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E-cigarettes in the workplace prove a problem for human resources

29 Sep

Electronic cigarettes are now a common sight. From bars and clubs to restaurants and stores, you can see some people puffing clouds of vapor from the electric sticks. But allowing e-cigarettes in the workplace is a major issue for businesses and their human resources systems

Hon Lik, a Chinese pharmacist invented the e-cigarette in 2003 as a way to get himself to quit smoking but it never took, according to The Guardian. And vape pens and other styles of the device are taking off in popularity with their use tripling from 2013 to 2014 among teenagers and doubling for adults from 2010 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

The electronic sticks are, so far, not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, the government agency could take action on them in the future, USA Today reported. 

Vaping in the workplace
E-cigarettes allow a smoker to drop a liquid containing nicotine into the device and then he or she can inhale it in the form of vapors. Many contend that electronic smokes are just as harmful to health as regular cigarettes even if the product isn't burning like normal rolling papers. According to NBC News, people who vape take shorter puffs and don't inhale as deeply as those smoking the real thing. Also, unlike regular tobacco products, the long-term health effects of electronic cigarette use still isn't known. 

Some large companies such as Starbucks, UPS and Wal-Mart banned e-cigarettes from their workplaces, according to The Society for Human Resource Management, while other businesses are taking a wait-and-see approach since the full effects including breathing in secondhand vapor isn't known.

Clear regulations
However, some human resource publications advise offices to take action and ban all styles of electronic smoking to create clear-cut policies. If an employer forbids smoking standard paper and tobacco cigarettes while on the job, why would they allow vaping? 

"If you just ban smoking or tobacco products, you haven't covered e-cigarettes," Russell Chapman, an attorney with employment and labor law firm Littler Mendelson P.C., told the SHRM . "You need to specifically ban them if you want them covered."

Allowing one but not the other creates ambiguity in a workplace environment, Human Resource Executive Online noted. It's better to be safe than sorry since there's still no empirical data regarding the safety of e-cigarettes. 

"The important thing is to have a clearly written policy consistently enforced across the board," Elizabeth Leitzinger, an attorney with Fenton and Keller in Monterey, California, told the SHRM.

According to Leitzinger and others, it makes more sense to outright ban vapes and other forms of e-cigarettes from the office as some of the devices are made to look like the real thing – having a white cylindrical stick with a light that glows when the user puffs on it.

Advocates for vaping in the workplace said the device can actually help employees who smoke regularly because they'll no longer need to leave the office to take a puff and can do so at their desks while working. Therefore, using an e-cigarette could increase productivity for smokers and also help them quit real tobacco products. However, their argument doesn't hold weight since there's no evidence to prove that the devices do either, Inside Counsel reported.

Since the speed of technology development outpaces governing bodies such as the FDA, use of e-cigarettes in the office will inevitably fall on the shoulders of managers and human resource departments. Whatever a company's decision may be, the SHRM noted business leaders should seek out the advice of their counsel before implementing any policy changes.

Could sleeping on the job be a good thing?

24 Sep

While it's usually frowned upon, sleeping on the job could be a good thing for employees and businesses. A 2015 University of Michigan study suggested napping at work can increase staff members' productivity, improve safety and minimize mistakes in the office. Participants in the study who slept for an hour during the day performed duties and tasks at a faster pace than those who didn't take a nap. 

Human resources departments in some of the nation's largest companies may soon try to deal with the sleep deprivation problem via employee engagement ideas by polling staff members about their sleeping habits and schedules.

Benefits to employees and businesses
Employees lacking an adequate amount of sleep can cost their employers not only via lower productivity levels but also through higher health insurance rates, according to The Washington Post. Many studies suggest there's a link between poor quality of sleep and conditions such as diabetes and dementia. 

Plus, enough rest also improves memory retention, according to CNN, citing a study performed by Nicolas Dumay, a psychologist with the University of Exeter and the Basque Center on Cognition Brain and Language.

