NC BENEFITS ADVISOR HONORED, STARTS PODCAST | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

Cristy Gupton, President of a leading North Carolina employee benefits consulting firm, Custom Benefits Solutions, was featured as one of America’s Top 20 Women in Benefits Advising in the October 2018 Issue of the national trade publication Employee Benefits Advisor.

A Morganton, NC resident, Gupton was selected based on her nationally-recognized seminars, publications and work to help employers combat the opioid crisis through employee education and smart design of employee health plans. A cornerstone of her presentations is her vision to simultaneously reduce both supply and demand for opioids by using the employee health plan to improve healthcare while reducing costs.

“While it’s humbling to be recognized on a national level, it also adds fuel to my fire and propels me to keep working until the problem is solved”, said Gupton, who is a member of the peer group The Health Rosetta lead by author and healthcare visionary, Dave Chase. 

"The status quo health plans that most employers offer drive employees to volume-centric primary care centers designed to refer you to expensive (and often unnecessary) services that produce poor patient outcomes," says Dave Chase, author of The Opioid Crisis Wake-Up Call: Health Care is Stealing the American Dream. Here's How We Take It Back. ”Employers are paying far too much for low-quality care – a side effect of which is the opioid crisis – and transparent benefits advisors like Cristy are helping lead a health care revolution and find actionable solutions."

These and other events inspired Gupton to begin a national conversation about finding solutions to the problems plaguing our current healthcare system, she said. 

“That’s when the idea of hosting a podcast came to mind,” Gupton said. “I learn a lot from podcasts and I’m always eager to hear the next one in the lineup. I don’t even need a radio in my car anymore.” 

The launch of her podcast, Healthcare Solutions, will address topics like Direct Primary Care, Reference-Based Pricing, Pharmacy Benefits Management, and many other issues detailing how employers who provide healthcare to over 170 million Americans can improve care while lowering costs.

“I’m excited to bring the problem solvers to the table to talk about real solutions that make a difference,” Gupton said. “In the third episode, the case-study of an upstate SC local government who decided to abandon the status quo and try something new is captured for listeners to learn from. Hopefully, what resonates with listeners is that the solutions are here. It’s just up to us to put them in place.”

Finding the podcast and subscribing won’t be difficult. It’s easily found on Apple podcasts, Google Play, and www.custombenefits.work. Searching the hashtag “#letsfixhealthcare” should lead you right to it. 

# # #

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Cristy Guptonat828.413.3581or email cristy@custombenefits.work. 

ABOUT CUSTOM BENEFITS SOLUTIONS: Custom Benefits Solutions has assisted employer organizations in crafting the best benefit packages for employees using three core beliefs: Trust, Transparency and Technology. Cristy Gupton, a third-generation insurance expert, founded Custom Benefits Solutions in 2006. She is a co-creator of the Substance Use & The Workplace Community Forum and lead of the Health Rosetta’s Opioid Component Committee.

Download the press release.

2019 Minimum Wages | North Carolina Employee Benefits

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Eighteen states rang in 2019 with new, higher minimum wage rates. These states (AK, AZ, CA, CO, DC, FL, ME, MN, MO, MT, NV, NJ, NV, NY, OH, OR, SD, and WA) have scheduled annual adjustments for their minimum wages based on approved legislation, via ballot initiative, or varying formulas.

Thirty states have a minimum wage higher than the federal rate, sixteen states’ minimum wages are equal to the federal rate, and five states have no minimum wage requirement at all. The higher rate (state or federal) always prevails when the laws differ.

Get the Details

The 2019 State and Federal Minimum Wage Chart is available for free download on the ThinkHR website. They track all state minimum wage rates throughout the year and provide information on changes.

This post originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

From Resolutions to Reality: 5 Tips for Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

Ever wonder why the resolutions you make in January don’t stick around after March? You aren’t alone! Studies show that only 8% of peoplekeep their New Year’s resolutions. Only 8%! Why? And how do people achieve their goals set at New Year’s? We’ve broken it down for you so you can identify your goal-breaker as well as give you some tips on how to make those resolutions stick. 

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There are three main reasons that New Year’s resolutions fail. The first goal-breaker is taking on too much (too big of a goal) and expecting it to happen too fast. Researchers have found that it takes 66 days to break a habit. That’s much higher than the previously published 21 days. It conversely means that it also takes 66 days to form a new habit. So, battle your goal-breaker by setting smaller goals and not expecting to master those resolutions by the end of the month.

The second reason you fail to keep your resolution is you don’t have anyone supporting you. This could be because you simply didn’t tell anyone that you have new life goals. It could also be due to fear of accountability. You need some life-cheerleaders that root you on to victory. These cheerleaders also call you out when you are riding off the tracks. Their support isn’t tied to your achievement of your goals but instead their support is firmly tied to you and they want to see you succeed.

The last goal-breaker is that you don’t believe in yourself! When you make New Year’s resolutions that are super unattainable, and then you fail, you doubt yourself. When this cycle persists, time and again, you fill your head up with negative thoughts and begin believing you aren’t capable of accomplishing anything. Self-doubt is powerful. 

Now, let’s steer this ship back on course with some tips on KEEPING your New Year’s resolutions. 

Remember that bigger isn’t always better. 

Set your resolutions as small, attainable, goals.  With those small goals, set realistic timelines to achieve them. Avoid “I want to run the Ironman by November” if you’ve never run more than 2 times a month. Set your goal as “I want to run a 5K by Christmas” and work towards increasing your endurance each week.

Reward yourself along the way.

If exercising is your goal, reward yourself with a trip to the movies if you go to the gym 3 times a week. When you look forward to rewards, and you feel like they are attainable, you are more likely to work hard to get them! 

Tell others about your resolutions. 

Finding an accountability partner helps keep your ship on course as they can encourage you for achievements as well as guide you back to the course when you start to stray. 

Write your goals down on paper. 

Mark Murphy says Writing things down doesn’t just help you remember, it makes your mind more efficient by helping you focus on the truly important stuff. And your goals absolutely should qualify as truly important stuff.”

Identify your purpose. 

Knowing your “WHAT” (goal) is important, but knowing “WHY” can be just as important when it comes to following through on your intentions. Whydo you want to lose weight in 2019? When you put the why to the what, you are truly focused on what matters. “I want to lose weight so that I can play with my children without getting tired and show them that hard work is worth it.”  Now, THAT’S a great goal. 

 

Identifying goal-breakers and goal-makers are equally important pieces to achieving what you set out to accomplish, especially with regards to New Year’s resolutions. Make this the year your goals become reality by focusing on these five simple tips. 

