office_holiday_party__behaviorCompany holiday parties can be an opportunity to celebrate and bond with your employees, but the combination of gift giving, religious celebration, and alcohol can leave employers open to problems if the festivities aren’t planned carefully.

  1. Be Inclusive!– Companies should attempt to create a holiday party that all employees feel comfortable attending. It’s good practice to put less emphasis on the religious significance of the holidays and more on good cheer.
  2. Providing Alcohol– If serving alcohol is a must, consider holding the party off company property, perhaps at a bar or restaurant. Limit the amount of alcohol served with a drink ticket system or assign a designated person to look out for visibly intoxicated employees. If the party is on company property, consider hiring a caterer or professional bartender, who is trained at serving drinks and recognizing visibly intoxicated individuals.

Note: In many states, like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, an employer acting as a “social host” can be liable for injuries to a third party if the employer serves alcohol to a visibly intoxicated individual. Make sure that all liability insurance for the company is up to date and find out if the caterer, restaurant, or bartender carries its own liability insurance.

  1. Attendance– Inform your employees that attendance at the party is voluntary. Also consider allowing employees to bring guests to the party. Employees are less likely to get drunk and unruly when their spouses and significant others are with them.
  2. Sexual Harassment Policy–Employees should be reminded that harassment, jokes, and sexual advances are not tolerated, and that alcohol does not provide an excuse to engage in these prohibited behaviors.
  3. Secret Santa and Gift Giving in the Workplace– Just like holiday parties, Secret Santa, and other forms of gift exchange surface during the holiday season. It’s important to set parameters for appropriateness, inclusivity, and price. And like any other workplace holiday activities, holiday gift giving should be voluntary. No employee should be forced to participate in secret Santa.

Getting into the spirit of the holidays should be a positive experience that the entire workplace can enjoy. By proactively planning ahead, employers can create a holiday party that is safe, inclusive, and fun. Happy Holidays!

Two journalists for the TV news station WDBJ in Virginia were killed Wednesday morning while they were broadcasting live at a shopping center about an hour southeast of Roanoke, Va.

Reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were doing a live report when a gunman opened fire, killing Parker and Ward and injuring Vicki Gardner, the head of a local Chamber of Commerce.

The suspect in the shooting was quickly identified as Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, a former reporter for the station who was also known as Bryce Williams.

In an interview with CNN, Jeffrey A. Marks, WDBJ-TV's general manager, said Flanagan was hired as a reporter, but about two years ago he was fired. During a separate broadcast on his network, Marks said Flanagan had filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after he was fired.

After shooting a Virginia reporter and her cameraman at point blank this morning, Flanagan reportedly faxed ABC News a 23-page manifesto before calling the network to confess his involvement. In portions of the document, which were published today by the network, Flanagan expresses admiration for other recent mass shootings and claims he was mistreated because he was a gay black man.

In the manifesto he says: • He says has suffered racial discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying at work. • He says he has been attacked by black men and white females. • He talks about how he was attacked for being a gay, black man

This incident serves as a fresh reminder to companies that workplace violence poses a significant threat, especially when employees have reason to be disgruntled, such as after a firing. Often, there are clues leading up to the incident.

There are generally indicators prior to an act of violence. You have to look for the signs and signals. Do they own weapons? Do they seem angry? Do they make threatening statements?

Other indicators might include irritability, extreme mood changes, emotional distress, history of mental illness, frequent disputes with coworkers and superiors, often accompanied by significant changes in appearance.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, FBI and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a study and found that in 2013, 397 fatal workplace injuries in the United States were classified as homicides, which works out to 9% of all workplace deaths.

So what can you do to prevent workplace violence? 1. Create a prevention policy involving each level of the organization, with clear codes of conduct. 2. Set up procedures to handle complaints impartially, confidentially and quickly. These should include measures to prevent any recurrence of harassment and other types of workplace violence. 3. Take time to organize and provide access to awareness and training sessions on the prevention of workplace violence. 4. Deal with conflicts swiftly, and from the moment they begin. Harassment and violence stem from unresolved conflicts that fester. They can degenerate and turn the workplace into a hostile environment and create negative occurrences that are violent and costly. 5. Promote communication and regular meetings of your work teams. Strong lines of communication will not only rally employees against violence, they also reduce the risk of workplace violence by defusing tensions and clarifying situations and misunderstandings. 6. Manage work teams to help prevent and resolve violent situations.

Need guidance on how to create your prevention policy, and communicate it to your employees? Call your HR Advisor today!

uber-lyft-logo.originalWhile many companies still think of the term “employment relationship” as defined by strictly traditional roles and classifications, emerging technologies and federal regulations have created a new economic and business model. This “sharing economy” where software connectivity is used to bridge and share resources has blurred the lines so that it is no longer a simple matter for an employer to categorize workforce staff as either employees or independent contractors.

