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Early Friday afternoon, Henry Pratt Co. informed one of its employees, Gary Martin, of his termination.
Shortly thereafter, he opened fire with a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson, killing five of his co-workers and wounding five police officers. Martin himself was the sixth casualty, killed in a shootout with police.
After the news of this tragedy broke, reports surfaced of Martin’s history of violence —s ix prior arrests by the local police department for domestic violence, and a decades-old felony conviction for aggravated assault.
All of which begs the question, should this employer have known that Martin was prone to violence, and, if so, should it have taken added measures in connection with his termination.
A criminal history of violent arrests and offenses is not necessarily a predictor of workplace violence. Still, there are certain warning signs for which an employer can look to help determine whether an employee is at risk for potential violence.
A chronic inability to get along with fellow employees
Mood swings and anger control issues
Expressions of paranoia or persecution. Being a “victim”
A history of problems with past jobs and and/or personal relationships
An inability to get beyond minor setbacks or disputes at work
A fascination with guns, weapons, or violent events
A sudden deterioration in work habits or personal grooming
Signs of stress, depression, or suicidal ideation
A major life problem, such as divorce or legal problems
If one more of these red flags surface, it is recommend that you refer this employee to an employee assistance program, for assessment and treatment.
If you are compelled to fire an employee who you think poses a risk of violence, it is recommended that you take further steps to mitigate against the risk of your termination transforming into a workplace tragedy.
Consider using a neutral manager or outside security consultant to carry out the termination
If there is manager or supervisor who has been the object of threats or anger, that person should not be the person to conduct the termination
Have security nearby—not in the same office, but close enough to hear signs of a problem and to act
Do not take a break. There are numerous instances of an employee asking for a bathroom break or time to compose him- or herself, and using the break to retrieve weapons
Wait until the end of the workday to terminate, if possible. This protects the dignity of the fired employee and minimizes the number of employees on hand should a situation escalate
Minimize any reasons why the employee would have to revisit the workplace. Mail a check; have uncollected belongings sent to the person’s home via a delivery service
Allow the person as much dignity as possible, but be brief and to the point. Do not get into a back and forth
Emphasize any severance benefits and outsourcing help that may be available. Some organizations decide they will not contest unemployment or offer the option of resigning.
As with most issues in the workplace, the proverbial ounce of prevention really matters. While there exists no foolproof way to protect your workplace against these kinds of tragedies, a few preventative steps can go a long way to putting you in the best place to deter and respond.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I bring you the story of a employee rumored to be sleeping with her boss to get a promotion. She wasn’t, but the workplace rumor mill sure thought she was.
Evangeline Parker began working for Reema Consulting Services, Inc., as an entry-level clerk. She received six promotions during her first 15 months of employment, ultimately to the position of Assistant Operations Manager.
Two weeks after her final promotion, Parker learned that “certain male employees were circulating … an unfounded, sexually-explicit rumor about her,” that she had slept with her manager, Demarcus Pickett, to obtain her management promotion. Participation in the rumor mill spread all the way up to the plant’s highest level manager, Larry Moppins, who asked Pickett, “You sure your wife ain’t divorcing you because you’re f–king [Parker]?”
Parker claimed that as the rumors spread, her coworkers, including those she supervised, treated her with “open resentment and disrespect.” It culminated in a staff meeting from which Parker was forcibly excluded, during which the rumor was openly discussed.
When Parker later tried to talk to Moppins about the issue, he blamed her for “bringing the situation to the workplace,” and told her that “he could no longer recommend her for promotions or higher-level tasks because of the rumor,” and that he “would not allow her to advance any further within the company.” A follow-up meeting several days later ended with Moppins screaming at Parker.
Thereafter, Parker and Donte Jennings (the man she accused of starting the rumor) filed harassment complaints against each other. In response, Moppins simultaneously issued Parker two written warnings and fired her.
RCSI argued (and the district court concluded) that the rumors could not support a sexual harassment claim because they had nothing to do with Parker’s gender, but instead were about her conduct. The 4th Circuit rejected this argument and reversed the district court:
As alleged, the rumor was that Parker, a female subordinate, had sex with her male superior to obtain promotion, implying that Parker used her womanhood, rather than her merit, to obtain from a man, so seduced, a promotion. She plausibly invokes a deeply rooted perception — one that unfortunately still persists — that generally women, not men, use sex to achieve success.…
In short, because “traditional negative stereotypes regarding the relationship between the advancement of women in the workplace and their sexual behavior stubbornly persist in our society,” and “these stereotypes may cause superiors and coworkers to treat women in the workplace differently from men,” it is plausibly alleged that Parker suffered harassment because she was a woman.
