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Think Carefully Before Imposing English Only Rules in The Workplace

A clothing store recently restricted three employees from speaking Spanish in the workplace. In turn, they sued stating that it was a violation of their civil liberties as well as discriminatory behavior.

The complaint says that the company’s human resources department was detached and dismissive to the worker’s concerns. They ignored phone calls, voicemails. They failed to take any action on behalf of the employees.

To make matters worse, the employees in question were told they would lose their jobs if they continued speaking in Spanish. They also faced other disciplinary actions.

The store’s parent company denies having an English-only requirement. Sadly, their store’s actions tell a different story.

So what does the law say?

At the Federal level the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission takes a dim view of “Speak English Only Rules.”

  • A rule requiring employees to speak English at all time including breaks and lunches will rarely be justified
  • English-only rules must be limited to ensure safety or operational efficiency.
  • The ability to take disciplinary action against employees violating English-only rules is limited.

States have their own rules as well.

For example, California state law allows employers to limit language used while employees are on duty. This is only permissible as long as such a requirement is warranted by necessity.

In other words, the company must have the ability to clearly demonstrate that a language restriction has “an overriding reasonable business purpose”. Such purposes are limited in scope. One purpose could be to ensure safety. Another purpose could be to ensure proper corporate procedures are followed.

Companies seeking to implement an English only language plan must be able to clearly defend it. They have to demonstrate that it comes from more than a simple choice for English in the workplace.

For example, a hospital could make the case that having a common single language is required for a couple of reasons:

  • To ensure the safety of all team members as well as patients.
  • To ensure hospital procedures are reliably executed.

If a business is thinking about embracing English-only policies, it needs to be able to demonstrate necessity of the policy. It also must have a solid implementation plan that is well vetted to ensure it doesn’t cross the line into discrimination. Talking with legal counsel that specializes in this area of law is necessary.

According to Tyler Paetkau of the law firm Harnett, Smith, &Paetkau of Redwood City, CA, his comment was simple. “Typically, the suggestion is proceed with caution.”

If a company is determined to embrace an English-only policy, it must ensure that there is accompanying worker training and that workers clearly understand what disciplinary actions they may face if violating the rule.

And be mindful that a more flexible policy may be appropriate. For example, a company may require retail staff members to speak in English on the sales floor. But if a patron requests help in Spanish and the sales rep speaks Spanish, the employee would be allowed to conduct business in Spanish for the purpose of that specific transaction.

Where English-only rules tend to run into issues is when they are overreaching. For example, insisting that workers speak in English while on breaks or when making personal calls. This is a clear violation of Federal statute.

The issue here is liability and making sure the company isn’t exposed to claims of discrimination.

Having a well-constructed policy built with the help of legal council is clearly critical. But we also recommend you consider EPL insurance. (Also called EPLI or Employment Practices Liability Insurance. It offers critical coverage to employers. It’s designed to protect the company against claims made by employees alleging things like discrimination (based on sex, race, age, or disability), harassment, wrongful termination, and other employer-employee related issues.

For further thoughts on managing all forms of your corporate risk and adequately protecting your company, be sure to reach out to us.

So, how much insurance do you need for your new business?

Opening up shop? Wondering what kind of insurance coverage you might need? Chances are you’ll likely need to protect yourself. You have to watch out for things like liability claims, injuries, accidents, damage to equipment, and burglary as well. It’s enough to give a person an ulcer.

So how do you know if you have the right business insurance for your needs? And how can you be sure you are getting a great deal on your coverage?

We’re certainly here to help you with that!

Talking with an independent insurance agent will help you figure out which kinds of commercial coverage are most appropriate for your company. And being independent means we can work with multiple carriers… that means you have a choice!

Getting help for your business insurance is a smart choice. You likely save time. You’ll also get the benefit of working with someone who knows the right questions to ask to help really understand your risk profile. (Getting a full assessment of your needs is critical to be sure you aren’t over-insured or under-insured.)