"Sleep is good not just to maintain secured knowledge, but also to rescue weaker information, which we could not remember while still awake," Dumay told CNN. "The light here is on those inaccessible memories, which sleep makes suddenly more accessible."

The benefits have more supervisors and human resource departments either investing in or investigating nap rooms and sleeping pods for their employees. Tech giant Google offers its staff members a chance to get some shut-eye in its many nap pods found around its offices. The futuristic-looking chairs recline and include a large visor-like partition that features soothing sounds and an alarm to wake the employee, according to Entrepreneur.

A human resources matter
Besides Google, other companies such as Zappos, Nike and Ben and Jerry's allow staff members to sleep in on-site bedrooms in the office, reported. Many business are finding that allowing afternoon napping can be an added benefit for staff members as the work-life balance blurs. As employees remain connected to their jobs outside normal working hours through smartphones and laptops, highlighting the usefulness of a proper amount of sleep is imperative for human resources. It can also help staff members flying in between their companies' offices to get over jet lag before important meetings or other work events.

Truck driving and other industries that require employees to complete long shifts must abide by regulations splitting work hours up and mandating that staff get at least eight hours of sleep before starting their shift again. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, while sleep is currently a requirement for those professions that use heavy machinery, it could become necessary for office staff as well.

However, many companies outside of Silicon Valley or those that do not have a start-up culture in the office remain skeptical about allowing employees to sleep while on the job. Only 2 percent of businesses surveyed by SHRM reported having rooms designated for napping as a benefit for staff members. 

Those companies are missing out, some health experts say, noting businesses are willing to spend money on gyms and fitness centers to encourage employee wellness, but they stop at the point of offering areas to nap.

"I'm still surprised that people are put off by napping," Terry Cralle, a certified sleep expert told Entrepreneur. "We've got great research supporting the fact that naps can help corporations and employees, yet we still feel reluctant to make it an acceptable part of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy workday."

Companies using fitness trackers to examine employee health

22 Sep

Big data is increasingly becoming big business for companies across the nation as they use analytics and employee management software to determine personnel progress, workloads and benefits.

Human resources departments are changing the face of employee wellness programs by giving staff wearable pedometers along with health and sleep trackers to encourage well-being and, hopefully, lower insurance rates for the company.

Large incentives
Healthy employees end up saving businesses millions, according to the Harvard Business Review. The publication cites Johnson and Johnson as a case in point as the manufacturing giant saved an estimated $250 million over a decade by encouraging staff members to quit smoking and lead active and healthy lifestyles. The business review states the company gained nearly $3 back for every dollar spent on its health and wellness programs.

Not only do the businesses and insurance companies benefit from the programs, but employees do too. John Hancock, the life insurer, offers discounts on premiums for customers who sign up to wear a fitness tracker and share their results with the company, according to CNN Money.

A study conducted by Towers Watson and the National Business Group on Health and cited by Harvard Business Review found firms with employee wellness programs retained staff members at a higher volume than those that did not have one. 

Nowadays, more companies such as Ikea and BP are getting into the act by suppling their staff members with wearable technology like pedometers that can track the number of steps walked in a day as well as the wearer's quality of sleep, according to The Washington Post.

BP offers cheaper health insurance plans to employees if they walk a certain number of steps, allowing staff members to save approximately $1,200 on deductibles a year, The Washington Post reported.

"It's an investment in our co-workers' health and well-being," Jacqueline DeChamps, Ikea U.S.'s human resources manager, told The Washington Post.

The international furniture retailer asked employees what kind of holiday gift they'd like to receive and after tabulating the results gave all 14,000 U.S. employees a Jawbone fitness tracker.

New programs
Meanwhile, other companies are going one step further and working with different fitness tracker manufacturers like Fitbit to integrate their devices into employee wellness programs, CIO reported. Some businesses, previously, gave pedometers and other health trackers away as a way to encourage healthy lifestyles, but they're now working in conjunction with Fitbit and other pedometer makers.

The Fitbit allows employees at any stage of fitness – from regular runner to someone just going for a stroll – to gauge their daily health, allowing human resources programs to be flexible. 