No good ever comes from the workplace rumor mill, especially when the rumors are about an employee sleeping her way to the top. According to one recent poll, 97% of employees report that spreading rumors about a co-worker’s sex life is the most inappropriate office behavior.
What can you do to limit the harm caused by workplace gossip, especially that about an employee’s sex life? Consider the following 5 suggestions.
Implement a “no-gossip” policy. A year ago I would have told that the NLRB would have serious issues with such a policy as a violation of employees’ rights to engage in protected concerted activity by talking about their terms and conditions of employment. Currently, however, the NLRB concludes that no-gossip policies are perfectly legal under its new Boeing rules on facially neutral handbook policies.
Keep private matters private. If you don’t want employees gossiping about their co-workers’ private lives, then encourage employees to keep their private lives private. Employees can’t gossip about that which they do not know. That said, in the age of social media, when we are all connected with each other 24/7, this goal is increasingly difficult to accomplish.
Set a positive example. The rumors in Parker were bad, but became that much worse when management began participating. If you want your employees to stop gossiping and spreading rumors about each other, set a positive example, and expect all employees to follow suit.
Encourage complaints. Employees need to know that HR and management are receptive to complaints about gossip and rumors. Even if not sex-based, take the complaint, and treat it seriously. This means investigating, and talking to those starting or spreading the rumors to make sure they stop.
Spread positive news. Is an employee doing a good job? Did he or she go above and beyond? Spread that type of news around the work place. The flip-side of negative rumors are positive stories about employees, customers, and culture. Good news stories will help drown out the negative.
And, for goodness sake, do not in any way, shape, or form permit employees to suggest that another slept her way to the top, or discipline the victim when she complains.
When you write about topics as broad as benefits and wellness, it’s easy to have too many ideas and want to write about a million things at once.
But that’s impossible. So these are some topics in the health and benefits space that have intrigued me these past few weeks. They relate to employee wellbeing based on compensation; the employer mandate; days off; and a wellness conference.
What’s been on your mind recently? Any trends, debates or legislation that you find especially fascinating? Let me know!
Unpaid Internships and the Government Shutdown
I had many reactions to the government shutdown, which doubtless made a lot of employees’ lives difficult, having to work in some cases while not getting paid while benefits were compromised and many people had to deal with things like not being able to afford basic necessities like food and rent. I recognize that the struggle this put on federal workers was very rough.
It made me think of unpaid internships. These interns must go through these exact same struggles (unless they’re wealthy, or their family is) of needing to work their asses off while not getting paid. A lot of students can’t take internships that would be good experience and look good on their resume because they need to make money and pay basic expenses. Proponents of the unpaid internship argue that they are a valuable learning experience or that students can get class credit.
But in my opinion as a millennial in the beginning of my career, most of us in college needed to take out loans to afford an education. Couple that with unpaid internships and entry-level jobs that for many fields pay minimally. The financial burden put on young people through education costs and unpaid work can be significant.
All I’m saying is, at least pay your interns minimum wage. It’s the least you can do. People should get compensated for the work they perform.
Some Employer Mandate News
I came across a couple of BenefitsPRO articles recently that highlight two opposing ideas of the same debate. In late 2018 the U.S. Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services and Treasury Department proposed a rule that employers could circumvent employer-mandate penalties by setting up a health reimbursement account that employees could use to purchase health care in the individual market.
The 2018 tax reform legislation struck down the individual mandate. But the employer mandate, an Affordable Care Act provision that states employers must provide affordable health insurance to employees or else face a fine, is still in place.
On the pro side: Large employees would realistically continue to offer group health plans to attract and keep talent. Meanwhile, it could potentially help smaller employers in the 50- to 100-employee range. Also, to avoid penalties, employers would have to make an HRA contribution such that “any remaining premiums the employee would have to pay wouldn’t exceed a percentage of his or her income to be considered affordable under the employer mandate.”
On the opposing side: Employers and employees may not fully understand the differences between employer-sponsored health care and the individual health insurance marketplace, and the limitations that exist between them. Also, the new rules could potentially incentivize employers to switch sicker, more expensive enrollees to the individual market.
“If employers could move sicker patients toward individual and short-term plans — some of which have more restricted coverage — the employer could save money. In addition, short-term plans often are more restrictive about pre-existing conditions,” the article states.
If these rules are finalized, they wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2020 at the earliest, according to BenefitsPRO.
