How Do You Show Your Appreciation For Stellar Employees?

Employee appreciation day is officially sometime back in April….but we here at Peoplescape think that everyday should be a day that you are grateful for something. Granted, not every employer-employee relationship elicits unbridled gratitude every single day. But, there are many simple ways that you can show your appreciation for your employees all throughout the year, when the mood strikes!

1. Dump the dumb rules – What??? Are we calling all of your rules dumb? No, absolutely not. But…there are probably some silly ones in the office that you know and I know and your employees know are unnecessary. A note for every sick day? Tracking exempt employees’ hours even though their hours aren’t billed to clients? Business casual every day of the week? Whatever the rule may be, I know you have one in mind. Check it out with your HR department and legal counsel, and if it’s not needed, dump it! Your employees will love you…at least for a day or two!
2. Fire the horrible employee – As soon as you read this, a face popped into your mind. If he or she isn’t bringing anything beneficial to the table and you have documentation for years to back up your termination, just do it (again, double check with HR and/or legal to make sure you’re covered). Someone (or many someones) in your office are sure to be grateful for making the office a more enjoyable and productive place.
3. Acknowledge extra efforts – A simple thank you or 10-second recognition at the next staff meeting will go a long way.
4. Don’t play favorites – They all know who your favorites are when you have them. So don’t add fuel to the employee fire, and keep it fair across the board.
5. Listen to an idea – Open your ears, encourage innovation, and implement away!
6. Don’t hover – If an employee hasn’t given you a reason to micromanage, then don’t do it. Give them the breathing room to succeed.
7. Take responsibility – We are all human. We all make mistakes. Take responsibility for yours, and you will see a trend of employees following suit. Be the change you want to see in the world. #Gandhi
8. Support your employees – If the mistakes made are honest ones, then have your employee’s back. Support them through the tough times and see the good times come to life.
9. Give deserved raises and bonuses – Where the levels of success and productivity calls for it, reward your employees.
10. Be honest – There are a few things you can’t share with your employees. But the things that you can share, do. Transparency and honesty will go a long way in earning your employees’ loyalty and honesty in return.

Are Workplace Dress Code Policies Changing?

“Red Hat is an open organization, accepting of people and how they choose to express themselves. Whether you have tattoos or piercings, we want people to feel comfortable and free to be who they are here. In fact, we have at least three associates who are so passionate about our role in changing the world through open source technology they have gotten tattoos of our company logo: Shadowman. How many organizations can say the same?”

 Jim Whitehurst, President & CEO of Red Hat

Granted, all companies are not going to be quite so accepting of employees expressing themselves however they choose, whether that be with decorative facial piercings and neck tattoos or a casual dress code every day of the week (sweatshirts and flip-flops anyone?). But, it is clear that there has been a shift in the importance placed on traditional dress codes and personal appearance clauses in employee handbooks, as well as in the office itself. Gone are the days of suits and ties for most organizations, as more and more employees embrace body art in various forms and fashions. But what does this cultural shift mean for a traditional company who values the boundaries and lines drawn by dress code policies? What does this mean for hospitality organizations who must cater to a certain public and with that, a perception of who and what their employees represent?

While unemployment rates are still high, qualified candidates are able to be selective about the company they choose to work for. So what makes one company more desirable than another? For someone with extensive body art, perhaps a flexible dress code policy would be enticing when it comes to the company culture and extra benefits of the workplace. Leaders at Glassdoor note that they want their employees to be able to feel authentic at work, and not have to put on a front or cover things up. In order to encourage an environment that fosters creativity and authenticity, embracing your employees as they are is a step in the right direction.

However, 42% of people in the workforce today (according to a December 2015 survey by still believe tattoos should be covered up in the office. Of course, amongst the younger crown (18 – 25 year old employees) only 22% believe those tattoos should be covered. So times are changing, and the culture at work is shifting. But tread lightly, as anytime you draw a line in the sand, there will be someone there wanting to challenge the rules. Make sure anything you put in writing in your employee handbook or policy manual is backed by legislation and that you are not infringing on anyone’s personal rights of religious expression or stereotyping certain individuals.

For more on this controversial topic, check out the thoughts of one of our favorite bloggers @EvilHRLady Suzanne Lucas here:

Paid Family Leave in NYC: National Trend or Anomaly?

Paid family leave has long been an issue for working parents, as the time spent away from work is likely causing them to take a lesser amount of income home. Earlier this year, the state of New York passed the most generous paid family leave legislation in the country, with an even more liberal leave coming from Washington, D.C. sometime this year. Already, three states offer between four to six weeks of paid family leave to employees who work a certain number of hours and meet the requirements to care for a new child or a sick family member. New York ups the ante with twelve weeks of paid leave for ALL workers in New York. This is also a huge step, because it gives men and women, full and part time employees, and employees of all company sizes the same opportunity.