Episode 1: What is Healthcare Solutions all about? with Wes Hawn

Introducing, The Healthcare Solutions Podcast Episode 1!

 
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Healthcare innovations that make a difference. On the show, Cristy Gupton, President of Custom Benefits Solutions, meets with other experts in the industry and talks over solutions to current obstacles. Today's problems with healthcare and how we change it for the better.

Subscribe:

Get Back to Work! | North Carolina Employee Benefits

Managing the Intersection of Workers’ Compensation with Other Leave Regulations

You’re ready when the call comes in. Your client’s employee was seriously injured on the job. You reassure the client that your team has them covered, and you outline their workers’ compensation policy provisions, administrative claim filing process, and accident site investigation protocols.

You check in later in the week. As a result of the accident site investigation, the employer’s worksite processes are updated, equipment is modified, and employees are being trained to prevent future accidents like this one. Employee training records are updated, the OSHA injury/illness logs are completed, and the safety team is monitoring the new processes and systems.

The employee is not back to work, but is progressing well with medical treatment and is receiving wage replacement provided by the policy. Everything is well documented so that the client is ready in the event of an OSHA or state safety audit/inspection.

The client appreciates the extra service and professional advice you’ve given to make the best of the unfortunate accident. You’re satisfied that this situation is under control and make a note to follow up with them in the next few weeks. Your job on this claim is done … or is it?

Important Leave Details Cannot be Overlooked

Your goal is to advise your clients of all risks affecting their business, and it’s likely you haven’t spent much time thinking about the impact of uninsurable HR-related business risks or opportunities to mitigate them. In this situation with an injured worker, there are other employment laws and benefits considerations besides state workers’ compensation rules that your client should factor in when managing time off and return to work.

Although workers’ compensation eligibility, coverage, and benefits rules vary from state to state, most employees are covered when the occurrence is job-related. Depending upon the employer size and type of injury or illness suffered by the employee, the employee also may be entitled to medical and/or disability-related protections under two federal laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). To make things even more complicated, some states have enacted their own disability and family and medical leave laws, some of which provide greater amounts of leave and benefits than the federal rules. Failure to look at the entire situation and take these laws into consideration can prove costly to your client.

Counsel your client to consider the following:

  • If the employee has a serious health situation requiring time off the job, then FMLA may apply.

  • If the employee is disabled, the ADA may apply.

The bottom line is that when employees need time off because of a medical or disability-related issue, it is important to remember that they may have rights under all of these laws at the same (or different) times for the same illness or injury. Each situation needs to be reviewed very carefully, so that the right amounts of time off to manage the condition are provided, and that benefits, compensation, notifications, and other protections are managed.

Avoidable Mistake #1

The most common mistake that employers make with work-related employee injuries/illnesses: Not considering and/or designating FMLA leave concurrently with a workers’ compensation claim. This can result in legal claims for failure to provide benefits, as well as additional costs to the business.

For the claim you just handled, let’s say that the injured employee is off work on temporary total disability for 16 weeks. His doctor then releases him to return to light-duty work, and your client offers him a light-duty job. If they had not properly designated that employee’s time off as FMLA leave, the employee may be able to reject the offer of light-duty work and then be entitled to up to 12 additional weeks of unpaid FMLA leave. Additionally, your client would also be required to keep the employee on their health insurance through those 12 additional weeks of unpaid leave and return him to his former job when he finally returns to full-duty work.

If the client had designated the leave concurrently at the time of the injury, the FMLA job and benefits protections would terminate after the first 12 weeks, while the employee was still on temporary total disability. The employee would then have four more weeks of workers compensation temporary disability, without FMLA protections for additional time off or benefits continuation beyond the wage replacement and benefits provided under workers compensation.

Here’s why: FMLA is a federal law that provides employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for specific reasons, including a serious health condition due to a work-related injury or illness. FMLA applies to:

  • Private employers with 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite; and

  • All public agencies and private and public elementary and secondary schools, regardless of the number of employees.

Employees are eligible to take FMLA leave if they have:

  • Worked for their employer for at least 12 months;

  • Worked for at least 1,250 hours over the 12 months immediately prior to the leave; and

  • There are at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite.

Note: The 12 months of employment do not need to be consecutive, which means that any time previously worked for the same employer can be used to meet the requirement unless the break in service lasted seven years or more. Some exceptions apply.

Within the context of a work-related injury or illness, the most common serious health conditions that qualify for FMLA leave are:

  • Conditions requiring an overnight stay in a hospital or other medical care facility; and

  • Conditions that incapacitate the employee for more than three consecutive days and have ongoing medical treatment (either multiple appointments with a healthcare provider, or a single appointment and follow-up care such as prescription medication).

Generally, basic first aid and routine medical care are not included unless hospitalization or other complications arise.

Employers must also consider compliance with state “mini-FMLA” laws that cover an employee’s serious health condition. California, Connecticut, Maine, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia have enacted medical leave laws impacting private employers. Massachusetts medical leave law provides for leave benefits beginning January 2021, with proposed regulations to be published in March 2019. Other states are considering similar laws.

Avoidable Mistake #2

The second common mistake that employers make with work-related employee injuries/illnesses: Not considering the ADA requirements for entering into an interactive process for reasonably accommodating an employee’s return to work.

The ADA is a federal law that prohibits covered employers from discriminating against people with disabilities in the full range of employment-related activities. Title I of the ADA applies to employers (including state or local governments) with 15 or more employees and to employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees with any number of employees.

The ADA protects individuals with a disability who are qualified for the job, meaning they have the skills and qualifications to carry out the essential functions of the job, with or without accommodations. An individual with a disability is defined as a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;

  • Has a record of such an impairment; or

  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

The ADA does not set out an exhaustive list of conditions covered by the law, making it more difficult for employers to determine with certainty what conditions actually are considered a disability. These conditions require medical interpretation of the severity of the condition by the employee’s healthcare provider, and it is always a best practice to work with medical and legal experts when in doubt. A good rule of thumb to use in reviewing ADA issues is to look at the medical condition in its entirety. Generally, conditions that last for only a few days or weeks and are not substantially limiting with no long-term effect on an individual’s health — such as basic first aid, broken bones, and sprains — are not considered disabilities under the Act.

The ADA does not specifically require employers to provide medical or disability-related leave. However, it does require employers to make reasonable accommodations for qualified employees with disabilities if necessary to perform essential job functions or to benefit from the same opportunities and rights afforded employees without disabilities. Accommodations can include modifications to work schedules, such as leave. There is no set leave period mandated because accommodations depend on individual circumstances and should generally be granted unless doing so would result in “undue hardship” to the employer.