What do you think?
Should the Super Bowl Be a National Holiday?
I want to give a shout out to a Twitter user and lawyer @SonyaOldsSom who responded to a Workforce tweet with something obvious but important. Also, it speaks to an even broader idea than what she was specifically talking about.
We posted a podcast in February 2018 in which hosts Rick Bell and Frank Kalman briefly discussed if the Monday after the Super Bowl should be a national holiday. That idea, simply, came from organizations’ frustrations that people often aren’t as productive as usual that day.
This was @SonyaOldsSom’s response:
Embed: https://twitter.com/SonyaOldsSom/status/1091728684459937793 … See embed code: <blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Not before Election Day is <a href=”https://t.co/Bm8RzGmqR1″>https://t.co/Bm8RzGmqR1</a></p>— Sonya Olds Som (@SonyaOldsSom) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SonyaOldsSom/status/1091728684459937793?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>February 2, 2019</a></blockquote>
Amen! Sure, National Super Bowl Monday is a cute idea to debate, but employers (and whoever decides what national holidays are) should consider the thing that’s been right under their noses for a long time. In general, for any organization, it can be easy to get swept up in trendy sounding ideas — whether that’s open office spaces, yoga classes or some other buzzword — but what’s more valuable to people are these straight-up practical ideas, like having voting day as an official holiday.
I spoke to a man who expressed to me one of his greatest frustrations in the workplace wellness space: when companies go gaga over wellness programs without addressing cultural concerns like an abusive or toxic work environment. I agree!
One of my unlikely tablemates was Bruce Sherman, medical director for the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions. I’ve coincidentally already interviewed him for a story coming up in our March issue! At this conference, he gave a talk about addressing employees with multiple chronic conditions [note: “multimorbidity” is the coexistence of multiple chronic conditions] in your wellness programs. One of his ideas: disease management programs that specifically address one chronic condition oftentimes do not sufficiently help employees with multimorbidity!
Sherman also mentioned that while people in the health care industry tend to have a narrow, clinical mindset with patient health, patients have many more focuses and stresses in their life. Personal health is just one of them — and, according to one survey, it’s not even the highest priority. Ranking factors that stress people out, “personal health” is No. 8, below other factors like finances, family health and work schedule. Personal health is not something that exists in a vacuum for employees!
The way we work in America is changing. The relationships between companies and their workers are more fluid and varied than in decades past. Our task in this appeal is to apply traditional legal protections to one such relationship.
So starts the 6th Circuit’s opinion in Acosta v. Off Duty Police Servs., which applies the traditional “economic realities” test to determine whether private security and traffic control officers are employees or independent contractors.
One would think that with such a pronouncement at the head of the 6th Circuit’s opinion, the court would be making a startling pronouncement broadening the landscape of who qualifies as an independent contractor.
Those making that assumption, however, are sorely mistaken.
The “economic realities” test balances six factors:
The permanency of the relationship between the parties
The degree of skill required for the rendering of the services
The worker’s investment in equipment or materials for the task
The worker’s opportunity for profit or loss, depending upon his skill
The degree of the alleged employer’s right to control the manner in which the work is performed
Whether the service rendered is an integral part of the alleged employer’s business
In balancing the factors, the court determined that all of ODPS’s private officers were employees, and none qualified as independent contractors.
1. Permanency of the Relationship
This factor examines the length and regularity of the working relationship between the parties. While some ODPS workers accepts jobs intermittently and for short terms, many worked for ODPS long-term, and some for decades without interruption. In addition to length, many ODPS workers did so with regularity (e.g., 20 – 25 hours per week, or even up to 50 hours per week). These facts mitigated against the fact that many ODPS was not many workers’ primary job or their primary source of income. Yet, according to the court, multiple sources of income is not dispositive, and using such a fact to deny employment status would ignore the “economic reality” that many workers need two (or more) sources of income just to make ends meet. Thus, the court concluded that this factor weighed in favor of employment status.
2. Degree of Skill
The evidence showed that the workers required little skill to render services. Workers only need four hours of training, and many have no background in law enforcement whatsoever. The workers described the jobs as either sitting in their cars with their lights flashing, or patrolling a parking lot spotting potential problems. Thus, this factor weighed heavily in favor of employee status.
