Thursday, October 22, 2009

Preventing Unnecessary Compensable Stress Claims

A lot is said about helping to prevent compensable stress claims with employees -- a medical problem that has severely impacted workers' compensation premiums in recent years.

Well, according to National Underwriter, the largest circulating property casualty news magazine, the most important factor in compensable stress claims is the involvement of an attorney who works on the behalf of a client (your employee) who may have been injured, experienced a traumatic event, or had another experience that could later manifest itself as a "stress reaction." Dealing with crazy supervisors and stopping inappropriate behavior is a large piece of this risk reduction puzzle.

Once an attorney is involved, separating those employees who may be malingering from real stress reactions may be extremely difficult.

Events that follow attorney involvement may include sexual harassment, being forced to participate in illegal activity, or negative effects of a dysfunctional supervisor.

This is still a very controversial area of workers' compensation. Many states disallow reimbursement for stress claims because of the potential for and history of abuse by employees. (California not one of them. Very progessive thinkers--those California folks. Not sure if their financial reforms include reducing the allowance of compensable stress claims.) By the way, I do support compensable stress claims for PTSD, or even acute stress reactions to a point.

According to research, responding quickly to real employee complaints, offering true empathy, and speeding assistance to injured employees may be the best way to prevent the involvement of an attorney and then a compensable stress claim. Please -- begging you to hear this -- the best way to do this is to employ the services of an employee assistance professional who gets to know your employees very, very well, and who by way of promotion gets to be regarded as the "go-to" person to address personal problems.

Give this individual strong confidentiality protection of his or her employee records and make that match the CFR 42 Part II. What that!? These are the federal confidentiality guidelines that are considered the strictest in existence. They are more strict than the medical confidentiality laws that govern primary care physicians and your personal medical records -- even the deepest, darkest, medical issues at your doctor's office. You didn't know about these laws?

CFR 42 Part II was passed into law in 1970 by the Hughe Act that started the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. They protect alcohol and drug addiction treatment records but any counseling issue will fall into their provision when a counseling program address substance abuse and receives federal funding. In fact, it's mandatory. But your program or counseling services can adopt these counseling guidelines voluntarily, and I would suggest strongly that you do. Make it corporate policy.

Simply state officially that your employee assistance professional confidentiality and records conform to these laws and you will have a solid promotional tool to get employees calling for help. Promote it continuously.

Now you will a professional counselor working on your behalf to help employees and spinning down concerns, anger, crises, and complaints where appropriate. Recommend any injured employee get help from the EAP. Allow the EAP to do presentation on recovery from injury and stress.

The EAP will encourage employees in sessions to sign a release so it can help resolve issues that can lead to lawsuits and better get the employee's needs met.

EAPs are the underplayed, underutilized, and have been screwed up by managed care companies, most of which have exploited them for their own purposes of limiting access to mental health benefits in exchange for financial performance bonuses paid to top management for their success in doing so.

If the above was not the case, you would already know what I just described above and it would be "household knowledge" because EAPs are so powerful and effective in resolving enormous personal problems that cause companies huge financial losses each year.

Frankly, if you are paying high premiums for Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPL) or Director and Officer's Liability Coverage, argue for a discount if you use an EAP that is onsite, integrated, tenured, and that has low staff turnover. You're at less risk. They insurance company only needs to do a survey of existing customers to discover this reality.

The mechanism I just described reduces lawsuits related to employment claims, plain and simple.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Using Your Company's EAP as a Management Tool

The best kept secret in the world is the art and science of managers making use of the company Employee Assistance Program to help employees improve performance, reduce absenteeism, and resolve personal problems that may lead to extraordinary behavioral risk, including risk of violence.

In 1969 a revolution took place in the America with the advent of "Employee Assistance Programs" (EAPs) and the establishment of a new profession entitled the "Employee Assistance Professional".

EAPs flurished and solved an age only problem for managers wresting with problem employees. EAPs gave them a third alternative or avenue of management that was completely new. Beyond the role of tolerating an employee problems until they were eventually fired or badgering employees until they had some crisis, there were not alternatives to fire or ignore. Along came employee assistance programming.

EAPs are all about salvaging employees and getting them back to work healthier, more happy, and more productive than they were before.

I will offer effective tips to help supervisors manage people better. And we will be spending a lot of time together helping you acquire skills to reduce stress and help managers be all they can be.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Magic in Non-Disciplinary Letters

I have always been amazed at how supervisors chase employees to improve performance, stomp their feet to get them to work on time, or scold workers to curtail their inappropriate behavior. When none of the usual, emotional wrangling to to correct employee performance works, and a major incident occurs, out come the big guns - disciplinary action. What happened to the art and science of managing employees with an effective non-disciplinary corrective letter?

