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Posts Tagged ‘business insurance’

Maintaining a Psychopath-Free Workplace

Maintaining a Psychopath-Free Workplace

When you think about psychopaths, individuals like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Dexter likely spring to mind. However, most employees who fit the psychopath profile are not serial killers, mass murderers or notorious criminals—though they share a number of similar characteristics, all of which can make them nightmares to work with.

 

What is a Psychopath?

Simply put, a psychopath is someone who is unable to feel guilt, remorse or empathy. Experts estimate one in 100 men and one in 300 women have this personality disorder, though spotting them can be a challenge. Most tend to blend into society without attracting undo attention. Many mask their antisocial nature with superficial charm and gregariousness, while others are almost inhumanely calm. Still, psychopaths can’t hide all their unsavory traits. Warning signs such as unreliability, dishonesty, insincerity, arrogance and egocentricity eventually give them away.

 

Digging Deeper

The best way to maintain a psychopath-free workplace is to avoid hiring them in the first place. Pre-employment screening—including a criminal background check and credit check—is essential, as always. However, not all psychopaths have criminal records or a history of credit mismanagement. Digging deeper into each candidate’s past is necessary for due diligence.

Consider the following tips:

  • Start with the interview. Behavioral interview questions may cause even the most charismatic psychopath to stumble. Try, “Tell me about a mistake you made at your last job” and “How did that mistake impact your coworkers?” A reluctance to admit errors and an inability to address the feelings of others could indicate you’re dealing with a psychopath. Other warning signs include describing ordinary duties as amazing achievements and inconsistencies between information given verbally and that contained in the resume.
  • Never skip the reference check. If the candidate worked for another company for any length of time, it’s likely someone there noticed his or her psychopathic tendencies. Speak with every former supervisor and—for good measure—call the main company number instead of the one listed on the resume. This will eliminate any chance of subterfuge. While most employers are limited in what they can say—confirming dates of employment and salary, for example—a simple question like “Would you hire this employee again?” can reveal volumes.
  • Check out military history as well. If your candidate was in the military, ask to see his or her DD-214—also known as a certificate of release or discharge from active duty. A separation code of E4 is normal for non-officers. If you find an E1, consider it a red flag. Experts advise that this indication of bad behavior while in service is a good predictor of future behavior in the workplace. Similarly, an RE-4 re-entry code indicates the veteran is ineligible for enlistment in any military body—another possible warning sign.

The Danger of First-Impression Bias

As humans, we form first impressions of others quickly. For example, within the first minute or two of a job interview, most hiring managers have already decided whether they like a candidate or not—and psychopaths can be very likeable. First-impression bias comes about when we’re resistant to changing our opinion of a person once we’ve received additional information. Give in to this bias and you may hire that charismatic jobseeker regardless of the negative details revealed during the screening process. Share the facts presented with another manager who has not met the candidate. If they’re enough to cause alarm, move on to your next candidate.

Small Businesses: Don’t Put Your Data at Risk

 

Small Businesses: Don't Put Your Data at Risk

Cyber criminals love a good holiday spree! In the midst of 2013’s holiday shopping season, they stole the personal data of more than 70 million Target customers. Around the same time, a data breach at Neiman Marcus compromised the credit and debit card information of more than 1 million customers.

These particular crimes involved large retailers and a website that reportedly earns more than $14 million in profits each year, but if you think your company is too small to be an attractive target, you’re wrong. A 2012 investigative study into data breaches found that 71 percent occur in businesses with 100 or fewer employees. And according to cyber security company McAfee, almost 90 percent of small and medium-sized U.S. businesses don’t use any form of data protection.

Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to prevent the theft of your small business data—and much of it won’t cost you a dime. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Protect every computer with appropriate software – Install an antivirus and antispyware program on every computer connected to the Internet or your internal network. This includes any laptops you allow to connect wirelessly.
  • Install software updates promptly – When software vendors discover vulnerabilities in their products, they release updates with fixes that prevent cyber criminals from exploiting them. Configure each computer to download and install such updates automatically.
  • Secure your Wi-Fi network – Require a password for Wi-Fi access. For even more protection, hide your Wi-Fi network by configuring the wireless access point or router to prevent broadcasting of the network name.
  • Secure computers and network components – Require passwords for login on all office computers, and change those passwords regularly. Keep your network server in a locked location, and lock up any laptop computers when not in use.
  • Establish cyber security rules – Teach your employees what they need to do to protect your small business data. Create and document clear guidelines for computer, network, database, email and Internet usage as well as penalties for violating those guidelines.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, cybercrime costs our nation $100 billion each year. Implement the suggestions above and minimize your chances of contributing to that statistic. For additional financial protection, talk to your insurance professional about a comprehensive coverage package that includes cybercrime.