3. Investment in Equipment and Materials
This factor compares the worker’s total investment to the company’s total investment. While the officers needed to buy their own equipment and provide their own vehicles, each only invested between $3,000 and $5,000 of their own money, compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars ODPS spent to operate the business. Thus, this factor weighed in favor of employee status. 4. Opportunity for Profit and Loss
Courts evaluate this factor by asking if workers “could exercise or hone their managerial skill to increase their pay.” ODPS argued that workers could do so, because they had the discretion to reject assignment, thereby limiting their ability to increase their pay. The court, however, was not persuaded. That discretion, according to the court, is not managerial skill. Moreover, because the workers worked a set shift when they accepted work, they had no control over how much they earned based on how long they worked. They could not earn more by completing the job more quickly and moving on another assignment. Their skill did not increase their ability to complete their jobs and accept more, it merely gave them discretion to say yes or no to jobs when offered. Thus, this factor weighed in favor of employee status. 5. Alleged Employer’s Degree of Control
This factor asks whether the company “retains the right to dictate the manner” of the worker’s performance.” ODPS maintained policies and procedures, which addressed: (1) the type and color of uniform that may be worn, (2) vehicle and light requirements, (3) rules for exchanging job assignments with other ODPS workers, and (4) general rules on workplace presentation and conduct. ODPS also represented to its customers that it would inspect the work sites and supervise its workers.Workers testified that ODPS disciplined them for violating work rules, such as declining jobs. ODPS set the rate at which the workers were paid, would tell the workers where to go for the job, when to arrive, and whom they should contact when they got there, and had supervisors to whom they reported. Workers were also required to sign non-compete agreements, and ODPS had sued former workers to prevent them from working for competitors. Thus, for the majority of ODPS’s workers, this factor weighed in favor of employee status.
6. Integral Part of the Alleged Employer’s Business
ODPS built its business around the security and traffic control services provided by its workers. It could not function or service its customers without them. Therefore, this factor weighed heavily in favor of employee status.
Balancing the evidence, the 6th Circuit had little difficulty concluding that ODPS’s workers were its employees, and not independent contractors: “Taking all these factors into consideration with an eye on the ultimate question of economic dependence, ODPS’s workers … were employees entitled to overtime wages under the FLSA.”
Off Duty Police Servs. serves as a stark reminder for employers that in all but the clearest of cases, businesses take a huge wage-and-hour risk by classifying workers as anything other than employees. The way we work might be changing, but the risk you take by misclassifying employees as independent contractors is staying exactly the same.
Does an employer have an obligation to return an employee to work following an extended unpaid leave of absence granted as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA?
You might be inclined to say, “Of course.” The answer, however, is nuanced, and depends on the length of the leave, the composition of your workforce at the time the employee seeks to return to work, and your efforts to engage in the ADA’s interactive process with the employee during the leave.
Gary Brunckhorst worked as an accountant for the city of Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, for over 15 years. In April 2014, he contracted Fournier’s gangrenous necrotizing fasciitis — a rare, life-threatening disease otherwise known as “flesh-eating” bacteria. He had three life-saving surgeries, spent five months in a hospital and nursing care facility and suffered long-term injuries.
At the outset of his hospitalization, Brunckhorst requested, and the city granted, FMLA leave. When that leave expired, the city granted an additional 60 days of unpaid medical leave and told Brunckhorst that he could qualify for an additional 30 more days thereafter. On Sept. 14, 2014, (the end of the initial 60-day unpaid leave), the city sent Brunckhorst his job description and asked him whether he could perform all of its essential functions of his position. Brunckhorst’s doctor responded that he was not able to return to work and that he needed additional unpaid leaves of absence, which was extended in serial through April 1.
In December 2014, however, the City Council had voted to eliminate Brunckhorst’s position as unnecessary. In an effort to soften the blow to Brunckhorst, is offered him the choice of a severance package or a return to work when he was able to do so in a new position, albeit with a 30 percent reduction in salary. Brunckhorst refused both, stating that he wanted to return to his original position. The city kept him on his unpaid leave in the interim, since he was not yet ready to return to work anyway.
Ultimately, the city gave Brunckhorst a hard April 1 deadline to return to work in the new position or be fired. Brunckhorst, through his attorney, refused and instead requested that the city permit him to work from home. The city refused, stating that remote work was not possible for the new position. It instead offered Brunckhorst a limited schedule as an accommodation — four hours per day four days per week in the office. When Brunckhorst declined the offer, the city terminated his employment.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the city had not violated the ADA by eliminating his position, refusing to offer remote work as an accommodation, or otherwise failing to engage in the interactive process.
