All employers know that employee absenteeism is a big problem. It reduces productivity, morale and the company bottom line. The ever present challenge is how employers can prevent and reduce absenteeism. CCH, a leading provider of human resources and employment law information (hr.cch.com) conducted an unscheduled absence survey in 2005 and found that the average per employee cost of absenteeism is $660 with some larger companies losing more than $1 million per year. What is of great concern to employers is that almost two out of three employees who call in sick are not physically sick. Personal illness accounted for only 35 percent of unscheduled absences and 65% were due to other reasons including family issues (21 percent), personal needs (18 percent) entitlement mentality (14 percent) and stress (12 percent).
Companies with low morale saw higher rates and costs of unscheduled absences. 78% of human resource managers feel that the main cause of absenteeism is the belief that those who skip out of work believe they are entitled to time off. The other reason cited by human resource managers is a lack of supervisor involvement as a catalyst to discourage employee absenteeism. When managers understand the causes of absenteeism and use the EAP as a resource for assisting employees, they can play a big role in reducing absenteeism.
When employees are faced with stressful everyday life situations, it has an impact on their ability to be present in their jobs. Stressful situations include family and relationship problems, physical illness, addictions, financial difficulties including foreclosure, bankruptcy, identity theft, debt and unemployment by a spouse. If employees have a confidential, employer sponsored way (the EAP) to obtain assistance with these difficulties, they are more likely to address their problems earlier and resolve them quicker. Additional worklife and wellness programs as part of the EAP can be very helpful for employees trying to manage the stress of balancing work and family issues.
The EAP can also train managers on how to recognize and identify personal problems before they have begun to effect performance. When managers can coach employees on how to use the EAP, they stay out of the middle of their personal problems, while still offering a way to get help. Once personal problems have begun to effect performance or absenteeism, they can refer the employee to the EAP as a supervisor referral for peformance based issues. In addition, when employees know they are valued and given a free, confidential resource to address their personal problems, they feel appreciated by and more loyal to their employer.
Employers should also create incentive programs that can improve both attitude and attendance rates. This works for several reasons. Some employees may lack the internal motivation necessary to keep their spirits up and give them the drive and desire to show up to work every day. These people may need the external motivation that incentives provide.
Additionally, incentives tend to promote certain goals, which can be beneficial for employees with attendance problems. The company can create an incentive program that is specifically linked to attendance. Examples of this type of program include:
1) The ability to cash-in unused sick days at the end of a specific period
2) Allowing employees to leave early one Friday per month of perfect attendance
3) Bonus pay for periods of perfect attendance
4) Gifts such as savings bonds or gift cards for periods of perfect attendance
5) Paid time off programs which allow for personal issues, vacation and sick time all in one bank of hours so employees can use what they need when needed.
Of course employers do need to be clear with employees that if they are legitimately sick, they should stay home so that no one else at work gets sick and so they can take the time they need to get better. When the workplace culture is one that does not allow people to be ill, then it will create resentment and poor morale.
Do you have any good suggestions for preventing absenteeism? If so, we would love to hear your ideas.
Fully Effective Employees offers assistance with drug testing, management training and consultation, and confidential assistance to employees and their families with personal and work related problems.
As the holiday season quickly approaches, many businesses are starting to plan their holiday social events. Many employers use the holidays as a time to reward their employees, to socialize and to provide a positive experience for everyone. The majority of companies serve alcohol at holiday parties and events. Individuals who drink too much during a company event can do things to jeopardize their health, safety and their careers. When people drink, their inhibitions decrease and they may do and say things they would never dream of during a regular work day when not under the influence of alcohol. Employers should also consider that not everyone drinks; some choose not to drink, some are under age,and others may be in recovery from addictions and be particularly vulnerable to temptation during the holidays. Employers should be aware of the issues that can arise as a result of office parties where alcohol is served.
The U.S Department of Labor Working Partners for an Alcohol and Drug Free Workplace offers the following tips to minimize the negative consequences of alcohol consumption at your holiday party.
