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Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be celebrated on Monday, January 20th this year. Also commonly called Martin Luther King Day, or MLK Day for short, this federal and state holiday celebrates the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of America’s most influential civil rights leaders.  During the turbulent 1960’s that witnessed great civil and social unrest, Dr. King adopted Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent methods to win civil rights for African Americans. Dr. King is perhaps most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, given in the front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1963. That speech is regarded, along with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Franklin Roosevelt’s Infamy Speech, as one of the best examples in the history of American oratory.

Despite Dr. King’s focus on non-violence in all his pursuits, tragically on the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.

Though Dr. King was born on January 15th, MLK Day is held on the third Monday in January each year.  It was President Ronald Regan who signed the law in 1983 that made Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. However it wasn’t first observed as a holiday until 1986.

Many states were reluctant to accept MLK Day and even those who voted in the designation of the holiday didn’t like the fact that it was a national holiday for a private citizen.  Many states observed the holiday only under different designations, such as Civil Rights Day, and sometimes in connection with other holidays. However, by 2000, all 50 U.S. states recognized MLK Day as a holiday.

Although today both a federal and state holiday in all 50 states, MLK Day is not observed as a paid holiday by a majority of private employers. Benefit surveys report that between 27-38% of U.S. private employers observe the day as a paid holiday. However, most companies not observing this holiday typically allow employees to use either vacation, PTO or an unpaid personal leave day if they are requesting this date as time off.

No matter what you’re doing on January 21st this year, and no matter what race, color or creed you are, please take a few moments to consider the achievements of a man who tirelessly protested to end racial discrimination in  federal and state law and helped improve our society.

With the month-long Christmas/New Year holiday season just getting underway, it’s time to review a few guidelines to keep the holiday a happy one and avoid any related HR problems. Although the most typical and certainly biggest topic you may hear about concerning holiday practices involves the company-sponsored holiday party and serving alcohol,
there are several other areas, in addition to holiday parties, that we want to cover with this article.

THE HOLIDAY PARTY. Given the continued up and down economic times as well as increased liability stemming from court cases over the past several years, one would think most companies would stop having holiday parties altogether. Although the popularity of holding holiday parties has indeed gone down from a pre-recession level (2007) of 90%, today there
still remains a healthy 70% of employers holding them according to a recent survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. And of this number, only 30% will hold them on-site. Since the 30% of on-site events are pretty much assumed to be without alcohol, we’re still talking a healthy 40% of employers who are holding off-site holiday parties with alcohol being served. Thus, this is the biggest issue to discuss.

Most of the potential liability dealing with serving alcohol at company parties has grown out of such legal theories as respondeat superior, which holds employers responsible for the acts of employees undertaken in the course of their employment; and social host liability, which holds the provider of alcoholic beverages who served alcohol to visibly intoxicated individuals liable for injuries those individuals may cause while intoxicated.

The basic rule to remember with these liabilities is that employers aren’t responsible in the event where alcohol is served for purely social reasons. However, if business activities are involved, an employer may be implicated and possibly held responsible. There are several factors that courts look at to determine an employer’s liability which includes where the event is held; whether employees are required to attend; whether spouses, customers or clients are invited; whether speeches were given or company business discussed; and whether the event was organized and sponsored by the company or employees independently arranged it. Thus, the best practices to consider include:

  1. To Serve or Not Serve Alcohol. Since this is the biggest issue, if you don’t serve alcohol, you reduce your liability risk down to almost nothing. However, not serving alcohol at an off-site company party isn’t very realistic unless you’re prepared to deal with a great deal of complaining about your
  2. Limit Alcohol Consumption. Thus, if you are going to serve alcohol, the best practice is to limit the amount people drink by doing such things as having a cash bar, providing limited drink tickets, and operating the bar for only a set period of time. It’s always a good idea to have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and food available.
  3. Hold the Party Off-Site & Not During Regular Business Hours. It’s best to hold the event after regular business hours at a restaurant or off-site venue not owned or operated by the employer and where there are professional bartenders, not employees, to dispense the drinks.
  4. Make the Party Voluntary. Make attendance voluntary. Remember that there are people who don’t celebrate the holidays or drink. Don’t keep any records of who attends or doesn’t attend.
  5. Keep the Party Social. Do invite spouses but don’t invite customers. In addition, don’t make business-related speeches or hand out awards or bonuses. Simply put, don’t conduct anything that even looks vaguely like business.
  6. Remind Employees of Certain Policies.  Remind employees of your policies related alcohol use, sexual harassment and dress codes by sending out a memo prior to the party. It’s recommended to send a memo to employees before the holidays reminding them that the company’s dress and behavior code, as well as harassment policies, still apply to an off-site after hours company-sponsored event.
  7. Designate a Monitor & Have Transportation Alternatives.  Appoint a designated monitor, or even better, a few supervisors to refrain from drinking, and monitor for inappropriate
    behavior as well as anyone that gets intoxicated or impaired getting into a car to drive. In addition, make taxi vouchers available as an option as there will be a high chance that a few employees will need alternative transportation to get home.