One of the most common questions — and one of the most difficult to answer — is the definition of what is considered a reasonable accommodation.

In the real world, the definition of what is a reasonable accommodation varies and is based on several factors. Examples include: making existing facilities accessible; job restructuring; part-time or modified work schedules; acquiring or modifying equipment; changing tests, training materials, or policies; providing qualified readers or interpreters; or reassignment to a vacant position. Determining what is reasonable and does not cause undue hardship to the business can be difficult, so be sure to consult with experts and provide documentation regarding why an accommodation would be unreasonable for the business.

The Department of Labor (DOL) suggests that every request for reasonable accommodation under the ADA should be evaluated separately to determine if it would impose an undue hardship, taking into account:

  • The nature and cost of the accommodation needed;

  • The overall financial resources of the company, the number of employees, and the effect on expenses and resources of the business; and

  • The overall impact of the accommodation on the business.

There are two issues that arise with returns to work that are risky for employers: (1) 100 percent healed policies and (2) light-duty rules.

Regarding 100 percent healed policies, employers cannot require an employee to be completely healed before returning to work because those rules violate the ADA’s requirements to allow workers to use their right to an accommodation. Even if the employee is not 100 percent healed, he or she could possibly still work effectively with an accommodation.

Employers may create light-duty positions as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA or as part of the return-to-work plan from workers compensation. The goal is to get employees back to work at 100 percent of the productivity that they had before the injury, and there are times when a light-duty position might be the next step, with lighter physical requirements and reduced productivity expectations.

Caution your clients to design the light-duty position to meet the physical requirements of the partially healed worker, so that there will be no physical reason for the employee to refuse the light-duty position.

Under most workers compensation plans, an employee’s refusal to return to work in a light-duty position that meets his or her medical restrictions can result in termination of workers compensation benefits. Additionally, the ADA does not allow an employee to refuse work that meets the physical requirements of the accommodation.

Without that careful look at the duties of the position as they pertain to the employee’s medical needs, however, the employee can refuse the position and continue to collect benefits until he or she is able to perform the requirements of the position.

Steps for Success

While these laws have different goals, medical circumstances create overlaps between them. It is important to understand the rules and benefits in order to manage them correctly and avoid the risk of legal challenges and more expensive or longer leaves.

Advise your clients to:

  • Designate FMLA leave for eligible employees concurrently with the workers compensation claim.

  • Keep in touch with injured or ill employees throughout their leave.

  • Manage pay and benefits according to each situation.

  • Carefully evaluate requests for intermittent time off, light duty, or other modified work.

  • Consult with your legal advisors and insurance carriers regarding special situations.

  • Handle returns to work and reinstatement of benefits in accordance with the laws.

This article originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

The Big-Picture View of Risk | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

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Many human resources and business leaders think about compliance in black-and-white terms. We simply check the boxes and evaluate compliance efforts using one measure: “Are we doing it right or not?”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of failing to see the broader implications of our compliance efforts. We need to go beyond, “What’s the law and what should I do about it?” We need to ask questions like, “How does this law intersect with our culture?” or “What best practices will support this requirement?”  We need to understand that risk crosses our desks every day.

That’s where people risk management comes in.

People Risk Management: What It Is

People risk management is simply the strategic and wholistic view of compliance. It’s really all about the end-to-end story; it’s how we deal with all the things that happen in the employee lifecycle in a way that minimizes risk while maximizing employee engagement.

It’s all about how we anticipate risk, reduce the likelihood of risk events, and deal with them when they do happen. The best companies proactively respond to risk in an ethical way that not just protects us from liability, but also builds trust and respect among the workforce.

People Risk Management: An Example

Let’s say a new sexual harassment law goes into effect in your state. This triggering event (the new law) is just part of the issue. You need to take a big-picture view of the entire situation. You’ll need to know what you should anticipate, what you need to do, and how to evaluate your efforts to make sure you’ve addressed every risk.

Because this law is related to how people behave, in addition to administrative requirements, it can be difficult to understand how to simultaneously address both the risk of harassment and the risk of failing to comply with each aspect of the law. You also need to incorporate your response to this issue into your company culture to demonstrate that you care about protecting not just the company, but also your employees.

When engagement and compliance issues intersect, and you do both well, you create a culture that says you deal with stuff in a clear way, but also you protect yourself from legal risks. It’s a double benefit.

This article originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

5 Ways to Say Thank You | North Carolina Employee Benefits

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As we begin our new year of 2019, we have also closed 2018 with lots of celebrations, gift-giving, and family time. Showing appreciation for others during this generous season comes second nature for some but for others, it doesn’t.  You may be looking for ideas on how to express your gratitude effectively to those around you and so we’ve compiled a list of five unique ways to say “thank you” to someone.

WRITE IT OUT

Receiving a handwritten note is a rare occurrence in this day. Speaking or emailing a thank you is more common and does effectively communicate the gratitude of the sender. However, the spirit of gratefulness that is communicated by sitting down and taking pen to paper to express your thankfulness for the act or gift received, is a bonus to the note receiver. Take the extra time to write out that thank you.

PHONE A FRIEND

In a day and age of emails and texts and social media, we rarely get phone calls from people who aren’t asking for something—billing issues, appointment reminders, robo-calls.  Even if the person on the other end of the call doesn’t pick up, leave that voicemail telling them thank you for their thoughtfulness for the gift you received. Be specific and mention the gift by name and what it meant to receive it. That phone call may be the brightest part of their day!

SAY IT ON SOCIAL MEDIA

We spend more time scrolling through social media than we do having face-to-face contact with people. Instead of getting caught up in a heated debate on NextDoor, take a few minutes to write on a friend’s wall to tell them thank you. It’s refreshing to see gratitude on display instead of incivility. And it’s always nice to see your friends get noticed for kindness!

FLASH A SMILE

The look of surprise on someone’s face is sometimes the greatest thank you that you can receive! The age old saying of “your face says it all” is true. When you open that gift and you can tell that the giver spent time thinking of the perfect thing to give you, look up and give them the thank you of a smile!

PAY IT FORWARD

Were you bowled over by the thoughtfulness of a gift or act? A beautiful way to show your gratefulness is to pay it forward. Buy the coffee of the person behind you in line. Say three nice things to strangers on the way in to your office. Tell your child a character quality you see in them that is fabulous. While this act of gratitude may mean that the original giver never knows about the ripple effect of their gift, you will, and hopefully that ripple is carried on and on and on.

 

These acts of gratitude are simple, effective, and most of all, meaningful. We should all be more mindful of taking the time to say thank you!

