Landrum Human Resource Companies Blog

IRS Expands Settlement Program

IRS Expands Settlement Program

by Jim Guttmann, SPHR on March 28, 2013

In our February 28th blog, we pointed out that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is intensely scrutinizing situations in which workers may be improperly classified as “independent contractors”.

To encourage employers to consider reclassifying their workers as “employees” (i.e. when past practice has been questionable or unclear), the IRS established a Voluntary Worker Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) in September 2011. It’s an opportunity for employers to properly classify their workers as employees without incurring severe penalties. When the program was put in place, the initial eligibility requirements for the VCSP were as follows:

  • The taxpayer must have consistently treated the workers as nonemployees, and must have issued all required Forms 1099 to the workers for the previous three years.
  • Neither the taxpayer nor certain affiliates can currently be under an employment tax audit by the IRS.
  • The taxpayer cannot be currently under audit concerning the classification of the workers by the Department of Labor or by a state government agency.
  • A taxpayer who was previously audited by the IRS or the Department of Labor concerning the classification of the workers will only be eligible if the taxpayer has complied with the results of that audit.

Since putting the program in place, nearly 1,000 eligible employers have taken advantage by applying for the VCSP. As a result of their decision to now treat their workers as employees (rather than independent contractors); they obtained partial relief from federal payroll taxes.

 At the end of last year, the IRS modified several eligibility requirements thus making it possible for many more interested employers to apply for this program. Under the revamped program, employers under IRS audit, other than an employment tax audit, can qualify for the VCSP. These and other permanent modifications to the program are described in Announcement 2012-45 and in questions and answers, posted on

 Further, until June 30, 2013, the IRS is temporarily waiving the eligibility requirement that workers had to have filed Forms 1099 in the previous three years. Details of this special IRS offering can be found here.

As a Landrum Professional Human Resources Manager, Jim is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and has over 20 years of HR generalist experience for a large government contractor and Fortune 500 Company. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Florida State University and is an active member of the Greater Pensacola Chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management (GPCSHRM), previously serving as their Vice President of Information Services and Chairman of the Workplace Diversity Committee. Jim is also certified as a County Mediator and in the administration of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator(MBTI).

It’s Bracket Day!

basketball__3_It’s Bracket Day!

by Elizabeth Oakes, SPHR on Monday, March 18, 2013

For those of you unaware what bracket day is, it is a celebration of the upcoming NCAA Division I Men’s Championship (aka March Madness).  And how do we celebrate?  By filling out our brackets … at the office?

Personally, I don’t really follow basketball. It’s one of those sports that I’d prefer to watch live rather than televised, so I didn’t really know today was Bracket Day until I heard it on the news this morning.  What I found interesting in the newscast was when they said “It’s Bracket Day, here’s (insert sportscaster’s name) with all the information you’ll need to fill out your bracket at the office today.”

WHAT?  We do this at work?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not delusional.  I recognize that gambling happens at work.  There’s the office pool for when Suzy will have her baby, or the occasion when multiple staff members pitch in for lottery tickets.  What surprised me is that this particular gambling is mostly focused in the workplace.  Fantasy football is usually experienced online or with a group of friends, and is sometimes done in the office.  Basketball gambling, though, is mostly observed in the workplace.


So where does that leave employers?  Is it okay for this to happen in our workplace?  Are we liable for anything that goes wrong?  Do I need a policy?  Are you going to tell us to knock it off and be a complete killjoy?

Easy, tiger.  No, sports fans, I’m not going to take all the joy out of this day.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a little fun at work (see past blog post), just as long as it doesn’t get out of hand and we still accomplish what is needed for the day.  I propose the following reminders:

  • You don’t have to participate, but you can’t ignore it either.  What I mean by that is that you don’t have to participate, as a supervisor, if you are disinterested – but also cannot pretend that it doesn’t exist.  I suggest that you oversee what’s going on from a distance.  If you aren’t gambling yourself, it’s still a good idea to be “present” for discussions or to be mindful of how things are going.  The last things you need are tempers rising, or good natured ribbing that goes beyond fun.  It’s important that you keep tabs on the temperature of the competition and step in where it’s necessary to diffuse inappropriate behavior before it goes too far.  Also, make sure that those who do not want to participate are not feeling pressured into joining the event.
  • Make sure the rules are clear to all participants.  Again, you might not be orchestrating this pool, but you’ll need to follow up with the person in charge of the competition to make sure the rules are clearly explained and followed, as well as ensuring that this person is well aware of your expectations in the workplace.  Make sure they understand that they are the responsible party to ensure the pool is handled smoothly, professionally, and legally.
  • Make sure it’s legal in your area.  Not every city and state allow for all, or any, types of gambling in the workplace.  Check your state laws and city ordinances to make sure you aren’t doing anything illegal.
  • Is work getting accomplished? It doesn’t matter if it’s perfectly legal in your state, everyone is getting along, and the pool runs smoothly – if the work isn’t getting done, it’s a problem.  In line with the first bullet point, make sure that you express your expectations of your staff clearly and up front that everyone’s main objective is, as always, to accomplish their work for the day.  Participation in the pool or event is voluntary but each individual is responsible for managing his or her own time to ensure the work flow process is not slowed down.  Then, hold everyone accountable on your end.
  • Require that it’s done in non-working areas and during non-working times.  If you have a No Solicitation policy, allowing the advertising/promotion of brackets and other events could negate or lessen your argument against unions.  It’s smarter to restrict the fun to non-working breaks, in non-work areas, and to keep it off of the company email.  For a little more information on how this can affect your no solicitation policy and unions:

…And if I can offer you one more tidbit of advice:Please beware of the group buy-in for lottery tickets.  Many of these groups end up in court fighting with each other over the percentage split between the members of the group.  Even those who clearly define the rules of the lottery buy-in still end up in court.  Still not convinced?  Check out this article before you decide to join the next lottery pool in your office, and don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Elizabeth Oakes, SPHR

Elizabeth currently practices as a Human Resource Manager for Landrum Professional Employer Services in Pensacola, Florida. In this role she ensures that Landrum’s clients are in compliance with all local, state and federal laws that impact on human resources. She assists, as needed, with hiring, terminating, counseling, and training. Elizabeth also advise business owners and employees on the potential resolution of work related issues and consult with employers on the implementation of best human resources practices.
Elizabeth is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) through the Human Resource Certification Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management.



by Jim Guttmann on February 28, 2013

“Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says ‘duck’. But the bird certainly looks like a duck. Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he’s wearing a label or not.”

This profound statement is a quote from Richard Cunningham Patterson Jr., United States mallard_duck test_Jguttman 022813ambassador to Guatemala during the Cold War in 1950. It is interesting how this “duck test” is quite relevant for employers today. How so? Using the duck analogy, the   Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) maintain that some employers are knowingly or unknowingly misrepresenting the status of an employee on two important matters.  Although it’s tough economic times, these agencies are not very forgiving when it comes to employee misclassification.  Indeed, they just view these employers as “non-compliant with the law” (i.e. they have failed the duck test). So, what are those two areas of unlawful activity?

Misclassifying Employees as Independent Contractors:

Sometimes employers may improperly classify workers as “independent contractors” for various reasons such as administrative convenience; to avoid having to pay payroll taxes, overtime, etc.; to avoid having to cover the worker under workers’ compensation or unemployment compensation insurance;   due to “industry standards” or even at a worker’s request. Before designating any worker as an independent contractor, please know that the fact that a worker has signed a document agreeing to be an independent contractor nor how long the contractual relationship has existed will be considered relevant by the IRS or DOL. If deemed unlawful by the agency, the worker’s consent will not make the arrangement valid. At all times, the facts characterizing the actual relationship will be what counts. That’s right, the Government says that you can’t call a duck a swan, goose etc., when it is actually a duck. Don’t be surprised if one day a government agency decides to conduct a “duck test” on your Independent Contractor.

Okay but aren’t some individuals truly independent contractors? Yes, provided that they meet the IRS standards by passing the “duck test.” In January, 2006, the IRS offered guidance on its “duck test” for independent contractor status by explaining that they focus on  behavioral control, financial control, and the type of relationship between the worker and the company.  The most common method used by employers for determining Independent Contractor vs. Employee status is through a review of the IRS 20 factor test. You can access that test here.

Misclassifying Employees as Salaried Exempt When They Should Be Hourly:

Sometimes, employers misclassify employees as “Salaried Exempt” and, by doing so; avoid paying overtime or minimum wage when those employees work more than 40 hours in the work week. This could have been done without knowledge of governing laws or because the employees requested to be paid on a salary basis.  Although sometimes misunderstood, a salary by itself does not mean an employee is not entitled to overtime pay. If the DOL suspects that an employee has been misclassified as salaried exempt, it won’t matter that the employer and employee agreed to the misclassification. It also won’t matter what job title was given to the employee or that the job description is written in such a way that it embellishes the duties that the employee actually performs. What will matter is whether or not the classification of the employee can withstand an on-site desk audit by the DOL auditor. So, let’s just refer to this audit as the “duck test.”

