Holy Smokes!

I am sure you have heard. CVS/Caremark is the first national drug store chain to announce it will no longer sell tobacco products by October of this year. Good? Bad?Indifferent? This decision will cost CVS/Caremark (and its shareholders) $2 billion USD a year in revenue annually. That is a lot of tobacco sales.

Was this a prudent business decision? If you listen to Chief Medical Officer Troyan A Brennan, M.D., it was. This bold stance on tobacco sales has set the bar high for drug stores across the nation. The company is moving to the direction of becoming part pharmacy, part grocery store and part primary care provider. The intent is that stopping the sales of tobacco products will position CVS/Caremark, the second largest player in the chain drug store industry (Walgreen’s is #1), as a new type of company committed to the overall health of its patrons. The future will tell if the formula works. CVS has to work on its image in order to achieve these goals. The tobacco sales decision is a step in that direction, for sure.

So, what does this mean for the workplace? Many companies have some sort of tobacco use policy and banned or limited smoking and use of tobacco products on their campuses. CVS’s decision is certainly in alignment with this trend. Will insurance plans start credentialing CVS stores as primary or urgent care facilities? If CVS sees their vision to fruition, it will offer a fast and convenient alternative to physician offices and urgent cares. The hospital where I work has a CVS within walking distance. From time to time, I see employees go to that CVS for cigarettes and even see them smoking in the parking lot of CVS. Will CVS join the ranks of companies prohibiting the use of tobacco on its premises?

I wonder how CVS’s transformation to health care provider will shape the market share for the retailer. I am not sure I see CVS as a place to get my blood work done or have a physical. They do give flu shots, though. And I can always get a bag of chips when I pick up my Advil.

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#19 in the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work For in 2014!

For those in the know, Baptist Health South Florida (BHSF) is a great employer. I have worked for BHSF since October 2011 and have seen first hand the great things we do for our employees and their families. As the article states, BHSF has “Culture of Caring” Caring for patients, guests and employees. With so many great benefits and other perks, our employees can have long, fruitful careers at the “Best Place to Be Your Best”. Find out more at BaptistHealth.net.

Here is some of the press

CNN Money


Great Rated

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The Language of Correcting Behavior


Corrective actions (or whatever your company calls them) have the potential to save or sink an employee. Corrective actions are a formal way to bring an ongoing obstacle to performance to light and give an employee the opportunity to change course, fix the behavior and save their job. Every manager should approach corrective actions like this – but some managers don’t – some use corrective actions as a weapon and focus on the negative aspects thus potentially plunging the employee into further despair. Administering a corrective action should not be viewed as punishing (however often time it is).

The way these documents are worded are so very important (as you probably already know). Nothing frustrates me more than when a manager wants to discipline an employee at a higher level when they have never commented on the behavior before to the employee. Behavior usually doesn’t develop overnight and managers should be vigilant so that they can nip issues in the bud; hopefully before the need for corrective action develops. Ideally, managers should clearly lay out expectations from the onset and prevent any behavioral issues. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right?

Sometimes, this prevention is not enough and employee behavior may need to be addressed. This is not time to attack the employee (my grandfather is partial to the phrase “draw and quarter” the employee). Careful use of words to remove emotion is important to maintain dignity and rapport. Using words like “discipline” when administering the corrective action can elude to corporal punishment and aren’t the best way to get an employee to collaborate and change their ways. Taking the time to clearly define the behaviors that need to change and outlining the expected behavior is the way to go. Unfortunately, this often does not happen.

Corrective actions should be all inclusive of behavior that needs to change. Whether it is attendance, punctuality or performance, behavior that needs changing should be addressed – verbally and in writing. Once a manager sees the need for formal corrective action, they should be including everything that is impacting employee performance. That way, the employee knows what needs to happen and where they need to go. Or when behavior perpetuates in a different (or similar) area the behavior can be addressed to the next level. Hopefully the employee fixed the problem or challenge so that the next step is not needed.

As HR pros, we are charged with training managers to properly address behavior and use language that is legally defensible. Managers are busy running their business and sometimes need help penning the right corrective action. Take the time to help managers construct a document that will help correct the behavior. Hopefully the employee will be retained and the behavior will stop. Then all will be right in the world!

As long as there are employees who are not meeting expectations, there will always be a need for HR.

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There’s a New Sheriff in Town


As HR pros, we have all been there (or will be there one day). We all have a bit of a cringe when we get the knock on our door and the person asks, “Do you have a minute?” And the person standing there is a member of a department that you know all too well – and not in a good way. The person proceeds to tell you that their new manager is “targeting” the employees and is being “mean” and maybe even causing an all-out ruckus. Something needs to be done to stop them! But the feedback you hear is lukewarm at best and seems shaded with a hint of subjectivity. An investigation ensues.