A few years ago, human resources departments wanting to launch a wellness tracking and incentive program for staff members had their work cut out for them in the form of collecting and indexing results and paperwork for employees, according to CIO. On top of that, the programs worked via honor systems with companies marking down the results an employee reported.

"This is still very much a new area," Jonathan Collins, an analyst at ABI Research, told The Washington Post. "Each company decides to draw the line where it wants to – what its HR department will be comfortable managing and what end users will be willing to sign up for."

Some programs start organically with a CEO or the head of human resources using a fitness tracker and challenging their employees to match the number of steps they take in a day, according to CIO. So far, the strictly voluntary health and fitness programs are receiving rave reviews as employees continue to use the wrist bands in and outside of the office.

How to reject candidates the right way

8 Sep

When companies hire or an open position, they focus on finding the right person for the job. That means the majority of people who apply for the position will get rejected. To human resources, this is just a fact of life, but applicants who toiled over their applications and had their hearts set on the job may have a different perspective. Candidates want to be acknowledged. When companies fail to respect job seekers, they damage the business's brand.

Candidates want respectful treatment
It's important to handle rejections tactfully. Many people who are excited to apply to a job at your company are your biggest brand advocates. You don't want to turn them off. Unfortunately, many companies fail to deal with the rejection process adequately, and this creates problems.

According to the 2015 Candidate Behavior Survey from CareerBuilder, 52 percent of companies respond to fewer than half of applicants. Moreover, candidates say only 40 percent of their applications receive any kind of response. Needless to say, candidates aren't happy about this. And these frustrated job seekers are likely to take some kind of action against the brand. Almost 60 percent say they are less likely to buy from a company that never responded to an application. Close to 70 percent will think twice before they do business with a company if they had a bad experience during the interview.

On the other hand, candidates who don't make the cut won't be upset if they feel they've been treated with respect throughout the application process. In fact, 69 percent of job seekers who had a positive experience are more likely to do business with the company in the future.

It's clear that providing a positive candidate experience, even to job seekers who don't make the cut, has benefits for the company. Here are some tips for turning down candidates (nicely): 

Respond to everyone
Even if the candidate was 100 percent unqualified for the position, it's polite to send a response. A quick form letter is adequate in the early stages. If you can, use a personalized salutation rather that something like "Dear Applicant." Email marketing solutions make it easy to send a response to everyone, so don't leave candidates hanging.

Consider the relationship
Depending on the relationship the candidate has with the company, companies will need to respond differently. If the person made it to the interview stage, you may want to consider a phone call to make the message more personal, according to Zip Recruiter. If you send a letter, be sure to add a personalized message.

Be honest
If the candidate is someone you would consider hiring in the future, let the person know you've kept his or her name on file in the company's employee management software and that the candidate should try again in the future. If the candidate lacked a specific skill, you can let the person know. This information will help candidates in the future and even turn the application process into a useful learning experience.

Be timely
According to Social Talent, it's polite to not leave candidates hanging for too long. Most recruiters wait until they've found the right person before they let applicants know they've been rejected. Instead, let each candidate know as soon as you know. If you screen out a candidate right away for lack of experience, send the person a message immediately; there's no point in waiting until the end of the process.

With the combination of email marketing solutions and an employee management system, it's not hard for HR staff to make the application process respectful to all applicants, even the ones who don't make the cut. Rather than damage your company's brand, be responsive to everyone.

How to improve the exit interview

8 Sep

Exit interviews are a crucial part of human resources' job. This process help determine an employee's reasons for leaving – knowledge that can be used to increase retention and improve the workplace for remaining staff. One problem is that not enough employees receive an exit interview, which leads to incomplete data for HR. Often, those who take the time to complete or participate in an exit interview or survey are those who were either exceptionally happy or unhappy at the company. Here are some tips to increase the number of interviews and get better information:

Better structure
Don't just shove the employee out the door on his or her last day; have a structured exit process that includes an interview. According to ERE Media, more people are likely to participate in an exit interview if HR takes time to explain the exit process. Communicate the reasons for the process as well as what the employee can expect prior to departure. Tell employees that their feedback is vital in making the organization a better place for its staff. Knowing exactly why responses are important could increase staff participation.