 

 

Don’t Skip This Critical Part of Your Business Plan

Don't Skip This Critical Part of Your Business Plan

You’ve poured your heart and soul into your business—shouldn’t you protect it? Evaluating your insurance needs is a critical part of business planning, one that will help you protect your investment by minimizing risks, liabilities and losses. Of course, it’s also a difficult road to navigate alone. Whether you’re just starting up, hiring your first employee, or planning for future growth, enlist the assistance of a reputable insurance advisor. He or she will help you review a number of factors to select the right insurance for your company structures, activities and locale.

 

Business Profile

The types of commercial business policies you need depend on your unique business profile. Your insurance advisor will consider factors like whether you rent or own your office space, your number of employees, whether you ever use temp workers or contractors, whether you produce goods or provide services, if your company leases or owns vehicles, if your business involves large quantities of cash, and how quickly you could resume business if your office were destroyed in a fire or flood.

Some types of insurance are required by law (such as employer insurance), while other policies are just a good idea.

 

Employer Insurance

If you have employees, state laws require you to pay for certain types of insurance. These include workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment insurance and disability insurance (depending on your location).

 

Commercial Business Insurance

While structuring your business as a corporation or LLC will protect your personal assets in the event of business liabilities, it will not cover losses your business may incur in the event of a lawsuit, natural disaster or other unfortunate event. Commercial business insurance policies include general liability insurance, product liability insurance, professional liability insurance, commercial property insurance, errors and omissions insurance, key executive insurance, business continuation insurance and home-based business insurance.

 

Unexpected Events

You and your insurance advisor should discuss your business risks in regards to unexpected events including the death of a business partner, an injured employee, a customer lawsuit or a natural disaster. Any of these misfortunes can destroy an uninsured business. The amount of commercial insurance your company needs depends, at least in part, on how aggressively you want to manage those risks.

 

Reassessing Coverage

As your business evolves, your liabilities change. Meet with your insurance advisor annually to ensure disaster does not strike while you are underinsured. If you hire additional employees, invest in new equipment or expand your operations, contact your advisor as soon as possible to discuss the implications for your insurance coverage.

While you need to include insurance premiums in your budget when planning your business, many policies are actually quite affordable, especially when you consider the potential losses your business may incur if you choose to operate unprotected.

 

 

Could Your Temp Really Be an Employee?

Could Your Temp Really Be an Employee?

Increasingly, despite the economy, businesses are turning to temporary workers as a way of getting the job done. In fact, by 2020, more than 40% of the US workforce will be free-lancing. That’s nearly 60 million people and it’s pretty easy to see why. Not only is it easy to hire temps as needed, or as revenue allows, they are also typically exempt from benefits and payroll tax withholdings, costing an employer less than a full or part-time permanent worker.

Unfortunately, many business owners don’t really understand the legal difference between a temp and an employee. According to one Department of Labor (DOL) study, 30 percent of employers misclassify workers. It can be a costly mistake, especially as the IRS, DOL ,and state governments are increasingly sharing information to crack down on the problem.

While you should always consult a professional when determining the status of any employee, consider the following basic differences between temporary workers/independent contractors and regular staff.

  • If you control how, where or when the individual performs assigned tasks, he or she is an employee, not a temp worker.
  • If you provide the tools needed to perform assigned tasks (including office space, computer or software) the workers is an employee, not a temp.
  • If you prohibit the individual from performing the same tasks for other businesses, he or she is an employee, not a temp worker.
  • If the assigned tasks completed by the individual are key aspects of your business, the IRS may consider him or her an employee rather than a temp worker.

In the event that a classification dispute goes to court, many take the following considerations into account:

  • What degree of control does the worker have over assigned tasks?
  • What is the worker’s risk of loss?
  • Who pays for supplies and equipment?
  • What types of skills are required to perform the work?
  • Is the work temporary in nature or indefinite?
  • Is the worker an integral part of the business?

While a written contract doesn’t provide guaranteed protection if you’ve misclassified an employee as a temp worker, it is better than an oral agreement should the IRS or courts get involved in a dispute. Make sure you include a description of the services to be performed, payment arrangements, who is responsible for expenses, who will provide materials, a statement that this is an independent contractor/temporary worker relationship, a statement that the worker is responsible for his or her own state and federal income taxes, the length of the project, any circumstances under which you may terminate the agreement, and how you will resolve disputes.

