All posts tagged employer

EEOC Says Use of Service Dog is ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ under ADA

Close-up on the vest of a service dog

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued an employer for refusing to hire a job applicant because he used a service dog.

In the complaint filed in March, the EEOC accused the employer of failing to accommodate, refusing to hire and retaliating against the man who’d applied for a truck driver position.

The action illustrates just how broadly the EEOC construes the Americans with Disabilities Act when it comes to individuals who rely on service or comfort animals to cope with their disabilities.

In the case at hand, the applicant had been admitted to driver training with the trucking firm’s partner training company. Before starting the training the applicant told the company that he is a veteran who uses a trained service dog to help control anxiety and to wake him from nightmares caused by post-traumatic stress disorder.

After he successfully completed the training program, the trucking firm refused to advance him to its driver-orientation additional training on the road, which required staying overnight from home. Moreover, the company had a “no pet” policy and never hired him.

Incidentally, the EEOC noted that at the same time the company had denied the applicant’s request to accommodate his service dog, it developed a new service dog process to address requests seeking the use of such animals.

The EEOC has asked the court to order the company to hire the applicant and pay him back pay as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

The agency notes that using a trained service dog can be a reasonable accommodation for a disability and that employers must consider requests to use a service dog seriously.

FMLA, FLSA Lawsuits Surge, Exposing Employers to Large Awards

lawsuit

The number of employee lawsuits against employers for Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and wage and hour violations has skyrocketed in the last five years and your firm could be the next target even for a small misstep, which can be costly.

The Department of Labor has increased its budget and the number of investigators pursuing employers who violate the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which covers wage and hour complaints, including exempt and non-exempt employee violations, overtime violations and similar issues.

Employment law attorneys say that the surge in FMLA complaints is a result of more people knowing about the law as the DOL has expanded its reach and publicized the act in press releases about actions it has taken against various employers.

Also, they say, the term “serious health condition” is broadly defined, making it easy for employees to satisfy.

Here we take a look at the problem and what you can do to avoid being sued.

 

FLSA

Wage and hour lawsuits are typically filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act, and they’ve been creeping up, a trend employment lawyers attribute to more people working from home and technology, which has blurred the lines between when workers are on or off the clock.

 

FLSA cases filed:

Fiscal 2015: 8,160

Fiscal 2014: 7,500

 

Notable FLSA settlements from last decade:

Walgreens – $23 million

Wells Fargo – $15 million

Roto-Rooter – $14.2 million

 

What you need to know:

  • There are four main areas you need to be concerned with: minimum wage, overtime pay, record-keeping and youth employment.
  • Make sure you properly classify your employees as non-exempt or exempt (the minimum salary to be classified as exempt is currently $47,476 a year).
  • There are six exempt positions: executive, administrative, learned professional, creative professional, computer professional and outside sales staff.
  • Track exempt employees’ hours just in case.
  • Compute overtime properly.
  • Telecommuting can expose you to FLSA liability when employees work or send work-related e-mails outside normal working hours.
  • Employees must be compensated for time spent answering e-mails during off hours, including vacation.

 

FMLA

Qualifying reasons for FMLA leave, according to the DOL, include: birth of a child; a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform their work functions; and to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition.

The rapid rise in FMLA lawsuits is a direct result of the law becoming increasingly complex for employers to navigate, and its increased enforcement. The number of FMLA cases filed last year hit 1,108, almost a fourfold increase from the 280 that were filed in 2012.

 

FLMA cases filed:

2014: 1,108

2013: 877

 

Notable settlements or awards:

Staples Inc. – $275,000

Solvay Chemical – $1.5 million

Christ Hospital and Medical Center – $11.6 million

 

What you need to know

  • Post and distribute information about employees’ FMLA rights and include it in your employee handbook.
  • Don’t retaliate against someone seeking FMLA leave.
  • Develop an internal process for employees to use when applying for FMLA leave.
  • Make sure managers and supervisors apply your FMLA process consistently.
  • Be careful to balance any pushback against the employee, but you have the right to ask for more information from the employee and their doctor. And you can monitor the use of FMLA days.

High-deductible Plans Gain Favor, but PPOs Still Tops

health plans

More employees than ever are opting for high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), but preferred provider organizations (PPOs) are still the most popular among group health plans, a new study has found.

Thirty-four percent of employees selected an HDHP for 2016 when it was offered alongside a traditional health plan, with millennial employees over age 26 the most likely to choose the option at 40%, according to a report by benefits management technology provider Benefitfocus Inc.