HARASSMENT CLAIMS. The next biggest problem for employers after personal injury claims is that of harassment claims when intoxicated employees make inappropriate advances toward co-workers. The combination of lowered inhibitions, impaired judgment, and a festive atmosphere can lead to harassment claims. At this point in time, there are countless lawsuits involving sexual harassment at office parties. If you care to look up a few, they include: EEOC v. Lenscrafter, Civil Action No. 1:09 CV-12694, MI, 2011; Whited v. Tennessee,
781 F. Supp. 2d 621, 623, M.D. Tenn. 2011; EEOC v. Rose Casual Dining, L.P. (dba Applebee’s), E.D. PA 2004; and Russ v. Van Scoyoc Assoc., Inc., 122 F. Supp. 2d 29, 31, D.D.C. 2000. Best practices to consider, in addition to those already explained above, include:

  1.  Distribute the Company’s Harassment Policy.  Prior to the company holiday party, redistribute the company’s harassment policy, making sure that employee’s read it and submit notification of having done so.
  2. Manager Training. Managers and supervisors should be trained on proper conduct for the holiday party and should provide a visible and positive presence as well as set a professional example. In addition, management should be instructed to not invite employees to an “after party” at their house or local pubs. After parties have also been known to create harassment incidents.
  3. DressCode.  Suggest a dress code for the holiday party that keeps things professional. Avoiding provocative dress can help reduce some forms of harassment.
  4. Release for company-sponsored extracurricular activities.  Consider having employees sign a release that limits the company’s liability for employee participation in a
    company-sponsored extracurricular activity. While such a release doesn’t provide absolute protection to an employer, it can provide some limited liability as well as provide a reminder to employees to conduct themselves appropriately.

WAGE/HOUR ISSUES. Another issue that has surfaced over the past several years is that of non-exempt employees working off the time clock to help with an event preparation. For example, if you send a non-exempt employee out to buy party supplies during their unpaid lunch hour, by law youshould be paying them. As a matter of wage and hour law, if employees are engaged in work, then they should be paid. Although this may seem like a small issue, it’s not as wage and hour lawsuits have exploded throughout the U.S. over the past few years.

HOLIDAY DECORATIONS. It’s important to remember that an employer cannot treat persons of different religions differently. This shouldn’t be forgotten when dealing with holiday decorations. In general, you should exclude religious symbolism from decorations and entertainment.  The best advice is to decorate the office with non-religious decorations that include winter/snow scenes, candy canes and strings of lights and steer clear of anything religious such as the manger scene. The laws prohibiting discrimination don not require
an employer to avoid trees and wreaths so long as the decorations are secular.  This concept goes back to when the EEOC acknowledged the U.S. Supreme Court’s determination (County of Allegheny v. ACLU Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U.S. 573, 1989) that wreaths and Christmas trees are considered “secular” symbols. Thus, an employer can hang wreaths on its premises or have a tree in a building lobby, even if an employee objects to such decorations.
wreaths around t

RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE ACCOMMODATION. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act states that employers may not discriminate against employees on the basis of religion in hiring, firing, or other conditions of employment.  Specifically, the law states that employers must “reasonably accommodate” an employee’s religious beliefs and rights as long as such accommodation does not cause the employer to sustain severe or undue hardship. However, the law does place a burden on the employer to prove such a hardship. The following are some points to consider:

  1. An employer should make every possible effort to allow an employee with a sincerely held religious belief to take the time off for proper observance for a religious holiday.
  2. “Reasonable” accommodation examples including allowing employees to switch shifts, take vacation or unpaid time off, or offer a floating holiday to use.