Government Shutdown Update: E-Verify and E-Verify Services Unavailable

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On December 22, 2018 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted notice that due to the lapse in federal funding the E-Verify website will not be actively managed and will not be updated until funding resumes. Although some online resources will remain available for employers or employees to review, webinars, myE-Verify accounts, Form I-9 and E-Verify telephone support will not be available.

Understandably, employers may be concerned about how to proceed with hiring or maintaining their E-Verify account. Employers are encouraged to review the guidance on the E-Verify website outlining how to proceed with employment verification during the outage.

Several E-Verify policies have been implemented to assist employers during this time to minimize employer burden:

  • The “three-day rule” for creating E-Verify cases is suspended for cases affected by the unavailability of E-Verify.

  • The time period during which employees may resolve “tentative nonconfirmations” (TNCs) will be extended. The number of days E-Verify is not available will not count toward the days the employee has to begin the process of resolving their TNCs.

  • USCIS and DHS will provide additional guidance regarding “three-day rule” and time period to resolve TNCs deadlines once operations resume.

  • Employers may not take adverse action against an employee because the E-Verify case is in an interim case status, including while the employee’s case is in an extended interim case status due to the unavailability of E-Verify.

  • Federal contractors with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) E-Verify clause should contact their contracting officer to inquire about extending federal contractor deadlines.

Although the use of E-Verify and live support are not available, employers that are actively hiring should proceed with the use of I-9’s and verify employment eligibility as required. The E-Verify website states:

“The lapse in government appropriations does not affect Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification requirements. Employers must still complete Form I-9 no later than the third business day after an employee starts work for pay, and comply with all other Form I-9 requirements outlined in the Handbook for Employers (M-274) and on I-9 Central.”

This originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

5 Ways to Update Your Employee Handbook by Year’s End

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How long has it been since your organization updated its employee handbook? It’s time to brush off any layers of dust that have accumulated over the years and make it a priority to conduct a review prior to the year’s end. This article highlights five evolving areas employers can focus on now to start the quickly-approaching new year off on the right foot.

1. #MeToo

The #MeToo movement has shone a spotlight on equal employment opportunity, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation in the workplace. Employers may want to carefully review their policies on these subjects, including their complaint and investigation procedures. Harassment policies can include prohibitions against harassment based on any legally protected category in addition to addressing sexual harassment. As a best practice many employers include in their policies clear, complaint procedures that allow for multiple reporting avenues and are available during all shifts. In fact, employers may have an affirmative defense to a harassment claim if an aggrieved employee unreasonably fails to take advantage of an employer’s complaint procedures and other corrective measures. Appropriate training and consistent disciplinary enforcement are also key.

2. The NLRB’s New Guidance on Handbook Rules

In the recent past, much has been made regarding the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) exercising authority over employers’ social media policies and other handbook policies. Yet, things appear to be shifting to a more employer-friendly direction. On June 6, 2018, on the heels of the Boeing decision, the Board’s general counsel (GC) issued an advice memorandum on the new standard for analyzing whether a work rule violates employees’ rights.  

The GC’s memorandum analyzes common employer rules and provides guidance as to whether a complaint should be issued in terms of three categories of work rules: (1) those that are generally lawful, (2) those that require case-by-case evaluation, and (3) those that are unlawful. The memorandum emphasizes that the agency’s focus is now on whether a rule in question would actually be interpreted to cover protected concerted activity under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. Specifically, the memorandum states that “ambiguities in rules are no longer interpreted against the drafter, and generalized provisions should not be interpreted as banning all activity that could conceivably be included.” Thus, the time is ripe for employers to reconsider their policies regarding civility, photography/recording, insubordination, disruptive behavior, confidentiality, disparagement, and conflicts of interest, among others.

3. Data Privacy

On March 28, 2018, Alabama followed the lead of 49 other states in requiring protection of sensitive consumer information and notice of data breaches, as well as imposing consequences for failing to comply with the law. Due to the prevalence of federal and state data privacy laws impacting the workplace, along with the implementation of the European Union’s new privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), employers may want to scrutinize their existing privacy rules to ensure compliance.

4. Superfluous Language

Most employers have learned that including an at-will policy in an employee handbook reinforces the principle that employment may be terminated at any time for any lawful reason. Likewise, at-will policies can explicitly clarify that a handbook is not a contract and that employers may revise policies without prior notice.

Employers may also want to take caution to avoid potential promises made by superfluous language. Unnecessary purpose statements, rigid progressive discipline steps, and unrealistic commitments to provide training or a mutually enjoyable work environment can expose employers to liability. To prevent estoppel arguments, employers may want to ensure that they do not label personal or extended leave as falling under Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when it does not.

5. Employee Acknowledgments and Training

Employee acknowledgements demonstrate evidence that employees have received a handbook. Employers can obtain these acknowledgments each time they update their handbooks. Employers can utilize acknowledgements to reiterate an at-will policy and to direct employees to raise any complaints or questions about the handbook or other personnel policies. An acknowledgment can also note that violations of any policy, whether or not identified in a handbook, can lead to discipline.  When employers significantly update their handbooks, they also might want to take the opportunity to train their managers and employees.

Employers will find that dedicating the time and resources to reviewing employment policies on an annual basis may be well worth the investment. 



This post originally appeared on Ogletree.com.

Ask the Experts: Flu and FMLA

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Question: Is the common flu considered a serious health condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

Answer: Most cases of the common flu do not meet the definition of “serious health condition” and would not be eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave.

Some cases of the flu, however, are severe or result in complications, and these have the potential to meet the FMLA definition of “serious health condition.” This is defined as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider. Continuing treatment means:

  • The employee has been incapacitated for a period of more than three full days; and

  • Consults with a doctor two or more times within 30 days, or

  • Has one consult with a doctor and a regimen of continuing treatment.

If an employee is out sick with the flu for more than three days, consider whether the need for FMLA leave may exist. This doesn’t mean that you need to go through the whole FMLA process to determine eligibility for each flu absence; just that you shouldn’t automatically reject FMLA requests for the flu either.

Review each case based on the facts, keep the “serious health condition” definition in mind, and if the illness is severe, ask the employee to submit certification from a health care provider to support the their need for leave protection under the FMLA.

This post originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

Easy Ways to Increase Workplace Wellness | North Carolina Employee Benefits

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Picture this: You’re sitting at your desk at 3 pm and realize you haven’t gotten up from your chair for hours. You realize you’ve been snacking instead of eating a lunch. You have read the same sentence four times and still can’t figure out what it means. Your back hurts, your eyes feel dry, and you feel totally blah. You, my friend, are a victim of a sedentary lifestyle. How can we combat this lack of energy and inattentiveness in our workplace? By adopting healthy workplace initiatives, you will reap the benefits of a more engaged workforce and a healthier environment.  

