Small Business Planning for H1N1

The Small Business Administration recently published “Planning for 2009 H1N1 Influenza Season Preparedness Guide for Small Business.”
Here are seven H1N1 preparedness steps that the government recommends you review and apply as appropriate to your place of business:
  1. Identify a Workplace Coordinator -This person would be the single point of contact for all issues relating to H1N1 and be responsible for reaching out to community health providers and implementing protocols for dealing with ill employees – in advance of any outbreak or impact on the business.
  2. Examine Policies for Leave, Telework and Employee Compensation – Obviously this will vary by business, but the emphasis here is on refreshing yourself and your employees about what your company’s health care plans cover in the event of sick leave as a result of H1N1. You should also re-evaluate leave policies to ensure a flexible non-punitive plan that allows for impacted individuals to stay at home. Employees may also need to stay at home to care for sick children or telework in the event of school closures – so be prepared for this by implementing appropriate teleworking infrastructures in advance.
  3. Determine who will be Responsible for Assisting – Appoint an individual or individuals who will be on-hand to assist ill personnel at your workplace – essentially a “go-to” person, who may be the same as the person chosen as your workplace coordinator.
  4. Identify Essential Employees, Essential Business Functions, and Other Critical Inputs – Make plans to maintain communication and ensure clear work direction with critical personnel and vendors (and even customers) in the event that the supply chain is broken or other unpredictable disruptions occur.
  5. Share your Pandemic Plans with Employees and Clearly Communicate Expectations – Consider posting a bi-lingual version of your preparedness plan, leave information, health tips, and other H1N1 awareness resources across all your work locations and online if you operate an Intranet.
  6. Prepare Business Continuity Plans – Absenteeism or other work place changes need to be addressed early on so you can maintain business operations. Get tips on common sense measures your business can take from here.
  7. Establish an Emergency Communication Plan – Hopefully your business already has some form of emergency communication plan. If not, document your key business contacts (with back-ups), the chain of communications (including suppliers and customers), and processes for tracking and communicating business and employee status.

Why Health Care Reform Is Necessary

It’s a deliberately provocative title. And this is not an article about which reform is best for our country.


The Department of Labor just came out with their statistics regarding benefits paid by employers.

The cost of medical benefits to private employers has doubled in the past 10 years.

In March 1999, employers paid an average of $1.03 per employee per hour for medical benefits (about 5.4% of total compensation)

In March 2009, employers paid an average of $2.00 per employee per hour for medical (about 7.3% of total comp).

And based on my work with small and medium-sized businesses, the quality of those benefits has declined dramatically in the past 10 years (along with huge increases in deductibles, co-pays, etc.).

Twice the cost with half the benefits. All underwritten by private businesses.

Something must be done.

New California Law for 2009 – Reporting Workplace Injuries

A new amendment to the California Labor Code has changed reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses.

Employers currently must file a form 5020 with the Division of Labor Statistics and Research (DLSR) within five days of an incident. Once new regulations are finalized, insured employers must file a form to be prescribed by the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) with the DWC, and self-insured employers must use a new, yet to be created, electronic form within the time specified by the DWC.

Talk to your insurance carrier or human resources consultant to ensure you’re using the most up-to-date forms.

Asking Employees For Proof of Illness

Many employers are frustrated with employees who frequently call in sick. And that frustration can lead to major headaches.

Tresa Baldas of The National Law Journal, writing in, identifies several pending lawsuits filed by the EEOC where employers are apparently asking for too much information when employees use sick time. Of particular note is the ‘intermittent leave’ permitted under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

You’ve got to consult with your employment attorney or HR expert before making such a request.

In the meantime, I am an advocate of consolidating ‘vacation’ and ‘sick’ time into one broader category – paid time off (PTO). If such a program is in place, it doesn’t matter why the employee is taking the time off. And once PTO is exhausted, the employee does not get paid for any additional time off – whether sick or vacation.

Picking The Best Health Plan

Whenever I meet with a new client, I prepare a list of questions about their business – both macro and micro. The answers are always diverse and informative – no business has the same issues.

Now matter how many business owners I’ve met with, however, there is one question they all agree on:

Are you satisfied with your health insurance plan?

The answer given by all, of course, is a resounding “no”.

Every October should be the time for businesses to re-evaluate their current benefits program and consider different providers or different options. Health Savings Accounts, for example, have gained some popularity but are not widely known.