1. Be honest with employees. Make sure employees know your workplace substance abuse policy and that the policy addresses the use of alcoholic beverages in any work related function.
2. Post the policy. Use every communication vehicle to be sure your employees know the policy. Before an office party, use break room posters, payroll stuffers and email to communicate your policy and concerns.
3. Reinvent the office party concept. Try something like an indoor carnival, volunteer opportunity or group outing to a sporting event or amusement park.
4. Make sure employees know when to say “when”. If you do serve alcohol, make sure all employee know they are welcome to attend and have a good time but that they are expected to behave responsibly.
5. Make it the office party of choice. Be sure there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages.
6. Eat.. and be merry! Avoid serving lots of salty, greasy or sweet food, which tend to make people thirsty. Serve foods rich in starch and protein- that stay in the stomach longer and slow down the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream.
7. Designate party managers. Remind managers that even at the office party, they may need to implement the company’s alcohol and substance abuse policy.
8. Arrange alternative transportation. Anticipate that some partygoers may drink too much to drive safely. Make special transportation arrangements in advance (ie shuttles or taxis to public transportation). Encourage all employees to make use of this service.
9. Serve none for the road. Stop serving alcohol before the party officially ends. Employers should review their policies regarding alcohol consumption and enforce these policies at all company celebrations.
Many managers have had an employee or supervisor come to them to share that they suspect a co-worker may be “under the influence” or report that a co-worker smells of alcohol. When this happens, the manager must act immediately by documenting the observations of the reporting employee. Specifics such as what the person saw, smelled or heard. Only facts should be recorded suchs as ” Sally smelled like alcohol and was slurring her words” rather than “Sally was drunk as a skunk”.
The manager should observe the employee right away and preferably with another party. If the manager is not in the same location, then he or she should make arrangements to have one or two other managers observe the employee and document what they saw. If the manager also observes the employee to appear to be impaired or smelling of alcohol, the employee should be met with immediately. If your company has an HR department, your HR manager should also be involved in the meeting.
It is important during this meeting to stick to the facts and remember that if someone is under the influence of a mood altering substance, their judgement and mood will be impaired. This is not the time to get into discipline or consequences but to ensure the safety of the employee and fellow co-workers as well as to dertermine if there is a violation of company policy. Whether the employee admits or denies being under the influence, the employer should send the employee for a drug test or breath test for documentation purposes. A manager should drive the employee to the testing facility and make arrangements for him or her to arrive home safely from the testing facility after the test and for the remainder of the work shift. When you receive the test results, you shoudl review them with the employee, discuss discplinary action and make a referral to the employee assistance program. If you have a drug testing policy, you can provide the employee with a Last Chance Agreement which will require an assessment by the EAP, and follow through with EAP recommendations.
If you do not have a drug testing policy, you can still refer the employee to the EAP, remove him or her from work and require a medical assessment or drug test but it would be wise to consult with your attorney if you have concerns.
Remember, it is very important to never diagnose or assume. We once had an employee who arrived at work smelling like alcohol and behaving irraticaly. After being referred for a drug test and then a medical evaluation, it was determined that he had undiagnosed, severe diabetes and he was on his way to a diabetic coma . The test and referral to the EAP actually saved his life.
The EAP counselors cannot reveal any personal information without the employee’s written consent but the counselor will let you know if the employee is compliant.
Reasonable suspicion drug testing can be a very stressful experience for a manager. If you are unsure how to proceed, call the EAP for guidance.
The national average for a failed drug test is between 4-6%. While some of the excuses are indeed legitimate, more times than not, the excuses while feeble, can be very humorous. Here is a list of some of the excuses we have heard over the years:
While these excuses may be funny, drug use at work is a serious issue. Employees who are under the influence of mind altering substances can cost employers significant amounts of money in accidents, injuries, errors, absenteeism, tardiness, poor performance and more.