What’s the problem?

  • The average worker sits 7.5 hours at a desk every day

  • Add in couch time, sitting to eat meals, commute, and sleeping, and it could mean that the average adult is only active for 3 hours in a 24-hour period

  • Prolonged sitting is directly related to higher risk of heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes

  • Poor posture can lead to chronic health issues such as arthritis and bursitis

  • Staring at computer screens for long amounts of time lead to higher instances of headaches and migraines

What’s the solution?

  • Healthy snack options in vending machines—SnackNation and Nature Box have healthy snack delivery services for offices of all kinds and sizes. 

  • Fitness challenges—Encourage different office-wide challenges to promote a more active lifestyle. 

  • Standing desks—Companies such as Varidesk make standing desks or sit/stand desks that lower and raise so that you vary your position during the day

    • Reduces back pain

    • Burns more calories during the day

    • Increases energy

    • Some insurance companies will cover all or portion of the cost if they deem it “medically necessary.”

  • Practice gratitude—keep a daily log of things to be thankful for that day

    • Shown to ease depression, curb appetite, and enhance sleep

    • Spirit of gratefulness leads to more sustainable happiness because it’s not based on immediate gratification, it’s more of a state of mind

  • Get moving during the day—if your office doesn’t have sit/stand desks, schedule time to move each day.

    • Stretch time/desk yoga

    • Computer programs to remind you to move such as “Move” for iOS and “Big Stretch Reminder” for Windows

  • Extra happiness in the office—

    • Add a plant

    • Aromatherapy

    • Host a cooking class to encourage healthy meal plans

    • Pet-friendly office days

 

By showing your employees that you care about their physical and mental health you are showing that you care about them as people and not just employees. This results in higher motivated staff who are healthier. The Harvard Business Review even says that “employers who invested in health and wellness initiatives saw $6 in healthcare savings for every $1 invested.” You cannot always measure ROI on personnel investment, but it looks like for workplace wellness, you can! Now get moving and get your office moving!

Celebrate the Season Safely | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

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As the holiday season approaches, the economy is humming along, unemployment is low, and companies are enjoying the fruits of corporate tax breaks. Time to celebrate? Not so fast, according to the 2018 Holiday Party Survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The survey found that just 65 percent of companies are holding holiday festivities this year, the lowest rate since the 2009 recession.

While in 2009, holiday parties were skipped for financial reasons, the 2018 causes are more complex. Andrew Challenger, VP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, speculates that the two biggest factors are #MeToo and an increase in the number of remote employees.

If your company is among those celebrating the holiday season this year, what can you do to avoid liability from sexual harassment, alcohol consumption, and other categories of risk?

Risk: Harassment Allegations

  • Communicate behavior expectations to employees ahead of time. Consider using this language to set standards of conduct. You may even choose to redistribute your sexual harassment policy. Be sure to emphasize that all employee policies apply at the party, even if it is off-site or after work hours. Racial or sexual jokes, inappropriate gag gifts, gossiping about office relationships, and unwelcome touching will not be permitted during the holiday party, just as they are not allowed in the office.

  • Do not allow employees to get away with bad behavior. Remind your supervisors to set a good example and keep an eye out for employee behavior that needs managing at the event.

  • Follow up immediately on allegations of inappropriate behavior and conduct a thorough investigation of the facts, even if the alleged victim does not file a complaint and you only hear about the behavior through the grapevine. If corrective action is warranted, apply it promptly.

  • Invite significant others or families. Employee behavior tends to improve at company events when spouses or partners and children are present. If your budget allows, include the entire family in the celebration. Be sure to review your liability coverage with your broker first.

  • Avoid incidents related to relaxed inhibitions by following the tips for reducing alcohol-related risks (see below).

Risk: Alcohol-Related Incidents

  • Take steps to limit alcohol consumption. If alcohol will be served, provide plenty of food rich in carbohydrates and protein to slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. You can also have a cash bar, limit the number of drink tickets, or close the bar early to deter over-consumption. Also have a good selection of nonalcoholic beverages or a tasty signature “mocktail” available. Make sure water glasses are refilled frequently.

  • Get bartenders on board. If you have underage workers or invite children of employees, be sure that servers ask for ID from anyone who looks under age 30. Ask servers to cut off anyone who appears to be intoxicated.

  • Make sure employees get home safely. Offer incentives to employees who volunteer to be designated drivers, offer to pay for ride shares or taxis, or arrange group transportation or accommodations. Planning for safe transportation can potentially minimize your liability if an employee causes an accident while driving under the influence.

  • Do not serve alcohol if your party is at the office and your policies do not permit drinking on company premises or during work hours. Deter employees from an informal after-party at a bar or restaurant where the alcohol could flow.

Risk: Workers’ Compensation Claims

  • Keep the party voluntary and social. Typically, workers’ compensation does not apply if the injury is “incurred in the pursuit of an activity, the major purpose of which is social or recreational.” If the carrier determines that the company party was truly voluntary and not related to work, you may not be liable for injuries sustained at the party.

  • Go offsite. Hosting your holiday party at an offsite location is a smart idea. Your employees will be thankful for the change in setting, and this could reduce insurance liabilities for your company, especially when it comes to third-party alcohol and injury policies.

  • Check with your broker before the party. Review your insurance policies and party plans to make sure you do everything you can to avoid risk and know how to handle any incidents that result from the party.

Risk: Perceptions of Unfairness

  • Determine how to handle pay issues in advance of the party. You’re not required to pay employees who voluntarily attend a party after hours. However, nonexempt employees need to be compensated if they are working the party or if attendance is mandatory. If the party is held during regular work hours, then all employees must be paid for attending the party.

  • Decide in advance whether and how to include remote employees, independent contractors, temporary employees, or agency workers. Be consistent in sending invitations, and if a category of workers will not be invited to the party, consider other ways to reward them for their hard work throughout the year, such as gifts.

  • Do not penalize employees who choose not to attend. The message may be misinterpreted and could create employee relations concerns. Be considerate of those who do not attend the event due to religious beliefs, sobriety, mental health issues, family obligations, child care conflicts, or any other reasons. Avoid religious symbols or themes as they could offend individuals of different faiths.

Cybersecurity: Employees Are the First Line of Defense

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Cybercriminals are becoming more focused on users of company networks as a weak link in the security infrastructure chain. Secure web gateways, anti-virus tools, malware scanners, spam quarantines, and other technologies help filter out malicious content and defend against a growing variety of threats, but technology alone cannot stop humans from clicking on the wrong links.

