Employers & Body Art

We’ve previously discussed the growing number of employees (mostly under the age of 30) who have body art. What can you as an employer do about it?

Recently, a Texas hospital wanted to develop dress code and grooming policy for all employees. The proposed policy required all tattoos to be covered, and piercings to be limited to earlobes and a nose stud only.

The proposed changes sparked vigorous debates among employees and even press coverage. It’s a sensitive subject!

Even employers that permit piercings or tattoos should set limits. A detailed dress code and grooming policy should clearly spell out what is permitted.

If you permit tattoos, for example, you should prohibit the display of sexually graphic, violent, or otherwise offensive tattoos, or require employees limit the number of visible tattoos.

Traditional dress code and appearance standards are being challenged today more than ever. Employers still retain wide latitude, but the increase in body art is mandating more careful consideration of requests.

Seek employee input before making major changes to employee appearance standards.

Employers and Social Media

Most employers can’t get enough ‘inside’ information on their employees. The temptation to spy on employee’s social media sites (Twitter, Myspace, Facebook) is great.

Don’t do it!

There’s a case coming before a New Jersey court later this month. Employees at a local restaurant created a password-protected myspace chat room, where they could (on their own time) comment and vent on the issues of the day.

The owner apparently got an employee to spill the password, and found out the ‘inside information’.

Whether this case has legal merit is another argument for another day.

But ethically and realistically, don’t spy. If worktime is wasted on social media, have your IT person prevent employees from using them. But spying can only get you into trouble.

Avoiding EFCA and Leading Better

The EFCA is designed to make it easier for employees to organize into a union. Although the bill has lost some momentum recently, the possibility of your business turning into a union shop is stronger now than at any time since the NRLB was enacted in 1935.

If you don’t want your workforce subject to the demands of a union, what do you do?

In 2008, Kenexa Research Institute published a report of a study made of 10,000 U.S. workers. Each participant was asked to agree or disagree with a list of statements about their employers. A significant percentage of those favoring unions responded negatively. Although there were also negative responses from the employees who were not in favor of unions, the number of negative responses was substantially lower. The following are statements for which the “pro-union” employees had a significantly more negative view as compared with employees who did not favor unions:

  1. My organization shows a commitment to ethical business decisions and conduct.
  2. I have confidence in my company’s senior leaders.
  3. When my company’s senior management says something, you can believe it is true.
  4. Where I work, ethical issues and concerns can be discussed without negative consequences.
  5. My manager treats me fairly.
  6. Senior management is committed to providing high quality products and services to external customers.
  7. My company enables people from diverse backgrounds to excel.
  8. My manager treats me with respect and dignity.
  9. Management shows concern for the well-being and morale of team members.
  10. Senior management demonstrates that employees are important to the success of the company.
  11. I feel free to try new things on my job, even though my efforts may not succeed.
  12. My company supports employees’ efforts to balance work and family/personal responsibilities.

How do you know if your employees agree or disagree with those statements? Many employers believe wrongly that their employees are satisfied, but with little evidence to back that up. Remember, employees will tell you what they think you want to hear.

Get an employee assessment/360 degree survey done right away. At a minimum, it will provide a road map to show you how to improve your business.

And at most, it may help you avoid unionization of your workers.

When At-Will Works

At-will employment – the concept that employer or employee may terminate their relationship at any time, for any reason – is subject to so many exceptions that people frequently despair. Depending on the state, at-will can be exempted for such things as violations of public policy, discrimination, or a ‘contracted’ employee.

Montana is the only state that does not follow the at-will doctrine for general employment. However, an employee in Montana who is still within the company-determined probationary period (or, if the company does not have a probationary period, the first six months of employment) can still be termed under what is essentially an at-will relationship.

HOWEVER – there’s good news. Done properly, at-will can benefit the employer. The most important thing is to mention at-will every time (or at least most times) an employee or job candidate signs a document.

Case in point – Radio Shack. A former employee alleged that Radio Shack terminated her for medical reasons. But the employee:

  • First, expressly agreed with the terms of her “Preliminary Online Application” that, if employed by the Company, she would be employed at-will. The document also provided that if she was hired, her at-will employment could only be modified by a separate written document signed by the employee and an executive officer of the Company.
  • Second, in her formal “Application for At-Will Employment,” the plaintiff again agreed to these same terms.
  • Third, in acknowledging receipt of her “Team Answer Book,” the plaintiff signed a form confirming her at-will employment status with the Company.
  • Moreover, there was also evidence of a personnel record noting the plaintiff had taken a leave of absence, which stated that “The below named person is an AT-WILL employee and no information on this form shall change the employment status.”