Last, let’s remember that the year-end holiday season is not just for parties but are religious (e.g., Christmas and Hanukkah) events as well cultural ones (e.g., Kwanzaa). Plus, let’s not forget that certain religions (e.g., Jehovah’s Witness) don’t celebrate these holidays and may be offended. Thus, we need to make sure that gift giving and holiday parties are
voluntary and not pushed onto everyone. In addition, holiday decorating, as discussed earlier in this article, as well as entertainment needs to be secular.  Although we don’t have to forbid private expressions of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah,” it’s very important that we not adopt them as the company message.  11.26.2012

Although Halloween may turn out to be a soaked out event for much of the U.S. East Coast suffering from the wrath of Hurricane Sandy, the holiday arrives tomorrow (Wednesday, October 31st), for those of us not affected by the big storm events. Halloween is a mix of ancient Celtic practices, Catholic and Roman religious rituals and European folk traditions that blended together over time to create the holiday we know today with trick-or-treating, attending costume parties, carving jack-o’-lanterns, haunted attractions, telling scary stories and watching horror movies.. Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity and life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition.

Although Halloween is not a holiday observed as one with time off in the workplace, it has certainly become popular for purposes of improving workplace motivation. According to survey data released in 2007 by Vault.com Inc., 37% of employees say they celebrate the holiday with their co-workers and 27% dress up in costume. It has also been stated that
Halloween is the second most popular holiday after Christmas and that celebrating it in the workplace “appeals to the child in each of us and helps create a motivational, team work-oriented work culture.”

Of course, on-the-job masquerades are more appropriate for some workplaces than others. For some organizations, such as manufacturers or equipment handlers, costumes could
jeopardize safety. Other organizations such as hospitals don’t want to let professionalism slip for even a day, fearing that masks or costumes might alarm patients. And a local bank has two sensible rules: no masks and no toy weapons.

If you’re thinking about a Halloween bash at work this year, there are lots of great ideas all over the place for celebrating that include decorating the workplace, baking Halloween-themed cookies and desserts, and holding a costume and pumpkin carving contests.  However, here are a few tips that you want to be sure to also consider if it’s a workplace celebration.

  1.  Make it Optional. Make sure that you clearly inform your employees that Halloween festivities including costume wearing are optional and not required. If any employee complains about the festivities because of religious beliefs, make sure they understand that it’s optional. If they really find it offensive, recommend to them that they take
    either a vacation day or unpaid one day leave.
  2. No Alcohol on Company Property. We’re pretty sure you already know this. However, let us re-explain that drinking on company premises is always a bad idea due to such things as: a premises liability lawsuit when a guest falls on your property or premises after having a few too many drinks, a workers’ compensation claim when an employee injures
    themselves after drinking too much, and a sexual harassment claim when someone says and does something stupid while they are drinking.
  3. Set Some Guidelines on Costume Wearing. Although one would like to think that we all have “common-sense” and decent judgment, many people don’t. It may be a good idea to remind people that it’s a company party and costumes such as exaggerated body parts, body revealing,  and anything political, religious or ethnic are probably not a good idea.

Especially for these days when our lives are fraught with all sorts of economic problems, Halloween can be a great time for company-related activities for building camaraderie, teamwork and alleviating workplace stress. However, plan it wisely. HAPPY HALLOWEEN.

With autumn beginning recently, so also begins the flu season. Although last year’s flu season was on the quiet side getting off to a very late start with the warmer than normal autumn and winter temperatures, influenza typically begins to show up in late October, peaks in January and begins to subside by February.

Although a great many people might consider the flu to not be a big deal, historically speaking we’ve had five serious world-wide flu pandemics in the last 100 years that should give us some thought about what may occur in the not too distant future.

First, going back to 1918, the Spanish flu killed somewhere between 20 and 50 million people. Then it wasn’t until 1957 that another pandemic occurred with the Asian flu. Fortunately by this time, medical personnel were more educated and proactive in reducing the outbreak’s world-wide deaths to two million. Eleven years later, the more mild Hong Kong flu of 1968 killed an estimated one million people. Then in 1976, we had the first swine flu outbreak that turned out to be more of a mass panic via scaremongering than actual deaths from the outbreak. However, in 2009 came the 2009 H1N1 virus (aka, swine flu) which was
especially lethal because it was a new combination of man, swine and avian elements and humans didn’t have any natural immunity to it and we lagged behind in getting a vaccine for it.  By the time the pandemic had subsided in late spring 2010, it is estimated that between 300,000 to 600,000 people died from it.