Gone are the days when cybersecurity was the sole responsibility of the corporate IT department. Cyber safety programs are a best human resources practice and should be included in new employee onboarding and ongoing training awareness programs. HR might even consider incentive plans for helping keep networks safe.

Why? Employees are vulnerable to malware through their use of company email, the web, social media, instant messaging, and other communication and network software. Employees must be able to spot the types of attacks that may compromise company networks and be ready to use best practices against data breaches and malware infiltration as part of the organization’s overall risk prevention program.

How Pervasive is the Threat?

According to Michael Osterman of Osterman Research, Inc., there is more than a one-in-four chance that a user will mistakenly click on a phishing email and infect a corporate network. Costs to affected companies are steep. A recent example is the city of Atlanta, where a single ransomware infection cost the city more than $2.6 million. Trend Micro predicts worldwide losses from business email compromise (BEC) attacks at more than $9 billion in 2018.

Osterman Research conducted a study of organizations that had been victims of security incidents between March 2017 and March 2018 and found:

  • 9% were victims of phishing attacks that successfully infected systems with malware.

  • 25% had targeted email attacks launched from a compromised account that infected a network endpoint with malware.

  • 25% had sensitive/confidential information accidentally leaked through email.

  • 1% suffered targeted email attacks launched from a compromised account that successfully stole a user’s account credentials.

  • 1% had files encrypted because of a successful ransomware attack.

  • 2% saw malware infiltrate internal systems without being able to pinpoint the source of attack.

  • 2% had one or more systems successfully infiltrated through a “drive-by” malware attack from employee web surfing.

  • 3% had a CEO fraud/BEC email attack that successfully tricked one or more employees in the organization.

  • 7% had sensitive/confidential information accidentally or maliciously leaked through a cloud-based file sharing tool like Dropbox.

  • 8% were victims of sensitive/confidential information accidentally or maliciously leaked through a social media or cloud application.

One reason we are seeing increased vulnerability to cyberattacks stems from a growing attack “surface,” or possible entry points for malware and other malicious attacks. Most employees use multiple company-provided hardware and software products that widen that attack surface. These represent ingress points for various types of threats and often are a more serious problem because their use is not as well controlled by IT, if they’re controlled at all.

Cyberthreats Aimed at Employees

What types of threats should your employees be trained to spot so that they think before they click? Here are the most common ones:

Phishing emails. These are relatively unfocused email messages designed to collect sensitive information, such as login credentials, credit card information, Social Security numbers, and other valuable data. Phishing emails pretend to come from trustworthy sources like banks, credit card companies, shippers, and other sources with which potential victims have established relationships. More sophisticated phishing attempts use corporate logos and other identifiers to fool potential victims into believing the emails are genuine.

Spearphishing emails. These are targeted phishing attacks typically focused on one company or affinity group (such as an industry organization), reflecting the fact that a cybercriminal has studied the target and crafted a message designed to have a high degree of believability and a potentially high open rate.

Consumer file sync and share tools. Productivity tools like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Drive, which let users make files available on all desktop, laptop, and mobile platforms, generally are safe but can be targeted by sophisticated criminals as an entry point. For example, when an employee accesses corporate files on a home computer that doesn’t have current anti-virus software, the employee can inadvertently infect these files with malware. When files are synced back to the employee’s work computer, malware can infect the network because it may have bypassed corporate email, web gateway, and other defenses.

Watering holes. In these social engineering attacks, cybercriminals identify websites they would like to infiltrate and that employees might visit on a regular basis. They infect these sites with malware.

Malicious Internet advertising (malvertising). This is designed to distribute malware through advertising impressions on websites.

User errors. Users sometimes inadvertently install malware or compromised code on their computers. This can occur if they install ActiveX controls, download a codec, install various applications intended to address some perceived need (such as a capability that IT does not support), or respond to scareware attempts that prey on users who are trying to protect their platforms from viruses and other malware.

Mobile malware. The growing use of smartphones and tablets is increasingly being exploited by cybercriminals. Most infections impact Android devices.

Compromised search engine queries. Valid queries can be hijacked by cybercriminals to distribute malware when employees perform web searches. This type of attack relies on poisoning results, leading to the display of malware-laden sites during these searches. This is particularly effective for popular search terms, such as information on celebrities, airline crashes, natural disasters, and other “newsy” items.

Mobile copycat apps. Some mobile applications are distributed through vendor-based and third-party stores that offer varying levels of security. If the store lacks stringent standards, serious security risks like distribution of copycat apps and malware that can cause infections when downloaded can occur.

Botnets. These are the source of many successful hacking and phishing attacks against high-profile targets. A CenturyLink Threat Research Labs study for a 2018 threat report tracked an average of 195,000 threats per day from botnets impacting an average of 104 million unique targets, from large servers to handheld devices, that steal sensitive data and launch network attacks impacting businesses worldwide.

Ransomware. In this particularly malicious form of attack, a cybercriminal can encrypt all files on a hard disk and then demand ransom for access to a decryption key. Victims who choose not to pay the ransom quickly will have their files remain encrypted permanently. Cryptolocker, a common variant of ransomware, typically extorts a few hundred dollars per incident and normally is delivered through email with a PDF or .zip file disguised as a shipping invoice or some other business document.

Hacking. With this form of cyberattack, cybercriminals use many techniques to breach corporate defenses.

Think Before You Click

Train employees to become the first line of defense in the network security risk prevention infrastructure. First, remind them to physically protect devices by not leaving them unattended or in unsecure areas, including locked cars. Focus training on identifying the types of malware they may encounter and how to escalate attempts to the IT professionals for resolution. Use a catchy slogan, like “think before you click,” to create engagement and promote awareness.

Here are some simple training tips:

  • Be skeptical of any email, web page, or social media post that appears to be even remotely suspicious, makes an offer that is too good to be true, or contains strange information.

  • Ask questions. Michael Osterman recommends asking these questions when viewing emails:

    • Do you recognize the sender’s email address?

    • Do you recognize anyone else copied on the email?

    • Are others in the email seemingly from a random group of people or do their last names all begin with the same letter?

    • Is the domain in the email address spelled correctly or is it simply close to the actual URL (e.g., bankofamerica.com vs. bankofarnerica.com).

    • Would you normally receive an email from this individual or organization?

    • Does the subject line make sense?

    • Is the email a “response” to an email you never sent (e.g., does it begin with “re:”)?

    • Does the email contain an attachment that does not make sense in the context of the email or sender?

    • Does the attachment end in “.exe,” “.zip,” or some other possibly dangerous attachment type?

