HR Elements February 2014
Ideas and Information for Human Resources Professionals

Inclement Weather Policies

With record-breaking snowfall and low temperatures this winter, companies have had to revisit their inclement weather policies in order to keep employees safe and content. Those that have clearly written policies and procedures are ahead of the game as they are better able to inform their employees of closings and delays quickly and efficiently, thus reducing confusion and increasing employee production.

While many employers think that if they are in warm weather states, they don’t need a policy, but those employers should look at whether they’re in an area that can experience other natural disasters. Flooding, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, dust storms, brush fires, etc. can all wreak havoc on any business.

According to an article in SHRM: Society for Human Resource Management magazine, companies are not required to have an inclement weather policy, but they would be wise to address what employees should do if they’re concerned about coming in to work if conditions are not safe. Moreover, companies should have a communications plan in place on what to do should their business need to close for any reason.

If a company is drafting an inclement weather policy, the first step needed is to determine how employees will be notified of a closure or delay. Will they receive a phone call, text message, email, etc. or will they need to visit a website, dial into a special hotline, watch the local news, or listen to the radio? Of these, email is often the least reliable simply because some employees may not have it.

Once a method or methods of delivery have been established, a company will need to designate a specific person or group of people (e.g., department heads, supervisors, etc.) to make a decision to close or delay and to communicate these announcements. If employees are absolutely essential and must come in regardless of conditions, or if the office is closed, they will need to be identified. These expectations must be clearly conveyed to those vital employees.

A company will also need to consider what to do when an employee chooses to voluntarily stay at home. Whether this is addressed in the employee handbook or elsewhere, a system should be in place for missing work for any reason, and the system needs to be communicated. For example, can hourly employees use vacation time to cover a weather-related day off or delay in arriving for work or will they be allowed to make up the time? If employees are nonexempt, then a company is only required to pay them for the time they worked. Exempt employees, on the other hand, generally must be paid their full salary. If exempt employees choose to stay away from the office, will they be expected to telecommute or do other types of work-related duties? Procedures will need to be provided to employees as to who they need to contact and how to report that they are voluntarily staying at home.

Finally, a company should always emphasize that employees should place their safety as the number one priority when deciding whether or not to report to work. Does a company want to be so demanding that it is willing to risk the safety of its employees? Furthermore, an employer should realize that an employee may need to stay home in inclement weather due to something beyond their control. For example, they could live in a rural area that has not had the snow plowed/removed yet, their house could be flooded, or the power could be out, their children’s school could be closed, or a babysitter may not be available.

Employers with rigid policies may find that quality workers are not willing to stay with the company, or are becoming overly stressed with worries of whether they need to place the needs of the company over their own well-being. When that happens, employees may start using fake excuses not to come in to work, or they may resent an employer for causing undue hardship. This doesn’t mean that an employer needs to be overly lenient with its employees, but a fair, equitable, and clearly communicated inclement weather plan will go a long way to having good employee relations.

Did you know...
UBA has a certified solution provider specifically for disaster recovery? E
vents such as power blackouts or a broken water pipe can be just as disruptive for companies as a major natural disaster. For information on how you can protect your business with a service that can provide power, technology, workspaces, and connectivity for businesses in need, contact your UBA Partner Firm and ask about Agility Recovery.


Wearable Technology in the Workplace

More people are carrying various electronic devices on them at all times. Some of these are already in the workplace such as cell phones, MP3 players, and tablets. However, as technology evolves, a leading-edge trend is for wearable technology. As with all technology, it will take some time for this to become accepted as mainstream and commonplace at work. For human resources, this presents new challenges.

An article in Human Resource Executive Online sheds some light on the issues that all HR professionals will need to face in the not-to-distant future – unless they’re with a tech-driven company in which they’re probably facing this issue now. Early adopters of this technology embrace it because if they're wearing it, then it’s something they don’t have to keep track of.

If you’re unfamiliar with what “wearable technology” is, then think about the common wristwatch. It serves the function of telling time (and in many cases it can do much more), it’s convenient, it’s fashionable, and it can also serve as a status symbol. Today’s emerging technology takes the watch to the next level. If a watch can only tell time, the date, and has a stopwatch function, then it’s considered old. So-called “smart watches” can now link to a cell phone, perform tasks such as smart phone and tablet apps, and link to a health device to monitor heart rate, distance walked, and many other functions.

An even further leap in wearable technology involves eyeglasses. The leader in this technology is Google with their product Google Glass. While it looks like an ordinary pair of eyeglasses, it can do almost anything a smart phone can do, but in the blink of an eye. The wearer benefits from improved mobility, connectivity to cell towers and the Internet, the ability to run applications, and the heightened engagement with immediate surroundings.

Finally, there are RFID (radio frequency identification) chips that provide GPS location tracking data. This technology can be used to eliminate the need for time cards and the recording of mileage. It can also be used for security to monitor if an employee is somewhere he/she shouldn’t be.


Let’s first look at the benefits of wearable technology to the workplace. Improving productivity and safety are two initial benefits that come to mind, but the possibilities are truly endless. For example, someone wearing smart eyeglasses can interact with the device via speech and eye movement while keeping both hands free to perform a complex task or use gloves that would prevent the use of a keyboard or tablet device. Video recordings can also easily be made to determine whether an employee is performing a task quickly and correctly. Smart watches can be wirelessly linked to biometric or other health monitors so that employees who work with hazardous chemicals, or who undergo severe physical strain, can be alerted to when they need to take breaks, be aware of potential chemical exposure, or prevent a driver from falling asleep behind the wheel. All this can further help reduce claims for worker’s compensation due to injuries or health-related causes.


As with anything that provides a benefit, there is a consequence. For wearable technology, that comes with concerns over employee privacy. Anytime an employer collects data/information about an employee, it needs to be careful about what it collects, how that data is used, and whether the information is secure.