So what are the kinds of business insurance you may need to consider? It all depends on the business you are in but your insurance needs will include one or more of the following:

  • General Liability Insurance
  • Workers Compensation
  • Commercial Vehicle
  • Information Breach Protection

Sometimes these insurances will be sold separately. However, they are often packaged together into a BOP (business owner’s policy.) A BOP may include discounts vs. buying the coverage separately.

Working with a seasoned professional will help you make informed decisions. They’ll ask tough questions to make sure you’ll balance your potential risk exposure with cost savings options. (Many business owners we work with are surprised to learn how they might be exposed and how costly a potential loss could be.

Making sure you have the right coverage to protect your business investment is critical! After all, you want to be certain your company can be around to serve your clients should a disaster strike. Having this sort of peace of mind allows you to concentrate your energy on what you love & do best… building your business and helping your clients.

So skip the ulcer. If you’re thinking about starting a small business or if you already have one, be sure you chat with us about your insurance options.

How to Create an Energized Work Force


The notion of a 40-hour workweek is disappearing for many. 50+ hour work-weeks have become common. Many individuals go so far as to sleep with their iPhones turned on so they can respond instantly, 24/7, as needed.

The biggest problem with this is that it leads to workers being tired and disengaged. Worse, workers suffer greater tension and make more judgment errors.

The core question: are humans capable of working constantly without rest?

The answer, of course, is no.

As a business, it is important to be mindful of how employees are treated as they are a company’s greatest asset. Happy, engaged employees lead to greater client satisfaction and retention.

So how can one economically create this “ideal” workforce?

Begin with health…

  • The average worker spends more than 9 hours a day being sedentary. To combat this it is recommended that you create more frequent break opportunities that allow for bursts of activity. Movement is key. These small 5 to 10 minute breaks should allow the worker to “break out” and go for walks, take in fresh air, etc.
  • Tip: New Balance – an athletic wear company found that by allowing people time to move around each day those workers were more energized and more purposeful in their work.

Find ways to make work manageable…

  • Help team members find possibilities rather than concentrating on problems.
  • Empower workers to help others on their team.
  • Encourage opportunities to learn from co-workers.
  • Make sure that the pursuit of goals involves each employee.
  • Maintain an honest, open, and encouraging flow of communication.

Help workers connect with purpose…

  • First, understand that earning a paycheck is the beginning of why people join a company, but they often want more.
  • People are energized when they are having fun and when they are involved in meaningful work.
  • Make sure team members understand the big picture driving the company and how their work matters to accomplishing those larger goals.

Offer creative benefits…

  • Talk with a benefits specialist about ways you can create affordable and engaging benefits for your employees… possibilities include:
    • Travel opportunities.
    • Create opportunities to earn prizes.
    • Offer employees access to free financial advice.
    • Give people their birthday as an extra paid holiday.
    • Open up to flexible work schedules.
    • Find creative ways to recognize team members.

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act Expiring

Will Your Workers Compensation Insurance Premiums Skyrocket if the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act Expires?

Created by Congress after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that resulted in $40 billion in insured losses, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) is set to expire in December 2014. According to RAND researchers, the results could be devastating to businesses, significantly affecting the cost and availability of workers compensation coverage.

What is the Purpose of the TRIA?

After September 11, 2001, deemed by many the most expensive manmade catastrophe in insurance history, the reinsurers that absorbed most of the losses began to exclude acts of terrorism from their policies. This resulted in an extreme scarcity of terrorism reinsurance and led to issues with availability and affordability in a number of commercial property and casualty (P&C) insurance lines.

Congress passed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002 to guarantee the availability of commercial P&C insurance that covered acts of terrorism. The act requires that these insurers offer policyholders coverage that includes losses due to terrorism—and that they do so on the same terms as their non-terrorism coverage. The act also established the Terrorism Insurance Program, which they designed to protect the insurers from catastrophic losses due to another major terrorism event.

