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Workplace Germs

When the season changes from winter to spring, many people find themselves battling illness. Some health experts speculate that a lack of vitamin D during winter months may weaken immune systems, but regardless of the exact cause, doctors tend to see an uptick in respiratory illness around this time of year. At the workplace, this can spell trouble for a sick person’s co-workers, unless office hygiene is kept top of mind.

The typical employee’s workspace has more bacteria per square inch than an office toilet seat. Door handles, shared kitchen appliances, desks, phones and other private surfaces are also prime habitats for the viruses and bacteria that cause colds, the flu, strep throat, pneumonia and other illnesses.

Even if you keep your personal workspace tidy, it may not be clean. Unlike toilets—which tend to be cleaned and disinfected regularly—keyboards, phone receivers, desks, and even office and kitchen countertops often go overlooked. Consider this: Crumbs and coffee spills are capable of supporting mini eco-systems. Without a cleaning, your desk or phone can sustain millions of bacteria that could potentially cause illness.

The good news: Heightened awareness and hygiene efforts can go a long way in keeping your workplace clean. Keep the following points in mind and share them with your co-workers:
• Germ-busting at the workplace is a team effort. It only takes one person to infect healthy co-workers.
• Regular cleaning of personal workspaces kills bacteria and stops the spread of germs.
• Frequent cleaning of shared workspaces (door handles, coffee pots, light switches, work equipment, etc.) is essential in maintaining sanitary safety. Disinfection is the goal, so be sure to use a true disinfectant, not just an anti-bacterial product. Daily disinfection reduces bacteria levels by 99 percent, drastically lowering the risk of illness.
• Be considerate of others and cough or sneeze into tissues, your sleeve or the crook of your arm. Wash your hands often and sanitize using alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel. Consider having these in any common areas, including kitchens and washrooms.

Filed under: Health — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 9:12 pm April 29, 2015

Social Media – Managing a Crisis

Social media is a great tool for connecting with customers, but it can also be a gateway to disaster. Because news can go viral in the blink of an eye, it is important that you respond quickly and decisively at the first hint of trouble. An inadequate response to a legitimate complaint can rapidly transform a minor problem into a full-blown social media crisis.

1. Be Prepared – Create a formal response plan, so that in the heat of the moment you aren’t scrambling to figure out what to do. The flowchart to the right is an example of a basic response plan for dealing with complaints or negative posts. Make sure your employees understand their responsibilities during a social media crisis.

2. Act Quickly – Social media moves fast. If you don’t get ahead of the situation, you could face more problems down the road from additional dissatisfied customers. Try to respond to a problem within 24 hours; a longer delay could give the impression that you are indifferent or don’t take the situation seriously. The faster your response comes, the better your company looks.

3. Watch Your Tone – Tone matters. For example, if you use caps lock to emphasize certain words, your audience may interpret it as yelling or appearing irritated. Likewise, if you are overly formal and show absolutely no emotion in your response, you could be perceived as uncaring and bored. And of course, never use derogatory language, even if the person attacking you does so in an unprofessional fashion.

4. Follow Through – If you propose a solution, make sure you follow through on your promise. Designate an employee to monitor the process through its eventual resolution.

Filed under: Blog — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 8:36 pm

Supreme Court Ruling Establishes New Legal Framework for Successful Discrimination Lawsuits

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a former UPS employee who was faced with the choice to either continue working her labor-intensive job during pregnancy or take unpaid leave.

The employee, Peggy Young, worked as a part-time driver for UPS. When she became pregnant in 2006, her doctor advised that she should not lift more than 20 pounds. UPS, however, required drivers like Young to be able to lift up to 70 pounds. When Young presented UPS with her doctor’s note, she was told that she could not work while under a lifting restriction.

Young consequently stayed home without pay during most of the time she was pregnant and eventually lost her employee medical coverage. Young sued UPS, alleging that the company had violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act’s (PDA) second clause because it had a light-duty policy for other types of workers, but not for pregnant workers.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Young should be given the opportunity to prove that UPS violated the PDA by not giving her the same light-duty accommodation that was given to other UPS employees who were considered injured or disabled. The Supreme Court’s decision establishes a legal framework for this type of pregnancy discrimination case. Due to this ruling, it may be easier for employees to succeed on claims that their employers violated the PDA by failing to accommodate them.

To help limit liability under the PDA, employers should review their employment practices and policies regarding accommodations to make sure pregnant workers are treated the same as other workers with similar restrictions.

Filed under: HR — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 7:54 pm