Hazardous Weather Policies That Won't Make Employees Cry "Foul"
When the weather outside is frightful, relationships between employers and
workers can quickly turn to icy. To ensure your employees don’t start
freezing you out, it’s important to have an inclement weather policy in
The past two winters have been especially tough in many parts of the U.S.
Even summers can be rough in areas prone to thunderstorms, flash floods
and hurricanes. When extreme weather hits, it can be a real conundrum for
employers and employees alike. If the latter are expected to show up for
work yet fear driving in adverse weather conditions, they may fear telling
their supervisor — and call in sick instead. Others may join suit,
resulting in lost productivity as well as resentment among those employees
who did make it in that day. Some employees may have jobs that allow them
to work from home on foul weather days, while others don’t.
Some ideas to consider as you set your company’s policy:
- Make it clear if sick or personal days can be used. Draft a policy
that indicates whether employees may use paid time off (PTO) —
personal or sick days, or both — in order to be paid if the office is
open but they are not comfortable driving in. Deductions for
absences of a day or more because of bad weather are not specifically
allowed for exempt employees by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
regulations. However, the Department of Labor has drafted two opinion
letters that indicates employers can require exempt workers to use
paid leave when absent because of weather-related conditions. Letter
- Where hourly employees are concerned, on days that the facility
does not open (and especially when notice has been given) the FLSA
does not require that they be paid. If the workplace is being kept
open, and employees are allowed to either leave early or come in late
of their own volition, hourly workers are usually not paid for the
time off. If hourly employees do come to work and are asked to stay
until a final decision is being made regarding the workplace being
open, they must be paid.
- Schools are closed, yet the office is open. What should working
parents do when schools are closed but they must report to work?
Companies can empower supervisors to deal with this situation on a
case-by-case basis. They can also assist parents with the burden of
paying for childcare on snow days through Employee Assistance Programs
such as Just in Time
Care, which reimburses employees a set amount per year (for
example, $250 or $300) for childcare costs associated with unexpected
- Ensure the office is a safe place to work that day. If employees are
required to report to work in inclement weather, they should not
arrive to an unplowed parking lot, icy walkways or lack of heat.
Morale and productivity plummet when workers make Herculean efforts to
get to the office only to find they can’t work there after all. Assign
someone — ideally, an individual who lives close to the workplace — to
make sure the facility is up and running before calling workers in.
Also, keep an eye on the forecasts. One East Coast storm last winter
delivered a double-whammy: a second snowstorm eight hours on the heels
of the first. You don’t want employees marooned at the office if the
- Communicate how they will receive notice of a closing. Your
emergency closing policy should outline how workers will know if the
company is closed. A chain telephone system works, as does a notice on
the company website or a special phone number employees can call to
hear a weather-related message.
Employers must balance employee safety with business needs by putting an
established policy in place well in advance. Weather forecasters often
miss the mark, and two inches of snow can turn into two dozen.
Political Activities in the Workplace
In a presidential
election year, with state presidential primaries about to begin and with
many Senate and House seats on the line, where do employers draw the
line when it comes to political activities in the workplace? In today’s
politically charged environment — fueled in part by cable TV news
programs, Internet blogs and radio talk shows — it is especially
important that employers are aware of federal laws relating to political
activities in the workplace.
political parties and the media will be stirring debate and discourse
through most of 2012, it’s to be expected that some employees will be
bringing their opinions, loyalties and arguments into the workplace.
They may wear political buttons, ask coworkers to donate to or volunteer
for a political campaign, or engage in a heated political discussion at
the water cooler. This can be distracting and even intimidating to other
While the National
Relations Act protects some forms of workplace political advocacy, there are distinct
limitations employers should be aware of. In order for activity to
be protected, the legislation states that there must be “a direct nexus
between the specific issue that is the subject of the advocacy and a
specifically identified employment concern of the participating
activities would be those that are directly related to employees’
specific working conditions, for example, support of paid sick leave or
raising the minimum wage.
On the flip side, issues unrelated to working conditions, such as
support for election of a particular candidate or group of candidates
without reference to specific employment-related issues, would not fall
within protected activity. Neither would political advocacy or
discussion resulting in disruption to the workplace operations.
