Most employers provide the usual paid vacation time, paid sick time and other time off as required by law. However, some employers are trying something new to attract employees, specifically members of the millennial generation (born between 1979 and early 2000’s). Some employers are beginning to offer creative and different benefits. Currently, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota (where I live) is considering different job incentives/benefits to offer its employees and attract new employees.

The Brooklyn Park City Council is currently considering adding two weeks of paid parenting time, in hopes of attracting and retaining younger workers. If the City Council adopts the plan, the City of Brooklyn Park would be the first city in Minnesota to offer paid parenting leave. Brooklyn Park, like many other public and private sector employers recognize the challenges they will face when members of the baby boomer generation retire and members of the millennial generation are to replace them.

Studies have shown millennials are more likely to hop from job to job during their career. Additionally, millennials want more flexibility in where and how they work, whether it is from home, office, or on the road. Employers are facing the challenge and trying to figure out how to attract and retain good employees.

The City of Brooklyn Park is doing an excellent job by preparing ahead of time for the shift in employees and generations. The Council is also exploring other benefits such as tuition reimbursement and some type of leave for employees who care for aging parents. Councilmember Trepanier said, “If it helps get good work-life balance, we should do that.” The Council will be making a decision on this issue at a future Council meeting.

I’m grateful my city, is thinking outside the box when it comes to trying to find and retain the best employees. Everyone knows work-life balance is important, and now more employers are trying to help employees achieve it.

Technology is advancing in all areas at what seems to be lightening speed. You can buy a new cell phone or tablet, and within a month a new improved version is being released. Medical technology now allows surgery with lasers requiring minimal recovery time. Changes are also occurring in the workplace.

Employers are moving towards utilizing technology to track a host of employee information. The restaurant industry has been collecting data from employees for quite some time. Restaurant Guard, a product originally introduced to help restaurants track employees, orders, and inventory, and be alerted to possible employee theft, has actually resulted in increased revenue to restaurants. Servers know they are being tracked, and thus encourage customers to have an extra drink or get a dessert.

Sociometric Solutions is a new company which advises companies on human dynamics research through the use of sensor-rich employee ID badges. The sociometric ID badges are equipped with two microphones, a location sensor, and an accelerometer. The purpose is to monitor the communication behavior of individuals. Employees elect to have their data collected by Sociometric Solutions. Sociometric Solutions gathers the raw data but only provides aggregate statistics to the employers. The results of one study conducted at Bank of America call centers resulted in the company introducing a shared 15 minute coffee break. This resulted in a 10% increase in call handling productivity, and a 70% decline in employee turnover.

Utilizing digital tools for workplace monitoring can be both good and bad. The overall concern is, what is the “right” level of monitoring and why is it being done? As with any type of new monitoring/tracking technology there are concerns about privacy issues.

Workplace analytics is a new business arena that is making use of technology. The law will have to catch up and address the privacy questions raised by this type of tracking/monitoring technology in the workplace.
(Photo courteousy of ccsionline)

I had the pleasure this morning to introduce the speaker at the White Bear Area Chamber business breakfast, Mr. Anthony Wedo. Mr. Wedo is the CEO of Ovation Brands, but you might recognize his name from his television commercials for Old Country Buffet, or his episode on “Undercover Boss."  He is the mastermind behind the reinvention and redesign of the Old Country Buffet line of restaurants, new food, fresh décor, hospitality all wrapped in his personal guarantee to “make it right” for each customer.

Mr. Wedo spoke to the group of local business owners about his twelve commandments for successful leadership. In short, he covered passion, caring, the fact leadership is earned, persistence, results, teamwork, judgment, accountability, humility, courage, honesty and gratitude. He used examples, humor, and enthusiasm to get across his business philosophy, and challenged everyone to “stand for something,”

The business breakfast was, of course, held at the Maplewood Old Country Buffet restaurant. Mr. Wedo shared his insights as if we were all family members sitting around the kitchen table, however, it was hard to ignore the fact his business employs 18,000 employees and has carved out a billion dollars in sales in the restaurant market. 

Anthony Wedo is truly an example of the American entrepreneurial spirit at its finest!

Minnesota is known for its “Minnesota Nice” residents. But it isn’t always the citizens that are nice, sometimes it’s the businesses, or more accurately the business owners. Jon Tevlin (@jontevlin) with the Star Tribune had the opportunity to highlight a few of these “Minnesota Nice” businesses.

