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Workplace Coach Questions

Monday, 9th December, 2013 

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Date: February 4, 2014

Topic: Life Insurance continued...

Question: 

They are still deducting the same amount from my paychecks for life insurance. Can I request a certificate of insurance which may state the value?

Answer:

Follow the money to the insurance company. Once the insurance company is identified, request a copy of your policy and payment records. You do have a right to this information as well as the value of the policy. Since payments have been ongoing this suggests that the current insurer has assumed the obligations of the policy from prior insurers.

- Coach Richard Birdsall

 

Date: January 31, 2014

Topic: Life Insrance

Question:

I have worked for the company I'm with for about 18 years. Back when I hired in I signed up for life insurance both on myself and my husband at the time. Fast forward 17 years, and the marriage fell apart, he hasn't lived in the state for almost 4 years, we are still married, because he has no other health insurance. I would like to make some decisions, so I asked my HR dept how much the life insurance benefit was both for myself and my estranged husband. I was told they don\'t have that, that I was given that when I signed up (17 years ago) and I would have to ask the insurance company for that. The insurance company simply said we don\'t have a record of that, plus it was sold 10 years ago. NOW what? I told the HR department that, and they state well we can always reimburse your premiums. (OK, but that's NOT what I signed up for 17 years ago) Don't I have the right to know what the benefit is? The company I work for has a reputation for bullying employees, especially ones that ask questions or point out disparities. Help...

Answer:

Based on the limited information, this is our thinking at this point...

There are different types of life insurance but the most common type for young people is the “term” policy. A payment is made and you have a specified benefit for a specific period of time. The fact that you paid a premium year’s ago does not necessarily translate to life insurance coverage in perpetuity. You need to take a close look at the policy for the details and time frame of the coverage. I suspect the term expired a long time ago and was not renewed – hence, no records.

There are whole-life policies or universal life type policies which combine life insurance premiums with an investment fund. There can be cash accumulation under such policies. If you made periodic payments on such a policy it is possible such a policy could have cash value.

The bottom line is that without the insurance policy, or at least the advertising for the policy identifying the seller and explaining the offered coverage, we really don’t know what you bargained for 18 years ago.

- Coach Richard Birdsall
 

 

Date: December 9,2013

Topic: Nonperformance due to a disability?

Question:

We have an employee that is not happy with current management. This employee has just notified us of a learning disability. This disability was not disclosed during the interview when asked if any special accomodations were needed to perform the job duties. Now that the disability has been brought forward, every time there is a performance issue with this employee the response is "it is due to my disability". The employee was performing the duties prior to disclosing the disability. How can you hold someone accountable for performance issue when the constant response is "my disability"?

Answer:

Two questions quickly come to mind. First, are the employee’s performance issues related to the alleged disability? For example, if the employee is shopping on the internet when he/she should be working – what relationship does this have to the alleged disability? Second, disability or not, the employee still needs to be able to perform the essential functions of the job. If someone has 20/200 vision (corrected) we are not required to make them a pilot of a 767 because they want to be one – it is essential that the pilots can see where they are going. Similarly, someone with a bad back can’t work in a warehouse loading and unloading trucks because frequent lifting of specified weights would be an essential function of the job.

You are not required to assume the employee has a qualifying disability. You are not a medical expert and neither is the employee. These aren’t decisions we should be making. You can ask for a doctor’s note or report identifying the disability and what accommodations would be helpful. Once you have the medical information (assuming the employee can come up with it) you should discuss the matter with counsel to make a determination whether the medical condition is a qualifying disability and, if so, what the reasonable accommodations are.

- Coach Richard Birdsall
 

Date: November 4, 2013

Topic: Marital status discrimination

Question:

My son had an incident where he was let go of at his job, but the thing is the boss that let him go had called him one time and told him that her boyfriend thinks that they are messing around and it went to where she would have an attitude towards him and then he started having the same but they still worked together till she got rid of him saying his lack of cleaning was the issue and she wanted some drastic changes, we have the letters but the thing is he was let go of by using dates from last year he was not responsible for he was not the supervisor at the time. I can tell you the whole story and show the letters but I believe that she was wrong for letting him go because of the accusations from her boyfriend. 

I had asked him to write a letter and that was all I can do. This happened just a month and a half ago. He worked for the city and I was a council member and that was all I can do. I got out of the council because I did not like what was going on with it so now I can help him. I really don’t think that it was right, my son worked hard and was good at what he did with the recreation department and there were times he and the boss were the only ones working. He was dedicated and he has been asked when he was getting out of retirement and coming back to work by adults and a few students, he gets hugs from the kids that miss him and no one else knows what was happening. He is hurt and so am I because he does have great work ethics. I was his boss a few years ago on a construction job site before coming to HR.