Given the global nature of business and travel, there is an excellent chance for a new pandemic virus to spread very quickly throughout the world even faster than what we’ve seen in the past 100 years. Although you may think that the chances of a pandemic flu like in the 2011 medical thriller film, “Contagion” are more fiction than fact, the creators behind that movie went to great lengths to fact-check their story of a viral pandemic that goes on to kill tens of millions of people, retaining a panel of famous virologists and epidemiologist as consultants.

The H1NI flu outbreak in 2009 created some common problems in the workplace that bear some discussion. First, what happens in the workplace if employees complain that a co-worker is sick and coughing and infecting the office? From this came the need to create a policy to allow anyone to report a concern, that the concern remain confidential, unlike harassment claims, and management use the power of persuasion to get the sick employee home and out of the business of spreading germs at the office.

Another important problem was that of attendance. Instead of telling people to just stay home and/or work from home without any time and attendance requirements, employers

have found they need to have good time and attendance policies that are clear and make practical sense. One problem arose from employers’ generous impulse to let employees, especially hourly employees, take liberal leave, coupled with working from home. The problem with this is dealing with Fair Labor Standards Act wage and hour laws. If an hourly employee works for three days, for example, and you send him/her home and he/she uses two days of sick leave on his/her time card, that’s simple and okay. However, what if that employee might actually work six or eight hours of work-from-home and then not put it on their
time card. At some point in the future, you could have a potentially expensive wage and hour dispute.

Although employers have learned some important lessons from the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak, continued education is needed today to make sure that everyone in the workplace is being vigilant about hand washing, sneezing into sleeves rather than blowing germs out into the air, using hand sanitizers, and especially staying home when they are sick. Today as opposed to even a few decades ago, we have excellent tools such as the internet to carry on effective work via telework.

As we move further into flu season, here are some good ideas for employers to consider implementing in the workplace.

  1. Buy hand sanitizers. Place hand sanitizers in several locations and make sure employees understand the value of using it.
  2. Safe Practice Signs. Place safe practice signs up in the bathrooms and bulletin boards.
  3. Written policy on dealing with a pandemic. Have written flu pandemic policy spelled out your employee handbook and on the company website
  4. Convince sick people to stay home. Sick employees may think they’re being dedicated workers when they still come into work but, the truth is, they spread germs to other employees and cut down on the overall productivity of the business. Encourage employees to stay home when they are sick at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or severe symptoms. Consider instituting a flexible leave policy — and appropriate technology — that allows employees to work from home if they or their kids are sick.
  5. Encourage flu shots. Getting a flu shot each year has been scientifically proven to be one of the best protections against influenza throughout the flu season. Flu shots are offered in a multitude of locations, including doctor offices, clinics, pharmacies, as well as by many employers.
  6. Educate employees about hand washing. In combination with a flu shot, washing your hands frequently is one of the best ways to avoid germs. Frequently means after you shake someone’s hand, after using public transportation, after handling money, etc.
  7. Hold a health fair. Contact your local hospital to see if they provide health fairs for larger offices. You can also contract the coordination of an on-site health fair with a company specializing in the service.

In addition, here’s some important information to share with employees in preparation for flu season:

  1. Avoid touching commonly used surfaces & handles. Avoid touching door knobs. handles, sink controls, levers or switches of any kind. Use your sleeve, tissue or anything that puts a barrier between a possibly contaminated surface and your hand.
  2. Wash hands continuously & use hand sanitizers.  As stated above, other than getting a flu shot, washing your hands continuously throughout the day is probably the other most effective way to avoid getting sick. Also, make a conscious effort to keep your hands away from your face, particularly your mouth, eyes and nose. Keep your hands below the neck at all times, unless you’ve just washed them.
  3. Get enough rest. When your body is exhausted, your immune system isn’t working to fight off incoming diseases. Most people don’t get enough sleep during a normal night, so make sure you actually get at least eight hours of sleep. Yes, the typical person needs about eight hours of sleep a night.
  4. Ingest vitamins C & E. You have probably heard that taking lots of vitamin C, typically found in citrus fruit, is a great way to fight off colds. In addition, however, taking vitamin E, which is found in almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, etc. is another great way to fight off colds.
  5. Consider using probiotics. There’s more and more good news about probiotics. Probiotics, found in such things as yogurt, pickles and supplements, work toward improving digestion and can help prevent upper respiratory infections.
  6. Smoking & drinking alcohol.  Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are good friends to catch a cold. They tend to have a negative effect on a person’s immune system and make your body more attractable to a cold. If you smoke and drink on
    a regular basis and start to feel like you’re coming down with a cold, try to stop smoking and drinking for a few days.