Since its enaction, terrorism insurance has been widely available. According to RAND, 62 percent of U.S. businesses in 2013 had property insurance that covered losses due to terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, with the potential expiration of the TRIA at the end of this year, the private insurance industry is once again concerned about its ability to cover terrorism risk.

Why Will This Affect Workers Compensation?

Employers are required to provide no-fault compensation for medical expenses and lost wages to employees who are victims of work-related injuries or illnesses. Workers compensation insurance assists them in meeting this obligation.

While an act of terrorism is unlikely to relate directly to an employee’s job, one injured at work during such an act may file a workers compensation claim under the “positional risk” doctrine. Covering cases where the employee was in harm’s way though the cause was not related to employment, this doctrine encompasses most terrorism scenarios (including everyone in the World Trade Center on 9/11).

In the event of a large conventional terrorism attack, RAND estimates workers compensation losses could be more than $10 billion. Losses increase to more than $300 billion in the event of a nuclear attack. Under the TRIA, much of the risk of these catastrophic losses has been transferred to the federal government. If congress allows the act to expire, workers compensation insurers will have to reabsorb these risks on their own. According to RAND, they are likely to raise premiums for high-risk accounts, decline policies for high-risk accounts, or withdraw from the market altogether as a result.

If considered a high-risk employer, a business might find its premiums so high that it has to reduce its labor force to compensate. This could reduce incomes nationwide and inhibit economic growth. And should another terrorism attack occur after TRIA expires, businesses and taxpayers within the attack area would likely find themselves on the hook for financing workers compensation losses.

What Should You Do?

At present, the future of the TRIA is uncertain. You may want to plan ahead for any eventuality by discussing your workers compensation insurance coverage with your business insurance professional.




Three Ways to Clean up Your Email Subscriber List

Despite the rise of social media, email is still the marketing mainstay of many businesses—and the numbers show us why. According to the Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, worldwide email accounts will increase 27 percent between 2014 and 2018, from 4.1 billion to more than 5.2 billion. Additionally, the number of worldwide email users—both business and consumer—will increase 12 percent during the same period. Whatever your industry, chances are excellent that most of your customers are on email and willing to subscribe to communications from your company.

Of course, any email subscriber list you use—whether prospects you’ve purchased from a vendor or generated from your current customers—is only as good as the data it contains. If it’s outdated—leading to repeated emails sent to bad or non-existent email addresses—it’s more than a waste of time; it can potentially damage your reputation with email service providers. Fortunately, a few simple steps can help you keep your email subscriber list in great condition. Consider these three ways to clean it up today.

1. Eliminate any distribution email addresses. These are generic addresses that distribute received emails to multiple parties within an organization. They often begin with “sales,” “support” or “questions” and are rarely beneficial from a marketing standpoint because they distribute your message to individuals who did not ask for it and who may report it as SPAM.

2. Review your bounce reports. Emails may “bounce” for numerous reasons. A “non-existent” bounce may be due to an email address that no longer exists or has a typo within it. Go through the emails with this designation in the report and see if there are any you can correct. If not, discard them.

An “undeliverable” bounce means that the server that houses the email address is either temporarily down or not found. A “blocked” bounce means that the server that houses the email address is not allowing the email to enter. Review your bounce report for emails with undeliverable and blocked designations. If the report repeatedly labels them as such, discard them.

3. Look at your email “opens” and “clicks.” If you’re sending communications through an email marketing service, you should be able to review a list of the prospects or customers who opened your latest missive as well as those who clicked on links within it. If you notice individuals in your list who consistently fail to open or click links within your marketing emails, consider reaching out to them with a special offer to encourage re-engagement.

You might extend a special discount, a free eBook or anything else that’s of value to the reader of this “We Miss You” message. Make sure your unsubscribe link is prominently displayed so those who are truly no longer interested in your product or service are prompted to opt out.