The company analyzed enrollment data from 2,400 midsize employers using its technology platform.

The study found that 87% of midsize employers offer traditional plans – health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and PPOs.

Forty-three percent of employees opted to enroll in a PPO plan, and 14% chose an HMO, the study showed.

And while HDHPs are popular since they have low up-front costs in terms of premiums but high out-of-pocket expenses, only 13% of midsize employers offer them.

For employees enrolled in HDHPs, the average deductible for individual coverage was $2,382 last year for individual coverage and $4,889 for family coverage, the study found.

The average deductible in PPOs was $1,415 for individual coverage and $3,403 for family coverage. Interestingly, that qualifies the average PPO as an HDHP since the IRS defines an HDHP as a plan that has a deductible of $1,300 for single coverage and $2,600 for families.

The study also found that health savings accounts (HSAs) and flexible spending accounts (FSAs) are quite underutilized, which means many employees are leaving thousands of tax-free dollars on the table.

With out-of-pocket responsibility so high across all health plans, many employees might not be able to pay for unexpected medical costs. If you are not already doing so, you should consider offering either an HSA or FSA to help your employees set aside pre-tax funds to pay for medical expenses.

When copays and coinsurance are considered, employees are actually paying out much more for their health care. Across HDHPs and PPOs, the average out-of-pocket maximum ranges from 1.8 to 2.7 times its corresponding deductible amount.

 

Cadillac tax surprise

One issue that has received plenty of attention is the concern of many employers that their plans will be subject to the excise tax on health plans known as the “Cadillac” tax.

Although under current regulations the tax will not take effect until 2020, the 40% levy will apply to any portion of a health plan premium that is more than the threshold amount: $10,200 for individual plans and $27,500 for family plans.

That said, most plans are currently well below those thresholds. Average total premiums (the combination of what the employer and employee pay together) across all plans this year was $6,016 for individual plans and $14,885 for family plans.

However, some midsize employers may still be at risk of triggering the tax. Health care costs are projected to increase anywhere from 6% to 8% over the next few years. This would far outpace the rate of inflation, to which the Cadillac tax thresholds will be indexed.

As such, the cost cushion could be much thinner by 2020.

Getting around the Question of Spousal Coverage

Valentine Couple. Portrait of Smiling Beauty Girl and her Handsome Boyfriend making shape of Heart by their Hands. Happy Joyful Family. Love Concept. Heart Sign. Laughing Happy Lovers. Valentines Day

While the Affordable Care Act requires employers to offer coverage for employees’ adult children until the age of 26, it does not require them to offer coverage to their workers’ spouses.

As employers try to balance the costs of offering health coverage, spousal coverage is often on the table for cutting when making cost decisions. Many employers view offering spousal coverage as a way to keep up morale and serve as a recruitment and retention tool, but others consider the option a burden.

Cutting it out completely though is often a bitter pill for many employees to swallow, particularly if their spouse’s employer doesn’t offer coverage or if they don’t work. And if they are forced to go to a public insurance exchange, their bitterness could deepen further. What’s required is a diplomatic solution.

Instead of cutting it out completely, employee benefits experts suggest one of two ways to deal with the spousal coverage dilemma and reduce costs at the same time: a spousal carve-out or a spousal surcharge.

 

  1. Spousal carve-out

With this approach, the employer defines plan eligibility so that spouses are ineligible to participate if they are eligible for coverage at their own employer. As an employer, you need to consider the following if this is the way you want to go:

  • Will eligibility for any type of employer-sponsored coverage make the spouse ineligible? What if the spouse is only eligible for an employer-sponsored “mini-med” plan or other limited plan coverage?
  • Is the cost of the other employer-sponsored coverage a factor in determining eligibility? One common approach is to make the spouse ineligible for the plan only if the spouse’s cost of the other employer-sponsored coverage is less than a certain dollar amount.

 

Creative approach: Create a spousal carve-out program with an escape hatch that allows the spouse to remain on your plan if the price the spouse would have to pay for coverage under his or her own employer’s plan exceeds a specified threshold.

 

 

  1. Spousal surcharge

Charging a surcharge for spouses who are eligible for coverage at their own employer provides an incentive for spouses to choose to enroll in the other coverage, while still allowing eligibility in the employer’s plan for those who need it.

That said, this approach is an extra level of complexity in the communication and administration of benefits and payroll.

 

Creative approach: You can use a carrot instead of a stick. That is, give a monetary award to employees whose spouses switch from your plan to the spouse’s employer’s plan.