Last month Mr. Tevlin wrote about Bob Sullivan, a Wendy’s franchise owner in Duluth whose restaurant had a fire causing the restaurant to close while under construction. Mr. Sullivan is not only committed to rebuilding the restaurant, he is also committed to his employees. He told the employees they will continue to be paid while the restaurant was being rebuilt. Is he legally obligated to do this? No. So, why is he? Because he said, “[r]eplacing good people is hard to do.”

Mr. Sullivan isn’t the first Minnesota business owner to make headlines for doing a good thing for his employees. In December 2013, the owners of Punch Pizza made local and national news for voluntarily raising new employee wages to $10/hour.   It even got mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union address  In 2012, a Bemidji grocery store owner retired and left his business to his employees, versus selling to a chain store.

None of these business owners were required by law to perform these acts of kindness. They realized their biggest asset is their workforce, and when you have good employees, you want to keep them happy. So often we only hear news about businesses with problem employees, it is a nice change of pace to hear a story about a business that is going the extra mile.

Yesterday forty brave Minnesotans came out for a 7:30 am presentation my firm made on “Effective Management of Difficult Employee Issues,” despite gusts of blowing snow and rough driving conditions. The presentation was part of the Vadnais Heights Economic Development Corporation business community roundtable series, designed to be a resource for local business owners.

My law partner and I spoke on how to manage poorly performing employees, abuse of sick leave/attendance problems, employee medical issues, and employee misconduct. We provided samples of: 1) Performance Improvement Plans, 2) discipline letters, 3) checklist outlining what an employer should consider before issuing discipline, and 4) a blog I wrote on coaching and counseling employees, which included a sample script for supervisors. The training was designed to be practical and give hands-on resources to local business owners and supervisors.

I told those attending the training I would blog about an on-line resource for employers who are managing an employee with a medical issue, needing “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). I really like the Q & A found on the EEOC website which asks and answers the most common questions employers need to know about making reasonable accommodations. I also like the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for its sample forms and free and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations. The site offers an A-Z of disabilities, and by clicking on options, an employer can review limitations and job functions to determine possible reasonable accommodations.

A new year is quickly approaching and so is the implementation of a new law restricting circumstances when Minnesota public and private employers can request information about a job applicant’s arrests and criminal convictions. This is happening across the country in a number of other states and is being called “ban the box,” in reference to the box on many job application forms which ask about an applicant’s criminal record. 

Under the new law scheduled to take effect January 1, 2014, Minnesota public and private employers may not inquire, consider, or require disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history until after the applicant has been selected for a job interview, or if no interview is being conducted, then before a conditional offer of employment has been made.

This is not new to Minnesota public employers, as a similar restriction went into effect for them in 2009. Note: The new law does not impact employers who have some other statutory duty to conduct criminal background checks which are job-related such as police, fire, school bus drivers, etc…

This is however new to private employers, who may become subject to review and penalties from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Penalties are set out in the new statute and increase as time passes. Public employers who are the subject of complaints or grievances in violation of the statute will be reviewed under Chapter 14, the Administrative Procedures Act.

Prior to January 1, 2014, all Minnesota employers should review their job applications and hiring procedures, to insure they are ready to comply with the new law. This may require removal of questions on job applications concerning criminal history, unless of course the position is covered by a statutory exception. It may be permissible to consider criminal history later in the process, if an applicant has been selected for an interview or a conditional offer has been made to the applicant. 

An interesting article appeared in the Sunday Pioneer Press regarding the 24/7 connectivity of the business world, and the problems it creates for employees’ mental health, productivity and turnover. Everyone is reachable everywhere today. It is rare to find someone who doesn’t own a cell phone. Some people even have two, a personal cell phone and a cell phone provided by work. Employees frequently check their e-mails when on vacation or home sick.

In the recent past, all the new developments in technology helped boost employee productivity. However, all this technology is coming at a price. The Associated Press reports, “Information overload cost American businesses just under $1 trillion in employee time lost to needless emails and other distractions in 2010.” Employees who are overworked and undervalued are at risk for burnout which often leads to employee turnover all resulting from employees being connected to the workplace 24/7. Most recently, employees affected by the Great Recession were fearful of taking time off, so they worked during vacation, at home in the evening, and also on the weekends.

Businesses are taking notice of these issues and implementing some creative changes. Volkswagen turns off email to some employees’ 30 minutes after their shift ends. Goldman Sachs is urging junior staff to take weekends off, and not check email or do work. BMW will be implementing rules in 2014 that will prevent workers from being contacted after hours. Businesses are seeing the benefits of having employees “escape” from work, so when they are at work, they are more productive.

What is your company’s practice regarding evening and weekend work? Are your employees showing signs of burnout? Employees are the biggest asset and biggest expense for many businesses. Now is the time to take the steps to do what is necessary to protect the asset! Let your employees know it is okay to be focused on home life when they are at home.