Give them a choice
Having more than one option in the exit process could make employees more likely to give you feedback. While a one-on-one interview intimidates some staff members, a paper-based survey may seem like a more attractive option. It is hard to voice harsh criticism. Some employees find it easier to share this information in writing. Conversely, if the written survey appears time consuming, some staff members may opt for an interview instead.

Ask the right questions
It's true in any interview, and it's especially true in an exit interview: Thoughtful questions yield better answers. Employees on their way out the door are in a delicate situation. They don't want to burn bridges with their previous employers, which means they may not be inclined to be brutally honest. Rather than asking the employees why they are leaving, Monster suggested you inquire about why they began looking for new employment in the first place.

Don't wait until they leave
Too often, employers don't have these types of in-depth conversations with staff members until their notice has been given. Why not turn the exit interview on its head and create a "stay interview?" as Entrepreneur magazine suggested. Rather than wait until your best performers have one foot out the door, talk them about their feelings – what works and what the company could do better.

Follow up with the right tools
Gathering data about employee departures is useful only with the right software. No matter how you choose to go about the exit interview process, it's important to have employee management software to document the conversations you have with staff. Save the information from exit interviews so you can use it to improve the workplace and document various staff issues over time.

The exit interview serves a necessary purpose in the business environment, but the process has yet to be perfected. Improve your exit interview strategies to get more out of these conversations and put the insight to good use.

Create an awesome culture even as you grow

27 Jul

Company culture is an important part of recruiting and retention at many companies. However, many startups begin with an awesome culture and fail to maintain it as they scale. Is there a way for human resources to help companies keep their culture even in a time of growth?

It's easy to maintain a strong culture when there are just 10 people in a small office. Once you gain new offices in more locations with workers across the country, it can be difficult.

Establish your culture
If you want to maintain your unique business culture, you will first need to define it, ERE Media pointed out. HR managers should collaborate with executives to determine what the company's core values are. After these have been established, figure out what each value actually looks like on the job. Think about specific times employees' behaviors reflected the brand's values.

Communicate with employees
Small companies have no problem staying in touch with their people because there are so few staff members. To maintain the same transparency and openness, companies need to work to establish communication systems that will keep staff in the loop. Internal social networks, weekly emails and face-to-face meetings help ensure everyone stays connected to the business and its core values.

Get the help of staff
Involve employees in creating the company's culture. Let staff participate in planning events and other activities that cultivate work culture. Allow different departments to establish their own daily or weekly rituals, Inc. magazine suggested. It could be a morning huddle or weekly fitness competitions. Whatever your staff decides they want to do, give them the power to do it.

Create engagement opportunities
HR can work with management to establish opportunities for employees to connect. You can also tailor these employee engagement ideas to your unique business identity. In an interview with Business Plans, Beck Bamberger of BAM Communications suggested sending team members on "dates." Assign different employees to go on outings together. According to Bamberger​, this encourages new personal bonds and prevents cliques from forming. 

Keep looking for fit
According to Inc. magazine, one of the best ways to maintain your culture through periods of growth is to continue to hire good cultural fits. Prioritize culture in the hiring process. Once you've established your corporate values, be sure to bring them up in the hiring process.

HR is instrumental in cultivating and maintaining office culture. Growth is positive for most companies, but it's important not to lose track of the other things that make the business great.

Maintaining poster compliance with outsourced payroll

2 Jul

The U.S. Department of Labor requires businesses to display posters on the walls around their offices. These posters convey important information about employee rights in the workplace. Full of image- and text-based information, the DOL posters are varied, and each one is applicable to different types of businesses. An outsourced payroll vendor can inform a company which posters it must display and how to keep them updated based on current regulation changes.