 

Verification

There are three ways to verify if a spouse has coverage through their employer:

  • Employee affidavit. Your employee signs a statement certifying that his or her spouse is ineligible for other employer-sponsored coverage.
  • Certification from the spouse’s employer. Have the spouse’s employer provide a letter stating that they are ineligible for health coverage. This approach may be difficult if the employer is not cooperative.
  • Eligibility audits. You can do spot-checking of employee spouses’ lack of access to coverage by randomly picking staff members and contacting each spouse’s employer, rather than seeking verification in every case.

Seven Tips for Navigating a Workers’ Comp Audit

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No business ever wants to be audited, but in the world of workers’ compensation insurance it’s a regular occurrence that does not need to be a stressful event.
A workers’ comp audit by your insurer is common for most mid-sized or larger employers, and the audit threshold in California is $16,000 or more in annual premium.
While many employers are used to audits and have their procedures and policies in place to ensure a smooth experience, some of you may be growing concerns that now are large enough to be subject to audits.
The key to a workers’ comp audit is preparation and having your paperwork (and electronic files) in order, so you can produce the required documents swiftly. We’ve prepared the following seven ways to prepare for an audit, and if you follow this advice it can save you stress and perhaps money.

1. Understand why you are being audited. Workers’ comp carriers base your premiums on your number and cost of any previous claims, your industry and your payroll. At the end of the policy, the insurer needs to audit your payroll to make sure that the payroll and class codes that you reported at the inception of the policy were correct and if they’ve changed during the last year. Remember that an audit can go both ways. The insurer’s auditor will be looking to see if you either owe or are owed money. You may have underestimated your payroll or incorrectly classified employees, or you may have overpaid due to similar classification errors.

2. Gather all records and paperwork requested by the auditor, and ensure that your documentation is in order. You’ll most likely be asked for the following:
• Employee records
• Payroll records
• Cash disbursements
• Certificates of insurance
• A detailed description of your business operations

3. Review prior audits. When you are preparing for an audit, go back further than your current policy year’s documents. Categorizing your employees correctly is what’s most important to ensure a smooth audit and not be hit by surprises. Knowing how your employees have been categorized in the past can help you make sure they’re categorized correctly in future audits.

4. Double-check the categorization for employees of subcontractors. This is one of those situations in which many small businesses have been overcharged by thousands of dollars in a single year because of an error. If your subcontractors carry their own workers’ compensation insurance, you aren’t responsible for paying premiums for them. If they don’t, you could be responsible for the exposure under your policy.

5. Don’t forget to keep track of overtime for your employees. Premiums are not calculated against the full overtime pay rate. Your workers’ compensation premiums aren’t calculated at a full overtime pay rate. Typically, the auditor will break out overtime pay and discount it to straight time. This is another situation that can cost you unnecessarily if your records aren’t accurate.

6. Don’t volunteer more information or records than the auditor asks for. This will help keep the audit focused and moving along, and avoid adding confusion and more questions that aren’t relevant to the audit.

7. Ask the auditor for the worksheet when the audit session is done, and then have us review it for accuracy. If you suspect there are mistakes in the worksheet, it’s your right to ask for a corrected audit.

Spending some time preparing for your next workers’ compensation audit is a worthwhile investment. With workers’ comp being one of your biggest expenses, you should not be paying any more than you need too, especially due to a small mistake.

Watch Out for the Newest Cyber Threat: Ransomware

ransom

The cyber-security stakes have gotten higher for enterprises with the recent news that a hospital in Los Angeles had to fork out $17,000 to pay cyber criminals after they crippled its network.

The ransomware that infected Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center and the ransom they had to pay the hackers to unlock their system reflect the newest danger facing any organization that has a computer network.

The hospital’s case is not an isolated one, and experts are warning that cyber criminals have increasingly switched their targets from big companies to small and mid-sized businesses as their networks are easier to infiltrate, largely because they cannot afford the same sophisticated network security as large companies can.

The “Symantec 2015 Internet Security Threat Report” found that more than half of all cyber attacks were directed at small and mid-sized business, with hackers using an array of attack methods.

The “2015 U.K. Government Security Breaches Survey” found that 74% of small organizations had reported a security breach in the last year.

According to the Symantec report, 52% of spear phishing attacks – which are carried out using fake e-mails that contain links to malicious code – were targeted against SMEs.

The issue of cyber security for small businesses is made even more pressing by state laws that can result in fines for organizations that fail to notify authorities and anybody whose personal data or credit card information may have been breached in an attack.