The EAP can help.
Rather than listening to an employee’s story about why his or her drug test was positive, refer the employee to us for a comprehensive assessment and return to work plan. Our goal is to help employees keep their jobs, while remaining drug free and to assist employers in maintaining a safe, healthy and productive workplace.
One of the Human Resource Managers I work with as an EAP provider, is a gifted author and a woman who is also a recovering alcoholic. Amy Hatvany’s new book, Best Kept Secret is being released on June 7, 2011. The book tells the story of Cadence, a recently separated mother of a five year old boy who struggles with a painful divorce and making ends meet. Cadence descends into alcoholism and loses custody of her son in the process. This book tells a heartbreaking story of a women’s alcoholism and path of recovery. For many alcoholics, giving up their painful secret is the first step towards recovery. I asked Ms. Hatvany the following questions:
1. What made you decide to write the book?
I began writing the story as a direct result of my own emotional experiences as a professional woman, mother and recovering alcoholic. While the characters and plot are fiction, Cadence’s emotional turmoil during her decent into addiction and her journey back toward sobriety are largely based on what I went through. As I worked on the emotional side of getting sober, it became clear to me that there is a special, intense kind of shame that accompanies being a woman who was drunk in front of her children. It’s that shame that forces so many of us to keep our addiction secret, for fear of what might happen if we tell someone the truth. We are terrified of the stigma and possible consequences, but keeping this secret, can have devastating – even deadly – results.
2. How does it relate to your own life and that of other professional women you know?
I think as women in our culture – whether or not we are mothers – we are certainly driven by perfectionism. We are told we can do it all, be it all, have it all. Of course, we can’t – at least, not “perfectly” – so I wanted to portray how as a result, many women experience profound levels of shame and self-loathing, even as we smile brightly and tell ourselves that we can’t expect to always be perfect at everything in our lives. But deep down, perhaps subconsciously, I think we still believe that we “should” be. So we reach for behaviors that drown our shame out, at least temporarily. And then we become ashamed of the behavior and the vicious cycle emerges. I’m not just talking about alcohol, here. Eating disorders, shopping, gambling, sex – even our careers can serve as an escape from the pressure.
3. How is alcoholism perceived in the workplace?
Unfortunately, I think it’s perceived the same way the world perceives it: as some kind of moral failing. I believe the key misconception is that the alcohol itself is the problem, when really, drinking is really just the symptom of much deeper physiological, and emotional issues. Simply stopping drinking is not going to resolve a person’s problems. There is a saying in recovery, that when you remove the alcohol from the alcoholic, you are left with”ick”. Certainly an alcoholic needs to heal from the physical side of addiction, but learning how to sift through the “ick” – negative thinking patterns, emotional reactivity, etc, – is the true work of recovery.
4. HR Managers deal with performance and personal issues with their employees every day. How does this impact an HR manager who may be going through her own issues?
I’d have to say that being in recovery has certainly made my job in HR easier! I used to be a bit of an emotional “sponge” but I have learned healthy ways to set boundaries and not absorb the chaos that can surround me on any given day in my job. I can’s speak for any other HR professional, but for me, I have gathered so many tools to manage my own performance or personal issues, and I’ve found that sharing some of these tools – which are universal, not recovery specific – has been greatly appreciated by many of the people I work with. I think in order to be an effective HR manager, I need to be aware of my own baggage, so I can hopefully keep it from coloring my interactions with employees. Of course, my generally cheery, positive outlook can irritate the heck out of people too, but it helps me immensely to understand their response is not about me.
5. What is the best way in your opinion for an employer to deal with an employee who is suspected of having an alcohol problem, from the recovered person’s perspective?
