November 23, 2014

Depression is hitting your bottom line

  • Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of U.S. respondents indicated they have been diagnosed with depression in their lifetime
  • Two in five (nearly 40 percent) of those patients reported taking time off of work – an average of 10 days a year – as a result of their diagnosis.
  • Mental illness short-term disability claims are growing by 10 percent annually.
  • 64 percent of survey participants reported cognitive-related challenges, as defined by difficulty concentrating, indecisiveness and/or forgetfulness, have the most impact on their ability to perform tasks at work as normal.
  • 58 percent of employees surveyed who have been diagnosed with depression indicate they had not told their employer of their disease.
  • 49 percent felt telling their employer would put their job a risk
  • 24 percent felt it was too risky to share their diagnosis with their employer.

These findings are among the key outcomes of The Impact of Depression at Work Audit (IDeA), a survey which assessed the economic burden of depression in the workplace. Employers Health, an Ohio-based employer coalition, announced results for the U.S. survey at the recent National Business Coalition on Health annual meeting.

The Group noted that:

"Yet, research shows that supporting the needs of those living with depression makes a difference. In fact, a cost-benefit modeling study by Lo Sasso et al. suggests every one dollar invested by employers in enhanced depression care yields approximately three dollars for the company in the form of productivity gains by employees."

Employers that offer an EAP have access to a powerful tool for their employees that makes counseling affordable and accessible. The key is in publicizing information about depression, as well as disseminating frequent information about the availability of help through the EAP. It's important to educate your managers and supervisors to watch for changes in work performance that may indicate depression and to know how to make referrals to the EAP.

Here are some resources to help you deal with depression in your workplace:

What employers can do to address health & productivity issues related to depression in the workplace

Andrew Solomon: Depression, the secret we share

Robin Williams' death puts a spotlight on depression

Depression Field Guide for Employers
(a toolkit)

Partnership for Workplace Mental Health


ESI-Logo.jpg ESI EAP offers depression and mental health counseling 24/7/365. Employee Members and their families have access to Masters and PhD level counselors. If your organization needs an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

Snow policies: Are yours in place?

Employers in Buffalo are grappling with how to deal pay policies related to the recent weather-imposed closures and driving bans. Even companies with strict disciplinary measures related to unplanned absences were forced to relax policies.

Does your organization have a policy about snow and other weather-related work disruptions? Do your employees understand where your organization stands on the issue of pay should they be unable to make it into work or if your organization shuts down due to weather? It's best to clarify in advance to avoid any misunderstandings. If you haven't already, the week after Thanksgiving week might be a good time to issue a reminder about your policy.

HR Specialist offers some guidance on pay for snow-day absences based on Department of Labor guidance on the matter, noting that while the DOL letters on the topic don't have the weight of law, courts are deferential to them. And BLR has a great flow-chart on FLSA/FMLA payments in weather-related events (see below).

If you don't have a policy, here are some samples to get you started.

Winter Weather and the Workplace: FLSA, FMLA and When to Pay Infographic

Winter Weather and the Workplace: FLSA, FMLA and When to Pay: By


esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

November 16, 2014

FMLA Update - Recent issues & case law

We last checked in on FMLA in July - here's a roundup of experts in employment law weighing in on key FMLA issues and case law, mostly from the second half of the year.

Workplace Prof Blog brings us the results of a recent study on employer compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): "Using partial identification methods, we estimate that FMLA compliance among firms with 50 or more employees in the private sector is at least 54.3% and at most 76.8%. We also look at organizational characteristics that predict compliance, noncompliance, and nonresponse."

FMLA Insights: Court Determines that Employer's FMLA Notice Sent by Email is Not Reliable (Sending Employer World into Tizzy)
Earlier in the year, a court found that an FMLA notice sent to an employee by U.S. mail cannot be trusted because the employer cannot confirm whether the employee actually received it. More recently, a different federal court has determined that notice sent by email is not reliable either - Jeff Nowak discusses what employers should do now.

FMLA Insights: Are You a Co-Employer? FMLA Joint Employer Liability Can Be Deadly
"To be covered by the FMLA, a private employer must employ at least 50 employees within a 75-mile area. If the employer doesn’t meet this threshold, it is not obligated to provide FMLA leave to its employees. However, an employee can enjoy the protections of the FMLA if he is jointly employed by multiple companies that together have 50 or more employees."