The most common types of attacks on SMEs include:

  • Ransomware – This is a piece of malicious software, typically received via a phishing e-mail, that encrypts all of the data on a company’s network, with the perpetrators requesting a ransom (typically $1,000 to $2,000) in order to provide the decryption key.
  • Hack attack – A hacker manages to gain access to a company’s network, typically by exploiting an unpatched vulnerability within the software, allowing them access to the company data. The target will generally be personally identifiable information on a company’s customers, especially credit card information, or employees whose Social Security numbers and other identifiable information may be exposed for the purposes of identity theft.
  • Denial of Service attack – This is when a company’s website is overwhelmed by a volume of data pushed to its servers in a malicious manner. These attacks are increasingly easy and cheap to carry out, with some online tools costing as little as $30 per hour.
  • Human error – People are generally the weakest link in any security chain, and many breaches are the result of information being lost, or distributed to the wrong person. Even the seemingly mundane can have far-reaching consequences, particularly where sensitive personally identifiable information is involved.
  • CEO fraud – This is where a criminal poses as a senior person within a firm, either by hacking or “spoofing” their e-mail account, and convinces someone with financial authority to make a payment.

 

What you can do

There are several simple steps you can take to reduce your chances of being attacked:

  • Use secure passwords that contain a combination of lower- and upper-case letters, digits and other symbols.
  • Install antivirus and malware software on all company devices, including any mobile devices. You should also install such apps on any of your employees’ mobile devices if they are using them for company business, particularly if they connect to your VPN or access your network.
  • Conduct regular software updates that contain vital security upgrades and educating staff on cyber risks. If you have software and are notified that it needs to be updated, don’t hesitate to do so.
  • Develop and implement e-mail, Internet and social media policies for your employees to follow. The policy should include the requirement that your employees don’t click on suspicious links and that they report any suspicious e-mails.

 

 

The Delicate Subject of Cash in Lieu of Coverage

hdhp building blocks

What if you hire a new employee, who rejects your offer of health benefits because they want to stay on their spouse’s plan and they ask for a higher rate of pay instead?

The “employer shared responsibility” requirement of the Affordable Care Act bars employers – with the threat of a $36,500 penalty – from giving an employee cash with which to purchase health insurance on their own.

But how about if you are just increasing their pay based on the fact that you are not shelling out a higher amount for the employer portion of their premium?

Employment law attorneys have been receiving more queries about how to deal with such a request, and in this article we’ll explore how employers can legally do so as long as they are willing to deal with the downsides and potential for conflict with regulators.

To make sure they protect themselves, some employers require employees that opt out of the company health plan to certify that they have other coverage. This is also a questionable move that can have certain ramifications for employers.

It is legal to offer employees cash in lieu of health plan benefits, but it has to be done appropriately through a cafeteria plan that includes a “cash-in-lieu” agreement. If they opt out for cash in the agreement, they will be taxed on those funds as if they were wages.

Just remember that:

  • Cash should not be provided to enable an employee to purchase an individual policy in the open market or an exchange.
  • The written language of your cafeteria plan must clearly state that each eligible employee has the option to either enroll in the benefits or receive cash.
  • The agreement must be under the auspices of your Section 125 cafeteria plan. It cannot be an oral arrangement. The language in your plan must include wording explaining that only those employees who choose the cash option will be taxed on the cash that they receive.
  • The cash amount must be uniform for all employees. If not, you could be creating another problem for yourself: that your plan could fail the non-discrimination test of the ACA.

 

What you should do

If you offer or are planning a cash-in-lieu arrangement, you should talk to us or an employee benefits attorney first. You need to make sure that:

  • You are not opening yourself up to scrutiny by regulators or the tax authorities, and the resulting penalties.
  • You ask if you should require that employees sign a statement affirming they have coverage from another source.
  • The option does not result in employees who opt in to your group health plan being taxed.
  • You offer the option only through a cafeteria plan.
  • Your Section 125 plan document is updated with the appropriate language to show that employees choose either to enroll in benefits or to receive cash.
  • Your plan-related materials are updated to ensure that the option is disclosed to all eligible employees.
  • All written waivers for coverage include the cash-in-lieu option, and that employees clearly indicate that they are waiving coverage that the employer has offered as required under the ACA and the employer mandate.
  • You offer the opt-out option to all eligible employees, not to just a select few.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Court Says Okay to Fire Medical Pot User Who Fails Drug Test

potlaw

As more and more states legalize marijuana for personal or medical use, employers have grown increasingly concerned about what they can and cannot do to enforce their existing drug policies.