That’s a tough question, because as a professional, I know I need to manage it – from a performance level. Monitor the employee’s attendance patterns, lack of productivity, etc., and discipline as necessary. We all know the dangers of labelling anyone as an alcoholic, or even intimating that they might be one, so clearly, I don’t recommend that. But if an employee comes to you and communicates they are afraid they might have a problem with alcohol, I would certainly refer them to your EAP for help and guidance. I would let them know if your health plan covers treatment for substance abuse. I would recommend finding ways to educate your management team about the disease of alcoholism. But at the end of the day, if an employee refuses to seek help, and his or her performance continues to decline, sometimes the best thing to do is follow your progressive discipline procedures based on a well-documented case for not being able to perform their job, and terminate. Nursing an active alcoholic along, making concessions and exceptions and excuses doesn’t do them any favors. It only enables their disease to destroy them more quickly.
6. What message do you hope this book will leave your readers with?
Overall, I hope that women, especially, are able to see the similarities they share with Cadence, rather than the differences. I hope that the story widens the readers’ understanding and compassion, and perhaps makes them re-evaluate any preconceptions they might hold about women who suffer from alcoholism and mothers who don’t have primary custody of their children. I also hope that any woman in the throes of active addiction sees herself in Cadence’s story and finds the courage it takes to reach out for help.
For me, that’s the inherent beauty of books – each person will walk away with something different from a story. My hope as an author is that readers will find a need met perhaps one they weren’t aware they had to fill.
I highly recommend Best Kept Secret. It is a wonderfully well written and heart wrenching story that portrays the struggles that women alcoholics face, especially if they are also mothers.
To purchase a copy visit Amazon.com or www.amyhatvany.com
Employers who don’t drug or alcohol test cannot prove that an employee’s injury was caused by his intoxication if a drug test is not offered.
In the case of McKinley v. Klein Steel, Inc., No. 09-CA-930 (La.Ct. App. 03.23.10), the Louisiana Court of Appeal upheld the award of temporary total disability benefits, attorney’s fees and penalties.
The summary: while carrying a stair railing at work, the employee stumbled and hit his head. The employer sent him to a nearby hospital where he was treated for a scalp laceration and released without a drug test and the employer made no effort to have him tested. He later underwent two spinal surgeries as a result of the accident. The employer’s insurer refused to pay workers’ compensation benefits, claiming the employee was intoxicated at the time of the accident, that he refused a drug test and provided false information to the hospital. The Court of Appeals upheld the award of benefits, finding that the employer failed to reasonably controvert the claim. It also awarded the employee penalties and attorney’s fees.
The court explained that a presumtion of intoxication arises when an employee affirmatively refuses a drug test. But because the hospital never offered a drug test, and one was never required by the employer, there was no opportunity for the employee to refuse one, nor was any other evidence of intoxication presented. The court also rejected the contention that the employee gave false information to the hospital to prevent them from verifying his workers’ compensation status. The employee correctly identified his employer to hospital staff but gave the incorrect contact name and number for the employer, being unaware that the individual no longer worked for the employer. Source: www.riskandinsurance.com
This court case emphasizes how important it is to have a drug testing policy which also includes post accident testing. If the employer could prove the employee was in fact intoxicated, they would have saved a lot of money.
During the dot.com boom of the mid-90’s, companies were growing so quickly, they couldn’t hire enough people fast enough. In order to recruit and retain good employees who were required to work long hours, they would provide as many perks as they could. The most popular perk was free alcohol provided on company time. Many companies would host happy hour Fridays or allow employees to drink at work after 4 pm. Some employers provided kegs and beer fridges and allowed employees free access to alcohol while at work. As the dot.com boom became a bust, most companies began to tighten their wallets which resulted in the bar being closed at most workplaces.
While the economy is still very slow to recover and recruiters can take their pick of candidates, there appears to be a resurgance of alcohol being provided freely in the workplace. An article in the Seattle Times last month, featured tech companies like Yelp, providing beer kegs and beer fridges. These employers rationalize that they are growing, vibrant companies with a young workforce. Their employees are required to work long hours, sometimes well into the evening so they want them to feel at home at work. While they don’t actively monitor how much an individual drinks, some companies use an ipad app that logs every ounce they drink.