What types of posters might go up at a business?
Almost any federal or state law pertaining to employment has its own poster. Here is a short list of some posters employees may find in their workplaces:

  • Job Safety and Health Protection poster
  • Equal Employment Opportunity – Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended) poster
  • Fair Labor Standards Act Wage and Hour Division poster
  • Notice to All Employees Working on Federal or Federally Financed Construction Projects Wage and Hour Division poster
  • Office of Labor-Management Standards Executive Order poster

Each of these posters pertains to a very specific collection of businesses and has its own set of rules regarding where the poster can be displayed. For instance, construction companies must post one version of the Wage and Hour Division poster, while small businesses have to post another. Requirements vary depending on the industry, company size and types of employees.

Where can businesses find posters?
As HR360 pointed out, all of the federally mandated posters are available for free on the Department of Labor website. However, each state has its own unique series of guidelines companies have to follow when it comes to posters in the workplace. This is where outsourced human resources systems come in.

Outsourcing payroll improves poster compliance
It's no surprise outsourced HR is there, ready to step in and streamline processes like maintaining compliance when it comes to paychecks, benefits enrollment, tax deductions, hiring and more. But when it comes to posters physically in the workplace, these service providers are also on top of things, keeping businesses up to speed on any changes to poster guidelines or information that employees must be aware of.

For example, as of April, private employers working in the commerce sector have to display the Job Safety and Health Protection poster issued by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in a spot where both employees and applicants can clearly see it. Should an original poster not be available, these types of companies would have to print out an 8.5-by-14-inch poster with at least 10 point font for workers to observe and read. HR is already bogged down by daily tasks, managing entire businesses and ensuring workers are meeting their potential. Monitoring updates and deadlines for posters could waste time and money if the posters don't go up in a timely manner.

Having an outsourced HR provider is especially helpful for enterprises with locations in multiple states. Since each state requires unique versions of some posters, a single department may find it difficult to keep track of all the regulatory changes or guidelines for each location.

Failure to comply could result in fines
If the DOL completes an audit of a particular business and finds the company isn't up to date on its mandatory posters, each violation could cost the business a fine or penalty fee. The company could also receive contract sanctions or have to appear in court where civil penalties would be assessed. Some violations have no consequences. 

Outsourcing payroll can not only improve businesses' compliance to specific paycheck deductions and benefits administration, but it can also enhance the daily lives of workers around the country.

Going green and HR’s influence on the environment

22 May

Business leaders may be surprised to hear environmentally friendly practices are excellent employee engagement strategies. Business leaders may be even more surprised to learn human resources professionals can help corporations and their employees become more green. In fact, if there's one department that's well-equipped to head up such an endeavor, it's HR.

American workforce growing more environmentally conscious 
It's important to note employees today, especially millennials, enjoy working for companies invested in social and environmental causes. Switch and Shift compiled research from a variety of sources outlining the goals of millennials today. It found a 23 percent increase in volunteerism among 16- to 24-year-olds between 1989 and 2005. Of those who volunteer, 79 percent are motivated purely by passion to help others. Millennials, more so than any other generation, are faced with the task of preserving the environment for their futures, so green initiatives and matters pertaining to natural surrondings will be of greater importance to them. 

In addition, a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management on HR and environmental sustainability found 49 percent of businesses with green workplace practices claimed these environmentally conscious actions helped them recruit top talent. On top of that, 40 percent believed a green work environment led to greater employee retention.

So, where does HR come into the picture?

HR and going green 
Corporations have enormous influence over decisions and opinions made on a global scale. Business leaders' actions can affect those of other companies, industries, governments and local communities. HR is the only department in a corporation that truly interacts with everyone. Executives, managers, entry-level employees, administrative assistants, mail room employees and more all spend time with HR in some capacity. Working with people at all levels is the key to building a sustainable, green office, and HR is the right team for the job.

Currently, according to the SHRM survey, 68 percent of companies already have implemented environmentally friendly procedures in their offices. These businesses found the green initiatives improved employee morale and loyalty, boosted brand recognition among consumers and yielded more efficient output.