A federal court in New Mexico has dismissed a case brought by an employee who was terminated after testing positive for marijuana, despite the worker having a medical marijuana card. The worker had claimed disability discrimination.

The lawsuit is a victory for employers who maintain a zero-tolerance policy towards drug use, even if it’s not being done at work.

In the case, Garcia vs. Tractor Supply Company, a new employee at a New Mexico company had told the hiring manager during his job interview that he was using marijuana for medical purposes (as allowed by state law) to alleviate his Aids symptoms.

Despite that, he was hired and, like all new hires, he was administered a drug test, which he failed.

The following day, he was fired in accordance with the company’s zero tolerance towards employee drug use.

Shortly thereafter, the employee filed a lawsuit accusing the company of disability discrimination and that under the Americans With Disabilities Act the employer was obliged to accommodate his medical condition by allowing his medical marijuana use.

The judge disagreed and dismissed Garcia’s claim.

 

What you need to know

While this case was in New Mexico, the federal court’s ruling mirrors similar cases in other states with medical marijuana laws or outright legal pot use, including California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado.

In each of these states, the highest court in the jurisdiction ruled that employers did not have to accommodate the medical marijuana by job applicants or current employees.

The gist of all these lawsuits and decisions is that even though a state decriminalizes pot for medicinal use, it does not mean that employers have to allow their workers to use it.

All of the courts have also cited the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Employers, then, can have policies that prohibit its use on the job, or even if an employee or job applicant tests positive for the drug.

That said, three states – Arizona, Connecticut and Delaware – have laws requiring employers to accommodate medical marijuana users.

So, even if you are located in a state where the law permits you to terminate anyone who fails a drug test, you need to make sure that you are enforcing your policies consistently in order to avoid legal liability.

If you let one of your employees get away with it, you would be eroding your chances of successfully defending a discrimination lawsuit if you fire another worker for medical pot use.

That’s because it might look like you are targeting that employee for punishment because of the underlying medical condition that led them to use marijuana in the first place.

In the above case, the court sided with Tractor Supply Company because it had enforced its policy consistently by terminating all others who had failed the company drug test. It also found no evidence of disability discrimination on the part of the employer.

Employment law attorneys also recommend that you train your managers to not make disparaging remarks about medical pot, particularly when interviewing prospective employees.

 

‘Cadillac Tax’ Delay Gives Employers Relief

cadillac tax dollar

Employers and their staff will get some relief for another few years from the impending “Cadillac” health insurance tax after Congress approved a delay as part of the budget deal it approved.

President Obama has said he will not veto the new budget, which means that the excise tax will not take effect until 2020, instead of 2018. While some analysts predict that the delay is a precursor to an outright repeal of the tax, benefits experts say it is unlikely to dampen ongoing efforts by employers to rein in their health insurance costs.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the Cadillac tax will be applied at a rate of 40% on any premium in excess of certain thresholds, currently set at $10,200 for an individual policy and $27,500 for family policies. Those thresholds will change annually based on the rate of inflation.

Under the law, health insurers are required to pay the tax, but they are expected to pass on the tax to group health plans, which will result in both employers and employees paying it in the end.

Employer groups lauded the delay. The Washington-based American Benefits Council, which counts mostly large employers as its members, said it considers the delay a “down payment on a full repeal.”

Other employer groups said they would use the extra time to further explore ways to keep their policies under the Cadillac threshold.

The tax is designed to dissuade the use of more expensive and generous plans, which many health care pundits blame for over-utilization of health services. The tax is also expected to help pay for subsidizing health insurance costs for low-income individuals purchasing plans through public exchanges.

Despite the delay, employers are likely continue to seek out ways to reduce their overall health insurance spend, which continues to increase every year, albeit at lower rates than we saw in the decade prior to the ACA.

Group health plan costs rose 3.8% in 2015 from the year prior to an average $11,635 per employee, according to Mercer Benefits.

 

Cadillac tax is serious business

According to an August 2015 survey by the National Business Group on Health, 72% of employers expected at least one of their benefit plans to hit the excise tax in 2020 if they didn’t control costs.

According to the bipartisan nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, delaying the Cadillac tax until 2020 would cost the government $16 billion. Repealing it would cost $91.1 billion over the next 10 years, the committee said recently.

There was another caveat in the budget bill. It requires the U.S. comptroller general and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to conduct a study of whether the ACA uses “suitable” benchmarks to determine if the tax should be adjusted to reflect age and gender factors in setting the thresholds for levy.