Ride share operators Uber and Lyft were both hit with class action lawsuits on behalf of their drivers who contend that their employment relationship extends beyond that of a traditional independent contractor, and that they are in fact employees who are entitled to reimbursement for expenses and other benefits.

Uber has consistently represented itself as a “technology company,” not a transportation company, and considers its software merely a “lead generation platform” that connects passengers with drivers. The driver’s contract with Uber specifically states that the driver will "expressly agree that this Agreement is not an employment agreement or employment relationship."

From a traditional point of view, this lawsuit should never make it to court. Yet in a move that surprised traditional corporations and emerging startups alike, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California denied both Uber and Lyft’s motions to dismiss the suit. The order clearly validates the Plaintiffs claims, and clears the path for the lawsuit to be heard before the court.

Upon examining the Order (Case No. 13-cv-03826-EMC and 13-cv-04065-VC) it is apparent that merely having a hiree sign a document stating that they are an independent contractor does not technically classify them as such. The court considers many factors when determining the employment relationship status:

  • Whether the one performing services is engaged in a distinct occupation or business;
  • The kind of occupation, with reference to whether, in the locality, the work is usually done under the direction of the principal or by a specialist without supervision;
  • The skill required in the particular occupation;
  • Whether the principal or the worker supplies the instrumentalities, tools, and the place of work for the person doing the work;
  • The length of time for which the services are to be performed;
  • The method of payment, whether by the time or by the job;
  • Whether or not the work is a part of the regular business of the principal; and
  • Whether or not the parties believe they are creating the relationship of employer-employee.


While much of this falls under “California’s Test Of Employment” and subsequent regulations, "the test the California courts have developed over the 20th century for classifying workers isn’t very helpful in addressing this 21st century problem,” Judge Chhabria stated in his order dismissing the Lyft motion. The outcome of these lawsuits will set a major precedent and likely set in place new definitions that further refine how employees and contractors are defined, and what benefits they are entitled to.

REFERENCES O-Conner v. Uber Technologies, Inc. - Court Order 13-cv-03826-EMC

Cotter v. Lyft, Inc – Court Order 13-cv-04065-VC


Ray Rice (Image: File) Ray Rice (Image: File)

Running back Ray Rice was released by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL, the same day a shocking video surfaced showing Rice punching Janay Palmer, who was his fiancée at the time, inside an elevator at a hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, seven months ago.

The NFL has previously said that Rice entered a pretrial intervention program in May. Under the program, he won't be prosecuted, and the felony charge -- one count of third-degree aggravated assault -- will be expunged after one year.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has already been scrutinized for suspending Rice for just two games, months after the first video aired. Many felt the suspension wasn't enough, and in August, the commissioner himself agreed.

Goodell stated “my disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

What do you think?  Did the NFL get it right?  Should the initial reaction and punishment have been more severe?  Many feel that Rice should have received a lifetime suspension from the NFL as soon as the domestic violence was discovered, others feel the punishment too harsh and the NFL should have been more sympathetic and offered counseling.

Ray Rice is not the only professional sports player to have been involved in a domestic abuse case, he's just the most recent and most publicized.  Teams and leagues take the stance that domestic violence is not their issue to address and that the should not intervene with the criminal justice system.

Each year more than one million people in the United States report a violent assault by an intimate partner.  Domestic violence, and how to handle it, should be a concern for every employer.

Domestic violence affects the employee’s health and safety, increases employer’s health care costs and decreases productivity.  As an employer, you may be hesitant to address domestic violence because of a desire to respect the employee’s privacy, uncertainty of the employer’s role, and the need for guidance.

Domestic violence in the workplace is broad and can happen both on and off the worksite.  Domestic violence in the workplace includes all behavior that interferes with the employee’s capability to safely and securely perform their duties at work.  The conduct can include harassing phone calls, showing up to the victim’s worksite, to homicide. Domestic violence off the worksite can also affect the employee through sleep deprivation and physical injuries, which can affect their ability to perform their job.

Supervisors face one of the most challenging aspects of domestic violence as a workplace issue: what to say to an employee who the supervisor believes is being abused or is an abuser, and how to say it in a way that is respectful of his or her privacy.

What can you do?  Treat domestic violence as a business issue.  The workplace is where victims of domestic violence spend 8 hours a day, and it can be an ideal place for them to get help and support. When employers address domestic violence as it affects the workplace, they have the power to save money…and save lives.

For more information on how you can develop policies on domestic abuse and provide training to your supervisors and managers please contact us!