To be effective, HR must help their businesses incorporate green guidelines into employees' daily activities; the environment must become a central focus and consideration on a fundamental level. Formal policies, used by 52 percent of those businesses surveyed, are highly recommended.

Some formal policies HR departments currently use include:

  • Going paperless - EcoSeed stated cloud platforms are excellent tools for businesses looking to go green. Rather than printing multiple copies of a single document, work teams can share items with each other via the cloud, making changes together and avoiding printing at all. In addition, all businesses should offer direct deposit for employees. This eliminates the need for envelopes or printing checks every few weeks.
  • Recycling - Companies should have blue recycling bins next to every printer in an office and under every employee desk if possible. Some businesses take this one step further and add compost bins to office kitchen areas. This decreases the amount of waste produced by the organization as a whole.
  • Offering telecommuting - One growing trend in business operations is telecommuting. SHRM reported companies like Dell, Aetna and Xerox allow certain employees to work from home. In fact, these three corporations were able to save 95,294 metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2014 simply by allowing employees to telecommute. Not only has this move improved Dell, Aetna and Xerox's employee satisfaction ratings, but it's made the hiring and retention processes easier.

One thing HR must remember is to design a reliable method for each policy and measure return on investment. SHRM found in its survey that 47 percent of companies with both green initiatives and ROI measurements saw a positive return, and 46 percent responded it was too early to tell with their current practices. None of the respondents claimed a negative ROI. 

To increase employee engagement, retention and recruitment, HR should look into spearheading environmental policies in their offices. 

E-cigarettes and HR policies

22 May

Human resources professionals have to take the safety and well-being of all employees into account when composing business policies and procedures. Many companies provide health and wellness programs to employees or organize corporate outings that encourage physical activity and good mental health. However, with the emergence of new technologies, HR departments are finding their policies may need revamping.

What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes gained popularity in the U.S. in 2007, and the devices still receive mixed reviews when it comes to risks, side effects and benefits, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The products, which are battery-operated and require no ignition, allow people to inhale aerosol versions of the addictive chemicals found in real cigarettes. The FDA reported it's unclear what amounts of nicotine and other chemicals are actually inhaled by users and how much is let out into the atmosphere.

Primarily, people began using e-cigarettes to quit smoking real tobacco. The Society for Human Resource Management reported between 2004 and 2011, industries with cigarette smokers varied, though construction, mining and accommodation accounted for 30 percent of all smoking employees in this timeframe. By 2013, about 30 percent of all smokers had tried e-cigarettes. The U.S. Center for Disease Control found between 2010 and 2013, the number of U.S. adults smoking e-cigarettes more than doubled. 

The only e-cigarettes currently officially regulated by the FDA are therapeutic e-cigarettes. The FDA Center for Tobacco Products regulates only real cigarettes, rolling tobacco and smokeless tobacco, though its goal is to soon help regulate electronic versions as well. 

Potentially harmful vapors and the office
When it comes to smoking e-cigarettes in the workplace, it gets a little tricky. Technically, electronic devices are not real cigarettes, but because side effects are unknown, it's best to establish a strict policy on whether e-cigarettes can be used indoors. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended completely banning e-cigarettes in the workplace. 

"Employers have invested significant time and resources into developing effective workplace policies that help reduce the use of tobacco among employees and their families," Jerry Noyce, Health Enhancement Research Organization's president and CEO, told SHRM.

Noyce's organization contributed to publishing a paper entitled "Guidance to Employers in Integrating E-Cigarettes/Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems into Tobacco Worksite Policy" earlier this year. The report concluded businesses should consider e-cigarettes as part of the same category as tobacco products and until further review from the FDA, ban them from indoor use in offices.

However, since many smokers are using the e-cigarettes to quit their smoking habits, it's crucial employers offer electronic users their own designated smoking areas separate from traditional smokers. This is a huge step toward ensuring those employees trying to quit stay on the right path.