New York has set up a system that will take very small employee contributions from their check, and will not cost employers or taxpayers any money. Debra Ness of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said that this change will allow 6.4 million workers in New York the chance to take paid time off that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. This is huge! Also, the fact that paid leave is not distributed fairly across the country, and that low-income families are affected the most because they are unable to take time off if it means not bringing home any income. As it stands, only 12% of the American working population has access to paid family leave. And of course, the top-earning players have easier access to the leave that does exist.

Not only does this change the game from a financial standpoint, but it also allows mothers to spend adequate time with their new babies, and encourages fathers to be equal partners in the child-rearing activities. Currently, 1 in 4 women return to work just two weeks after giving birth (due to financial reasons). This is arguably not enough time for the mother and baby to bond and heal from the traumatic event that is childbirth, not to mention the sleepless nights and painful process of caring for a newborn baby.

Bill Lipton, founder of the Working Families Party, notes that the presidential campaigns and popularity of candidates such as Bernie Sanders also validates progressive politics as a real factor in American culture today. Legislation such as this paid family leave passed by New Yorkers is likely to start a domino effect across the nation, as states look to California and New York to set the bar for this type of change.

Are Your Incentives Working?

Just like parenting or coaching or teaching, being a cultural change agent in your workplace is something that is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The company culture at Google is going to be very different than the company culture at your neighborhood auto service station. Thus, part of HR’s job and your job as a leader is to figure out what incentives will work for your particular company culture. What drives your employees? What makes them smile and encourages productivity and team cooperation?

  1. Be consistent with the perks you offer – don’t make changes to the system unless something clearly isn’t working. Employees want something to count on when it comes to company incentive programs.
  2. Make sure the incentive matches up with your core values. If you are the CEO of a corporate law firm, a “bring your dog to work day” probably won’t be the best idea.
  3. Consider the tangible perks that you are offering – gym memberships, gourmet lunches, yoga studio on site – and make sure that this is something that will not just attract employees but that will be utilized so it’s not a waste for the company and is actually helping to retain (and not just attract new) talent.
  4. Make changes with the structural and cultural shifts of your organization. Free coffee might not go very far today in the list of company perks, but holding a monthly achievement recognition meeting might work wonders for your employee efficiency, productivity, and self-worth. If your company culture is making a change to a more wellness-friendly and eco-friendly environment, choose incentives that will back this up (i.e. coveted parking spots for hybrid vehicles, refillable water bottles at the water cooler, etc.).
  5. Lead by example – reward your direct reports in a similar way that you’d like to see take effect company-wide. A newsletter shout-out, maybe? A catered lunch for the team? Whatever the incentive, you should always lead by example.

As is the case with many of the changes you will see in the coming years in HR and across companies worldwide, taking into account several factors before deciding on any big changes will be a huge component to the success of your organization. In a world where employees work remotely, have flexible work schedules, and are literally tied to their work lives with cell phones, tablets, and laptops 24/7, the work-life balance is so critical to employee retention and engagement. Offering incentives that work for you and for your employees is a huge step in the right direction! #HRBlogs #incentive #companyculture

Handling Leaves like a Pro: Plan, Prepare, & Conquer

Medical leave is something that we hear a lot about in the business world these days. From articles on how awful the U.S. maternity and paternity leave law is in comparison to developed countries worldwide, to the stress put on the employees left in the office when a colleague goes out on leave, there are so many factors to consider when it comes to leave policies and handling them like a pro. The best way to handle leaves of absence is to take a three step process based on the mantra of “plan, prepare and conquer!” And when all else fails, consider hiring a temp!

Plan – As with any major change in the workplace, handling a leave of absence well is critical to the flow of work and the productivity of the employees left behind. Here are a few steps to having a good plan in place!