Employers also must
stay on the right side of the law. They should never press employees to
vote for a particular candidate or to contribute to a political action
Here are some steps
companies can take to control political conduct in the workplace:
- Implement an
email policy that limits email use to business purposes only. This
will reduce any political activity employees may engage in through
sure all employees have received copies of company policies regarding
solicitation and distribution, email usage, and political decorations,
accessories or clothing.
- Have a
no-solicitation/distribution policy. This would restrict an
employee’s attempt to ask other employees to vote for certain
candidates or hand out political literature during work time.
employees from personal conversations during work time, which would
include any non work-related subject.
consistent. For example, don’t require employees to remove their
pro-Democratic political buttons while allowing others to wear their
pro-Republican ones. If you’re inconsistent, you might face a
- Never press employees to vote for a particular candidate or to
contribute to a PAC.
For a sample political activities in the workplace policy to use as a
guide, check out the version used by 3M.
Regular Ethics and Compliance Training Reduces Your Risk
One of the most
frightening facts about today’s business world is this: an entire
organization can be held criminally liable for any of its employees’
In today’s business world, the importance of corporate accountability
has never been more critical. Thanks largely to the Sarbanes-Oxley
Act of 2002,
a federal law which oversees public company accountability, ethics
training is no longer a choice, but has become commonplace within
companies worldwide, regardless of size and within all types of entities
whether privately owned, not-for-profit or public.
increasingly complex web of workplace compliance laws can seem daunting.
Yet as recent court decisions, federal guidelines and state laws have
made clear, it is critical for companies to provide employees with a
compliance training program on certain laws and ethics-related topics.
Such training is key to building an ethical culture. By communicating
your values and principles and ensuring that workers know what your
policies say, you will reduce your overall risk and boost your company’s
Regular compliance and ethics training helps you ensure that your
workers understand and comply with applicable laws and policies. A
formal training program can save your company money by reducing the
number of legal claims and the costs of investigating, litigating and
resolving them. By making their best efforts to prevent wrongdoing in
their ranks, companies can reduce the prospect of criminal activity and
create a “good citizenship” model.
may include ethical decision-making; security, data and intellectual
property ethics; policies regarding observing and reporting suspected
wrongdoing without fear of reprisal; and Sarbanes-Oxley itself.
No matter your size
or your industry, your business is at risk for a variety of legal,
operational and financial issues that can negatively impact your work
environment, and ultimately, your bottom line. In addition to our
anonymous compliance and reporting hotline, the ethics
training programs such as those offered by Lighthouse are a key tool that can further
shield your company from risk.
When an employee
witnesses unethical or illegal activity, they are put in a difficult
position. A recent study found that 71 percent of hotline users wouldn’t
notify their supervisor of a suspected issue, and more than half desire
to remain anonymous.
As the 10th
anniversary of Sarbanes-Oxley approaches, it is becoming increasingly
clear that regulators want companies not only to “talk the talk” but
“walk the walk.” In the past, they have been satisfied with
companies that have implemented compliance programs. In 2012, more
regulatory authorities will be looking for proof that such programs are
actually in place.
If you want to
adhere to the highest standards of ethics and integrity, it all starts
with your employees. Don’t underestimate the importance of conducting
regular ethics and compliance training sessions.
U.K.’s Bribery Act of 2010 Means to You
companies should realize that along with access
to global markets comes a responsibility to assume high standards of
business conduct. The
fight against corruption emerged as one of the most significant issues
the 2004 enlargement of the European Union. Yet surprisingly, in an
increasingly open international
marketplace, there is still no international anti-corruption law or
However, overseas nations are individually beginning to establish
laws on bribery and corruption, and the United Kingdom is leading the
Act of 2010,
which went into effect on July 1, 2011, may be a game-changer
for many companies doing business in the United Kingdom (U.K.).
speaking, the Bribery Act
criminalizes the giving or taking of a bribe by individuals in the
private sectors. It broadens corporate liability by making a company
criminal prosecution if anyone associated with it pays a bribe in
with any aspect of its business.