The Emplawyerologist: FMLA Lessons From Wal-Mart: Just What the Doctor (and Court) Ordered

DOL: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to Revise the Definition of “Spouse” Under the FMLA
"The Department of Labor has published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to revise the definition of spouse under the FMLA in light of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, which found section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional."

FMLA Insights: Don't Be Tripped Up by Light Duty Obligations under the FMLA and ADA: A Discussion of Employer Best Practices

The Employer Handbook: Here's why you provide a list of essential job functions when approving FMLA
"Although, an employee may not be required to take more FMLA leave than necessary, when the employer informs the employee that she is eligible to take leave, the employer can insist that the employee certify, as a condition of returning to work, that the employee can perform all essential job functions. The way this is done is by providing the employee with a list of essential job functions."

HR Daily Advisor: Can You Get Sued Over Improper Leave Administration?

Ohio Employer Law Blog: “Honest belief” isn’t a defense to an FMLA claim, says federal court
"The honest-belief rule is one of most effective shields available to employers in discrimination case ... What happens in an FMLA claim, however? Can an employer use the honest-belief rule to fend off an employee’s claim that an employer interfered with FMLA rights? Yontz v. Dole Fresh Vegetables (S.D. Ohio 10/10/14) says “no.”

Ohio Employer Law Blog: Do not force employees to work during FMLA leave
"With technology making work-from-home more and more feasible, it is easier and easier for employees to work while "out" on an FMLA or other leave. If an employee seeks FMLA leave, however, can an employer force an employee to work, even if the work is paid? According to Evans v Books-a-Million (11th Cir. 8/8/14) [pdf], the answer is no."

FMLA Insights: FMLA FAQ: Can We Terminate an Employee for Working a Second Job While on FMLA Leave?

Seyfarth Shaw LLP: Employer Beware: The FMLA Can Reach Further Than You May Think
"We all know that the FMLA’s protections kick in once an employee has been employed for 12 months. But can those protections be triggered even before a full year’s employment? One federal district court recently held that they can be. Here’s why employers should take note."

SHRM: FMLA Continues to Challenge Employers

Seyfarth Shaw LLP: EEOC Says Reasonable Accommodation Required for All Pregnant Workers

Risk & Insurance: In Search of New Absence Management Strategies

Human Resource Executive: Fighting FMLA Abuse
"Family and Medical Leave Act abuse comes in many forms. The solution to curbing it, however, will require HR leaders to rethink their current approach and suspend their trust in some employees."

Reviewing FMLA Nuts & Bolts

The AR Group: Understanding the Basics of the Family Leave Medical Act

HR Daily Advisor: Understanding FMLA Basics

HR Daily Advisor: Calculating Intermittent FMLA Time
"Managing leave in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can be burdensome. Intermittent FMLA leave in particular gets a bad rap because of the hassle of recordkeeping. Employers must be sure to accurately account for the time taken off from work, and they also must calculate the allowed time correctly—keeping in mind that the allowed number of hours won’t be the same for every employee."

HR Daily Advisor: Designation of FMLA–First Place Employers Fail?
"The list of employers’ FMLA obligations is long and the pitfalls are many. One of the earliest places to make a mistake is in the supposedly simple act of designating the leave as FMLA-qualifying."

The Employer Handbook: The importance of communication during FMLA leave

The AR Group: Are you prepared for a FMLA Audit?

The AR Group: Liability Lurking — The Interplay of FMLA and ADA

Labor Law: Military leave and FMLA

ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

November 11, 2014

Honor our veterans by hiring them!

As we honor veterans today, it's important to note that far too many of those who put their lives on the line are now unemployed. While the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for former service members fell to 4.5 percent in October (its lowest point since August 2008), the youngest vets are still struggling. Josh Hicks reports in the Washington Post:

"The bureau published a report on Monday showing that younger veterans struggle considerably more with unemployment than those who are older. The jobless rate for former troops between ages 18 and 25 last year was about 21 percent on average, while the overall rate for veterans was barely above 6 percent during that time."

It's a very dismal report, but we are heartened by the example of one employer. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has committed to hiring 10,000 vets over five years, and has employed a veteran recruiter, and are now 10% of the way to attaining that goal. Schultz says that the veteran recruiter "understands the language, understands the anxiety and can bridge the gap." The company also has a network of veteran mentors.

It would be great if more employers followed his lead. You can't do better than hiring a veteran. Here are 10 Reasons to Hire Vets.