Before you abandon your email marketing efforts in favor of social media, try cleaning up your subscriber list. The minimal time spent is likely to be well worth the results—according to McKinsey & Company, a global management-consulting firm, email is almost 40 times better at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.






Starting a Blog for Your Business

According to HubSpot, an inbound marketing software company, nearly 40 percent of U.S. businesses have a blog for marketing purposes. If you’re not among them, it’s time to think about joining the ranks of business bloggers. Not only will it provide a vehicle for sharing engaging stories about your business, products and services, a well-maintained blog can also improve your search engine ranking and ultimately lead to more customers in the form of inbound leads. Consider the following steps to get started:

1. Identify your business blog goal and purpose.

While your ultimate goal will be to promote your business, you need to do so subtly. The best blogs are not overtly promotional but instead provide readers (customers and potential customers) with articles and tips they will find helpful. The purpose of your blog should be to present your company as the best source of information in your industry. This purpose will drive your content creation strategy.

2. Choose your blogging platform

There are many platform options available for building and publishing your business blog—from free programs to fee for service platforms. WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Svbtle and HubSpot frequently appear on lists of the best. To maximize your results, experts recommend choosing one that you can install on your domain and integrate with your website.

3. Commit to blogging regularly.

You should fill your blog with relevant content, updating it with new posts regularly. Once you’ve brainstormed a list of suitable topics, create an editorial calendar that includes who on your team will write each blog post, the date the content is due, and the date you intend to publish it.

In their 2013 Marketing Benchmarks study, HubSpot found that companies that blog 15 or more times each month got five times more traffic to their website than those that don’t blog at all. Companies that increased their blog frequency from three to five times a month to six to eight times a month almost doubled their leads.

4. Create a plan for generating blog traffic.

Your blog will be of little use if your customers and potential customers don’t know about it or cannot find it. Great ways to generate blog traffic include:

  • Search engine optimized blog posts.
  • Promotion on your company’s social media pages (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+).
  • Weekly email blasts to your database with excerpts from recent posts.
  • Eye-catching links to the blog from your company’s home page.
  • Including links to your blog in your staffs’ email signatures.

According to Social Media Today, an independent online community for professionals in public relations, marketing and advertising, small businesses with blogs generate 126 percent more leads than those without. Why is this so? The answer may lie in the popularity of blogs with U.S. consumers. In fact, surveys have found that 81 percent of them trust the advice and information they find on blogs. Sixty-one percent have purchased a product or service based on a blog post. Starting your business blog will require a time investment; however, the new customers you gain will be well worth the effort.

Tips for Reducing Workers Compensation Claims


According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, the frequency of workers compensation lost-time claims saw a 2 percent decline in accident year 2013 when compared to 2012. However, these claims still create a financial burden for employers. In fact, according to the National Academy of Social Insurance, workers comp insurance paid out $60.2 billion in total benefits in 2011—and total costs to employers reached $77.1 billion. While workers compensation insurance laws vary by state, most require business owners with employees to purchase coverage. Fortunately, there are actions you can take to reduce the chances that your own workers will file costly claims.

1. Start by making safety a priority.

If you have not yet done so, develop a comprehensive written safety program. When you improve the safety of your workplace, fewer accidents will occur. This means there will be fewer claims increasing your workers compensation insurance rate.

Your program should include regularly scheduled safety meetings, periodic retraining plans and a clear description of the disciplinary actions you will take if employees violate the workplace safety rules. It’s essential that your managers and supervisors commit to enforcing the program and reinforcing its importance with your employees.

2. Take immediate action.

If one of your employees sustains an injury on the job, complete an accident report as soon as possible. Include as much detail as you can, including photographs of the scene and witness accounts. Send this report to your workers comp insurance agency within 24 business hours.

Consider asking the employee to submit to a drug test as well. While a positive test may not result in claim denial in most states, it can help your case. Random drug testing of all employees is another option. If you clearly communicate this as a requirement for employment, it should result in fewer potentially drug-related accidents and claims.