Answer:

Let me summarize my understanding of your report. Your son was terminated from his position working for the city, for alleged irrelevant conduct that took place a long time prior, because his bosses’ boyfriend was jealous.

Taking this at face value, there are lots of potential issues presented here. Employees that work for public entities, unlike private companies, have some rights to “due process.” Accordingly, public entities routinely have an appeal process enabling a review of the termination decision. If such a process does not exist, this in of itself raises serious Constitutional questions.

The State of Alaska also recognizes that an employer/employee relationship includes an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. I have included an article on the subject in our newsletter. This means that an employee should not be terminated in bad faith or due to improper motives or reasons. This would be enforced through an internal appeal hearing first and, if there is none or you are unsuccessful, then through a wrongful termination action in court. Your son should consult with an Employment Law attorney on this subject.

The State of Alaska statutorily provides that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the basis of marital status. This is enforced by the Human Rights Commission. If your son was terminated because he was “single” and therefore viewed as a threat to the bosses’ personal relationship, it can be argued the termination was based on your son’s marital status. Your son can consult directly with the Human Rights Commission to see if they have sufficient basis for a complaint.

-Coach Richard Birdsall

 

Date: October 14, 2013

Topic: Coping with menopause

Question: 

I recently had a very difficult week, found myself getting completely irrationally angry over little things. I tried very hard to remain calm and under control, but I know I wasn't one hundred percent successful. What is the best way to handle this? It's embarrassing and unprofessional to warn people ahead of time, or to apologize after the fact (what if I miss someone I didn't realize I needed to apologize to?). There are 3 other women around my age and I suspect I am not alone.

Answer:

Thank you for acknowledging, evaluating, and submitting the problem for review and comment. Although sensitive in nature, the organizational impacts of menopause are well documented and may indeed cause short –term and long-term management difficulties for the employee and coworkers alike. The simple fact is that when our internal infrastructure is compromised to any degree, it may very well present new obstacles and challenges in maintaining workplace balance. However, this provides us with an opportunity to learn, apply, and grow in strategic areas of importance. The following links on this topic may be of help.

Working Through Menopause
Management and Menopause
Menopause Resources
LinkedIn Menopause At Work

- Coach Scott Stender

 

Date: August 22, 2013

Topic: Exempted status & Timesheets

Questions:

I’m in a salaried position as a director/manager. I’m required to submit timesheets to account for my time. On occasion, I work longer days (from 9-12 hours in a day). I’m salaried and have no problem with the occasional longer day but today I noticed that in this pay period my hours paid were reduced on my paystub from what I submitted in writing. And I think it was due to a couple of long days worked at events. My concern is that as I’ve been “making a case” for more help in my department, our one-man finance team has been changing my timesheets to reflect no more than 8 hour days. I have no idea how long this has been going on but am wondering if this is even legal? How do I make my case for more help if my timesheets have been systematically changed?

Answer:

Employers can ask salaried employees to submit time sheets. Usually, it serves a business purpose such as support for billing, tracking leave or tracking workload. Your question makes me wonder why your employer requires it in your case.

I suspect that your one-man accounting department changes the hours on your time sheet simply because it makes his job easier – perhaps with the payroll software. The fact that the green-eyeshade guy changes your hours on the submitted time sheet, doesn’t change the reality of the hours you worked. Keep track of your time sheet submittals yourself. If the time comes for additional manpower assistance you will have the documentary support. In other words, you don’t need him to make your case.

-Coach Richard Birdsall

 

Date: August 6, 2013

 

Topic: Harassment

Question:

We have a new employee in a management position who uses terms such as hon, honey, sweetie, etc when addressing co-workers. I verbally asked her to please address me by my name explaining that those terms were inappropriate. She continues to use hon, honey, etc so I asked her again in writing in an email explaining that those are words reserved for close intimate relationships and could even be perceived as sexual harassment. I continued to tell her that I believe using a persons given name is professional and shows genuine caring and respect. She is not \"southern\", she is openly gay, and I would feel exactly the same sense of uncomfortableness if any male co worker called me hon or honey, it\'s condescending used in this context. I did not copy any one else on this message in an effort to give her another opportunity to resolve the problem. She has not even acknowledged my email. She is the company owner\'s new protege and I am afraid if I go to the owner I will be perceived as petty. Am I out of bounds? How can I resolve this uncomfortable workplace problem?