Here are employment resources for veterans and for employers:

CareerOneStop - Hiring resources for businesses and human resources managers.

Workplace Warriors: The Corporate Response to Deployment and Reintegration (PDF)
Highlighting Best Practices in Human Resources and Disability Management
Employers can help America's heroes succeed in the workplace by offering employee assistance and mentoring programs, advised the Workplace Warrior Think Tank - the first-of-its-kind group launched by the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), the leading developer of employee health and productivity strategies, and three of the nation's leading disability insurers - The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., MetLife and Unum.

For Employers: Helping Employees Reintegrate into Civilian Employment
A veteran’s return to work following a deployment or mobilization is an employment transition, and he or she often brings new skills of leadership, teamwork and a broadened perspective that can be invaluable to your organization. Additionally, like any other employee making a transition, a veteran’s transition may face some unusual circumstances. This resource helps employers understand how to help ease the reintegration of veterans in a number of ways.

Tips for Workforce Professionals on Assisting Veterans in the Job Search Process
Connect veterans, transitioning service members, and their families with career planning, training, job search, and other resources to help smooth their transition to civilian life.

Veterans' Employment and Training Service - the U.S. Department of Labor offers veterans and transitioning service members with the resources and services designed to maximize employment opportunities, protect employment rights and meet labor-market demands with qualified veterans.

American Corporate Partners - a nationwide mentoring program helping veterans transition from the armed services to private enterprise through counseling and networking with volunteers from some of America's largest corporations.

American Heroes at Work - a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) project that addresses the employment challenges of returning service members living with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

National Center for PTSD - this site from the Division of Veteran Affairs aims to help U.S. Veterans and others through research, education, and training on trauma and PTSD.

Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act - a federal law intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard or other "uniformed services": (1) are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; (2) are promptly reemployed in their civilian jobs upon their return from duty; and (3) are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present, or future military service.

Safeguarding the rights of servicemembers and veterans - from the U.S. Department of Justice

Disabled American Veterans - Congressionally chartered as the official voice of the nation’s wartime disabled veterans, for nearly nine decades this 1.2 million-member nonprofit has been dedicated to building better lives for America’s disabled veterans and their families.

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs - Veterans Services - Veterans of the United States armed forces may be eligible for a broad range of programs and services provided by the VA. Eligibility for most VA benefits is based upon discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions, and certain benefits require service during wartime.

Department of Veteran Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program - Information for Employers - Employers hiring disabled veterans may qualify for benefits and incentives through the VR & E programs or other Federal Resources.


esi.JPG Returning service members face the challenge of reintegration in the family, the workplace, the community. Some will face the special challenges of coping with physical or psychological wounds, such as PTSD. ESI EAP offers members a variety of services addressing the challenges of military deployment. We also have resources for employers. To learn more about how ESI EAP can help, give us a call: 800-535-4841.

November 9, 2014

News Roundup: Election Aftermath, NLRB, Bias, Dress Codes & More

Last week's election saw five states approving ballot measures to raise the minimum wage . Beyond that, there has been no shortage of speculation about what the congressional "regime change" will mean for various aspects of our governance and policies. In the National Law Review, Barnes and Thornburg look at What A Republican Senate May Mean for the NLRB. Robin Shea says that Tuesday’s GOP “shellacking” may not change much for employers and explains why in a post at her blog, Employment & Labor Insider.

While folks were still processing election results, on Friday, we learned that a challenge to Obamacare will be taken up by the Supreme Court, a move that surprised even many legal experts. While conventional wisdom held that the Affordable Care Act could reach the Supreme Court again at some point, most though that the higher court would defer action until challenges played out in lower courts. Lyle Denniston of the SCOTUS Blog reports on Friday's decision: Court to rule on health care subsidies. For a quick overview, Ezra Klein at Vox offers this: The huge new threat to Obamacare, explained in 2 minutes. The upshot: Obamacare is in peril. Healthcare policy analyst Jonathon Cohn offers his take: Obamacare Returns to the Supreme Court. Hold on to your hats.

Other news of note
The NLRB creates another test for Independent Contractor Status
Michael Halberman, Omega HR Solutions
"In a big move to restrict “misclassification” of employees as independent contractors the USDOL and the IRS have been stringent is applying the rules for determining independent contractor status. Now the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has weighed in on the fray and added an additional factor."