3. Look out for fraud.

If you suspect an employee has filed a fraudulent workers compensation claim, notify your insurance company as soon as possible. While these do not always indicate fraud is occurring, potential warning signs include:

  • Alleged accidents taking place on Monday mornings
  • Monday reporting of alleged accidents that occurred Friday afternoon
  • Discrepancies between the employee’s description of the accident and the medical report for the injury
  • Refusal to submit to diagnostic procedures to confirm the extent of the injury
  • Alleged accidents that occur immediately before or after job terminations, layoffs or strikes
  • Alleged accidents that occur without witnesses present
  • An employee who has made previous workers compensation claims

4. Add accident or disability insurance to your voluntary benefits.

According to the Aflac Workers Compensation Report, employers who provided their workers with access to accident or disability insurance experience declines in workers compensation claims. Among large companies, 55 percent reported a decline, followed by a 34 percent decline in claims at small- and mid-sized companies.

Whether you’d like more information about reducing workers compensation claims, want to review your insurance policy, or need assistance creating a workplace safety program, contact your insurance agent or workplace safety advisor today.

The High Costs of Employee Misclassification

You hire a graphic designer to work in your office on a short-term project and pay him as an independent contractor rather than a temporary employee. Your bookkeeper—whose workflow you also direct and control—asks to work from home, so you pay her as a freelancer. You’re now guilty of employee misclassification—whether you intended to break labor laws or not.

Since the onset of the Great Recession, the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have seen a surge in worker misclassification. With the rollout of the employer-sponsored insurance mandate under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they expect to see even more—as companies deliberately misclassify employees as independent, temporary or contingent workers in order to come in under the full-time employee limit requiring coverage.

According to the National Employment Law Project, 10 to 30 percent of employers—possibly even more—misclassified employees as independent contractors in 2012. This is equal to millions of misclassifications and billions of dollars in lost tax revenue for state and federal governments. They want that money back, and they’ve stepped up their litigation and enforcement efforts as a result. But that’s not all; in addition to various federal and state penalties an employer may have to pay, there is the potential for expensive individual and class action lawsuits.

Consider the case of Vizcaino v. Microsoft. Initially, the IRS discovered that Microsoft was misclassifying temporary employees as independent contractors and ordered them to correct this error. Microsoft complied, reclassifying its workers according to the law—and in some cases, assigning them to temporary staffing agencies. The term “temporary” implies a short duration of time. However, many of these so-called temps had worked with the organization for years. They decided to sue Microsoft for equal treatment with the “permanent” employees—including the benefit plan with stock purchase options. Microsoft ended up settling the case for $97 million dollars. This was in addition to the millions they had to pay in back payroll taxes.

How can you avoid a similar situation? Experts recommend the following:

  • Seek legal or other professional assistance to ensure your employees are properly classified.
  • Stay current on federal, state and local agency standards for employment status.
  • Limit the length of any “temporary” assignments.
  • If you regularly use the same temporary workers, require a period of non-employment between assignments.
  • Ensure your employee handbook addresses the issue of contingent employees
  • Ensure your benefits information is specific about which workers are not covered by the employee benefits plan.

Would you like additional insight on classifying your employees, or to learn more about the ACA’s employer-sponsored insurance mandate? Contact me today!

Five Big Causes of Employee Disengagement

Engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work. They do their best to contribute positively to their employer’s reputation and the achievement of company goals. They don’t make excuses, take excessive time away from the office, or often say, “That’s not my job.” Unfortunately, engaged employees are also fairly rare. According to a study conducted by Dale Carnegie Training, 71 percent of employees are not fully engaged. Employment experts consider the following the five biggest causes.

1. Loss of Job Security

Since the Great Recession, many employees feel they no longer have job security. They’ve seen staff cuts, and their managers have asked them to work harder to compensate—generally without any additional earnings. There is a sense that their employer is holding all of the cards, and they have little to no room to bargain for what they want. They may jump ship to a competitor for a minimal increase in pay or decrease in workload as a result.