And I’m constantly amazed that more businesses don’t utilize a Premium Only Plan.

A good start in the struggle to evaluate what’s best for your business is this article by Tom Murphy of the Associated Press.

Preventing Violence in the Workplace

While OSHA reports that nearly 2 million people have been victims of violence in the workplace, nearly 70% of all businesses have no workplace violence prevention policies.

That must change. Prevention is the cornerstone of all human resource policies, and it’s simple to implement (at an extremely low cost).

Too often business owners focus on the ‘now’ instead of the future. Preventing violence in the workplace is a ‘now’ issue. It could happen to you.


Employer Liability for Violence in the Workplace

An altercation at an Autozone store in Orange County California has put employer liability for violence in the workplace back in the news.

A customer was at the store to buy motor oil when he whistled at an employee in order to get his attention. The employee, a sales manager, took the whistling as an insult, and after a verbal exchange, hit the customer with a metal pipe.

The customer filed a lawsuit, contending that AutoZone was negligent in hiring, retaining, and training the employee, in light of his allegedly violent background. In particular, the sales manager had a juvenile delinquency record for attempted murder, although AutoZone was unaware of it. And, AutoZone had previously given the manager a written warning for raising his voice to a customer.

The CA appellate court ruled that the customer-victim can take his vicarious liability claim to trial.

Under California law, an employer is vicariously liable for its employees’ wrongdoings that are committed within the scope of the employment, and an employee’s willful, malicious, and even criminal acts may fall within the employment scope.

The appeals court, however, went on to reject the negligence accusations. According to the court, AutoZone had no duty to do a more-thorough background check before hiring the employee—and even had the company done more, it still might not have uncovered the juvenile record. What’s more, the prior incident in which the manager raised his voice with a customer wasn’t a red flag that he might be violent.

Avoid Liability

What can employers do to avoid liability—either vicarious or because of the employer’s own negligence—stemming from an employee’s violent outburst?

What can employers do to avoid liability—either vicarious or because of the employer’s own negligence—stemming from an employee’s violent outburst?

What can employers do to avoid liability—either vicarious or because of the employer’s own negligence—stemming from an employee’s violent outburst?

    • First, be sure to investigate job applicants’ backgrounds before they’re hired. This is especially true if the worker will have unsupervised conduct with third parties or the public.

    • Second, take care to monitor employees’ conduct, particularly, if given the nature of the job, there’s a possibility that violence could erupt. If you don’t, you could be liable for negligently supervising an employee who ends up assaulting a customer or co-worker.

    • Third, promptly respond to complaints or warning signs. If you become aware of a possible problem with an employee, you will face bigger legal risks if you don’t investigate and take action.

Flores v. AutoZone West, Inc., Calif. Court of Appeals (Dist. 4, No. G038322 (2008))

Courtesy Business & Legal Reports, Inc.

Workplace Wellness Programs

Even in this down economy, workplace wellness programs are on the increase. The advantages are numerous – lower health care costs; increased attendance and improved morale.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are also an inexpensive way to obtain these advantages – and in some cases, spouses and dependents can participate as well.

Wellness programs also increase the attractiveness of an employer. Companies with wellness programs that touch on the physical and emotional needs of staff and their families show the employer’s interest in keeping everyone healthy, and keeping them happy.

Courtesy East Indiana Star Press.

Wellness Programs Benefits for Small Businesses

You don’t need an expensive wellness plan to develop a healthier workforce.

Think about what’s in your breakroom: bagels, donuts, chips, and sodas?

How about fresh fruit and other low-fat snacks?

The American Heart Association offers a free walking program for employers.

What are the benefits?

  • increased employee morale
  • lower absenteeism and
  • potentially reduced health-care costs

Find out what your employees would like – if you deliver on their needs, the benefits will ultimately be both yours and theirs.

Via Chicago Tribune.

Workplace Bullying

Workplace Bullying, as noted here before, is a serious problem.

Jennifer Starace, client services manager for Business Resource Solutions, has now labeled the problem an “epidemic” in the workplace.

The best advice is to make sure your managers are looking out for this behavior and eliminating it the moment it occurs.

Unfortunately, 72% of all workplace bullies are managers!

If you’ve got turnover problems, or morale issues, one of the best techniques to specifically identify those problems is a 360 degree survey.

Via The Huntsville Times.