No reasonable juror could conclude that the City had failed to participate in the interactive process. Brunckhorst attempts to narrow the window of the interactive process to the last few days prior to his termination and claims that the City offered him only one, take-it-or-leave-it accommodation. To the contrary, the record shows that the City engaged in an interactive dialogue with Brunckhorst for months regarding his return to work. During that time, the City extended his leave multiple times, made multiple requests for information regarding what accommodations he required, and offered accommodations consistent with his doctor’s restrictions. There is no genuine issue of material fact that the City engaged in anything but a good-faith interactive dialogue.
This case provides a textbook roadmap for employers to follow when handling an employee on an extended medical leave. An employer can eliminate a position if the bona fides of its business and economic needs support that decision. It is not required to keep a position, or create a position, as a reasonable accommodation. It may have to offer an existing, vacant position, however. It also does not have to offer remote work if the essential functions of the position dictate otherwise.
If you are considering terminating an employee out on a non-FMLA unpaid medical leave, consider this question — will it appear to a reasonable jury that you tried to work with the employee to return him or her to work. If the answer is an objective “yes,” then you are likely on solid footing terminating the employee who refuses your offers to return to work (understanding that you may have to justify your actions and decisions in litigation).
Legislation may be easing restrictions on both recreational and medical marijuana use, but it’s complicating workplace policies for many employers. Yet even though the drug is now legal in some states, it doesn’t necessarily mean workplaces should be more lenient about its use since marijuana can have serious impacts on worker safety and productivity.
So how should employers handle use of the drug? Here are five tips.
Set Standards: To protect an organization, it’s important to craft a policy. Start by reviewing the laws in the states where you conduct business to determine what you can and can’t prohibit. Then define parameters for employees regarding the use and possession of marijuana, and impairment, especially if it’s no longer considered an illegal drug in your state.
For some, that may mean relaxing their policies while others will continue with their current zero tolerance approach. Either way, with a clearly written policy outlining expectations and consequences, you’ll have the right to terminate an employee for violations. Just be sure to include it in your handbook and enforce it consistently.
Tread Carefully With Testing: Previously, the rules governing marijuana use were fairly simple and employers could terminate workers for testing positive for the drug. But with a patchwork of laws creating uncertainty — like those setting minimum thresholds for positive results — it’s getting more complicated to establish strict drug-testing criteria.
That doesn’t mean, however, that testing should necessarily be abolished altogether if your state allows it. It’s been shown that workers are less likely to use drugs if they know they’ll be tested, so you may want to establish — or continue — routine timelines for screenings, especially if you work in an industry where safety is paramount like manufacturing or transportation. Just be aware that the tests can have false results and they don’t necessarily reveal a worker’s level of impairment. Also, the use of marijuana to treat a medical condition can make testing tricky.
Train: With the rapid pace of change in marijuana legislation, make it a priority to keep supervisors and managers updated about legal developments regarding use of the drug in the workplace. Hold trainings for them about how workers may be using marijuana today (e.g. ingesting edibles at lunch), the effects of the drug on job performance, and how to spot signs of abuse at work that may prompt for-cause testing such as red eyes, slurred speech, impaired motor coordination and other behaviors. Educational offerings should also highlight steps management needs to take like proper documentation in case any of the company’s decisions regarding an employee get questioned.
Check for Medical Use Protections: Most state laws protect employers when medical marijuana-using employees test positive. But depending on where your company operates, there may be laws in effect to protect employees by prohibiting disciplinary action for medical marijuana use or requiring that you provide workplace accommodations. Be sure to check local legislation and have an attorney review your policies for compliance. And remember that just because an employee holds a medical marijuana card, it doesn’t give them authorization to use the drug on the job.
Provide Support: Since marijuana is the most frequently used illicit drug in the United States and the one most often detected in workplace testing, according to the National Safety Council, you may want to consider offering either formal or informal support for employees who may have been abusing it. If you don’t have an Employee Assistance Plan, arm HR with a list of local resources available to help employees with drug problems.
Law.com recently pronounced, “The Emojis are Coming!”
That article got me thinking, are they coming to workplace litigation, too? After all, emojis are a form of communication, and work is all about communication. Which would suggest that we would start seeing them in harassment and discrimination cases.
According to Bloomberg Law, mentions of emojis in federal discrimination lawsuits doubled from 2016 to 2017. Let’s not get crazy. The doubling went from six cases to 12 cases. But, a trend is a trend.
While harassment cases dominate these filings, it’s not just employees who are using to establish a hostile work environment. Employers are using employees’ use of emojis to respond to alleged acts of harassment (such as , or , or ) to help establish that the alleged hostile work environment was either welcomed or subjectively not offensive.