2. Loss of Trust

According to a study by Towers Watson, less than 40 percent of employees have any confidence in the senior leadership at their employing organization. Executives have told them too many lies (such as “our company is doing great” right before mass layoffs), and they have developed a wait and see attitude as a result. It’s difficult to feel engaged in the future of the company when you no longer trust or believe in the individuals leading it.

3. Changing Demographics

Today’s workplaces are in the midst of a demographic shift. Baby Boomers are retiring, Generation X employees are struggling to balance their work and home life under increasing pressures, and Millennials are moving in. They’re bringing their impatience with them. Many Millennials expect to move up the corporate ladder quickly, and they will move on if an employer does not meet this expectation. In fact, they spend an average of only 3.2 years in any one job.

4. Top-Down Hierarchies

Corporate organization has changed little since the 1950s. Most of the decision-making still happens at the top—with the c-suite executives and company owners—and employees on the ground floor rarely have any control over the way the business runs. When an employee who has an idea for improving workflow or another aspect of the company feels powerless to affect change—or sometimes even get their idea to someone who can—it easily leads to disengagement.

5. Lack of Work-Life Balance

Many companies operate with a 24/7/365 mindset. Their employees are always on the job and never quite feel like they can shut down to unwind. This increases stress, affects their health, undermines their relationships and basically obliterates any work-life balance they could have. It also causes them to feel disengaged. In one study, 80 percent of employees said that a flexible work schedule is essential to achieving a positive work-life balance.

Disengagement costs employers $11 billion dollars every year. If you’d like to turn the tide—and enjoying more enthusiastic, inspired, empowered and confident employees as a result—contact your benefits professional for information on improving employee engagement at your organization.

Importance of Wellbeing in the Workplace

When you think of employee “wellbeing,” what comes to mind? Many employers associate the word with physical health, i.e. how many sick days their employees take, how much they have to pay for their healthcare, and how both of those factors impact the bottom line. But wellbeing actually encompasses a whole lot more. According to, it means “A good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness and prosperity.”

Some organizations have begun to recognize the difference and are capitalizing on it. A recent article on the topic quoted Tom Rath, co-author of the bestselling book “Wellbeing.” “The most successful organizations are now turning their attention to employee wellbeing as a way to gain emotional, financial and competitive advantage,” he said. While physical wellness is one aspect of wellbeing, these organizations are focusing on myriad factors including the cognitive and psychological needs of their workforce.

If you’d like to improve total wellbeing in your organization, consider these six dimensions as well as how you can design a program to address them.

  1. Authenticity – To have true wellbeing, employees need to be free to be themselves. Within the workplace, this may mean allowing self-expression in regards to dress or office/cubicle décor.
  2. Belonging – You can foster wellbeing in your workplace by making employees feel like they belong. Encourage them to form professional and personal connections with their coworkers by engaging in team projects and fun after-work activities. Include contractors and remote workers as well.
  3. Meaning – Wellbeing requires work with meaning. Make sure your employees know that what they do for the company really matters. Share business goals and the progress you are making towards them.
  4. Mindfulness – Distractions detract from wellbeing. Ensure your employees have a quiet space to work where they can concentrate on their tasks. Some workers do well in open spaces, but others will require walls for focus.
  5. Optimism – Employees who are positive about their work and the future enjoy more wellbeing. Praise and encourage them often. Allow them to use their imagination and try new approaches to old tasks.
  6. Vitality – Good physical health is essential for sharp thinking and creativity. Encourage your workers to exercise regularly by offering a gym membership or on-site workout space. Take walking meetings whenever possible. You may even want to gift your workers with step trackers and have contests for total distance covered.

You don’t have to make huge, sweeping changes to your workplace to promote these essential dimensions of wellbeing. Even small adjustments can have a big impact on job satisfaction, employee retention, productivity and physical health. If you’d like additional information or assistance, contact me today.

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