Implicit Bias: A Brave New World
Michael Fox, Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer
"Implicit bias as a concept has been bubbling around the world of employment discrimination for a few years now. Although the fact that Google is seriously studying the issue as it applies to its own workforce may not mean that the concept is now main stream, I do think it means it is an issue that we will be hearing more about."

Is Your Dress Code Legal?
Bridget Miller, HR Daily Advisor
"Many businesses find it appropriate to implement a dress code to ensure that everyone within the organization dresses appropriately and to a companywide standard. But the way an individual chooses to dress is a very personal decision, and an employee’s choice of clothing is one that can involve many factors, including the cost of the clothing, religious observations, cultural influences, and more. How far is too far when a company requires employees to wear (or not wear) specific attire? What legal considerations must an employer take into account?"

Realizing the power of talented women
Michelle Angier and Beth Axelrod, McKinsey Quarterly
In 2010, eBay embarked on a journey to bring more women into its top ranks. It found that commitment, measurement, and culture outweigh a business case and HR policies.

Brief takes


ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

November 8, 2014

Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends 2014

Deloitte recently released the findings of its global survey of more than 2,500 business and HR leaders from 90+ countries –one of the largest talent management surveys of its kind:
Global Human Capital Trends 2014: Engaging the 21st-century workforce

Among other things, one of the survey's key objectives was to take the business world's pulse post-economic recession. The findings point to a variety of factors that are changing the landscape for business, and by extension, for HR:

  • Technology is leading to hyper-connectivity and dramatic new ways of working
  • Demographic shifts are leading us to a global and multi-generational workforce
  • There is an explosion of mobile, social and cloud usage
  • A very active regulatory and political environment is changing the world

Here are some of the key findings and challenges that the Deloitte survey revealed:


This is an important report that we can't do justice in summarizing here. Deloitte offers many tools and media options to allow you to explore the report in greater depth.

Report dashboards "let you explore some of the primary “whats” (survey results) and “whos” (respondent demographics) in ways most meaningful for you. Click through each one for insights to help guide your human capital agenda for the coming year."

Global Trends Infographic

Top 10 findings - review online or download a PDF

Dowload the report app

1 hour webcast reviewing top trends


esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

November 2, 2014

Why we make bad decisions

From the TED archives, Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert says our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong — a premise he supports with intriguing research — sharing some surprising tests and experiments that you can also try on yourself. His talk touches on decisions that we make and why we make them, how we assess risks and opportunities and why the way we assess those risks is often very flawed. He talks about why we are so bad at assessing the real risks we face. While he uses terrorism as an example, it isn't hard to think of comparable "outsized" fears today, such as Ebola.

It's an entertaining, thought-provoking talk on human motivation. You'll need to set aside the time because the video is a little over a half hour.

If you need an alternate to the YouTube video, there is an alternate video on the TED page with transcript.

For more, see his book Stumbling on Happiness, his home page and his Twitter feed.

November 1, 2014

Wellness Resources & Tools for November 2014

November kicks off the holiday season, a great time for your wellness campaigns to be focusing on stress management, healthy eating and holiday nutrition. Here are some of the national health observances for November along with links to tool kits and resources to help you jump-start your communications.

American Diabetes Month
"Diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability and death in the United States. If it’s not controlled, diabetes can cause blindness, nerve damage, kidney disease, and other health problems.
One in 12 Americans has diabetes – that’s more than 25 million people. And another 79 million adults in the United States are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The good news? People who are at high risk for type 2 diabetes can lower their risk by more than half if they make healthy changes. These changes include: eating healthy, increasing physical activity, and losing weight." Use the toolkit at the link above to find tools for communicating with your employees.

National Family Caregivers Month - The Nation’s 90 million family caregivers are front and center in providing care every day – enabling their loved ones to stay at home longer where they are happier and healthier. During National Family Caregivers Month, the valuable role that family caregivers play is emphasized in this year's theme: Care Comes Home.

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month - Pancreatic Cancer Action says that the 5 year survival rates for pancreatic cancer have not changed in over 40 years. They focus on educating the public and increasing awareness to improve early diagnosis. Learn more about the symptoms and understand the risk.

COPD Awareness month - While an estimated 24 million Americans suffer from COPD, as many of half remain undiagnosed. But, with early diagnosis and treatment people with COPD can improve their quality of life and begin to breathe a little easier. For tools and infographics, see the 2013 toolkit by the National Institute of Health as well as resources from the American Lung Association.