    1. Cross-train your employees now so that if a sudden leave request comes up (of course, a pregnancy is something you will probably have advanced warning about but a cancer diagnosis – not always something you can predict!) you have some peace of mind in terms of people in the office knowing what Joe did on a day-to-day basis.
    2. Have at least one designated back-up for every person in your department. Better yet, have a clear plan outlined in writing for your entire team.
  1. Prepare – Planning and preparing go hand in hand. Your plan should be a design of sorts, and the preparation should be the actual put into action.
    1. Ask for advice and suggestions from the employee going out on leave (if you have advanced notice – i.e. maternity or paternity leave).
    2. If the person going out on leave interacts with clients, make sure you assign a shadow for that person before their leave so that the client is familiar with the stand-in while he or she is out on leave.
    3. FMLA regulations do allow for loopholes in terms of contacting employees for passwords and minor things (but do not ask for anything that may cause extra stress to the person out on leave). But it’s best to have these things in place prior to the leave.
  2. Conquer – Divide and conquer! One person’s workload should be divided up amongst the department if at all possible so that you are not overloading one employee over others.
    1. Assign tasks to those that are already proficient in that area. For instance, don’t give the employee benefit database to Jane to maintain while Joe is out if Jane has never worked with a spreadsheet or database in her day-to-day tasks.
    2. Offer training for those individuals being assigned new duties.
    3. Push some stuff to the back burner…not every meeting is necessary, not every email needs to be answered in 5 minutes. Prioritize and breathe!

Are your FMLA Procedures On Point?

Are you an HR Director? Did you know that you can be held personally liable for litigation and costly lawsuits as a result of handling FMLA requests that are not in compliant with federal law? Well, on March 17, 2016, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that you can be held liable for FMLA mishandlings in Graziadio v. Culinary Institute of America, 2016.  Ms. Graziadio requested FMLA on two separate occasions for two different family illness/injury instances. There was a question as to whether or not Ms. Graziadio’s request and leave was abusive, but due to the poor communication and requests on the part of the employer to provide the necessary documentation, Ms. Graziadio was able to be victorious in a lawsuit against her employer for not handling the FMLA request correctly. The HR Director responsible for handling the correspondence was also under analysis during this lawsuit, to determine whether or not she was responsible as the employer.

What can we, as HR professionals and company leaders, take away from this case?

  1. Know the FMLA laws – keep a copy handy for your supervisors, managers, and the HR staff.
  2. Have standard letters prepared – instead of scrambling for paperwork when an FMLA leave is requested, have something prepared that you can use for these leaves. It will streamline your process and ensure that the procedure is followed correctly across the company.
  3. Request medical certification from the employee within 5 days of the leave request – if the employer does not specifically request one, it is not required for the employee to present one.
  4. Be clear on the required information – if an employee’s medical certification is incomplete or insufficient, the employer must request in writing what additional information is necessary. Be clear, thorough, and specific!
  5. Train your staff on FMLA – employers (supervisors, HR staff, management) should be knowledgeable on FMLA so that questions can be answered CORRECTLY by these members of your team.

For more information on this specific case, feel free to check out @NatLawReview on Facebook and Twitter!

A Parting Gift: Severance Pay & Legal Tips

Severance packages are an attempt on the employer’s behalf to soften the blow of a layoff or termination, and also a protection against future litigation. According to @LegalHero in their recent post on this topic, the idea of a severance package may be written in to an employee’s contract or employment agreement. However, in states where at-will employment is in effect (such as California where Peoplescape is headquartered), a severance package can be offered as a nice parting gift to the employee and gives the employer a sense of security against future lawsuits. Before implementing and using severance packages in your organization, there are a few things to consider.

1. Include a clause in the severance package that waives the employee’s right to sue the employer, and ALSO protects the employer against disparaging remarks made by the employee against the employer moving forward.

2. Make sure you note the employer property in the employee’s possession and stipulate the means and timeline by which the employee is to return those items. I.e. company car, company cell phone, etc.

3. Clear statement regarding maintaining confidentiality not only of the severance agreement itself, but also any confidentiality regarding the employer, non-compete agreements, client lists, etc.

4. Include an agreement on the employee’s behalf to cooperate in any future lawsuits on the employer’s behalf. It’s nice to know you have a friend out there should any sticky situations arise!

5. An agreement acknowledging that the employee will not solicit the employer’s current clients for a certain time frame (one year is typical).

As with all things human resources related, there are pro’s and con’s to severance agreements. In situations where the employer does want to keep company information confidential, a severance package may be a nice parting gift for outgoing employees depending on the circumstances of each individual’s termination. But, it is also important to weigh the benefits and risks of implementing this type of policy. As always, we suggest consulting with your employment lawyer or a human resources labor law expert before going forward.

Two Benefits Never to Put on the Chopping Block

As we get settled into 2016, there are a few things employers need to know about benefits. First, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is alive and well.  Required notices to employees are different if employer-sponsored health plans are offered. Watch out, the details are many and tricky at best, and the potential for litigation abounds if employers are not following the rules. But, there’s good news! We have an inside scoop on what your employers want to see in their benefits package, and a few ideas on how to make it happen.