Okay, but aren’t some employees truly salaried exempt? Yes, provided that their positions meet one of the Executive, Administrative, Professional, Computer, Outside Sales, or other industry-specific exemption standards. In other words, it has to pass that “duck test.” To do a proper assessment of whether an employee is salaried exempt or hourly, please click here for a link to the DOL’s Fair Labor Standards Act guidelines on this matter.

Risk to Employers:

Keep in mind that misclassifying workers can have tremendous financial consequences for companies. It may be far more serious than improperly calling a duck a swan or goose. If it is an independent contractor situation, employers may have to endure an audit from the IRS or a state department of taxation. If it is a wage and hour matter, employers may find themselves in a wage and hour audit, or a class action or individual lawsuit and be taken to court. The company will not only have to pay back wages and overtime owed, but a variety of penalties and in many cases, attorney fees. Non-complying employers may also be required to pay amounts that should have been withheld or paid on the employees’ behalf. For example, taxes, FICA, FUTA, benefit contributions or the value of lost benefits, plus penalties, interest, other damages, and/or attorney fees. Employees who are misclassified as independent contractors and who have work-related injuries and would normally rely solely on workers’ compensation benefits, may be able to file a negligence claim against the employer.

Misclassifying employees is a costly mistake that can happen to any company regardless of the company’s “good faith” intentions. So, make sure that you can pass the duck test.  Simply stated, here is our advice to you. If you have doubts about whether a worker meets the independent contractor standard, it would certainly be safer to make him/her an employee. If you have doubts about whether an employee is salaried, it would be prudent to make him/her an hourly employee.

Being knowledgeable and compliant with the test standards can save yourself and your company a great deal of money and negative exposure in the long run. And that’s not just a bunch of quackery!

As a Landrum Professional Human Resources Manager, Jim is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and has over 20 years of HR generalist experience for a large government contractor and Fortune 500 Company. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Florida State University and is an active member of the Greater Pensacola Chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management (GPCSHRM), previously serving as their Vice President of Information Services and Chairman of the Workplace Diversity Committee. Jim is also certified as a County Mediator and in the administration of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator(MBTI).

What Do You Say to a Grieving Employee?

What Do You Say To A Grieving Employee?

by Jim Guttmann, SPHR, on February 8, 2013

????????????????????????????????????????     An employee at work has just lost her husband by accidental death. You have decided to attend the wake to express your concern and sympathy. As you drive over, you get this uneasy feeling because you don’t know what to say and you’re afraid of being uncomfortable, saying the wrong thing, or having that awkward silence. Despite these feelings, you continue your drive knowing it is the right thing to do (rather than ignore a co-worker).

Just know that it is okay to feel a little anxious. Perhaps the best advice for anyone in that situation is to keep things simple. In many cases, the grieving employee will not remember the exact words you said at the wake. What she will remember is your comforting presence – just quietly being present and having a compassionate look on your face. You may want to simply express, “Hello, it is good to see you,” or possibly a reassuring touch on the arm, a gentle handshake or a hug. Or perhaps, “I’m so sorry you have to go through this” or “I’m so sorry to hear of your loss.”

Beyond those comforting words, you need to clearly follow the other person’s lead in understanding to what extent she wants to share what’s on her mind and heart. She may not be ready to share anything with you at that time. If she wants to talk and express her feelings, you could say “Fill me in on what’s happening” or “Bring me up to date.” And always remember that crying is healing. Although you might not be comfortable with it, this is not about you. It’s about the grieving employee. Crying is good as it releases tension and gets painful feelings out in the open. That’s part of the healing process for the employee.

Unfortunately for some of us, we want to help (and may need to help) but our well-intended words or actions sometimes end up DSS_cover_large1adding to the person’s burdens instead of easing her pain. Thankfully, pastor and clinical psychologist, Kenneth C. Haugk offers some help in his book Don’t Sing Songs To A Heavy Heart. The tips that he offers are drawn from many years of experience as a pastor and surveys that he has done with over 4,000 grieving individuals. Here’s some advice from Dr. Haugk as to what not to say:

  1. I know how you feel. You don’t know how she feels and saying you do robs that person of her unique identity.
  2. It’s for the best (or he’s not suffering anymore, he’s at peace etc.). It can come over that you want her to see the situation as you do. She needs to arrive at that conclusion independently.
  3. Keep a stiff upper lip statement (e.g. I have a friend in a similar situation and she is at peace now; What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, etc.). These are unrealistic and unhealthy expectations on the one hurting. The message within the message is why can’t you respond to the situation like someone else I know?
  4. “At least” statements. They tend to minimize the pain of the suffering person by saying it is not as bad as it could be or that other people have experienced worse.
  5. You should/shouldn’t statements. It is an unpleasant experience for the suffering person and also tends to shut down communications.
  6. God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle. This is a bible verse (I Corinthians 10:13). However, the verse refers to resisting temptation; not bearing up under pain and suffering. Making this statement certainly doesn’t lighten the load of the grieving person but adds more pain.
  7. It’s God’s Will. According to Dr. Hauck, this is one of the most carelessly used religious phrases purporting to offer comfort. In the research, 93% of the surveyed participants who had been told that their suffering was God’s will react strongly and negatively.

In contrast to platitudes and clichés, just know what your amazing presence can do for a grieving employee or the power of a heartfelt personal note sent with your sympathy card. Let’s face it; some of us are not naturally gifted in offering comfort. It comes easier for some than others; however, we can all strive to be a listening friend who doesn’t criticize and who respects the employee’s need to go through the grieving process according to her time schedule and not ours.

As a Landrum Professional Human Resources Manager, Jim is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and has over 20 years of HR generalist experience for a large government contractor and Fortune 500 Company. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Florida State University and is an active member of the Greater Pensacola Chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management (GPCSHRM), previously serving as their Vice President of Information Services and Chairman of the Workplace Diversity Committee. Jim is also certified as a County Mediator and in the administration of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator(MBTI).

For Auld Lang Syne: The History of Minimum Wage

For Auld Lang Syne: The History of Minimum Wage

by Matilde Keith, PHR on January 29, 2013

Although some states and companies imposed minimum wage rates in the early 1900’s, it didn’t become federal law until 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed. The Act regulated child labor practices, set the maximum workweek to 44 hours and the minimum hourly wage to 25 cents. That was 75 years ago and the FLSA is still in effect today, despite heavy judicial opposition in the 1930’s. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to fight fervently for its passage then as part of his “New Deal.” The New Deal was his response to the Great Depression and a series of economic programs intended to give “Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression.”

The FLSA went through several rounds in Congress and underwent 72 amendments before the bill was passed. The original proposal was for a 40 cents-an-hour minimum wage. An advocate for the bill was the Commissioner of Labor Statistics, Isador Lubin, who felt employees were being exploited and that it was time for the government to intervene. Opponents of the bill argued that the bill would take the country to a “tyrannical industrial dictatorship.” The Supreme Court had held time and time again that any laws which interfere with employer-employee labor contract negotiations were a violation of our Constitutional rights. The landmark case that set this precedence was Lochner v. New York (1905).  kenlochner vs NY

In 1897, New York State passed a law prohibiting bakers from working in bake shops over 60 hours in a week. Joseph Lochner owned a bakery and allowed an employee to work over 60 hours. He was fined $50 and sentenced to jail. He appealed his conviction to the New York Court of Appeals, who upheld the original decision. He then took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming the state law was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court agreed with him. In a 5-4 decision, the Court reversed Lochner’s conviction and stated that the law violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause which “prohibits states from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” To the Court, the amendment protects the “liberty of the individual” to buy, sell, and negotiate labor terms through contract. The Court stated, “The freedom of master and employee to contract with each other in relation to their employment … cannot be prohibited or interfered with, without violating the Federal Constitution.” From that time on, the Supreme Court objected to laws that controlled conditions of labor, except in very specific cases and/or industries.

In 1918, one might assume that the Lochner v. New York decision was not working out so well for women and children. These groups were still expected to work long hours for nominal wages, sometimes $4-5 dollars for a 60 hour work week. In an attempt to protect women and children “from conditions detrimental to their health and morals, resulting from wages which are inadequate to maintain decent standards of living,” the District of Columbia passed a minimum wage law that applied to women and children laborers. D.C. appointed a Board to set the amounts and oversee the law.

The Children’s Hospital of the District of Columbia employed many women at wages below the Board’s standards. The Hospital sued the Board on the grounds that these regulations violated the “liberty of contract” which had been defined in the Lochner v. New York case 10 years earlier.

The case made it to the Supreme Court in 1923. The Court ruled in favor of the Hospital, this time making the law a violation of the due process clause in the Fifth Amendment, but cited the Lochner v. New York case. Furthermore, the Court was concerned with the provisions of the law that gave protection to women over men. They said this protection was not necessary; the civil gap between women and men in American society was “at a vanishing point.” They pointed to the recently passed Nineteenth Amendment (which gave women the right to vote) as proof of this. Women, therefore, had a “newfound equality in American culture” and could “protect their own interests through the political process and equal bargaining power.” Some might argue that 90 years later, the gap is still “vanishing.”