A department or area with a history of problems and/or negative attitudes suddenly (whether serendipitously or by design) has a change in leadership. While we breathe a sigh of relief, go whooping down the hallway or simply say “Thank Goodness”, we need to be ready for the potential backlash of those left behind. Those who were the minions of the prior regime and may not be feeling too happy about the change in their food chain. Their attempts at revenge may be swift.

It is hard when leadership changes but there are a few things that can soften the blow. If a manager or director leaves a bad situation or department, it is prudent to fully assess the area before a new leader is put in place. Take a temperature check of the area or even do some random engagement interviews. The employees might open up and share some juicy stuff which could prompt an employee relations frenzy. Hopefully there is a something to investigate from the findings.

It would be best to figure out some solutions before a new leader is put into the role. Whether someone from the outside or even within the company, not everyone may be aware of the feelings and attitudes in a specific area. Leadership candidates from the same department should be carefully reviewed. While they may be the ideal person to chart a new course for the troubled area, they could also reinforce past behaviors and have lingering resentment against some members of the team. When selecting a new leader for a challenged department, it may be a good idea to share some of the realities of the department with the final candidate(s). Sending them in blind can backfire and cause even more stress. You could be sending this new manager into a den of lions. And always have regular follow up meetings until things improve or fully subside.

What have you done to help fix departments that need fixing?

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What’s a Little Pot?!

One thing that drives me crazy about some people is their intermittent inability to face reality and own up to things they have done to plot their own demise. There are times that humans will blame anything and everyone else for their situation and not take ownership. Sometimes there are factors that influence people’s lives that are out of their control. This is not one of those situations.

“What’s a little pot?” was the question I had heard from the employee who “happened” to test positive in a drug screening. It is something that so many of us have heard in our careers and it usually does not end well. This is when either the EAP kicks in and we get help for the employee or we move to terminate. The sad part is that employee’s life at work will likely never be the same again. Regret. Fear. Apathy. We see all sorts of emotions in situations like this.

For many years, the line of what was legal and and not was clear and well known. When the urinalysis results come in, there is little room for grey. Marijuana is illegal and using it for recreational purposes likely would lead to a change in job status. And then there is Washington and Colorado. In 2012, the states of Washington and Colorado legalized forms of marijuana. Is this a flash in the pan or a beginning to a national momentum of cannabis legalization? The new legalization has surely impacted the way companies and businesses operate in these states.

As HR professionals, many of us have been programmed that the use of marijuana is probably the most common substance that shows up in drug screenings. Now companies in Washington and Colorado are faced with not only allowing employees to use cannabis, they might start offering marijuana in vending machines in or near these companies.

Check this out – http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/03/16327561-recreational-marijuana-users-could-get-pot-from-vending-machines-company-says?lite.

Imagine how surreal it would be to have employees smoking pot in the designated smoking areas. It is a culture shift that will prompt HR professionals to utilize our change management skills to modify the status quo. Imagine the generational brouhaha this could create! Thank goodness we are flexible – just be careful not to get too chill….

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I Heart NY!

As you may have heard, New York legislators recently signed a same sex marriage law for their citizens (in case you have been on vacation, here is the NY Times article – http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/25/nyregion/gay-marriage-approved-by-new-york-senate.html). This makes NY the largest state to pass a law like this to date. The influence this decision has on the country is also significant, since NY is a barometer of potential future trends and change movements.

The decision aside, HR professionals are now confronted with changing policies and programs to meet the mandates of this new legislation. I spoke to someone I know who works for in HR at a major university in New York City and they shared some comments from their peers with me. Apparently, the biggest challenge is not the integration of benefit structures  (although, this is a task in itself) or the tax implications but rather the training and education of staff members to be aware and respect those who will be entering into same sex marriages within the state. With all the open-mindedness of some parts of NY, there are areas where this law will still not allow those who enter into same sex unions to be acknowledged openly and publicly. NPR had a story the other day about this topic (http://www.npr.org/2011/07/07/137672101/coming-to-work-but-not-coming-out). While laws and policy are great on paper, changing the attitudes and perspectives of some people is a much more challenging task. Especially same sex marriage may violate some convictions held by those with certain religious and personal feelings against it. It is easy to say “just get over it” to those who are opposed to same sex unions, but those who are anti gay marriage need to heard and integrated into the new law. Remember, we always agree to disagree. The key is to respect each other’s thoughts and feelings and see the value each can bring to the table. We spend so much of our lives at work and it should be an environment of collaboration and regard. Yes, it may sound like some sort of Utopia, but this is the root of Diversity and Inclusion thought and as HR rofessionals we need to be looking at it from this perspective.