First, do not get rid of vision and dental benefits. Although these may seem like the easy choice to put on the chopping block first, the reality is that these two benefits can save the employer money in the long run. How?

  1. ER visits are drastically cut down when vision and dental insurance are offered. Costly emergency room trips for issues related to eyes and teeth are very minimal when employers offer vision and dental coverage.
  2. Routine eye and dental exams can be extremely beneficial in reducing the costs of problems later on. Preventive care is instrumental in diagnosing and treating problems before they become too expensive (significantly reducing both out-of-pocket expenses for the employee as well as overall health plan costs for the employer).
  3. According to @HRMorning, when vision and dental plans are set up correctly, the ACA regulations do not apply to these benefits. By creating separation vision and dental plans, these premiums will not fall into the threshold set for Cadillac taxes coming your way in 2018.

Of course, keeping your employees happy is just an added bonus because both MetLife and SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) conducted separate surveys in 2014 with the same results. Employees want to see vision and dental benefits on the table. SHRM reports that 83% of employees opted for vision coverage when offered (up from 78% the prior year) and MetLife reported that 76% of employees were interested in voluntary dental coverage if given the choice. The people have spoken…and the ACA cannot regulate. Win, win!

Thought Leaders Series #3: Three Priorities for New OT Rules

The Department of Labor (DOL) decided to shake things up a bit by issuing proposed overtime law changes for 2016. Back in June 2015 when the news hit, many human resources departments struggled with how this would change their current process and procedures for exempt vs. nonexempt employees. As many of us know, incorrectly classifying employees as exempt or nonexempt can lead to costly litigation and fines for employers. With the changing overtime rules, HR departments and upper management should all be aware and knowledgeable of this particular area of employment law.

Basically, the DOL plans to more than double the minimum annual salary for executive, administrative and professional overtime exemptions from $23,660 to $50,440 yearly. The starting point for highly compensated employees would rise to $122,148 from $100,000. These increases will mean that some employees who were previously classified as exempt will now be made non-exempt employees. What does this look like on the day to day level? Employers will have to change work schedules or pass out overtime pay, simply put! So make sure that you are reviewing your employee classifications and follow these guidelines as soon as the ruling becomes final on these proposed changes so that you do not face litigation or employee misclassification fines. Here are a few simple tips to help!

  1. Assess the scope of the issue for your particular organization – what does the impact for your company look like? How many employees will be affected? Do the leg work ahead of time so that you know what you are facing once everything is finalized.
  2. Develop a strategy for managing and implementing the changes – how will you relate this information to your employees? What is your game plan? Again, do the prep work so that you are well ahead of the curve on this one!
  3. Communicate with your employees! As always, communication is key to effective interpersonal relationships in the workplace. An open door policy when it comes to questions pertaining to pay, hours, and duties will go a long way to employee satisfaction.

As a former administrator of the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, Mr. Paul DeCamp has several years of experience with the DOL as well as with the other side of the court room as a shareholder in the Washington D.C. law firm, Jackson Lewis PC. This information was presented by Mr. DeCamp in a special edition of Society for Human Resources Management’s HR Magazine for 2015/2016.

GINA & Wellness Plans in the Workplace


The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits employment discrimination based on genetic information, which covers a broad spectrum of variables from participation in genetic testing to a disease or disorder in an individual’s family to the results of genetic testing. Because some employers have introduced wellness plans as part of a larger effort to promote healthy lifestyles among employees, GINA comes into play because of the protected information that may be asked of employees or spouses of employees upon enrolling in a wellness program. So what does this all mean for you as an employer?


First, wellness programs offer a slew of potential issues for employers, because of the privacy of information. Be careful when incorporating a wellness program into your company’s health benefits program, and make sure to consult legal advice or professional HR expertise when implementing such programs.


Second, require employees to sign written authorization forms to obtain protected information of any kind. This written authorization protects you as the employer from claims of discrimination that violate GINA guidelines.


Third, employers should consider offering incentives to employees for spousal participation only if the information required for participation does not prohibit GINA guidelines as noted above.


According to an article from The Modern Workplace @TMWorkBlog, “The EEOC’s proposed new regulations clarify that GINA does not strictly prohibit employers from offering incentives to an employee for spousal participation and does not strictly prohibit incentives offered directly to the spouse, so long as all other requirements for wellness plans are met.”


Clearly, in 2016, we should all be aware that health and wellness programs are a positive thing for organizations to offer to their employees and employees’ spouses/dependents. However, as with most good things, employers must be careful to abide by the legal guidelines set forth, and keep an eye out for new legal updates that might conflict with their current wellness programs.


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