The FLSA was only one part of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Minimum wage was intended to provide income equality for people living in poverty, as well as a way to control the advancement of sweat shops in manufacturing industries. Horror stories have been told of the working conditions in these tenement sweatshops where fierce competition and the desperate need for employment kept wages down and hours up. The sweatshops employed mostly women, young workers, and immigrants.

From Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vol. V:
A young worker’s plea

While President Franklin Roosevelt was in Bedford, Mass., campaigning for reelection, a young girl tried to pass him an envelope. But a policeman threw her back into the crowd. Roosevelt told an aide, “Get the note from the girl.” Her note read,
I wish you could do something to help us girls….We have been working in a sewing factory,… and up to a few months ago we were getting our minimum pay of $11 a week… Today the 200 of us girls have been cut down to $4 and $5 and $6 a week.
To a reporter’s question, the President replied, “Something has to be done about the elimination of child labor and long hours and starvation wages.”

From Hearings to Provide for the Establishment of Fair Labor Standards in Employments in and Affecting Interstate Commerce and for Other Purposes, Vol. V. (1937):

“A survey by the Labor Department’s Children’s Bureau of a cross section of 449 children in several States showed nearly one-fourth of them working 60 hours or longer a week and only one-third working 40 hours or less a week. The median wage was slightly over $4 a week.”

In 1932, Washington State passed the “Minimum Wages for Women” law which determined appropriate wage levels throughout the state. Elsie Parrish was a chambermaid who worked for West Coast Hotel and had not been compensated at the state’s minimum wage. She sued the state for the difference in wages, but West Coast Hotel claimed the law was unconstitutional. The state court agreed with West Coast Hotel, but Parrish appealed to Washington Supreme Court. There, the decision was reversed and they directed the damages be paid to Parrish. West Coast Hotel wasn’t ready to lose this battle and took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1936.
LIFE magazine

West Coast Hotel must have felt confident that the Court would rule in its favor, given the long-standing Lochner Era; however, this time in a 5-4 decision the Court ruled in favor of Parrish and stated the law was not unconstitutional. The decision helped protect Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation and a new era began for the American worker.

After the passage of the FLSA and many other efforts, Life magazine stated in their August 1, 1938 issue, “Thirty years ago the industry stank of the sweatshop and the cruelest kind of exploitation . . . Still numerous in 1933, the sweatshop is virtually gone today.”


Matilde Keith-IMG_3038-3_filtered     As a Human Resources Manager for Landrum Professional Employer Services, Matilde Keith, has over five years of human resources experience in the Pensacola, FL area.   Keith specializes in salary surveys, compensation and job classification reviews, among other human resources generalist duties. Prior to her current position, Keith worked as an HR Specialist for Landrum Staffing, managing the staffing needs of one of Landrum Staffing’s largest accounts.  Keith is a 1st generation Cuban-American, fluent in both English and Spanish. Born and raised in Key West, FL, Keith calls herself “an original Key West Conch”.

It’s Not the Zombie Apocalypse – It’s Just a Little Organizational Change

It’s Not the Zombie Apocalypse – It’s Just a Little Organizational Change

by Elizabeth Oakes, SPHR on December 27, 2012

You think I jest?
Randomly selected employees were surveyed on their initial impressions of pending organizational change, and 89% indicated their first impression was to prefer a zombie apocalypse to occur. Okay, that statistic is COMPLETELY fabricated, made up, sensationalized, and just plain wrong. I just wanted a reason to bring up zombies in an employment blog.

Actually, a zombie apocalypse isn’t too far of a stretch in comparison to the typical resistance to organizational change. After the notice of impending change has been delivered to the masses, the “plague” of fear is transferred throughout your company. The spread of fear happens so fast you cannot quarantine or react fast enough. At some point there are probably just a41DcZwZ1yLL__SL500_AA300_ few champions of change in your organization. They are working to fend off hordes of change fearful zombies, trying to fight for the life of the change initiative. There’s a real statistic out there indicating that approximately 70% of change initiatives fail (Burnes, 2009). The zombies won those battles. Is this starting to sound a little familiar?

What is it about change – in and of itself – that scares the daylights out of most of us? It’s the unknown. There are so many unknown factors in organizational change that it can paralyze us. What is going to change? Who is making the changes? What is the motivation for change? How will the change be handled? How will it affect me?