That’s a lot of documentation to support the at-will concept. And a good reminder with what to do is here, from McGuire Woods LLP.

Ways To Improve Morale

In the down economy, with layoffs all over the place, its critical for management to take steps to maintain and improve morale of their existing employees. After all, you need your existing employees to do more now that there are fewer people to do the work.

How do you increase morale when budgets are so tight?

The key is constant, frequent, and candid communication with employees. They deserve to know what’s going on and what you’re doing about this frightening economy.

An excellent summation (including, thankfully, the call for transparency and communication) is found in this Wall Street Journal post about a case study at a company in Boston – Greenough Communications.

Age Discrimination And Pay Reductions

Age discrimination lawsuits are increasing rapidly. The trend of terminated employees contemplating and filing lawsuits are also on the increase.

If you want to terminate an employee for poor performance, then do so. But don’t use a layoff as an excuse. And if you replace a terminated employee with a younger one, make sure that you’re doing so for proper business reasons only.

Case in point: George Carras, who was in his early 60s, worked as the chief financial officer for a shoe importing business. When management said it was terminating him because of financial pressures, he offered to take a steep cut in pay, down to $60,000. The company rejected his offer and laid him off.

Then Carras found out that his younger replacement was making more than $60,000. When he sued for age discrimination, he told the court it was obvious that economics really hadn’t been the true reason for his termination. The trial court dismissed his case, but Carras appealed.

Now the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated the lawsuit and Carras will get a chance to persuade a jury that his former employer fired him because of his age and not because the company was having financial troubles. (Carras v. MGS 728 Lex, No. 07-4480, 2nd Cir., 2008)

Thanks to Labor Center Blog and Business Management Daily.

Nevada Minimum Wage(s) Increase on July 1

Nevada has a fairly unique minimum wage rule. Actually, it’s not one rule – it’s two.

Starting July 1 – employers who offer their employees qualified health benefits will pay a minimum wage of $6.55 per hour.

Employers who don’t offer qualified health benefits will pay a minimum of $7.55 per hour.

The details here from Fisher & Phillips.

Wage & Hour Issues Dominating Employment Laws

One of the management trends we previously identified for 2009 is the additional assault of wage & hour claims by employees.

It is clear that – in a down economy – terminated employees employment elsewhere (at least not quickly). With time on their hands, those former employees are talking to their friends and attorneys about the ‘abuse’ they had working for their former employer – you.

In the meantime, attorneys LOVE wage & hour claims. They are relatively easy to prove, are frequently not understood by employers, and the opportunity for a class action is available.

So – what do you do?

First, audit your operations.

Second, read this article by John Skousen of Fisher & Phillips – some excellent practical advice for all employers.

Why Do I Root For Troubled People?


People who have amazing and unique talents fascinate me. Yet so many of those people have problems and issues that their talent can go to waste.

Do we forgive or do we forget?

Two such people are in the news these days – Manny Ramirez and Artie Lange.

Their similarities might surprise you – both have insane talent; both have battled substances; and even Lange (while you might not notice it today) was an All-League Shortstop at Union High School in New Jersey. Both are making incredible amounts of money – Ramirez, about $20 million per year for the Dodgers, and Lange – at least a couple of million a year doing standup comedy and serving as Howard Stern’s invariable foil and sidekick on Sirius XM Radio.

Ramirez’ troubles have been extensively noted. Lange has battled cocaine (and won) and heroin (an ongoing fight). Ramirez, after infuriating the Boston Red Sox and their fans with boorish antics – was literally given to the Dodgers despite his amazing offensive prowess.

Lange, who is trying desperately to get off of heroin, has missed several days of work on the Stern show; had to cancel a major gig at the Comedy Central Bob Saget Roast (ironically, it was Saget who gave Lange his comeback opportunity when casting him in Dirty Work).

The classic manager in me says they’re not worth the trouble. They should be fired or given ultimatums – clean up or your out the next time.

But the human in me recognizes how few people possess the talent that Ramirez and Lange have – Ramirez at 36 already has Hall of Fame numbers, and Lange’s legion of fans are notoriously loyal to a man who’s appetites have spawned websites such as savebabygorilla.com and artielangedeathwatch.com.

Both are tinkering with losing what’s most important to them – their core consitutency, their fans. How long can they expect to keep loyal fans with their screw-ups.

What’s worse, and perhaps what makes them more empathetic, is that I don’t think either can help themselves. It’s easy to write a blog and tell Manny no more banned substances, or tell Artie to shut up, quit drugs and booze cold turkey, and show up to work.

There are demons there, and until they are completely conquered, the demons may end up destroying a talent the precious few of us have.

If you’re a manager – do they stay or do they go?