Movember - The Movember Foundation challenges men to grow moustaches during Movember (formerly known as November), to spark conversation and raise vital funds for its men’s health programs. This work is saving and improving the lives of men affected by prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health problems.

More November Health Observances

Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month

Epilepsy Awareness Month

November 6 – National Eating Healthy Day

November 14 – World Diabetes Day

November 7-23 - Don’t Text & Drive

November 20 – Great American Smokeout - see also: Is your state helping smokers quit?

Looking for the most comprehensive and effective wellness program for your employees? ESI TotalCare Wellness pairs Behavioral Health Clinicians with certified Wellness Coaches to provide employees and their families with the help, motivation, tools and support to make changes and improve their lives. Call 800-535-4841 for more information.

October 26, 2014

Workers' comp: fraudsters caught in the act

In a recent edition of 20/20, Bari Kroll and ABC News consultant Bob Kiehn conducted surveillance of suspected offenders of false workers' comp claims. They caught several people right on camera. You can see the segment in the video clip below or view this article for a transcript: Worker's Compensation Fraudsters Caught Faking Injuries

More ABC news videos | ABC Health News

If you suspect worker fraud, your workers' compensation insurer can help ferret it out - or if you are self-insured, your state insurance authority might have anti-fraud resources that can help. Human nature being what it is, there will always be some amount of fraud, but if an organization has too much fraud, it's often indicative of underutilized employer controls: communicating and establishing expectations with employees, managing injuries immediately, and bringing employees back on Return To Work programs. Your EAP can also help. See our prior post by Jim Walter: Turbo-Charging your Workers Comp Program with your EAP

If you ask employers to describe an employee assistance program, they'll usually talk about resources and services to solve employee personal problems. They'll describe it as an employee benefit. And if they've had occasion to use the services of an EAP, they'll probably tell you that it is a very valuable benefit.

What you won't hear is any reference to workers' comp. Few employers talk about how an EAP can be an effective tool to reduce workers' comp and disability costs or how an EAP can support employees during the recovery process to ensure they get back to their normal life as quickly as possible.

But those of us at ESI Employee Assistance Group believe that we have cracked the code and figured out how to insert the EAP into an organization to help the employee expedite recovery while also helping the organization reduce overall comp costs.

The Problem
Let's start with the fundamental reason why organizations opt to have an employee assistance program. It all revolves around that fact that 1 out of every 5 employees face some sort of significant personal problem in any given year. Those problems impact their lives and their productivity at work. A good EAP can go a long way toward addressing these problems and helping these employees get back to full productivity.

When it comes to workers' comp, the fundamental problem is two-fold. First, too many people are injured on the job. And when injured, employees are frequently away from work far longer than the injuries require.

And that's where the EAP and workers' comp connect.

The EAP—Work Comp Connection
Anyone who is familiar with workers' comp knows that there are three key elements to an effective cost containment program:

• An aggressive injury prevention effort
• Immediate medical treatment by quality providers who understand workers' comp
• An active return to work and transitional duty program

What we've learned at ESI, is that it is possible to utilize the EAP to essentially turbo-charge this sort of program.

Start with how injuries occur. While some injuries are the result of work site hazards, many injuries—arguably the lion's share—are the result of unsafe behavior. Relevant data clearly indicates that personal issues are the single most significant cause of unsafe behavior. The U.S. Department of Labor's data suggests that upwards of 40 percent of all workplace injuries have alcohol or substance abuse as the key contributing factor. And if you add other personal problems to the mix—depression, stress, medical issues, etc. — it is clear that employee problems are at the root of many workplace injuries. An effective EAP can head off many of these problems before they result in harm to the employee, to coworkers and to your organization.

And if you examine why injured workers have extended disability, all too often unresolved personal problems rather than medical problems are sabotaging the person's recovery. Personal issues are frequently barriers that keep people from returning to work and resuming their normal life in a timely fashion. Issues such as depression, family problems, debt and, once again, alcohol and substance abuse are the main contributors to extended disability. By helping employees tap into the services of the EAP, these barriers can be knocked down and recovery and return to work can be expedited

Why don't more employers use this cost reduction tool?
Properly used, an effective employee assistance program can address both the pre- and post-injury issues. So why aren't organizations using their EAPs more effectively?