Okay, now I’ve started scaring myself.

Actually I enjoy change. I’m one of those obnoxious individuals who find a silver lining in the darkest of clouds. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not chirping out “Looks like somebody has a case of the Mondays!” or anything… Them’s fightin’ words!

I just don’t feel every complex situation is the end of the world. I really do believe that every experience has room for growth and learning. More importantly, I think that there is always something that can be done. I’ve never encountered an impossible situation… yet. Yes, I am currently knocking on wood.

I thrive when there is something dynamic going on. I enjoy when there is a catalyst to move us forward towards growth. Believe it or not, you have employees who feel similarly. Overwhelmingly companies are stagnated by the paralyzing fear of a few employees. Whenever I speak with a company Owner, CEO, or President regarding necessary organizational changes, the concern is about the employees who do not handle change well. How will they take it? Will I have attrition? Is the damage to morale worth the change itself? What I find interesting is that I never have conversations with the same individuals about stagnating employees who need change. I’ve never had a question like: I have a few employees who are frustrated and need my company to change to be productive – how can I do this?

I sometimes wonder if those who dislike change are the squeakier wheel. When we hear their squeak we only oil that wheel. What about the rest of the wheels? Do you wait until they are squeaking to oil them, or do you give them proactive attention? The problem with this situation is that when the employees who love or enjoy dynamic change are stunted in growth, rather than squeak, they tend to make their own changes. How, you ask? You guessed it… They change their employers. When it’s time to make change, to keep your business relevant, your strongest support for organizational change is gone. It’s a lot harder to fight a sea of fear of change alone.

All of the companies on the Best Places to Work have incorporated some form of consistent change into their values zombie_page1or practices. Why is this relevant? Change is considerably less scary or affronting when it is a constant part of the workplace. These companies are excellent communicators, too. That is another absolute essential to effective change. With clear goals, communication, honesty, and a sense of fairness, these companies espouse their values and can effectively make regular organizational change and be incredibly successful at the same time. These are highly relevant companies in our society and most, if not all, started out as small entrepreneurial ventures. That means you too can accomplish this. If you’re interested in incorporating regular organizational change into your culture here are a few good reads to check out to get you started:

Dove, Rick.: “The Principles of Change” Automotive Manufacturing and Production.
March 1997.

Wallington, Patricia M.: “Making Change” CIO. April 1, 2000.

Kotter, John: “The Heart of Change.” 2002“A Sense of Urgency.” 2008,
“Leading Change” 1996

If you’re still worried about a Zombie Apocalypse we’ve gotten a little guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on Zombie preparedness -

Take Your Religion Test Here: Okay or Not Okay?

Take Your Religion Test Here: Okay or Not Okay?

 by Jim Guttmann, SPHR on December 14, 2012

Sometimes employers and employees are confused as to what’s appropriate or where the line might be in terms of telling others at work about their religious beliefs. This can be a gray area but let’s explore it with this little test.

Question: Okay or Not Okay?

An employee sends unsolicited and unauthorized e-mails to co-workers using the company computer, inviting co-workers to a lunchtime Christmas prayer service in the company’s conference room.  Some of his co-workers thought this was a great idea, but others complained about the e-mail. His supervisor talked to him about the e-mail and told him that he should not send mass invitations such as this because someone might be offended.  Plus, he should not use company computers for this purpose.  During Easter season, the employee held another Christian-based event in the office; again sending unauthorized e-mail invitations.  He also handed out religious pamphlets to those he suspected had complained about his Christmas prayer service.  The Company had both e-mail privacy and anti-harassment policies which protect employees from such solicitation. Was the employee’s conduct okay?

Answer: Not Okay

The employee’s actions were a clear imposition on his fellow employees – by way of an invasion of their privacy. His activities were specifically directed at unwilling co-workers whom he hoped to convert to his religious beliefs after fully knowing that for some employees this conduct was unwelcomed.  Therefore, he violated reasonable company policies and doing so was not okay.


Question: Okay or Not Okay?

An owner of the Company approaches an employee and says, “Please come with me to church this Sunday.” The employee responds that she is a regular attendee at another church. The owner says, “Oh, you already worship somewhere else? Oh, there? Hmmm…..”  Should the owner have initiated this conversation? Was it okay?

Answer: Okay for Now

One low-key invitation might be alright, but any more than that may result in an allegation of religious discrimination or prejudice, especially if the owner has to later discipline, lay-off or fire the employee.


Question: Okay or Not Okay?