As an employee assistance counselor, I see serious problems when employers provide alcohol to their employees on company time on company property, for a number of reasons. The first concern is employer liability. If an employee drives from their place of employment while intoxicated, the employer may be liable. When employees drink, their inhibitions are reduced, so they will say and do things they may never do while not under the influence. These behaviors may lead to sexual harassment or discrimination claims from other co-workers and again, the employer may be liable. Women are at greater risk for sexual harassment at offices where heavy drinking is the norm, according to a 2004 Cornell University study. The report, sponsored by the National Institute on Alcoholism, found harassment incidents increased more than twofold for each additional alcoholic beverage consumed by male co-workers.
The second liability concern for employers is underage drinking. Some employers hire individuals who are under the legal drinking age but if others are drinking, it can be hard on the under age employee to fit in with the company culture. Unless employers are carding all employees before allowing them to drink at work, they cannot be sure they are not serving alcohol to minors.
The third concern is that when a person drinks alcohol, their judgment and productivity will be impaired. An employer cannot determine impairment based on how many drinks a person has had. Women and men metabolize alcohol differently and other factors include a person’s size and body weight and how much they have eaten. How productive can someone be if they have had two or three beers?
Finally, alcoholism is a major social and health concern in our society. Some employees cannot drink in moderation or control themselves after drinking. 10 percent of American adults are alcoholics. For these people, it is a struggle to face every day without alcohol and often the 8 hours a day they spend at work is the easiest part of their day to get though. If alcohol is served at work too, then they are constantly faced with the temptation to drink at work as well. Before employers decide to provide alcohol to their employees, they should consider the legal and social ramifications.
There are many other perks that make better business sense. Examples are concierge services that make things easier on employees who work long hours, wellness and worklife services to help employees balance work and family and employee assistance services.
For information on how you can provide personalized, professional EAP services, call Fully Effective Employees at 425-454-3003 or 1-800-648-5834.
While social functions help to build employee morale and loyalty and they can be a lot of fun, serious consequences can result which could create liability for an employer. Since the majority of employers hold some kind of holiday celebration, it’s a good time of year to remind our clients about the risks of sponsoring a social event and the measures they can take to decrease that risk.
Staples.com offers the following suggestions for employers who host office gatherings:
1. Plan a party off of company property if alcohol is served. If the restaurant or facility is using licensed servers, the obligation may transfer to the provider of liquor.
2. Change the venue- for example, the focus can be on a sporting event, where employees pay for their own liquor or suggest a get together over a charitable event like volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
3. Have a drink limit or alcohol free event. When behavior is not affected by alcohol, chances are that employees will be more in control and calmer. Alcohol can contribute to inappropriate behavior such as sexual advances, harassment, property damage, off color comments, and injuries. In addition, there is always the concern that people will leave the party and drive while intoxicated.
4. Be clear with your employees before the event and throughout the year about your expectations and company policies. Be sure they are aware of your substance abuse policy (if you have one) and that the policy includes office social events. Post the policy on company bulletin boards and send out an email reminder.
5. Host a family friendly event. Invite spouses and children and the focus can shift away from sitting and drinking to a more activity oriented function. Employees often really appreciate having their families included in company festivities.
6. Intervene when necessary. If your employee is intoxicated, let the person know they have had too much to drink, and that you will call a cab to take them home. Never let an employee who appears to be impaired, drive home.
7. You may want to check your business insurance policy if you plan to serve alcohol. If your general liability policy does not cover third part liquor liability, you may be able to purchase special event coverage.
What do you do if despite your best intentions, a problem occurs? If there are concerns about an employee's behavior, you may still be able to refer the individual to the Employee Assistance Program for a performance issue. If there have been allegations by others of harassment, inappropriate behavior or other issues, the EAP may be able to help. Even though you have hosted a social event, employees should still be expected to behave appropriately.