Beginning January 1, 2013, a new law will require employers that have any employees who will receive commissions for providing services in California to have written commission agreements that meet specific requirements.

Assembly Bill 1396, which amends Section 2751 of the state Labor Code, applies to each employee paid a commission, regardless of whether it represents all or just a portion of the employee’s compensation, and to employers located in or outside of the state. Former Labor Code 2751 required out-of-state employers to have written contracts with their California employees who are paid a commission, including details about the method of paying the commissions. The law was invalidated by a federal court because it
treated California-based companies more favorably than employers who had no fixed place of business in California.

AB 1396 corrects this defect by imposing the same requirements on California employers. Thus, as of January 1, 2013, both California and non-California based employers must have written contracts with employees in California who are paid in whole or part on a commission basis.

Commission wages don’t include short-term productivity bonuses (for example, those paid to retail clerks). The term also doesn’t encompass bonus and profit-sharing plans—unless the employer has offered to pay a fixed percentage of sales or profits as compensation for work to be performed.   10.08.2012

Happy Columbus Day which is celebrated today, October 8, 2012!  As you read this, there’s a high chance that you’re at work today. It’s a holiday for most of the U.S. federal government, several U.S. states as well as banks and post offices. However, for most of us in the private business world, it’s a regular work day. According to survey data, approximately 16% of U.S. businesses observe Columbus Day as a paid holiday. Thus, most of us observe it as a light traffic day to and from work along with the fact that the bank is closed and no mail that day.

Columbus Day has been celebrated since 1971 on the second Monday of October to remember Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas on October 12, 1492. Although it has officially been around for more than 100 years (first officially celebrated in Colorado in 1905) and is celebrated by many including Italian-Americans throughout the U.S. and with celebrations and parades in cities such as New York, San Francisco and Denver, the day is also filled with increasing controversy over the last several decades as many critics feel that Columbus’ arrival in the New World opened the doors to hundreds of years of exploitation and genocide.

Today, although several states including New York, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia and Colorado mark Columbus Day as a state holiday, there are more than 20 U.S. states that do no observe Columbus Day as a holiday any longer including California, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Michigan and Washington. Especially noteworthy is South Dakota that celebrates an
alternative state holiday known as “Native American Day” rather than Columbus Day. In addition, Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day, which commemorates the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii on the same date as the federal Columbus Day. However, Discoverers’ Day isn’t a legal state holiday for Hawaii.

At this point, most of us know or should know it’s dangerous to use a cell phone while driving. However, how many of us think that it’s also dangerous to text or talk on your cell phone while you’re walking?

A You Tube video of woman falling into a Pennsylvania shopping mall fountain went viral in January 2011 with 1.5 million views. She was texting and walking at the same time. Although most people thought the video to be very funny, the reality of this situation is that we’re seeing more and more examples of “distracted walking” which sometimes has resulted in fatal accidents where pedestrians have been hit by cars and trains.

According to recent studies, “distracted walking” is a growing safety concern. According to an article this past summer by the Associated Press, reports of distracted walkers treated at emergency rooms has more than quadrupled in the past seven years. According to data collected by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2011 alone, 1,152 people were treated for “distracted walking” injuries. In most cases, however, any statistics produced are most likely a gross underestimate since emergency room
workers do not always ask patients if they were using a mobile device at the time of their accident.

With smartphone technology today that has every available app at your fingertip, it has become an obsession/compulsion with people everywhere to be staring and/or doing something with their mobile phones. You can see this absolutely everywhere in plain sight – in malls, airports, train stations, streets, etc.

With the common usage of mobile smartphone devices for work, employers and employees need to pay attention to the alarming growth of distracted walking accident. And we may be approaching a point where we’ll have to address this issue in our policies.

The issue for employers is that, like distracted driving, distracted walking poses a real safety and workers’ compensation risk. Employees who use tablets, cell phones and other mobile devices in the field create growing numbers of safety risks for employers such as distracted walking incidents. Other environments may present an even greater risk such as those in which workers
operate loud, dangerous machinery. Even office workers are at risk for distracted walking accidents, especially in fast-paced, high traffic areas.