    • Did you receive an email at an unusual time, such as 3 a.m. on a Sunday?

    • Is the sender asking you to keep the contents of this email or requests within it a secret?

    • Does the email contain spelling or grammatical errors?

    • Is there even a hint of extortion in the email, such as a request to look at compromising or embarrassing photos of you or someone else?

  • Review quarantined messages carefully before bringing them out of quarantine. Most anti-spam solutions capture phishing emails correctly.

  • Don’t click on a link in an email or open an attachment until you are certain it is valid.

  • Never use USB flash drives from unknown sources.

  • Set strong passwords. Change passwords regularly.

  • Use password protection on every electronic and mobile device.

  • Intentionally use wrong information for security questions.

  • Keep security software up to date on personal devices.

  • For mobile devices:

    • Disable auto usernames and passwords. This reduces the risk of having personal data accessed if the device is lost or stolen.

    • Know how to wipe your data if your device is lost or stolen.

    • Be careful when using public Wi-Fi networks, especially with insecure networks that do not require a password.

    • Use safe stores for downloading mobile applications.

  • For social media:

    • Don’t overshare personal information on social media.

    • Turn off location services.

    • Be careful clicking on links, liking, and sharing them.

Cyber Risk Prevention is Everyone’s Job

Don’t put it off — take the time to implement or enhance security awareness training for employees, contractors, and others who interact with corporate systems and data sources. Create a stronger line of defense against increasingly sophisticated cyber threats now. Preventing even one employee from making an honest mistake and clicking on the wrong link could save the business from reputational and financial losses. Clients will appreciate having the information to protect their home computers and personal devices, too!

This article was originally posted on ThinkHR.com.

IRS Announces 2019 Retirement Plan Contribution Limits | North Carolina Employee Benefits

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On November 1, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2018-83announcing cost-of-living adjustments affecting dollar limits for pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2019. Many pension plan limits will change next year because the increase in the cost-of-living index has met the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment. Other items, however, will remain the same. The following is a summary of the limits for 2019.

For 401(k), 403(b), and most 457 plans and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans:

  • The elective deferral (contribution) limit increases from $18,500 to $19,000 for 2019.

  • The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in these plans remains at $6,000.

For individual retirement arrangements (IRAs):

  • The limit on annual contributions has not changed for many years. For 2019, however, it increases from $5,500 to $6,000.

  • The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment so it remains $1,000 for 2019.

For simplified employee pension (SEP) IRAs and individual/solo 401(k) plans:

  • Elective deferrals increase to $56,000 for 2019, based on an annual compensation limit of $280,000 (up from the 2018 amounts of $55,000 and $275,000).

  • The minimum compensation that may be required for participation in a SEP remains unchanged at $600 for 2019.

For savings incentive match plan for employees (SIMPLE) IRAs:

  • The contribution limit on SIMPLE IRA retirement accounts increases to $13,000 for 2019 (from $12,500 for 2018).

  • The SIMPLE catch-up limit remains unchanged at $3,000 for 2019.

For defined benefit plans:

  • The basic limitation on the annual benefits under a defined benefit plan is increased to $225,000 for 2019 (from $220,000 for 2018).

Other changes:

  • Highly-compensated and key employee thresholds:

    • The threshold for determining “highly compensated employees” increases to $125,000 for 2019 (from $120,000 for 2018).

    • The threshold for officers who are “key employees” in a top-heavy plan increases to $180,000 for 2019 (from $175,000 for 2018).

  • Social Security cost of living adjustment: In a separate announcement, the Social Security Administration stated that the taxable wage base will increase to $132,900 for 2019, an increase of $4,500 from the 2018 taxable wage base of $128,400. Thus, the maximum Social Security tax liability will increase for both employees and employers.

This article originally appeared on ThinkHR.com.

Are You Ready for Election Day? | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

Election Day is next Tuesday, November 6. Do you know what provisions, if any, you must make to accommodate your employees’ rights to vote? Time off for voting is not a federal requirement; however, 30 states have voting leave laws impacting the workplace.

These state laws vary significantly. Not all leave is required to be paid, and the amount of time varies. For some states it’s described as “reasonable time” necessary to vote, and in other states the law specifically states two, three, or even four hours to vote. Furthermore, some states, such as California and New York, require you to post notices of employees’ rights for time off to get to the polls.

Twelve of the 30 states also impose penalties for employers who prohibit employees from voting. For example, Colorado and New York employers could lose their corporate charter and Arizona, Missouri, and Kansas supervisors could face fines up to $2,500. While 20 states and the District of Columbia do not have voting leave laws in place, there are other provisions you should be aware of when it comes to your employees exercising their voting rights.

Even if your state doesn’t have a law in place requiring you to provide voting leave, that does not preclude you from having a company policy in place that provides voting leave. In addition to offering employees time on election day to vote, you could also remind employees about absentee or early voting options in your community.

Be ready for the midterm elections this November by knowing your time off rules and encourage your employees to exercise their civic duty to vote!

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8 Tips for Handling Tough Employee Conversations | North Carolina Employee Benefits

We all get cold feet when it comes to addressing difficult issues with colleagues in the workplace. It’s stressful, and you just can’t help but think of all of the ways that a well-meaning conversation could go sideways. You worry about the longer-lasting effects of a damaged work relationship but know that you must correct problematic work performance or behaviors before they get out of control.

Uncomfortable conversations about personal behaviors and poor performance are tough, and putting them off just allows the problems to worsen. Use your knowledge of the situation and put together the right combination of management skills to tackle the talk now.

Imagine these all-too-familiar employee situations that you know you need to address but don’t think you have the wisdom (or can’t muster up the courage) to handle:

  • The “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” situation. For the past several months, one of your team members has been underperforming, and it has dragged down your business unit’s productivity. The underperforming employee has shared that she has a number of family and financial issues and is trying her hardest to stay ocused on work because she needs this job and loves the company. She lives your company values and is well-liked by her co-workers. Everyone feels bad for her situation and has been picking up the slack, but they are growing resentful of the extra work with no end in sight. You’ve been trying to be kind by avoiding the issues as her performance has slid from bad to worse. It is now impacting your company’s overall performance and degrading the employee relations climate.

  • The “Bad Behavior, Great Performer” situation. One of your employees consistently exceeds his production goals at the expense of the company culture. He is highly critical of others, issues demands from other work teams without regard for their other priorities, and employees grudgingly drop everything to deliver on impossible deadlines because they believe that they cannot push back. It’s all about him and his performance. He is regularly recognized by the company leadership for being the top producer, and employee complaints to management about his behavior have not been addressed. While production goals are good, your company culture is sinking and you’re starting to see increased absenteeism and turnover among your staff.