 

 

 

Compliance is Essential in Pre-Employment Screening

Compliance is Essential in Pre-Employment Screening

From a worker who is unqualified for the job to an employee who steals from the office, bad hires are potentially costly. How much so? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the price tag on the average bad hiring decision is equivalent to 30 percent of the individual’s first-year earnings. Fortunately, careful pre-employment screening can go a long way towards ensuring only quality professionals join your team—but the process has to be compliant. Consider the following background check mistakes that can take a big bite out of your business bottom line.

Failure to Request Permission to Run a Credit or Background Check

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), employers must obtain jobseeker approval before accessing credit, criminal or other records as part of a background check. Titled “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” a new version of this document was released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in early 2013. Some employers have already been subjected to multi-million dollar lawsuits for using the old version of the document. Failure to obtain written permission at all carries a penalty of $2,500 per violation.

Failure to Send Adverse Action Notices

The FCRA also requires employers to notify jobseekers in writing if they intend to take “adverse action” due to the information a credit or background check reveals. In the case of a job application, adverse action means employment disqualification. The employer must provide jobseekers with both pre-adverse action and post-adverse action notices that include the contact information for the credit or background check company and advises them of their rights to dispute the accuracy or completeness of the information. In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission took action against two freight services companies that rejected applicants based on background checks without informing them of their FCRA rights. The companies paid $77,000 in fines.

Rejecting All Convicts and Felons

In 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidelines to employers for use of the information obtained through criminal background checks. To avoid potentially discriminatory hiring practices, the guidelines encouraged businesses to consider factors such as type of crime, whether it was an arrest or conviction, and how long ago it occurred before denying an applicant employment. Earlier this year, Pepsi Beverages agreed to pay $3.13 million after an EEOC investigation revealed the company’s criminal background check policy discriminated against African Americans.

Failure to Conduct a Thorough Background Check

Conducting an incomplete background check—or failing to verify a jobseeker’s background at all—can expose your business to a negligent hiring lawsuit should the new employee endanger or injure another worker. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, assaults and violent acts accounted for 18 percent of business fatalities in 2009. Should an employee, client or vendor sue your organization as a result, the National Institute for Prevention of Workplace Violence reports verdicts in favor of the plaintiff have been as large as $40 million.

If you’re concerned that your pre-employment screening policies may not comply with current state and federal laws, consult your legal advisor or a human resource professional.

 

 

What to Watch for: Questionable Claims

What to Watch for: Questionable Claims    

Questionable claims are worker’s compensation claims insurers refer to the NICB for closer review and investigation because they appear to be fraudulent. According to the NICB’s analysis, insurers reported 3,474 claims as questionable in 2011. That number continues to increase based on data analysis of the first six months’ reported questionable claims.

Insurers may choose to refer a worker’s compensation claim to the NICB as questionable for several reasons. However, according to the recent report, the three most common are claimant fraud, prior injury/not related to work and malingering. These reasons topped the list in 2011, 2012  and 2013.

Claimant fraud is a very broad category that includes knowingly making false worker’s compensation claims, faking or exaggerating injures, filing multiple claims and failing to report income from second jobs. An insurer may select prior injury/not related to work if he believes an employee’s injury occurred prior to obtaining employment or was sustained while off the job. He might select malingering as a reason if he believes the employee is faking or exaggerating symptoms in order to continue collecting benefits after recovery from a legitimate injury.

While employers in big states like California, Illinois and New York suffered the most questionable worker’s compensation claims in total, the rankings changed when the NICB considered claims per 100,000 residents. When analyzed in that way, Delaware topped the list in 2011, Connecticut ranked first in 2012, and Maine led the pack in 2013.

Be prepared:

Consider these three warning signs that may help you spot questionable worker’s compensation claims before they are filed.

  1. Absence of witnesses. An employee attempting worker’s compensation fraud may claim his or her accident occurred when no one else was around.
  2. Monday injuries. Unlike a mid-week injury, it’s possible an accident reported on a Monday may have actually occurred over the weekend.
  1. Repeat claims. One study indicated that 37 percent of employees who filed one worker’s compensation claim would eventually file another.

According to the NICB, worker’s compensation fraud accounts for one out of every four insurance fraud claims in the U.S., costing employers billions of dollars each year. Consult with your insurance professional about ways you can protect your business from questionable worker’s compensation claims.