First, responsibility for the workers' compensation program and the EAP almost always reside in different parts of the organization. The human resource department is responsible for the EAP, while risk management or the CFO is responsible for comp. Rarely is there one person or one department handling both. Add to that the fact that most EAPs are not attuned to the opportunity to impact workers' comp and disability. And, finally, the EAP is generally viewed as a nice benefit, but not a strategic business partner; and not as a strategy for turbo-charging prevention and return to work programs

To ensure an effective program, a couple of things have to happen. HR and Risk Management need to work together to promote the EAP, not only as a benefit for employees, but also as a tool for pre- and post-injury management. Next, employees must be made fully aware of the benefit. Supervisors must be trained to identify problemed employees and how to steer employees to the EAP. And, finally, the organization needs to select an EAP provider that is up to the task: one that fully understands work site productivity demands and complex issues such as disability prevention, as well as the counseling needs of employees.

Over the years, we have seen many employers integrate the EAP into their risk management efforts with extraordinary results. One large self insurance group has experienced an overall drop of more than 40% in claims. We believe that we have just begun to scratch the surface of how to make the EAP an effective cost containment tool and are working to make it even more effective.

Clearly, an EAP can be an effective tool in your overall workers' comp program. You and your EAP just have to know how to do it right.


esi.JPG Want to ensure a winning team in your organization? In addition to help for your employees, ESI EAP offers a full suite of tools for supervisors and managers, including our ESI Management Academy. Trainings cover compliance issues, management skills and more. If you want to learn more about how ESI can provide more employee EAP benefits and more employer services, call us at 800-535-4841.

October 24, 2014

Don't let Halloween become a nightmare in your workplace

There's nothing quite as scary as Halloween for an organization that has not clearly established a set of expectations. Can you say sexual harassment, hostile work environment and workers comp?

If there has been a terrible or offensive event in the news over the prior year that should not be lampooned, rest assured it is fodder for Halloween costumes - from Ebola and ISIS beheadings to Ray Rice & his battered wife...there are no end to the potential horrors. Not to mention the garden variety of perennial offenses like black face; racial, religious, sexual and age-related stereotypes; and suggestive or revealing costumes. And we are simply assuming that your celebrations would never include alcoholic beverages, fire-related decor and other liabilities-waiting-to-happen "celebratory" components.

Besides the potential legal pitfalls, camera phones and social media mean that anything inappropriate that happens in your workplace can turn into a public relations nightmare in an instant. Kathryn Twedt-Johannsen posts some frightening anecdotes about what we would call "career limiting" costumes that went viral in social media.

Fisher & Phillips Attorneys Offer Tips to Ensure Your Office Halloween Party Doesn't Turn Into a Nightmare - we're excerpting some of their pre-planning suggestions.

• Decide if costumes are appropriate for the workplace.
• Clearly communicate costume guidelines in advance.
• Remind employees they are still at work, despite the holiday overtone.
• Don't overreact, but be sensitive to the issues.
• Consider any feedback the company received from employees or customers concerning last year's Halloween party or employee costumes.
• Offer alternative celebrations.
• Be prepared to discipline for misconduct, if necessary.

We'd add a few points:

• Make any celebrations or parties optional. Nothing says workers comp quite like "mandatory" fun.
• Be sure to add "safety" to your costume guidelines.
• Discourage tricks or pranks that could scare others or pose a safety hazard.

We like the idea of alternative celebrations. We're recycling and expanding on ideas we've suggested in the past:
• Have a family event geared to kids. Let kids and pets come in costumes
• Organize a "trick or treat" event for a local nursing home or have an event to raise money for a charity. A zombie walk might be fun!
• Sponsor a pumpkin carving contest
• Have a Halloween pot-luck lunch with themed food
• Sponsor a blood drive on Halloween and offer treats for participants. A zombie or vampire theme might be fun.

OK, now that we've sufficiently terrified you about potential liability, we feel we need to offer a few treats - Halloween can indeed be fun. Here are some clever, non-controversial costumes that amused us

Ice Bucket Challenge


A Better Bat Costume

Pop-art Roy Lichenstein Costume

Elaborate animal masks

More resources:

How to Make Halloween Safe and Fun in Your Workplace

5 Halloween Office Celebration Risks To Address In Your Code Of Ethics Training

Trick or Treat: Can Employers Face Liability for Celebrating Halloween in the Workplace?

Can the ‘Naughty Nurse’ and Modern Workplace Coexist?


ESI-Logo.jpg When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

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