Answer:

There are generational and geographic characteristics with this use of language. You have recognized the potential geographical aspects by noting the manager is not “southern.” In many locales, such as the mid-west and south, “hun”, “honey” and “sugar” are terms used in a friendly way to address people when their names are not known. There is no implied or understood sexual connotation. Furthermore, some people are poor at recollecting names and use terms like this as a habitual coping mechanism.

You make the added point that the manager is “gay” and note that you would, “feel exactly the same sense of uncomfortableness if any male co worker called me hon or honey.” I find it interesting that you are equating comments by a gay female with males. Perhaps the better question would be: Would similar comments by a “southern” female coworker or manager cause you the same degree of uncomfortableness?

Having said this, using a person’s name is unquestionably more respectful and professional. It is important to respect one another in the workplace which includes the manner of address. Accordingly, your manager should respect your wishes. However, on the other side of the coin, disrespectful communication does not necessarily translate into sexual harassment.

You inquiry tells me you do not feel respected by your supervisor and also suggests that, in turn, you don’t respect her. Naturally, this would be an uncomfortable situation for anyone. You have two choices – you can talk to your manager and employer about developing a more respectful workplace or leave because you don’t feel valued.

Regretfully, many employers fail to understand the serious impact first line management has on the workforce. The employee/manager relationship has a huge bearing on employee satisfaction and retention. Poor relationships = poor retention. New or first line managers should all receive some basic management training. We have a 12 hour manager training program called “boot camp.” It is an inexpensive 2 hour class each month over a period of 6 months. The course is then repeated. Anyone can be plugged in at any point and complete the training cycle.

This serves as an all too common example how preventable poor management practices cause unnecessary internal problems. What is the cost of hiring and training a new employee?

- Coach Richard Birdsall
 

 

Date: July 23, 2013

Topic: Ethics

Question:

I work for a company that expects to sell a product with signed contracts for dates of delivery, the product delivery cannot be garanteed in its final term. The delivery of the product is based on several factors that are not always time and day available at the contracted agreement. I have been asked to continue in the last term garanteeing a product at specific time and day in accordance to a students request. I know I can't honestly garantee the product. How do I get around this without being terminated?

Answer:

First, thanks for making ethics a cornerstone concern; it always pays to evaluate a solution from this angle. Second, sometimes a true disconnect exists between expectations and what is achievable and deliverable in real time. The best way to begin to address this issue is through open lines of communication with your supervisor, team members, customers, and clients. Third, you can start the communications process by collecting as much data about the project “life cycle” as possible. Look for ways to stream line the process and build efficiency into the process. Try to make it manageable. Remember to communicate the findings of your analysis work to everyone involved in the process. Fourth, if the project “deliverable” is not achievable…a strategic planning session that focuses on time management and building project efficiency would be the next recommendation. Often the problem is identified and solved in the analysis process.

Coach Scott Stender

 

Date: April 19, 2013

Topic: Facebook

Question: Facebook is a way to market, interact with the public, and communicate with your customers. However, with this come risks. The question is: How do you manage these risks?

 

Answer (from coach Richard Birdsall):

1. Are you going to allow customer postings and comments?

This is usually a positive but what happens if you have a disgruntled customer that you can never satisfy? Will you be able to control the postings?

2. What about employee postings and comments?

If you are going to have employee participation, I recommend a social media policy to make clear your expectations. Again, there have been occasions where employees have used Facebook as a forum to disparage the business and management. However, this can be a touchy subject to regulate because the National Labor Relations Board views employee criticisms of management as protected speech about workplace conditions. If you are going to be including employee participation on your Facebook page, professional assistance formulating a policy would be useful here.

In a nutshell, I recommend some simple ground rules to manage the information.
 

- Coach Richard Birdsall

 

Date: January 8, 2013

Topic: Sexual Harrassment

Question: I am a bit confused about the rights of employers to fire employees on the grounds of \"attraction\". Can an employee ask for a transfer for being \"attracted\" to their employer? What kind of law do we need to protect the rights of employees?
 

Answer (from coach Richard Birdsall):

Let’s look at this from a different perspective that I believe will help. Employers in Alaska, Washington, Iowa and many states have the right to terminate employees “at will” with one exception – the termination cannot be done for unlawful reasons. This would include terminations based on EEO considerations such as race, sex, national origin, pregnancy, etc.