 

 

What to Watch for: Questionable Claims

What to Watch for Questionable Claims 1 - What to Watch for: Questionable Claims

 

Questionable claims are worker’s compensation claims insurers refer to the NICB for closer review and investigation because they appear to be fraudulent. According to the NICB’s analysis, insurers reported 3,474 claims as questionable in 2011. That number continues to increase based on data analysis of the first six months’ reported questionable claims.

Insurers may choose to refer a worker’s compensation claim to the NICB as questionable for several reasons. However, according to the recent report, the three most common are claimant fraud, prior injury/not related to work and malingering. These reasons topped the list in 2011, 2012  and 2013.

Claimant fraud is a very broad category that includes knowingly making false worker’s compensation claims, faking or exaggerating injures, filing multiple claims and failing to report income from second jobs. An insurer may select prior injury/not related to work if he believes an employee’s injury occurred prior to obtaining employment or was sustained while off the job. He might select malingering as a reason if he believes the employee is faking or exaggerating symptoms in order to continue collecting benefits after recovery from a legitimate injury.

While employers in big states like California, Illinois and New York suffered the most questionable worker’s compensation claims in total, the rankings changed when the NICB considered claims per 100,000 residents. When analyzed in that way, Delaware topped the list in 2011, Connecticut ranked first in 2012, and Maine led the pack in 2013.

Be prepared:

Consider these three warning signs that may help you spot questionable worker’s compensation claims before they are filed.

  1. Absence of witnesses. An employee attempting worker’s compensation fraud may claim his or her accident occurred when no one else was around.
  2. Monday injuries. Unlike a mid-week injury, it’s possible an accident reported on a Monday may have actually occurred over the weekend.
  1. Repeat claims. One study indicated that 37 percent of employees who filed one worker’s compensation claim would eventually file another.

According to the NICB, worker’s compensation fraud accounts for one out of every four insurance fraud claims in the U.S., costing employers billions of dollars each year. Consult with your insurance professional about ways you can protect your business from questionable worker’s compensation claims.

 

 

Emergency Plans a Must for Your Small Business

Emergency Plans a Must for Your Small Business

Tornados and earthquakes, fires and flooding, chemical spills and terrorist attacks—disasters, natural and otherwise, can happen anytime and anywhere. Even if an unforeseen event doesn’t directly damage your property, the power outages and travel disruptions that occur during many emergencies may prevent you from shipping and receiving products and supplies or otherwise affect your day-to-day business operations. Fortunately, an emergency plan can help prepare your small business for the unthinkable.

According to the Red Cross, as many as 40 percent of small businesses that are closed due to a catastrophic disaster never reopen. Because they did not take the time to prepare for potential emergencies, their employees lose their jobs. The economy of their community suffers as well. Fortunately, when you develop a disaster plan that addresses human resources, physical resources and business continuity, you’re taking an important step to protect the well-being of your company, workers, customers and the neighborhood of surrounding businesses.

Human Resources

In a disaster situation, your employees are certain to be one of your primary concerns. To facilitate timely communication, maintain a list of emergency contact information for all workers. This should include email addresses, phone numbers and a number for a close family member who may be able to get a message to them if you’re unable to contact them directly. Distribute copies of the list to key staff members and store one in an offsite location as well.

You may also want to consider setting up a voicemail number where you can record messages for employees in the event of an emergency such as a winter storm or other potentially dangerous weather event. Publicize the number and encourage your employees who are offsite when the disaster occurs to call it to retrieve information on late starts and closures.

Physical Resources

It’s not uncommon for emergencies to occur during business hours, putting your employees at direct risk in the workplace. Taking a few steps to increase their safety in the event of a disaster can go a long way towards minimizing danger. This may include installing emergency lights that remain on during power outages, investing in a NOAA Weather Radio, and stocking the supplies your employees will need if they are forced to remain on the premises for an extended period. At a minimum, you will need one gallon of water per employee per day, at least three days of non-perishable food, flashlights and extra batteries and first aid kits.

Business Continuity

The faster you can get your business running again, the less the disaster will impact your bottom line. There are many steps you can take to facilitate continuation of business, even if you have to do so offsite. Start by backing up your computer data at least once a day and making copies of all important records. Store this information in a safe location offsite. Call forwarding for your main business line can be a valuable investment. It will enable you to respond to customers from outside the office, though you should ensure you can activate it remotely. Additionally, maintaining a one to two-week stock of the goods and supplies you’ll need to continue producing product may be wise.

