatively simple and inexpensive to correct – the fact remains that business owners are either to overwhelmed to manage them; too ignorant to know; or – worse – to callous to even care.

Even the simplest thing can cause major problems. Take your Application For Employment form, for example.

I’m stunned at the number of applications which ask the applicant’s age. This is illegal in the United States.

(You can ask if the applicant meets a minimum age requirement if the position requires a minimum age; and you can certainly ask if an applicant can provide proof of authorization to work in the United States – but proof should only be provided after a job offer is made. And in neither situation should you ask for proof of age during the application process).

Yet it continues to happen. Over and over again.

Age discrimination is illegal. And one of the easiest ways to fix this problem is to get an up-to-date employment application from a reputable attorney or consultant.

Courtesy Kansascity.com and the Miami Herald.

401(k) Fees – The Employers Choice

A great deal has been said about forcing financial institutions to disclose their hidden fees and expenses for 401(k) Retirement Plans.

But businesses – small businesses especially – tend to select a 401(k) provider for their company based on the monthly fee (only $100 per month!) or because the owner’s best friend is a money manager and can do ‘it all’ inexpensively.

It’s not the cost of maintaining the program – it’s the hidden costs – especially expense fees – that are rarely if ever disclosed.

Demand from your third party administrator or money manager what those expenses are – they are costing you and your employees a reduced return on their investment.

And that means you are costing your employees and yourself – your retirement.

Courtesy Wall Street Journal.

Onboarding a New Employee

Employee turnover is a major reason why businesses don’t succeed. There is an enormous cost to replace a new employee – from recruiting costs to selection and the lost productivity.

A recent SHRM survey showed that 46% of new hires are gone within the first 18 months of employment.

With these statistics, it’s surprising that more effort isn’t put into onboarding – the process of completely indoctorinating a new employee into the company. That doesn’t just mean what they will do – it means understanding and being integrated into the company’s culture. And it’s not just a one-day or one-week process – it’s an on-going, long-term process.

Some very good onboarding tips from Mike Russell and Maureen Moriarity.

On Handbooks And Amateurs

Time and time again, we write about the need to have a professional develop your employee handbook.

And once again, another instance of a poorly developed handbook costing a business.

In this instance, a court allowed an employee to pursue an FMLA claim, even though that employee was ineligible.

The reason? Not all of the FMLA provisions were included in the company’s handbook, nor the correspondence the company sent the employee.

How easy (and less expensive) it would have been to simply have a professional or labor attorney update their handbook.

Ironically, when I read that article from Fisher & Phillips LLP, I subsequently read another article of theirs – directed at educators – identifying the top five mistakes made by independent schools.

Mistake #3? Using an outdated faculty or employee handbook!

Thanks to Fisher & Phillips.

Don’t Borrow Another Company’s Handbook!

Many small businesses will ‘borrow’ someone else’s employee handbook in order to save some money.

The problem is that without expert advice, your company could be providing benefits and promises that are not necessary.

For example, FMLA leave is required for businesses that have 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. If you have fewer than 50 employees, you need not comply with the FMLA.

UNLESS – your company handbook says so. A 7th Circuit Court ruling illustrates the issue:

According to the federal appellate court, statements in the employee handbook and two letters received by the employee that promised him 12 weeks of FMLA leave may have been sufficient to create an enforceable contract under Indiana law.

Alternatively, the court held that the worker may be able to prove his claim for promissory estoppel because he relied to his detriment on the company’s promises. Peters v. Gilead Sciences, Inc., No. 06-4290, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (July 14, 2008).

Courtesy Ogletree Deakins.

Immigration Raids Continue In The Workplace

After hearing for months how ICE will be stepping up enforcement of undocumented workers, word comes from Mississippi that the largest ever raid has taken place in the workplace – 595 Howard Industries workers were arrested last month.

It remains unknown if company executives will be arrested.

The fines against employers are increasing, the enforcement has dramatically elevated, and now it’s time to make sure you’re compliant with all I-9 and related requirements.

If it can happen to a large company like Howard Industries, it can happen to you.

Thanks to Barker Olmsted & Barnier.

E-Mails & Company Litigation

No matter how frequently we write about the perils of e-mail, litigation continues to happen in this area.

A 2005 survey conducted by the American Management Association and the E-Policy Institute showed that of employers surveyed

  • 25 percent had terminated employees for e-mail misuse,
  • 13 percent of those same employers have been involved in litigation triggered by an employee’s use of e-mail, and
  • 20 percent of the employers have had e-mail subpoenaed in litigation.

Teresa M. Thompson of Fredrikson & Byron, PA, an employment attorney, says that “every piece of litigation that comes across my desk includes an e-mail discovery issue.”

It’s not enough just to put policies in place that state e-mail is for business use only – now, training is needed to reinforce the seriousness of this issue.

There is no expectation of privacy in company e-mails – and don’t think that the opposing attorney doesn’t know that.

Tolerance in the Workplace

The EEOC has issued new guidelines on religious discrimination in the workplace, after receiving the highest number of complaints ever in this area in fiscal year 2007 (it’s doubled since 1992).

Accommodating religious diversity in the workplace means more than deciding if a Christmas tree or Menorah should be displayed in the reception area.

There are any number of federal and state laws that may govern this issue, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While employers must assist with all reasonable requests, they are less obligated to leap major hurdles to accommodate a religious request than they would be for a employee with disabilities – but it still requires an acute knowledge of what’s acceptable or not.

Make sure to work with your human resources consultant or employment attorney when any matter such as this arises. And read this excellent article from Jennifer Nycz-Conner in the Washington Business Journal.

Illegal Workers & The ICE Crackdown Statistics

It can’t happen to you? Wanna bet?

The graphic above shows the staggering increase in arrests made in conjunction with the hiring of illegal workers by the Immigration & Customs Enforcement Department (ICE – a part of the Homeland Security Department).

  • In fiscal year 2007, ICE secured more than $30 million in criminal fines, restitutions, and civil judgments in worksite enforcement cases. They arrested 863 people in criminal cases and made more than 4,000 administrative arrests. That is a tenfold increase over just five years before.
  • The number of criminal and administrative arrests has steadily increased over the past few years. Those arrested criminally include a variety of persons–corporate officers, employers, managers, contractors and facilitators. In criminal cases, ICE often pursues charges of harboring illegal aliens, money laundering and/or knowingly hiring illegal aliens. Harboring illegal aliens is a felony with a potential 10-year prison sentence. Money laundering is a felony with a potential 20-year prison sentence.
  • ICE has found these criminal sanctions to be a far greater deterrent to illegal employment schemes than administrative fines.
  • These arrests also include illegal aliens charged with criminal violations. Aliens have been charged with possession or sale of fraudulent documents, identity theft, Social Security fraud or re-entry after deportation.

And it gets more important in the fiscal year 2008 (which ends this October):

  • As of August, ICE made more than 1,000 criminal arrests tied to worksite enforcement investigations.
  • Of the 1,022 individuals criminally arrested, 116 are owners, managers, supervisors or human resources employees facing charges including harboring or knowingly hiring illegal aliens. The remaining workers criminally arrested are facing charges including aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud.
  • ICE has also made more than 3,900 administrative arrests for immigration violations during worksite enforcement operations.

If that wasn’t sobering enough, the ICE website posts their most recent arrests and punishments -all types of businesses are being investigated – from donut shops, agriculture, manufacturing, retaurants and more.

They’re not kidding any more. Make sure all your employees are legally authorized to work in the United States; review your I-9’s for each employee – and when in doubt, follow the law.

When HR supervisors are getting arrested, you know it’s serious.