The difficulty the court was faced with is that federal Title VII and most state laws do not include attractiveness, or lack thereof as a protected class. To state the issue another way – is it gender discrimination when the discrimination is based on “pretty” and not the gender? Here the court wrestled with the issue and concluded it was not a protected class. While the facts of the particular case in question show evidence of discrimination based on sex (sexual harassment), for some reason that cause of action was NOT presented to the court. Perhaps the statute of limitations had passed or the plaintiff elected not to allege it for personal considerations. In this particular incident there did appear to be a remedy but the terminated employee, for whatever reason, failed to avail herself of it.

Having said this, I am aware of instances where employees were fired by co-owner jealous wives and for no other reason. I am not aware of instances where this type of termination has been recognized to be unlawful discrimination under federal law and the law in most states, including Alaska.

However, it is worthy of special note that the District of Columbia has additional EEO rights beyond title VII for their District. District of Columbia makes it unlawful to discriminate based on “personal appearance.” While I suspect “personal appearance” was designed to protect individuals who suffer from disfigurement (which may not qualify as an ADA disability), arguably this would be a “personal appearance” type case.

If Alaskans would like to address this particular issue they can simply amend the Human Rights Act to include “personal appearance” as an unlawful basis of discrimination following the District of Columbia model.

Coach Rick Birdsall

 

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Comments

Thursday, 7th February, 2013 12:27 PM

Thank you for this excellent piece of information.

When does sexual harassment go too far?

Thursday, 14th February, 2013 11:46 AM

This is a wonderful topic to discuss because it is such a difficult and sometimes vague topic. In response to the original question, when trying to decide what goes too far, you have to put yourself in that person's shoes and think "at what point would I become uneasy/uncomfortable in my work setting when it comes to workplace relationships and dating?" For some, this may be repeated propositions for dates or sexual favors, for some it may just be offhanded comments about their appearance. It all depends on the individual at the receiving end.

I believe it is best to always err on the side of caution. It isn't about someone's looks, personality, or what you perceive their intentions to be if accused with sexual harassment, it comes down to hurting that other person and making them uncomfortable. Everyone deserves a welcoming, open environment to thrive in professionally. While you spend a lot of time with co-workers, I always advocate separation of your work life and personal life.

Kevin

Thursday, 14th February, 2013 3:26 PM

Kevin, great & thoughtful comment. And we welcome your comments -- and if you have questions, we'd love to hear them as well, Lynne

lost a job

Tuesday, 29th October, 2013 3:39 PM




My son had an incident where he was let go of at his job, but the thing is the boss that let him go had called him one time and told him that her boyfriend thinks that they are messing around and it went to where she would have an attitude towards him and then he started having the same but they still worked together till she got rid of him saying his lack of cleaning was the issue and she wanted some drastic changes, we have the letters but the thing is he was let go of by using dates from last year he was not responsible for he was not the supervisor at the time. I can tell you the whole story and show the letters but I believe that she was wrong for letting him go because of the accusations from her boyfriend. If I can call and tell you about this and get more information on how this works it would help my son who has a family of his own.

I had asked him to write a letter and that was all I can do. This happened just a month and a half ago. He worked for the city and I was a council member and that was all I can do. I got out of the council because I did not like what was going on with it so now I can help him. I really don’t think that it was right, my son worked hard and was good at what he did with the recreation department and there were times he and the boss were the only ones working. He was dedicated and he has been asked when he was getting out of retirement and coming back to work by adults and a few students, he gets hugs from the kids that miss him and no one else knows what was happening. He is hurt and so am I because he does have great work ethics. I was his boss a few years ago on a construction job site before coming to HR.

lost a job

Wednesday, 30th October, 2013 12:35 PM

Good afternoon,

My son had an incident where he was let go of at his job, but the thing is the boss that let him go had called him one time and told him that her boyfriend thinks that they are messing around and it went to where she would have an attitude towards him and then he started having the same but they still worked together till she got rid of him saying his lack of cleaning was the issue and she wanted some drastic changes, we have the letters but the thing is he was let go of by using dates from last year he was not responsible for he was not the supervisor at the time. I can tell you the whole story and show the letters but I believe that she was wrong for letting him go because of the accusations from her boyfriend. If I can call and tell you about this and get more information on how this works it would help my son who has a family of his own.

I had asked him to write a letter and that was all I can do. This happened just a month and a half ago. He worked for the city and I was a council member and that was all I can do. I got out of the council because I did not like what was going on with it so now I can help him. I really don’t think that it was right, my son worked hard and was good at what he did with the recreation department and there were times he and the boss were the only ones working. He was dedicated and he has been asked when he was getting out of retirement and coming back to work by adults and a few students, he gets hugs from the kids that miss him and no one else knows what was happening. He is hurt and so am I because he does have great work ethics. I was his boss a few years ago on a construction job site before coming to HR.


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