Many insurance policies do not cover earthquake or flood damage, so talk to your agent about your business insurance limitations. If necessary, add riders to protect valuable property and equipment. You may also wish to explore business continuity insurance. Also known as business interruption insurance, it will provide you with protection for the loss of profits as well as coverage for fixed expenses in the event you must temporarily close your business due to a disaster.

 

 

 

 

Best Practices for Managing Remote Employees

Best Practices for Managing Remote Employees

Remote employees are increasingly common in today’s businesses. According to a New York Times article published last year, the number of remote workers—which includes full-time telecommuters, self-employed freelancers, and other professionals whose work is traditionally done outside an office—could presently be as high as 30 percent of the American workforce.

As an employer, offering work-from-home flexibility can increase your company’s appeal in the eyes of job candidates—giving you a competitive edge in the war for top talent. Additionally, outsourcing some projects to self-employed freelancers can help you reduce your operating costs, free the time of your on-site staff for more important tasks, and expand your resources. The key, however, is managing these remote employees successfully. Consider the following best practices.

Set Expectations

Just like on-site workers, remote employees need to understand what you expect from them. At minimum, take some time before every project to outline measurable goals and expected results. You don’t have to give your remote team step-by-step instructions for the job—though you may choose to do so in some cases. Often, it’s best to allow them to develop their own methods.

Communicate Regularly

It can be all too easy to neglect team members you don’t see or interact with every day. Make a point to touch base with your remote workers on a regular basis. Depending on your business, their role in it and the project at hand, this might mean twice-weekly emails to check on status, a weekly phone call to answer questions and discuss progress, or even video chats.

Don’t Rely on Email Alone

You’re busy, and so are your remote workers. If an email thread is expanding exponentially, save everyone some time and connect on the phone instead. An interactive verbal discussion is often a faster way to collaborate than back-and-forth email messages. You might even want to use an instant messaging platform for faster written discussions.

Find Ways to Interact Face-to-Face

While it’s not always possible—especially if your company’s remote workers are in other geographic areas—try to find ways to meet with them face-to-face. Invite those who live nearby to attend staff meetings, on-site trainings and teambuilding activities. If you travel to a city in which you have remote employees, set up a coffee or lunch date.

Be Considerate

One of the reasons many professionals value remote work opportunities is because they enhance work-life balance. Unfortunately, one of the quickest ways to destroy that balance is to disregard the difference in time between yourself and your remote workers in other states and/or countries. Pay attention to time zones and reach out to colleagues during their normal working hours whenever possible.

Make them Feel Valued

They may not work on-site, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. Keep your remote team informed about the latest company happenings. Let them know how their contributions are contributing to the organization’s success. Ask them for their opinions on decisions that may affect them. And always make sure they get credit for their work.

 

 

Management Style: Being a Leader Not Just a Boss

Management Style: Being a Leader Not Just a Boss

The difference between being a leader and a boss is more than simply the word someone uses to describe a supervisor. Employees perceive a leader and a boss in completely different ways, and leaders are far more effective than mere bosses, who often appear stuck in the 1950s, although they may view themselves as progressive. If you’re not sure about your management style, here are three quick questions to help determine how your employees see you — and what you can do keep from falling into the trap of ineffective management.

Do you do more talking or listening?

While no one expects you to be the guru on the mountaintop who gives succinct one word replies to problems, whether you spend more time telling others how to do their jobs or listening to their ideas makes a huge difference in how you are perceived by your employees.  Author and venture capitalist Allen Hall points out that those supervisors who presume to have all the answers are perceived as arrogant by employees. On the other hand, if you spend time listening to your employees, becoming familiar with their ideas and concerns, you will be respected and are likely to experience both personal and professional growth.

Do you tell people what to do or ask them what they can do?

If you have seen the now iconic film “Castaway,” you may remember Tom Hank’s character yelling at his employees to get the job done on a precise schedule. The employees, bored and rolling their eyes, lackadaisically follow suit.

If you’d rather be perceived as a leader than a boss, try letting your employees know what needs to be done and then asking them how they believe the task can best be accomplished. When you allow people to provide input into a process, they are more likely to be personally invested in the outcome. In addition to getting better employee performance, your workers will perceive you as thoughtful rather than dictatorial.

Do you criticize or coach?

While there is always a place for constructive criticism, telling an employee “You spend too much time talking and not enough time researching leads” is not as helpful as working with the person on time-management skills and goal-setting. Criticism sends the message that you are displeased with a person’s work, whereas coaching lets her know that you value her contribution and want to help her to be even more effective.