In maintaining compliance with the Affordable Care Act, HR departments cannot require smokers to quit. A valid choice would be to incorporate smoking cessation options into current wellness programs or practices. In addition, HR professionals should check their state regulations, as some states already ban e-cigarettes indoors.

Strategic human resources solutions to employee health issues are crucial to maintaining a healthy, productive work environment. 

Stevens v. Rite Aid: A lesson on the ADA

22 May

Recently, a licensed pharmacist named Christopher Stevens was fired by his employer, Rite Aid. The Society for Human Resource Management reported the company claimed Stevens' refusal to perform specific duties  on the job led to his termination. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found Rite Aid in violation of both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Law. In January, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York awarded Stevens a total of $2.6 million.

Where did Rite Aid go wrong?
Stevens has been working as a pharmacist and pharmacy manager in upstate New York for almost 40 years. In 1977, when Stevens started his career, administering immunizations to customers was not part of the pharmacist's job description. This sat well with Stevens, as he suffers from trypanophobia, or a crippling fear of needles.

Law 360 reported Rite Aid bought Eckerd Pharmacy, where Stevens worked in Utica, New York, in 2007. As flu shots became more popular in recent years, Rite Aid made the decision to offer the immunizations at pharmacies around the country. This meant pharmacists would have to inject customers with immunizations after attending a training program to become certified to do so.

Stevens received an email with the immunization certification information in March 2011, requesting his presence at an upcoming training session. His doctor swiftly provided Rite Aid's human resource department and district managers with documents outlining the pharmacist's trypanophobia. Needles and injections caused Stevens to sweat profusely, grow anxious and experience a sharp decrease in blood pressure. In addition to the doctor's letter, SHRM noted Steven's asked for a reasonable accommodation from Rite Aid, which would have provided him an alternative work environment or task to administering immunizations.

Federal regulation compliance issues 
As outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers cannot discriminate against workers in the public accommodation sector, among others, due to disabilities. ADA and the EEOC define disabilities as both mental and physical ailments that limit fundamental actions, such as walking, talking or hearing. Disabilities can also include chronic illnesses, either currently present or in remission.

Rather than offering a reasonable accommodation, Rite Aid sent another training session notification to Stevens and asked for clarification on the contents of the doctor's note regarding trypanophobia. The doctor informed Rite Aid having Stevens administer flu shots would be a danger to both patients and the pharmacist himself.

In August 2011, the district pharmacy manager, HR manager and district manager for Rite Aid told Stevens in person he would be fired if he did not complete the training. Stevens was let go five days later.

The EEOC investigation
The EEOC took a look into the situation after Stevens filed a claim. The organization found Rite Aid had in fact discriminated against the pharmacist's disability and fired him unlawfully. The EEOC also found giving customers immunization injections wasn't a vital aspect of Stevens' position with the company, nor does the state of New York require a licensed pharmacist be able to give injections.

The jury awarded a total of $2.6 million to Stevens. Broken down, that amount is comprised of:

  • Back pay: $485,633 for work that could have been completed had Rite Aid allowed Stevens to work
  • Front pay: $1.23 million for employment discrimination
  • Emotional distress damages: $900,000 for causing mental anguish or stress

The jury did not, however, award any punitive damages in the case. According to Legal Match, this is likely due to the fact that Rite Aid broke or altered a contract, an action which does not result in punitive damages. Stevens also suffered no physical harm, which is typically when juries decide to award punitive damages.

What could Rite Aid have done differently?
No company wants a public lawsuit that concludes with a disgruntled, distressed employee and a big ADA compliance failure on record. Businesses want their employees to be happy, successful contributors to the organization. A strategic human resource management system can help large corporations like Rite Aid better handle these tricky scenarios and communicate with workers to understand their unique situations. Employers must be informed of any and all nuances as they apply to the ADA, EEOC and Department of Labor guidelines. These stipulations are hard to keep track of, and without excellent tools to help organize employees and changing job descriptions, businesses could end up paying fines on a regular basis. 

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