Another situation in which privacy issues can arise is when the employee uses that device for personal reasons. For example, the wearer may record private conversations in violation of company policy and/or federal and state wiretapping laws.

How will the employer address the privacy issues that will arise when the employee takes the wearable device into the restroom, changing room, or other private area? Of equal concern is what to do about inadvertent disclosures such as an unflattering conversation about a supervisor, or even the company – especially if the employer then terminates that employee.

If you think that smart eyeglasses are the only risk to business, then think again. Biometric scanners, while beneficial, can also inadvertently reveal a physical disability, illness, and even if an employee is pregnant.

Companies that use wearable technology will need to tailor this equipment specifically for the chosen application. In addition, they would need to formulate policies for strict limitations on when, where, and how the device may be used including possible automatic controls to turn it off or render it unusable. The bottom line is that the quicker both the employer and employee acclimate to wearable technology, the more likely they are to use it correctly, responsibly, and to its full potential.


Tying In A Health Savings Account

Ask any employer that has a wellness program and their goal is to have a positive impact on their employees. In order to have that, however, employers constantly focus on how to increase worker participation. As can be expected, this is a challenging endeavor, but some new and ground-breaking tactics are being used.

One of these tactics is to tie-in a wellness program with a health savings account (HSA). Typically, an HSA allows employees to use money that’s tax free to pay for health care expenses such as medicine, first aid items, or other qualified costs.

According to Employee Benefit News, one way that employees are making HSAs work together with a wellness program is to partially fund an employee’s HSA. This is the incentive to get them interested in the account in the first place. Then, the employer can influence participation in the wellness program by requiring workers to meet specific health criteria. For example, an employer can require that employees complete a health risk assessment in order for the money to be deposited into their HSA.

By taking the health risk assessment, an employee becomes more aware of their physical well-being while at the same time creating a desire to do something to improve their health. It also allows the company to control and perhaps even reduce their health care costs by incentivizing employees to follow a wellness program designed to help them become healthy – or maintain their already healthy lifestyle.

Not only is this a win-win for both parties, but it can be a way for employers to use this tactic with other internal health-related programs. Of course, it’s up to the employer to implement this tactic and educating its employees is a key provision to making it work effectively.

A number of legal requirements apply to this type of arrangement, so always consult with knowledgeable advisors before proceeding.

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 In This Edition


UBA Benefit Opinions Survey
Employers who complete the survey by March 10, 2014, receive an exclusive complimentary report!

The 2014 UBA Benefit Opinions Survey provides employers who participate with critical data that allow them to compare their attitudes and strategies regarding employer-provided health care with those of their peers and competitors. The survey compiles information from employers representing all major industry classifications, employee size categories and regions of the country, and delineates employers’ opinions in five key areas:

  • Health Plan Strategies
  • Benefits Philosophy and Opinion
  • Health Plan Management
  • Personal Health Management
  • Employee Communications

According to UBA's Director of Survey Jason Reeves, a substantial benefit from this survey is that employers will learn strategies that are actually being implemented, rather than simply discussed. Perhaps more importantly, employers will also learn which strategies are actually working.  Furthermore, when you consider the dramatic increase in employer concern about meeting regulatory requirements, it is critical for employers to have access to this type of information in addition to seeking the advice of a qualified advisor.

Health plan strategies, philosophy, management, and communications have become a critical focus for employers evaluating their options to comply with health care reform and remain competitive. Nearly 80% of all employers continue to be firmly committed to the value of providing health benefits to active employees and their dependents and more than 95% believe good benefits help attract and retain employees according to the previous survey results.

Note: The survey is open through March 10. To participate in this survey, please contact your UBA Partner Firm and request your custom survey link.

Employers who participate in the 2014 UBA Benefit Opinions Survey will receive a complimentary electronic synopsis of the final report. If you have any questions regarding this survey, please contact us at


Employer Webinar Series
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March Webinar
Day & Time To Be Determined

We are revisiting the topic and speakers for the March employer webinar in view of the new employer-shared responsibility regulations. We will provide registration information as soon as the topic, time, and speakers are confirmed.

Check your inbox frequently for an email invitation along with details on this important webinar. Thank you for your patience!


According to an article in Human Resource Executive Online, California has further restricted criminal background checks. California SB530 amends the California Labor Code to prohibit public and private employers from asking job applicants about criminal records that have been expunged, sealed, or dismissed. The bad news for business is that it represents another hurdle with which they must contend. What’s worse is that there is still plenty of confusion about what’s required of employers under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidelines on criminal background checks. If anything, this underscores that employers must make sure they carefully review their policy on background checks.

President Barack Obama is offering more Americans the chance to put away money for retirement through payroll deductions with a plan for new government-sponsored savings accounts. According to a Bloomberg article, the accounts, which Obama announced in a State of the Union address, will be aimed at workers who don’t have access to a 401(k) plan. The “MyRA” plans will be similar to individual retirement accounts. Under the proposal, workers could have part of their pay deducted for deposit into an account invested in U.S. government bonds that would be treated for tax purposes as a Roth individual retirement account, with future earnings tax-free. A
ccording to a White House fact sheet, the accounts would be open to people with an annual household income up to $191,000 whose employers choose to participate.

The growing prevalence of workplace bullying could lend substantial support to many states' efforts to outlaw the behavior. In an article in Business Insurance, 68% of employers surveyed last year by Utica, New York-based Zogby International indicated that workplace bullying is a serious problem. Since 2003, as many as 25 states have attempted to pass legislation that would permit employees to sue their employers for creating or failing to remedy an abusive work environment — one in which employees have been caused significant physical or mental harm, or experienced an established pattern of targeted employment actions against them.

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