Most employers already have an emoji policy. It’’s called your harassment policy. You do not need a separate policy to forbid your employees from using what is becoming an acceptable form of communication … .
We can have a healthy debate over the professionalism of emoji use in business communications (like this one). Indeed, according to one recent survey, “nearly half (41%) of workers use emojis in professional communications. And among the senior managers polled, 61% said it’s fine, at least in some situations.” My sense is that your view of this issue will depend on a combination of your age, your comfort with technology, and the age of your kids.
As for me, I use emojis all the time, even at work. Email is notoriously tone deaf. It’s easier for me to drop a into an email to convey intent than to tone down my sarcasm.
In other words, . Emojis are , and it’s perfectly fine to them at work .
Now is as good a time as any to rethink our workplace health and well-being initiatives. It’s a chance to freshen up stale offerings and engage with employees who might be looking to make health changes of their own.
The winners of the 2018 HERO — Health Enhancement Research Organization — Health and Well-Being Awards have ideas that should help. The HERO Health and Well-Being Awards recognize individuals for leadership, research contributions and other noteworthy accomplishments in the field of workplace health and well-being. In interviews conducted at the 2018 HERO Forum, winners talked about four key elements of successful well-being initiatives.
Employee perspective matters. The innovative well-being initiatives that 2018 Heart of HERO winner Sheri Snow oversees at American Cast Iron Pipe earned that company the C. Everett Koop National Health Award in 2014. One key to those offerings, she said, is the opportunity for employees to shape what is available to them. Whether they gather information through surveys, one-on-one interviews or other methods of exploring employee perspectives, Snow believes it is important for employers to understand what employees want in a well-being initiative.
“Employers can really enhance their programs by listening to employees and involving them in planning, seeing what they want,” Snow said. “Conduct surveys and listen to what employees say they want, not just what you think they need.”
Sheri Snow. Photo credit: HERO.
Bill Whitmer Award winner Shelly Wolff said the gap between employer and employee perspectives on well-being can be instructive. and as health and workforce effectiveness leader at Willis Towers Watson, Wolff works with her clients to reduce the existing gap and adjust their well-being offerings accordingly. “Understanding that gap has helped companies dial into the importance of hearing directly from employees,” Wolff said. “That evolution of human-centered design and putting the employee at the center of the effort is having a big influence on what well-being means to employers.”
Support starts at the top. Leadership support plays an important role in the success of well-being initiatives. Research has shown that organizations realize better results on both health improvement and medical costs when leaders recognize healthy behaviors, and when they model work-life balance with their own actions. Healthy HERO Award winner Amanda Potter offers real-world support for that theory. The award, now in its second year, recognizes employees who have used their employer’s well-being offerings to transform their own lives and encourage co-workers to make positive changes. Potter, a social media manager for Midco Communications, changed her nutrition and fitness habits after the birth of her son, leading to improvements in her mental well-being and physical health. She also started a workday walking group that earned early buy-in from the people above her on the pay scale.
Amanda Potter. Photo credit: HERO.
“When I started that walking group, I created an email list that allowed people to opt in if they wanted to participate. I got my boss and my boss’ boss on board immediately,” said Potter. “That made a big difference — to have them be not only supportive, but embracing it.”
Balance is key. That break gives employees a chance to get away from work, connect with their families and get re-energized for their return to the office. That policy might not work for everyone — some businesses or groups may need to be connected 24/7 — but Bierbower is an advocate for thinking broadly about well-being and not just focusing on physical fitness and activities.
“The broader you get, the more you can get your employees engaged,” said Bierbower. “If an employee isn’t interested in physical fitness, maybe they’re interested in volunteering, or in financial well-being. When you create a better balance of well-being offerings, you’re creating more entry points where people can get involved.”
The value of data. Whether it’s the latest fad diet or the hottest tech gadget, people like new things. The same is often true in the area of well-being. It’s easy to chase trends, but Mark Dundon Research Award winners Kerry Evers and Sarah Johnson prefer a more measured approach, and they believe in taking the long view when it comes to well-being and behavior change.
Kerry Evers and Sarah Johnson. Photo credit: HERO.
“It’s important to rely on the evidence base that’s been developed,” said Johnson. “It’s so easy to fall into the exciting trends that are happening and ignore the evidence base, so it’s important for people to remind themselves how important it is for efforts to be rooted in science.”
Evers recommended looking beyond major benchmarks while measuring well-being progress. Doing so moves us away from an all-or-nothing approach where measurable results are key and adds an understanding of how changes take place over time.