Don’t Overlook the Signals

In addition to employee resentment and lost productivity, there’s a bottom-line impact for not tackling these tough talks at the right time and in the right manner. The key is to pay attention to the signals and not feed the problem with neglect.

In the first scenario, trying to be a kind and sensitive boss worked in the beginning but is now backfiring. At first the team worked together to help their struggling colleague, but without a plan to fix the problem in the longer term, it created three serious issues for you to fix: employee morale, lack of confidence in your leadership for missing the signals of “team fatigue,” and not having a plan to keep the team on track — all resulting in lost productivity.

The best thing you can do in situations like these is to work with the struggling employee to develop a plan that puts her back on track or helps her consider alternatives if necessary. This type of conversation requires sensitivity along with some firmness because you need to steer the conversation from the personal issues back to actionable work deliverables.

In my experience dealing with circumstances like the second scenario, typically management allows the top performer’s behavior to go unchecked for fear that if the employee is corrected his performance will suffer or he will quit the company. While there may be an element of truth to those concerns if the individual is unwilling to accept constructive feedback, the bigger fear should be for the company’s culture, employee erosion of trust and confidence in the leadership team, and the motivation, performance, and retention of the other company employees if the behavior is not changed.

Often the top performer continues to use the same work patterns that have been successful and isn’t even aware of the impact on others. Addressing the issues sensitively so that he can make personal changes has the potential to create even higher levels of team unity and performance.

What Signals are You Looking For?

For starters, watch your team’s interactions with each other, be sure that each team member understands their key performance objectives, and take the time to “check in” regularly and solicit feedback about the job, work team, and overall company with each employee.

Having direct conversations on a regular basis helps you nip problems in the bud and shows your employees that you care about their concerns. You also learn each other’s communication patterns so that when it comes time to have that awkward or difficult conversation, you both are less uncomfortable.

Groups where team members work remotely increase the chances that signals can be missed. When telecommuting is coupled with the use of instant messaging and other forms of communications in place of direct face-to-face or voice communications, the sender’s well-intentioned messages may get lost in translation. Be sure to follow up any electronic communications with a direct phone call or meeting.

Eight Tips for Tackling These Conversations

Strategies to manage conflicts with subordinates are not fully taught in business classes. More common are courses addressing project conflicts, where the focus is on fixing the “what” of the problem, such as resetting priorities, changing business plans, or repairing broken systems or processes. There are fewer tools focusing on how teams communicate and repairing broken business relationships. Preparation and planning are critical to get what you need from these hard conversations while keeping your relationship with the employee intact.

  1. Focus your own viewpoint first. If you start out thinking the conversation will be really hard, you’re going to be more anxious. Chances are the conversation will be harder. Instead, position this discussion as a means to enhance your relationship while helping your employee develop better skills, understand company priorities better, or work more positively on the team. Think about how you can deliver the difficult talking points with honesty, courage and fairness.

  2. Recognize the emotions you will be feeling. Are you disappointed in this employee? Angry about the problems they’ve caused? Scared that your conversation will damage your work relationship? Put your negative feelings aside and consider how you will frame the problem you need to discuss and how your employee may feel. Try to come at the discussion with consideration and compassion for their feelings and frame the conversation with a desire for the employee’s success. “John, we need to have a hard conversation today, and I’m feeling anxious because I want you to win. Please know that I am invested in your success and will work with you to make that happen.”

  3. Be intentional in planning the conversation, but don’t script it out so that your delivery sounds mechanical. Some business consultants suggest drafting a script and considering alternatives based on the employee’s reactions. In my experience, these conversations never go completely according to plan, and scripted conversations feel artificial. Instead, write down key points and plan as if you are just having a simple conversation with a colleague. Be prepared to provide specifics and pace your conversation so that you take time to gauge your employee’s reactions to your comments. Your employee may react defensively if you provide vague statements. Instead of saying, “Sue, people in the company are telling me that you are difficult to work with and have a bad attitude,” frame the issue with examples, such as, “Sue, I am concerned because I’ve noticed in the last four team meetings you arrived late and weren’t prepared with project updates. As a result, both Joe and Sam missed their deliverables, and you didn’t let any of us know in advance that the timeline was slipping.”

  4. Recognize that you own part of the problem, too. Your goal is to have a conversation between adults where each owns some responsibility for the issue and solving the problem. This takes the conversation from finding fault to finding solutions. “Rob, I realize now that you have too many priorities and I didn’t provide you with the resources to deliver on the project. I also realize that I avoided addressing the problem at the beginning of the project and let it go too long without discussing it with you.”

  5. Outline what you want changed. Don’t just discuss the problem; describe the end result you envision. Discuss realistic and achievable outcomes and be willing to offer resources and assistance as appropriate.

  6. Ask the employee for his or her viewpoints. The last thing you want is a one-sided conversation. Slow the pace of the conversation, observe the employee’s reactions to your comments, and ask for feedback and suggestions for solving the problem. You may learn new information about what may have caused the problem, and the employee could offer even better solutions than you thought possible. Throughout the conversation, look for areas of consensus and acknowledge the employee’s feelings and concerns. That shows respect.

  7. End the conversation on a positive note with an action plan. Thank the employee for working with you through the difficult discussion. Acknowledge that it was a tough conversation and express appreciation for the employee’s professionalism as you both work towards a better outcome. Develop a going-forward action plan to solve the problem. “Tom, this was a hard talk, and I know it wasn’t easy for you. You provided some good ideas for fixing the issue, and I appreciate your professionalism. You can do this, and I am here to help you win.”

  8. Close the loop and follow up. Give the employee a little time to reflect on the discussion, but no more than a day or two. Follow up and ask the employee if they would like to have another discussion to cover any additional information or clarification. Put the agreed-upon action plan in writing, schedule regular status meetings, and recognize progress and improved performance. Taking these steps demonstrates your respect for the employee and desire for them to succeed.

Keep the Conversation Going

Great managers keep the conversation going to ensure team members are aligned and supporting each other to create a healthy corporate culture and successful company. When problems arise, they have the tough conversations to get things back on track. Handling these discussions well takes courage as well as empathetic listening and communications skills. Pay attention to the signals, develop your communications plan, and you’ll be more confident in tackling your next tough employee communications challenge.

Originally published by www.thinkhr.com

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Ask the Experts: Mandatory Flu Shots | North Carolina Benefit Advisors

While there is no law that prohibits employers from mandating flu shots, you should carefully determine if the benefits to your business outweigh the risks. Read the article to determine the best course of action, from incentives to suggestions about policy wording.