This week winter officially arrived in Minnesota with the first substantial snowfall of the season. By the time the snow finished on Wednesday night, the northwest metro received between 6-8 inches, and areas in northern Minnesota over 2 feet. This made for a messy and slow commute to and from work on Wednesday, as well as Thursday morning when crews were still out clearing the roads. I’m sure many employees were absent from work or delayed due to the weather itself or the accidents it caused.

It made me wonder, how many employers have inclement weather policies? What are employees supposed to do if they can’t make it in or will be late due to the weather? Most employers have vacation and sick leave policies with requirements on how to request that time off. But, how does it work in an inclement weather situation? In my discussions with some local business owners, I found very few had inclement weather policies. The Department of Labor put out a study in 2012 analyzing 33 years of data involving work absences due to bad weather and found January and February generally had the highest amount of work absences dues to weather.

As the season of inclement and unpredictable weather is here, now, is the perfect time to create an inclement weather policy. It should outline for employees what type of leave time may be used in the circumstance of either tardiness or absence due to bad weather. For example, employees may be allowed to use vacation time, compensatory time, or the option to flex their schedule (with supervisory approval). If an employee doesn’t have any of these paid leave options available, unpaid time will be used, unless of course the employee is exempt under the FLSA.

When considering an inclement weather policy, it may also be a good time to evaluate under what circumstances a business may want to be proactive and tell its employees to stay home as the business is going to be closed due to the weather. By outlining the options available in a policy, the employees and supervisors will know what to do the next time bad weather causes tardiness or work absences. The weather this week made me thankful to be my own boss with the ability to set my own schedule. I went in late to the office on Wednesday and left early with the hope to avoid some traffic (my commute however was still twice as long as normal), but at least I didn’t get in an accident.

Today is the twelfth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in D.C., and the plane that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news about the crashes. There is a lesson for businesses from the events on that day; you can never be too prepared. I’m sure no one who worked in the World Trade Center expected the building to be hit by a plane and collapse to the ground. We have blogged about emergency preparedness regarding natural disasters, fires, and pandemics in the past.

Businesses please take time to review your emergency/back-up plans and make sure you and your employees know what to do in the event of an emergency. By making sure your emergency plan is current and up-to-date now, it will help ensure if the plan needs to be put into action, you will be able to do so smoothly and efficiently.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the members of our armed forces, law enforcement, and medical personnel who do so much to help us when emergencies occur.

The Star Tribune had an interesting article in the Sunday paper regarding a new way employers are considering rewarding employees for having good health. Instead of the traditional workplace wellness programs which provide incentives for employee participation, such as an employee receives a gift card for attending a healthy living seminar, the new wellness programs are basing incentives on an employee’s own personal health via the use of “biometric outcomes.” Biometric screening measures blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, heart rate, body fat and tobacco use, etc…

The Kaiser Family Foundation released an annual survey which found most employers are still using the traditional health/wellness participation programs. But the problem with this type of program is providing an employee with an incentive for attending a seminar on healthier living, doesn’t mean the employee actually did anything to get healthier. Now, a growing number of employers are switching to wellness plans which provide biometric testing.

In Minnesota, Allina Health and Dakota County are two employers who have moved to this new type of wellness program. They are using a program called myHealthCheck developed by Lifetime Fitness which assigns an employee a score on a 100 point scale, based on the employee’s biometric testing. The program is completely voluntary and is designed to reward employees, not punish them. My sister, Regan works for Dakota County and was very motivated by the program. She is only 24 years old and in excellent health, yet she has found ways to improve her health under the program. In addition, my sister likes that myHealthCheck gives participants access to online resources to set health goals, track daily activities and get nutritional advice.

Lifetime Fitness vice-president Jeff Zwiefel says this program is analogous to automobile insurance. When you received a ticket your auto insurance rates go up. Under these new wellness plans, there is more employee accountability.

Not everyone however likes the new measurable outcome plans. Currently, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) which represents nurses in the Allina Health system, is fighting against adding the program to the new labor agreement. SEIU wants a system where the rewards are uniform and based on the collective health of the workforce, not individual employees.

The federal Affordable Care Act does allow for these types of health-based incentive programs, but as of 2014 requires employees have the ability to appeal or find alternative means to reach the maximum benefits.

If you are an Employer and are considering implementing a wellness program, talk with your employees to find out what type of program they are interested in, and what would motivate them to get healthier. Remember it is about changing bad habits into healthy habits, and encouraging employees to make positive changes.