“If you look at the entire continuum, you can see groups and programs making progress and making incremental gains along the way,” said Evers. “Understanding those gains is key to keeping morale up and for implementing programs, to see how successful they are.”
Understanding of health and well-being initiatives will continue to evolve because people will continue to change. Millennials have different priorities than baby boomers, so their perspective on well-being will naturally differ from that of their older colleagues. As that evolution continues, it’s important to check in from time to time with the people who are close to the heart of the industry. There’s no better time than now.
In one of the biggest deals in recent HR technology history, Ultimate Software agreed to be acquired by a private equity group for $11 billion. The move will allow the cloud-based human capital management vendor to leave the pressures of Wall Street behind — at least for a while.
The Feb. 4 announcement was a surprise considering Ultimate appears to be thriving and has delivered steady year over year growth, said Holger Mueller, principal analyst for Constellation Research. “Usually private equity investors acquire troubled companies or those in transition but Ultimate is doing really well.”
The 29-year-old human capital management company, which provides a suite of tools including payroll, benefits management and talent acquisition, has more than 5,000 customers in 160 countries, and delivered $1.1 billion in revenues in 2018, up from $940 million in 2017. It dominates the market among mid-sized companies, and it has been expanding its client base to support larger global companies, making it increasingly competitive with Workday, ADP, and other industry leaders.
The question now is what effect this acquisition will have on the company’s long term business prospects.
“My gut reaction is that this is probably a really good move for employees and customers,” said George LaRocque, founder and principal HCM market analyst for LaRocque LLC in New York. The company is already known for making significant R&D investments, and now that it won’t be pressured to deliver quarterly returns to public shareholders, it will more time and space to focus on long term strategy, he said.
He also doesn’t anticipate much attrition. The leadership team will almost certainly be required to stick around at least for the short term as part of the deal.
And because the company is known for having a terrific employee-focused corporate culture, employees are unlikely to flee as a result of the acquisition, even after cashing in on their stock. Stockholders will receive $331.50 per share, which is a 32 percent premium over current share prices.
“We may see changes in leadership in a year or two, but it is safe to say nothing big will happen in the short term,” LaRocque said.
Hellman & Friedman, which led the private equity group, led a similar deal to take the HR software company Kronos Inc. private in 2007 for $1.8 billion, and its founder is still running the company. “Its history with Kronos could be a sign of what’s to come for Ultimate,” LaRocque said. “The company is well run and the transition went well.”
Customers are also likely to stick around, in part because of Ultimate’s appealing payroll tools, predicted Mueller. “People change talent management vendors all the time, but no one wants to change their payroll provider,” he said. “That makes it a relatively safe investment.”
Mueller anticipates that Ultimate will use the acquisition to support its continued global expansion, which was enabled in part by last year’s acquisition of PeopleDoc, an HR company based in France. Expanding its global footprint could help the company grow more rapidly, and reposition itself to go public again in three or four years, he said.
Not a Sign of Things to Come
While acquisition deals in the HR tech space are constantly happening, Mueller and LaRocque don’t see this one as an indicator of a new acquisition trend. “There are no other companies of Ultimate’s caliber that could go private,” Mueller said. One of its close competitors, Ceridian, just went public, and companies like ADP, Oracle and SAP are simply too big to acquire.
In the meantime, Mueller encouraged current and future customers to pay attention to Ultimate’s roadmap, and where it plans to invest R&D dollars post acquisition. The company is known for investing in new development, but it remains to be seen how this deal will affect that trend.
“It’s always a good idea to know what your vendors are going to do next,” he said. It is the best way to determine if the choices they are making today will meet a company’s needs in the future.
A while back a source mentioned to me that many people have a limited view on mental illness. It’s depression; it’s anxiety; or maybe it’s PTSD. But there are many more mental illness conditions to address. Like eating disorders.
Eating disorders account for the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses, with someone dying every 62 minutes as a direct result of an eating disorder. The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions hosted a webinar a few weeks ago on the topic — perfect timing to educate employers for Eating Disorders Awareness Month in February.
The alliance referred to eating disorders as a “hidden health crisis” in email communications about the webinar and, I have to say, to me this sounds like an accurate way to describe it. I had no idea that they accounted for so many deaths! I also fell victim to the stereotype that the demographic most likely to develop an eating disorder are young, white, rich girls. Really, it cuts across gender, ethnicity and socioeconomics at pretty much the same rates.