An employee starts preaching to his co-workers that they will go to Hell if they don’t repent and convert. Some co-workers of the employee go to the supervisor to complain. The supervisor considers the conduct a disciplinary issue and gives the employee a verbal warning. Is it okay for the supervisor to do that?

Answer: Okay

Courts do not like it when employees (even non-management employees) “preach” to their co-workers about their religious beliefs. Repeated offenses are generally considered legitimate grounds for termination of employment.


Question: Okay or Not Okay?

Slightly adapting a line from a Taylor Swift song, “Religion is a topic of which we must never speak, ever, ever, ever, ever.”  Would banning any discussion about religion in the workplace be okay?

Answer: Not Okay with Most Everyone

Some employers are so worried about “separation of church and state,” respecting all viewpoints, and avoiding offensive behavior that they discourage or prohibit any discussion or expression of religion in the workplace, including discussions that are consensual and expressions that are subtle and  are not offensive.  That’s just not necessary and seems to be a rather extreme position for an employer to take.


Question: Okay or Not Okay?

An employer was wondering if it’s really okay for employees to go around saying “Merry Christmas” when that major holiday comes up in December. Is using the “C” word around that holiday really okay or must we say “Happy Holidays” so as to be politically correct?

Answer: Okay

Of course you can say “Merry Christmas” because it commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s okay!  And those of the Jewish faith can also say “Happy Hanukkah” around that holiday, too!


Question: Okay or Not Okay?

Some atheist and agnostic employees complain to their employer that they have been subject to religious discrimination because of their beliefs. Really? Does the employer need to listen to that stuff? Could their complaints be legitimate?  Is that okay?

Answer: Okay

Atheists and agnostics and “the unaffiliated” have rights, too. The religious discrimination laws also protect the rights of people to not believe in any faith or religion.


Overall Conclusion:

It is all about treating each other with dignity and respect, making sure that all employees feel comfortable when entering the workplace and respecting their religious beliefs. Employees may urge a co-worker to participate or not to participate in religious activities to the same extent that, consistent with concerns of workplace efficiency, they may urge their colleagues to engage in or refrain from other personal endeavors. But employees must refrain from such expression when a fellow employee asks that it stop or otherwise demonstrates that it is unwelcome. A wide spectrum of Americans sees a positive role for religion in the workplace at a time when morals and ethics are viewed as declining. Some companies try to limit religious expression on company time and property, but a growing number of businesses  are fostering expressions of faith by providing time and space for like-minded employees to gather or by explicitly making faith an integral part of their business philosophy. At the same time, a growing number of Christian ministries are urging members to live out their faith at work. In my view, the most compelling way to witness your faith is through the way you live your life. In this respect, Mother Theresa comes to mind for me and I’m sure that you can think of other wonderful role models too.

In the workplace, the bottom line is that the manner that we address religion as a topic in the workplace can sometimes be okay and at other times not okay.  Consequently, we encourage you to stay attuned to your employees and gauge your actions by theirs.

As a Landrum Professional Human Resources Manager, Jim is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and has over 20 years of HR generalist experience for a large government contractor and Fortune 500 Company. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Florida State University and is an active member of the Greater Pensacola Chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management (GPCSHRM), previously serving as their Vice President of Information Services and Chairman of the Workplace Diversity Committee. Jim is also certified as a County Mediator and in the administration of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

Obamacare: Are you prepared?

Obamacare: Are You Prepared?

November 19, 2012

The wait is over, employers have run out of time to examine the applicable requirements of the health care reform laws enacted in 2010 (aka Obamacare). Understanding that the recent election could have drastically changed health care reform implications for their business, many employers put off seriously examining the impact that the Affordable Care Act would have on their business.  Now, the election results are in and employers are faced with implementing the employer provisions of the act. The “what ifs” of healthcare reform have now become an urgent business matter.  Some employer’s heads are spinning as they scramble to understand the complicated reform laws (over 2,000 pages) that affect their businesses.

If any of this rings true with you, then attending our post-election webinar is probably a good idea. In layman’s terms we will tell you what you need to know in order to draft your health care reform “To Do List”.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

3:00PM CST

Click Here to Register On-line Now

The post-election webinar is designed to help business owners understand the upcoming changes in healthcare reform, employment legislation, and the White House’s administrative initiatives.

Ted Kirchharr, Landrum vice president and chief operating officer, will co-host the webinar with Amie Remington, Landrum general counsel, and Todd Torgersen, president, Combined Insurance Services, Inc.

If you have a question you would like addressed by the panel, send to .

Once the live presentation is made, it will be archived on the Landrum website and available for on-demand viewing.