It is an Act of the
Parliament of the United Kingdom that covers the
criminal law relating to bribery, amends and reforms the U.K. criminal
provides a modern legal framework to combat bribery in the U.K. and
internationally. It repeals all previous statutory and common law
relation to bribery.
The Bribery Act of
2010 covers general bribery offenses, bribery of foreign
public officials, failure of commercial organizations to prevent
prosecutions and penalties, and other provisions. One of its aims is to
payments” paid to foreign government officials. These routine
payments, also known as “grease payments,” are
unofficial payments made to public officials in order to secure or
performance of a routine or necessary action. It is often something to
the organization is legally entitled, such as getting goods released
customs or gaining permission to open a new facility. Facilitating
often give larger companies an advantage over smaller organizations.
U.S. companies need
to sit up and take notice of this part of the Bribery
Act as it is an area to which many of them are exposed. The U.S.
has an exception for facilitating payments, but there is no
corresponding exception under the Bribery Act.
Due to the FCPA,
it’s not surprising that among Fortune 500 companies, only
19 of those with public codes of conduct prohibit their employees from
so-called "grease payments" to foreign officials.
But thanks to the
Bribery Act of 2010, that’s likely to change soon. What do
evolving laws on corruption and bribery in the U.K. mean for U.S. firms
operations or a presence in the U.K.?
To avoid the risk of prosecution, they need to understand — and, most
likely, change — their current facilitating payment practices. That
includes any such payments they may be making either directly or
through agencies and consultants. U.S. companies that currently permit
practice should put a plan in place now to drive it out of their
That plan should
include a 24-hour toll-free reporting hotline where
employees can anonymously report potential incidents of fraud or ethical
violations, including Bribery Act infractions. In addition to the
the recent U.S. Dodd-Frank
Act and the
establishment of the whistleblower “bounty” program,
enforceable by the SEC, have made hotlines a best practice in risk
strategies for ethical violations.
Planning Your Social Media Policy
No matter how
traditional your business model, the rapid rise of social media in
has probably caused you to at least consider integrating it into your
But the process of
media to your company’s advertising and marketing program requires more
finding someone with the time and skill set to manage and nurture your
cyber space; it also demands a backbone of processes and standards that
keep your company’s name out of hot water in an environment without a
and small have
already found themselves the victims of social media backlash and, in
public relations nightmares. Gilbert Gottfried, the infamous voice of
Afflack spokes duck, took to Twitter with derogatory and insensitive
the insurance provider did not share, and in turn sullied the name of
former employer. A rookie associate at a big-name advertising agency
social media for Chrysler Group LLC mixed up his personal account with
the client, and ended up insulting thousands of customers after cursing
insulting the company’s hometown. Technology will always fall to human
but well derived protocols can help avoid the most damaging of mistakes.
As you plan your
strategy, consider the following:
- Who has
access? Will it be a
department’s responsibility, or a single employee? If more than one
send messages through the chosen media, how will their time be
shared and duplicate
or contradictory postings be avoided? How will you handle sick days
- Who approves
messages? Does a legal
team or other higher authority need to see messages before they are
In a quick-paced environment like Twitter, will those approvers have
to review as needed?
- Who responds
to outreach from the
community? If a client talks about a negative experience or a
customer reaches out through social media for information, how will
messages be handled?
- What’s your
message? While social
media began as a way for individuals to share their personal
opinions, as businesses make strides they, too, can promote their
beliefs or personalities. Make sure you know what face you are going
with the world.
- How will you
deal with competitors? Just like in traditional advertising, some
choose to use social media as a place to insult their competition.
How will you
respond to such messages, if at all? How will you answer questions
industry associates from potential clients?
- How will you
track progress? While
sales teams can calculate accurate ROI numbers, social media
managers have less
concrete figures to hold onto. Determine what you are entering the
world for -- branding, community building, customer service -- and
benchmarks you’d like to hit before you sign on and send your first
- What is off
limits? Does your
company deal with private or sensitive information? How will you
your employees nor your customers place this information in social
messages where it can be viewed by the general public?
Social media may
seem like a scary and risky world for newcomers, but the reach and
it offers businesses is undeniable. Treat your new campaign with the
attention you would any other, and you will avoid the potholes of this
ever expanding tool.