Also, as someone whose been writing about benefits, wellness and health for 2 ½ years, this may have been the first time I’ve seen a pitch or an event about eating disorders. Panelist Craig Kramer, global mental health ambassador at Johnson & Johnson, cited some basic numbers on eating disorders:
30 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. There are other problems that are still in the process of being officially defined as a disorder. To be clear: An eating disorder is different from dieting or occasionally consuming too much. It’s a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder.
Eating disorders are “the only chronic condition of the young,” with half of sufferers experiencing them by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24. Most people don’t receive treatment, for reasons like stigma and lack of access, and the longer they wait to treat it, the worse it gets. Although people often develop this at a young age, it’s possible for people to still have an eating disorder into old age.
The eating disorder community is underfunded, raising about $10 million per year. Kramer pointed out that an organization dedicated to autism, Autism Speaks, raises $50 million a year.
The National Eating Disorders Association has a toolkit for employers, sharing some warning signs that someone may be suffering and explaining exactly how eating disorders impact the workplace.
There are several reasons why this applies to the employer population. One, this is a major mental health consideration, and many employers are saying they want to address mental health issues. Two, employers are developing an affinity for employee health and wellness programs. As they focus on areas like exercise, diet, weight loss, healthy eating initiatives and body mass index, they should also acknowledge that eating disorders are a big deal. Three, people have eating disorders in the workforce but have never received treatment for it.
One of the interesting ideas that came from this webinar was the causation of eating disorders. Alliance President and CEO Mike Thompson brought up an organization that deals with childhood obesity. Through this organization, Thompson learned how sensitive one must be when they talk about weight with children. It’s possible to push a child in the direction of developing an eating disorder if you don’t communicate with them the right way.
“There’s an increasing trend of tying these [wellness] programs to health insurance benefits, with penalties that can mean that the employee ends up paying more money for their health insurance. Additionally, these programs aren’t necessarily just harmless ways to encourage people to be healthier, they could also include office-wide, Biggest Loser-style group weight loss programs that can be triggering for people who struggle with disordered eating.”
The bottom line for employers: Don’t underestimate the impact of an eating disorder, even in a workforce full of adults. Think about eating disorders when you’re crafting messages for weight-loss programs.
When you’re thinking of your population, ask yourself, “How easy it is for them to find an in-network specialist provider who has adequate training, specifically treating this [eating disorder]?” said panelist Jenna Tregarthen, founder and CEO of Recovery Record.
And, as panelist Kristina Saffran, co-founder and CEO of Project Heal, said: “People are not quite sure where [eating disorders] belong. Although there’s a medical and a behavioral component, it is a mental health condition when it comes down to it. So, it should be a part of your behavioral health strategy.”
Other wellness topics on my mind …
Money and motivation: There’s an idea floating around that more money doesn’t motivate people; rather, other rewards like trips or non-cash prizes do. Every time I read or hear that, I have one major reaction, even though I don’t doubt there’s some truth in this. It makes perfect sense in certain contexts. Still, I hope companies don’t use this as an excuse not to give employees standard-of-living raises or to raise minimum wage. Financial wellness is more than just giving employees access to financial advisers or tips on how to save money. It’s also acknowledging that as the cost of living rises, appropriate compensation will help them with basic financial needs.
Hate crimes: Ever since the alleged hate crime against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, I’ve been seeing a lot online about the broader topic. For example, the number of hate crimes in Washington, D.C., have nearly doubled since 2016, with crimes based on sexual orientation accounting for half the city’s total hate crimes in 2018, according to the Washington Post. This is a major public policy and public health issue, but the workplace should take notice, too. I plead with employers — no matter what religion or morality your organization associates with — to think seriously about how your employees’ behavior and workplace policies impact LGBTQ people, especially now. Are you taking incidences of harassment or discrimination against this community seriously?
As columnist and employment law blogger Jon Hyman has written in several posts in Workforce’s blog The Practical Employer, there is no good reason for employers to be anti-LGBTQ rights. Hyman wrote:
“When LGBTQ discrimination becomes universally illegal in the United States (and it will), and history looks back on this era during which this brand of discrimination was questionably legal, on what side of history do you want to be as an employer? The side that condoned (or, worse yet, participated in) this discrimination, or the side that took a stand against it?”
Good news from our columnist!: Jennifer Benz, the Benefits Beat columnist for Workforce magazine, had a major announcement recently. Benz Communications has joined forces with consulting firm The Segal Group. Benz is now the SVP communications leader at Segal Benz. Congratulations, Jennifer!