Whose Side is Human Resources On?

Whose Side is Human Resources On?

by Jim Guttmann, SPHR on November 6, 2012

When an owner or manager is told that a staff member has just reported a complaint to HR, this event is not likely regarded as good news. In fact, sometimes it may elicit feelings of anger or embarrassment. Perhaps management becomes anxious and defensive because they don’t know whose “side” human resources will support. Well, I’m here to tell you that if the HR Manager is competent in the job that she is doing, there is no reason to be concerned.  It is just a matter of understanding the value that human resources brings to your organization.

When an employee contacts human resources to make a complaint, it is important to know that the HR Manager will often patiently listen to the individual and must take the matter seriously. This is usually done even when the HR Manager may suspect that the individual is being less than truthful or has questionable integrity. Sometimes that might seem like HR is automatically taking the employee’s side on the issue; however, that is certainly not the case since HR’s role in this situation is to be fair and impartial. Although HR Managers won’t normally turn the complainant away in an abrupt manner, rest assured they know that there usually are two sides to every story.

When listening to the complaint, it is a key responsibility of HR to assess whether there has been a violation of law. This is a much greater concern than someone just not liking the boss’s management style. For instance, an owner may have unknowingly failed to properly pay someone in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act. In that event, the HR Manager will be coordinating with the owner to bring the Company into compliance with the law. In truth, some employment laws can get quite complicated and one of the important services that human resources provides is to keep the owner in compliance.

Sometimes there is a need for an investigation to determine whether a law has been broken. For instance, an employee may claim sexual harassment and only through a proper and confidential investigation can it be determined as to whether the allegation can be substantiated. A Human Resources Professional has the training and years of experience to make those kinds of assessments. Even if you believe the complaining employee lacks credibility, please trust that the process used by HR will provide an appropriate outcome. Also, HR understands the importance of protecting the rights of all parties involved (e.g. complainant, the accused and any witnesses).

If final resolution shows that the complaint was without merit, the HR Manager may play a key role in convincing the employee (or former employee) that there would be no further value in pursuing the issue. This often diffuses the matter entirely and avoids litigation. We can’t overstate the overall value in having a proper complaint or “open door procedure” that includes human resources as part of the process. It lets your employees know that, as a fair employer, you understand that a happy employee is usually a productive employee and, consequently, problems in the workplace should not be allowed to fester. Equally important, having a strong internal complaint procedure means it is far less likely those employees will take matters into their own hands and go to an outside agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or to an attorney to file a lawsuit against your company.

So, whose side is human resources on? Are they for the employee or the company? I’m certain that the answer from competent HR Managers would be “both.” When possible, HR looks to create “win/win” situations where both the company and the employee are treated fairly.

As a Landrum Professional Human Resources Manager, Jim is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and has over 20 years of HR generalist experience for a large government contractor and Fortune 500 Company. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Florida State University and is an active member of the Greater Pensacola Chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management (GPCSHRM), previously serving as their Vice President of Information Services and Chairman of the Workplace Diversity Committee. Jim is also certified as a County Mediator and in the administration of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

To Pay or Not to Pay? When Inclement Weather Shuts Down Your Business

To Pay or Not to Pay?

When Inclement Weather Shuts Down Your Business

by Yvonne Nellums, PHR on November 1, 2012

With the effects of Hurricane Sandy leading to business closures this past week, many employers are asking if they are required to pay their employees for missed work time if their business shut down due to inclement weather.  The answer depends on how employees are classified under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Non-Exempt Employees (Hourly Employees)

An employer is not required to pay a non-exempt employee for business closure due to inclement weather or a natural disaster.  The employer may have a policy of paying employees on such occasions, but it is not a requirement to do so.  If business closure results in lack of work for employees, the decision should be consistently applied to all employees.

Salaried Non-Exempt, Salary Fluctuating Workweek, and Salaried-Exempt Employees

When it comes to these categories of employees, the Department of Labor Wage and Hour division states that employers must look at whether or not work is available for the employees.  If an employee in one of these categories works one or more days in a workweek during which a business closure takes place, the employee must be paid for the entire week.  You are not required to pay these employees for an entire workweek in which he or she performs no work.  An employer may, however, make deductions from an employee’s leave bank (vacation/PTO) to cover the time the employee is out of work due to business closure.


Yvonne Nellums, PHR

Yvonne C. Nellums is Director of Human Resources for Landrum Professional Employer Services. She is a certified professional in human resources (PHR) and has more than 30 years of human resources experience in the corporate world, manufacturing environments, and the offshore industry.


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