In 2011, it is amazing to me that some groups are still thought of as “weird” or “different”, even to the point of being targeted for aggression and violence. We all have feelings and prejudices but the key is to keep them in check and respect others. I find it particularly interesting when I hear other HR professionals share personal (and sometimes vehement) feelings about religious or political topics. We are all welcome to our opinions (hey, it is AMERICA!) but we need to make sure we do all we can to promote and maintain a diverse and inclusive workplace. Whatever your feelings are about what happened in NY (and 6 other states as well as a Native American tribe), the tide is moving toward national recognition of same sex unions and marriage. Will you and your company be ready?

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Technology Working for (and Against) Us

I read yesterday that the Department of Labor (DOL) is launching a Wage and Hour application (app) for Smartphones. This app will allow employees to track their hours worked and when their paycheck does not accurately reflect their records, they can submit their complaint to the DOL. There is even a connection the DOL has to the American Bar Association that offers attorney referral services to employees whose cases the DOL chooses not to take on. Sounds good, right?

According to the DOL, there was a significant increase in 2010 of wage and hour lawsuits (close to 6,800 about 700 higher than 2009). While that number may seem low in the grand spectrum of employment, the DOL has added a few hundred more examiners to combat the forecasted increase in these types of claims. The DOL’s thought process is that this app will make it easier for effected employees to issue complaints and receive their proper pay. Employees who work for companies that may not follow all wage and hour regulations (whether intentionally or out of ignorance) will surely be benefitted. For those companies that follow the rules, this could be a problem. Wage and hour claims can take up valuable resources and cost companies large amounts of money – even if the company is compliant with the law!

From an employer standpoint, this new app should be concerning – if not alarming. As with any computer related application, the information that is input is only as relevant and factual as the person entering it wants it to be. Therefore, any unhappy or disgruntled worker could potentially wreak havoc for a company who follows the guidelines. Most Wage and Hour claims are related to improper classification of exempt employees and not paying non-exempt employees the right amount of overtime. Having a firm grasp on your company’s pay practices is the best remedy to future claims.

This is a great time to make sure your pay policies and compensation programs are in line with the law. Using the exemption tests to check the status of each position helps to alleviate wage and hour complaints. Also, communicating to all non-exempt staff that they must log all hours worked is a good idea. There is always an employee who might stay an extra 15 minutes to finish a project or who may come in early to help cover the office and not log this extra time (for whatever reason). One area that seems generate questions is off site training classes that may or may not include work hours. Check with your compensation team or consultant to find out the criteria paying employees correctly. If an employee happens to work unapproved overtime, they can be disciplined but they must be paid for that time. The important thing to remember is that they must log and be paid for all time worked.

If you follow the DOL rules and regulations, it does not guarantee that you will be safe from wage and hour allegations however you will have a solid standing and response if there is a case brought against your company. Another to remember is to not give any impression of retaliation against an employee who brings either a false or legitimate Wage and Hour claim. That could lead to a whole other set of problems.

The rule we should always remember is – Do what you can to prevent the DOL from knocking on your door.

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Please Hang Up the Phone!

I wonder if the inventor of the cell phone had any idea that their forethought would change the world. I see people all over with this device attached to their ear (and sometimes at very inopportune times!). Personally, I only have a cell phone and no land line which seems to be becoming more the norm. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without my cell – I use it for calls, email, Twitter and of course to play games! Cell phones have revolutionized our lives, for sure, and probably one of the most impacted places is the business world. Everyone at work seems to have a cell phone either issued by their employer or for their personal use. These personal cell phones are causing a ruckus in some workplaces and policing their use and the policy governing their use can be a real pain for management and HR.

One of the advantages of landlines at work is the relative ease of call reporting and monitoring. It is pretty easy to see when an employee uses a work phone for personal use. And it is even easier for a manager to view an employee using their work phone for calls. Now with cell phones, an employee can be on personal calls on their personal cell phone and the employer would have no way of monitoring this use. The best plan – have a policy governing cell phone use.

Cell phone policies, like the technology they cover, are forever changing. Just when you get your policy to where you want it another option becomes available and another policy loophole opens. So don’t get too used to your policy!

First thing is to determine what usage is appropriate and what isn’t. For example, some employers have a zero tolerance viewpoint to cell phone usage in the workplace. Others may have designated cell phone areas (and designated NO cell phone areas). And others still may allow business cell calls only in the workplace and require personal calls be taken outside or in another area. I know some employers who tried to allow a certain amount of time a day for cell calls and it turned out to be a nightmare to monitor. A time limit could be placed on how long each call takes, but this may be excessive “big brother” behavior by the employer. I mean, these are adults who work for us, right?

Be prepared to address the issue of an employee making or receiving a cell phone call while at work if your company wants to curtail personal cell usage in the workplace. How will this employee be required to take the call, if they chose to? Will they need to use break time? How will emergencies be handled?