The missing piece of armament that very few supervisors seem to ever master well is the non-disciplinary corrective letter. A non-disciplinary corrective letter is a management tool and supportive measure to call an employee's attention unsatisfactory job performance and motivate him or her to make corrections to satisfy standards.

Effective corrective letters utilize potential reward and fear of loss to match the motivational psyche of the employee. (Some employees become motivated by reward. Other by fear of loss. It is the equivalent of being either left handed or right handed. And, of course some employees are both -- call it "motivation-ally ambidextrous."

Here is a "classic" non-disciplinary corrective letter. Print this model, because it can be a good one for you to consider.


To: Sally Smith, Machinist
From: John Doe, Supervisor
Subj: Attendance and Performance Problems
Date: 1-1-2006

Last week I reviewed the sick leave records and discovered that you have taken nine days of sick leave in the past year. Each of these days occurred on a Tuesday following a holiday weekend, or on a Friday preceding a three-day holiday weekend. I discussed my concern about this pattern with you last August 12, 2005. Since then, I have grown increasingly concerned. Your last such absence was on Dec. 27, 2005.

As you know, sick leave is a benefit to be used when necessary. The frequency of your sick leave is too high and affects your ability to perform essential functions. On February 15, several overdue widget projects caused a loss of their sale the day you were out. This cost the company $50,000. Your absences also negatively affect clerical staff. I would like to see your performance improve and your absences reduce.

You have excellent skills, and are a valued worker on the assembly line. But, if your use of sick leave remains high I will take additional steps to intervene, which could include administrative or disciplinary action.

Please provide verification of any future illness in which you lose work time. Please see me if you have any questions with regard to this request or the contents in this memo.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. As you know, the EAP is always available to assist you in the event a personal problem is contributing to your attendance problem. You can reach the EAP confidentially at 555-1234. I will review your use of sick leave in one month on Tuesday, February 1, 2006. Please plan to meet with me at 3:00 PM on that day.

cc: next level supervisor

Friday, October 9, 2009

Employee Violence and Problematic Relationships with Supervisors

I wanted to talk with you about workplace violence and supervisor relationships.

EAPs routinely help resolve problematic relationships that employees have with their supervisors. If you haven't worked with this type of issue yet, you will.

I believe this intervention activity that HR managers, EAPs, and even OD people sometimes tackle has the most potential to improve productivity, reduce risk of violence, and help insulate the company from lawsuits -- big ones. The role EAPs play in helping resolve employee-supervisor conflict should get more attention in the literature.

I have always believed that effective EAP models reduce the number of potentially violent acts that, as a result, never happen. The question is, do companies appreciate this enormous benefit that can't be easily proven?

Many of these cases begin with employees who have problems with supervisors. These problems don't just create conflict and distraction. They can lead to death by a violent act. The subject of violence and improving relationships with supervisors is so critical to safety that I always include articles about it during the year when writing\'s newsletters. I so badly want to produce 7-9 minute Flash movie on "Best Tips for Reducing Supervisory Conflict with Subordinates" I think this would prevent violent acts more than the usual "know the nearest exit to your office if your employee explodes."

Employees love tips for improving their relationships with supervisors. There are huge payoffs for providing them, and top management will love you for doing so. That's because management can't rally employees to improve their relationships with their supervisors. The dynamics of paycheck-driven relationships simply makes it impossible. Your newsletter is a perfect medium for doing it.

Here are a few topics to consider for your next newsletter and those down the road. Chase after your newsletter company to write about these topics. If you are in a pinch, have them send me an e-mail and I will reply with my thoughts. They shouldn't have any problem if the writers possess an EAP background, of course.

Topic ideas

* Improving channels of communication and increasing frequency of
communicationSpeaking with your boss freely about concerns early on, before
problems arise
* Asking for advice about problems that you are experiencing on the job
* Writing down your concerns and sharing them; helping plan your evaluation goals
* Asking for feedback -- going to the boss and not waiting for it
* Considering your boss's perspective -- not just your own; how to do it and why
* Using tact when discussing differences
* Figuring out what your boss really wants from you, without asking
* Understanding that your supervisor is probably not "out to get you"

Don't just make a newsletter entertaining for employees. Make it a loss-prevention tool for the company. These tips will reduce conflict, improve program utilization, and increase top management's awareness for your true value.

Employee Newsletters for EAPs and Workforce Productivity