 

What you can do

According to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans’ “2015 Employer-Sponsored Health Care: ACA’s Impact Survey,” 34% of employers had started taking action to avoid triggering the 2018 Cadillac tax.
Actions include moving to a consumer-directed health plan (53%), reducing benefits (37%) and adopting wellness and preventive initiatives (28%).

You should run a financial projection to determine if your organization is expected to be affected by the Cadillac tax. If you expect to be impacted, talk to us about cost mitigation strategies and keep an eye out for upcoming proposed regulations.

As long as the tax hasn’t been repealed, the smart money is to stay on top of it.

Why Slips, Trips and Falls Are So Hard to Avoid

Slips, trips and falls constitute the majority of general industry accidents, cause 15% of all accidental deaths, and are second only to motor vehicles as a cause of fatalities.

With those stark realities, any employer that fails to guard against these preventable accidents is asking for an injury to occur. And despite all of American employers’ best efforts, slips trips and falls:

  • Result in more than 95 million lost work days per year (or about 65% of all work days lost).
  • Account for nearly 25% of all reported injury claims every year.
  • Accounted for a 17% increase in the number of deaths from such accidents in 2013, compared to the prior year.

 

Obviously, there is a disconnect between employer safety measures and the outcome.

A December 2014 survey of almost 1,300 safety professionals, carried out by Safety Daily Advisors, found the “big three” causes of slip, trip and fall incidents are:

  • Human factors – 54%
  • Wet or slippery surfaces – 25%
  • Poor housekeeping – 16%

 

While you can put in place stringent safety procedures, require fall-protection equipment and install non-skid surfaces, there is one thing that is hard to control: the human factor.

That’s why it’s important to instill in workers the importance of:

  • Immediately cleaning up spills,
  • Closing file drawers when done,
  • Picking up loose items from the floor,
  • Keeping aisles and walkways free from clutter, and
  • Keeping their personal workspace clean and orderly.

 

But it doesn’t pay to tell them once. Regular reminders can help instill safety mindedness like the above.

Slippery surfaces are one of the biggest challenges a business faces in protecting its employees – and customers, for that matter. It’s important, then, that you know in which types of area slippery surfaces are likely to occur. You should pay special attention to these high-risk areas:

  • Parking lots, especially in areas where water is pooling,
  • Sidewalks,
  • Food preparation areas, where grease and water can cause hazards, and
  • Non-carpeted entryways or lobbies.

 

Conduct walkway audits to identify safety issues, so that you can develop plans to eliminate them. The plans need to account for varying weather conditions.

Besides those physical aspects, also remind employees to wear proper shoes when it’s raining and not to rush when walking in those areas during rainy days.

The problem is that walking is something we do almost automatically and these days many people are distracted, reading and texting on their smart phones while walking, or maybe lost in thought about their weekend plans.

Distraction results in blindness to their surroundings. Moreover, their emotions, sense of urgency, fatigue or complacency can take over.

But training your employees to be more mindful in areas with slip, trip and fall hazards is not as simple as telling them to “pay attention” or “don’t get distracted.”

Changing behavior is not easy and it takes time and commitment, but the best solution is a behavior-based safety approach.

The first step you need to take is to help your employees become aware of unsafe habits and analyze their mistakes. These include:

  • Walking with caution and making wide turns at corners.
  • Test footing before committing weight.
  • Opening doors with caution.
  • Using railings on stairs.
  • Ensuring there are three points of contact on ladders and equipment.
  • Looking before moving.
  • Wearing appropriate footwear.
  • Being aware of weather forecasts.
  • Pushing (rather than pulling) carts to allow a better line of sight.
  • Keeping eyes and mind on task; no multitasking.
  • No texting or talking on phone while walking.
  • Being alert for trip hazards.
  • Recognizing dangers of walking on ice.
  • Taking designated walkways, rather than shortcuts.
  • Not wearing sunglasses in low-light areas.
  • Reporting all potential hazards.

 

It will take time and effort to change employees’ perception of risk and personal responsibility. But with a proactive approach that builds a culture and fosters an attitude and behavior that puts safety first, workplace injuries will be reduced.

 

On your end, you can:

  • Implement good housekeeping practices.
  • Provide proper lighting, traction aids and require safe footwear.
  • Keep walking surfaces clean and in good repair.
  • Install railings and guards.
  • Display warning signs in high-risk areas (‘slippery when wet’-type signs).

safety-poster