The best policies are easy and unilateral. Meaning they are clearly delineated and pertain to all. For example – personal cell calls may only be made and/or received in the break room. This works fine until a complaint crosses your desk that so and so “is texting at their desk all day long”. Then the cell phone policy might need to be tweaked to add texting. Ideally, your cell phone policy should apply to the device and not the action. Then, inevitably, someone pulls out their cell phone to listen to the music they have downloaded. This employee tells you their phone is their MP3 player. Ugh – what to do now? You normally allow employees to listen to music while they work; in fact many use MP3 players. How should this factor in to the cell phone policy?

The answer is – it depends on your workplace. Figure out what works best for you and then draft a policy to meet your needs. Note that I said draft, because you will likely be changing it again. Welcome to the quagmire mess of cell phone policy making! I hope this blog is as clear as mud.

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Pull Up To the Bumper!

We have all seem them. “World Class Swimmer”. “Warning, I Have an Attitude and I Know How To Use It”. “Live, Love, Laugh”. Bumper stickers are everywhere; on the roads, in parking lots and in wacky pictures on the internet. Bumper stickers are a way to express your feelings on all sorts of topics. Perhaps you have one (or too many) on your car.

While bumper stickers can be fun (and funny), they can cause some rather emotional responses in people. For example, when you see a bumper sticker for a political candidate you support you might have a positive feeling toward the driver of the car – a feeling of camaraderie, of association. The opposite is also all too often true. I once had an employee who told me they had to deflate the car tires of another employee because their car had a bumper sticker for a candidate that did not support union activity (this was during a strike at a facility I managed early in my career.) It sounded pretty extreme to me, too. And just last week, there is an alleged hate crime that has erupted due to a bumper sticker that refers to illegal immigrants (http://www.wisn.com/r/28101137/detail.html). Free speech governs much of bumper sticker verbiage, but when do these stickers cross the line?

As an HR person, I have firsthand knowledge that things that happen outside the workplace can effect what happens inside and bumper stickers are just an example of this. While a bumper sticker that says “I Love Horses” may seem innocuous there are some stickers that could be inflammatory; mainly the political and religious leaning bumper stickers. Now I am not advocating people refrain from exhibiting their right to free speech but I am suggesting that they need to be aware of how this exhibition could bias the way they are perceived. In the workplace, this problem can be exacerbated because the people who drive the cars that display these subjective bumper stickers work side by side with those who are offended. Imagine how this seemingly insignificant issue can influence interactions in the workplace and cause employee relations headaches for HR and management.

As some businesses have required tattoos, piercings and other personal choices to be hidden and/or removed, we might see the bumper sticker eradicated from some workplace parking areas due to liability. Imagine having to right and enforce that corporate policy! I can almost see the headlines now.

Personal expression is a hallmark of our country and is one of our most valued freedoms. Taking a piece of paper and sticking it on your car bumper is yet another example of this right. I have no bumper stickers on my car and probably never will. They are just not my style. Bumper stickers have made me laugh, think and sometime bite my lip. And sometimes they have made me get the urge to “honk”, when I see a bumper sticker that says, “Honk, If You Love Cheese!”

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Stop Being So Nosey!

Gladys Kravitz. To many this name brings up memories of the busy-body neighbor who always seemed to show up and see Samantha Stephens in a compromising situation. For those of you who don’t know who Gladys Kravitz is, Google her name, I am sure you will quickly become aware of someone who reminds you of her. We refer to our little dog, Belle, as our neighborhood Gladys Kravitz. She spends time going up to each neighbor during her numerous walks and gives us a chance to strike up conversations and learn about them. She seems to know everyone’s business.

In the workplace, we encounter people who have similar qualities to Gladys Kravitz – people who are nosey; people who spend more time worrying about what other people are doing and not concentrating on optimally performing their jobs. These employees might be called gossipers or even harassers. This behavior can sometimes be so pervasive that it seriously impacts the workplace. These are the employees who fuel the office grapevine and help spread rumors and other potentially damaging and hurtful communications.

So, how do we handle this type of employee? Hopefully your company has a policy that spells out appropriate personal conduct in the workplace. If not, this is an important policy to have in place. Staff that engages in gossip that negatively affects the workplace should be developed to stop the behavior and the best way to address it is through corrective action. Ideally, a referral to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) should be part of this action since someone who exhibits gossip-type behavior might need some ideas to help them break the habit. The conversation could prove to be challenging for management however if the behavior is allowed to continue it could become worse.

The office grapevine can be harmless fun until it starts to cause hurt feelings. Sometimes this gossip can lead to rifts in the workplace and if the gossiper is someone who has access to corporate intelligence this could lead to a serious negative impact. If your business handles sensitive medical or legal records and your employees are discussing patient’s or client’s information without a business need, it could have severe implications including fines, legal action and even jail time in some situations.

In essence, make sure you have a policy in place that addresses gossip. And enforce it. Remember, loose lips sink ships. Or worse.

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