Employers need to start thinking about warning employees of the dangers of distracted walking. In high-risk areas, employers should consider making mobile device usage off-limits and add safety limitations to social media and network, equipment and Internet usage policies. Employers should also consider adding distracted walking to a safety policy. 09.18.2012

The autumnal equinox arrived on Saturday, September 22, 2012, marking the official arrival of fall when the sun is positioned directly over the equator of our tilted Earth. The autumnal equinox, or fall/autumn equinox, is one of two times during the year when the length of day and the length of night are just about equal. From this point forward through the start of winter
in later December, each day will get shorter in the northern hemisphere.

With season being opposite on either side of the equator, the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere is the vernal or spring equinox in the southern hemisphere. A happy spring to those of you in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, etc.

The fall equinox began this year on Saturday, September 22nd at 11:49 pm Japan Standard Time; 2:49 pm Universal Time or GMT; 10:49 am Eastern Daylight Time; 9:49 am Central Daylight Time; 7:49 am Pacific Daylight Time; and 4:49 am Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time.

In Japan, the arrival of fall is a national holiday, Autumnal Equinox Day or “Shuubun no hi” which not only marks the seasonal change but also for paying respect to deceased family members.

In addition to the arrival of fall, another important date/time reminder is the end of daylight saving time in the U.S. This will be coming up on the first Sunday of November (November 4, 2012) at 2:00 a.m. with our clocks moving back one hour.  09.18.2012

The U.S. comes in last place when comparing the number of vacation days provided to workers in the top 21 OECD countries. With this in mind, in recent years, the media has dubbed America the “no-vacation nation.”

In most European countries like Germany, the typical worker receives six weeks of paid vacation. The story is very different in the U.S. In addition to a handful of national holidays, the typical American worker gets two or three weeks off out of the entire year for
vacation. The numbers are probably far worse. With faster growing lower paying, part-time and temporary jobs versus higher paying full-time jobs, some government figures show that about 25% of American workers don’t even earn vacation.

As opposed to other advanced countries where labor laws mandate employers provide a minimum amount of paid vacation, the U.S. is the only country that doesn’t require employers to provide any paid time off. Most U.S. companies, however, do provide paid vacation as a way to attract and retain workers.

Because they are not legally mandated to provide paid vacation, American employers take a different viewpoint than their counterparts in other OECD countries. Basically, U.S. employers look at paid vacation not only as a benefit but also the cost to the company and consider such things as wages paid to vacationing employees and the costs of hiring temporary help, paying overtime to employees who fill in, or figuring out how to distribute employees’ workload during their vacation.

Although the amount of vacation provided to the average U.S. worker hasn’t changed much in the last several decades (e.g., two weeks up to the first 5 years of service; three weeks after 5 years of service, etc.), the way vacation is earned and administered has been changing gradually.

The Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2011 employee benefits survey summarizes the types of benefits employers are offering their employees. SHRM’s survey shows that US. Employers have continued to evolve their benefits plans to give employees greater responsibility to manage their health care costs, retirement and financial security, as well as leave benefits.

When looking specifically at leave benefits, this typically includes paid and unpaid time away from work. According to SHRM’s analysis of the survey results, paid time off (PTO) plans continue to gain in popularity, while traditional paid vacation plans remain stagnant.

SHRM’s 2011 employee benefits survey found that 17% of organizations offered a PTO program. Many companies have eliminated traditional paid leave and replaced it with a PTO bank. Under PTO plans, employers give employees a certain number of days for
which they can take time off as needed without many of the restrictions of traditional leave policies. Employees accrue days, which are kept in a “bank.” As employees use days; their bank diminishes.

SHRM’s survey results show that 92% of companies provide some form of paid vacation leave to their full-time employees. 48% of respondents offered paid vacation leave through a PTO plan and 44% offered leave through a stand-alone paid vacation plan. 16% percent of employers that provide vacation leave offer a paid vacation cash-out option.

SHRM’s benefits survey also showed that 26% of companies offer paid personal leave separate from paid vacation and paid sick leave plans.In addition, 42% of organization provided paid floating holidays.

In addition to the time off benefits reviewed in the SHRM survey, there’s another type of vacation benefits that’s beginning to grow, especially in legal, accounting and management consultancy groups, and it’s an unlimited vacation program. This type of policy does not allow for vacation to accrue—vacation is granted to employees when they need it. The term “unlimited” is really not accurate because the typical employee in one of these programs is performing in a high demanding role and isn’t able to take as much time off as they want. Unlimited vacation policies do not require the employer to pay out vacation when the employee leaves. An unlimited vacation policy isn’t for every organization. It definitely depends on the workplace culture and it will not be successful in every workplace.   July 2012.

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