button Vol. 7
No. 5



line Non-union

line Obesity In
The Workplace

line Productivity
Or Push?

line English-only

line Update On
Overtime Rules

line Briefs

Braun Consulting News
News on Personnel, Labor Relations and Benefits

See our Archive Pages for Back Issues of Braun Consulting News!

Human Resources and labor relations Briefs

Checkmark Graphic Internet Usage By Disgruntled Employees

Disgruntled employees can be very clever and innovative when devising ways to strike back at their employers.

The problems of computer hacking and destruction of company data internally has been around for years, but now new forms of attacks are coming as a result of the widespread use of the Internet in today's workplace.

Here are a few of the ways that have been used by disgruntled employees to strike back at their current or ex-employers:

* Using Bulletin Boards and Chat Rooms

Disgruntled employees sometimes use chat rooms to vent hostile feelings and provide fictitious "insider" information. The financial industry has on occasion seen negatively affected stock prices and/or discredited corporate executives because of deceptive practices used by disenchanted employees while posing as authorities in chat rooms.

Lucent Technologies stock value temporarily lost about $7 billion of market value after a day-trader posted a false profit warning on an Internet message board.

* Generating E-mail Fraud and Spamming

A Lockheed Martin employee crashed its e-mail system by sending 60,000 colleagues a personal e-mail message requesting an electronic receipt. The company had to fly in a Microsoft emergency team to repair the damage.

An employee lost her job at the School of Visual Arts in New York and decided to get some revenge. She registered the work e-mail address of the director of human resources on a number of pornographic-websites, after which the director received huge amounts of explicit e-mails from these sites at work. (Note - since this article was originally published the name of the person has been removed at their request)

Often e-mails are sent out fraudulently by appearing to come from an executive or supervisor and containing false information. False information can be sent out to large numbers of people and cause a variety of problems as a result. These can be difficult to trace.

A former employee lashed out at Emulex Corporation through the use of a fraudulent Internet "newsletter". The person created a false story stating that Emulex CEO was stepping down and that earnings estimates were going to be revised. The price of Emulex's stock fell more than 60% and resulted in about $2.2 billion market value loss.

* Altering Company Web Sites or Creating Negative Personal Web Sites

Web sites critical of a company often can crop up after an employee is fired. Kourosh Hamidi sought to "even the score" against Intel after he left the company by creating a web site critical of Intel and its employment practices. These personal web sites can spread false information and post false or exaggerated claims, which may damage a company's reputation. The person creating the web site may spread the news about it through chat rooms, bulletin boards, or e-mails.

Sometimes employees may use the company web site itself to post false information. The web site can be altered in many ways detrimental to the company, from the way it looks to the information that is contained on the site. The response time to fix these problems can vary from hours to days. Admitting that your web site was hacked is almost as bad as the false impressions or misinformation that the hacking caused in the first place, and can call more attention to the situation than just moving on.

* Interfering With Internet Phones

A new method of harassment using the Internet involves Internet phones. Internet phones break voice conversations into data packets and route them over the Internet. These phones, routers, and servers are all susceptible to the bugs, worms, viruses, and other attacks that have haunted computer systems in the past.

In one case a branch of a major insurer located in the North East lost voice service for eight hours on about 1,000 Internet phone lines because a worm jammed its servers. This wound up costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In another case involving a bank branch that had about 500 Internet phone lines, a trading floor was disabled after a worm infected the voice and data systems. By the time it was over the losses were estimated at about $1 million.

Consider These Factors in Prevention

Here are some ways to prevent or slow an attack from a disgruntled employee:

Checkmark graphic Have firm policies about computer/network/Internet usage. Enforce them.
Checkmark graphic Carefully check references of anyone using or with access to computers.
Checkmark graphic Use Internet and e-mail filters to stop unwanted materials.
Checkmark graphic Use firewalls and back up data daily. Store this data offsite as well as on.
Checkmark graphic Run virus protection software and get frequent updates.
Checkmark graphic Tie in a clear non-disparagement clause with severance payments.
Checkmark graphic Limit employee access to information and use complex passwords.
Checkmark graphic Electronically monitor employee use of information systems.
Checkmark graphic Terminate employees carefully. Deny them any access to computers.
Checkmark graphic Consider purchasing "cyber-insurance" or check current insurance coverage.
Checkmark graphic Discipline and terminate employees with fairness and honesty.

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Checkmark Graphic Update On Romance In The Workplace

In "Reminiscing About Workplace Romance" we last reviewed trends, data, and provided you with references to all of the earlier articles in our newsletters relating to "Romance in the Workplace".

In these articles on "Romance in the Workplace" we discussed "love contracts" and various policies towards romantic relationships on the job site.

Whether employers should even try to regulate workplace romance, or encourage employees to sign "volitional dating agreements" to avoid future harassment charges, is still open to much debate. Some authorities believe just the suggestion of such a contract is harassment of the persons who are romantically involved.

The latest information we have gathered to update you on this subject would indicate that these types of "contracts" or policies only work in certain situations, and only if carried out in conjunction with other actions closely related to them. More often than not, liability does not have as much to do with company dating policies as it does with how a company responds once a complaint has been lodged when the romance ends in contempt.

The most dangerous affairs in the workplace tend to involve officers of the company and senior executives, who are often already married. These are the more likely to end up in court because of retaliation claims etc.

Courts tolerate a tremendous amount, as long as the employer (a) has a policy it publishes and (b) acts promptly, efficiently, and in good faith once an employee complains. If the company is involved early on and gets it resolved quickly once a complaint occurs it will usually not wind up in court.

Surveys indicate that 69 percent to 84 percent of all companies opt for the "no policy" option at the workplace. Only 12 percent of respondents to an American Management Association survey published in 2003 reported that their company had an active policy, most only concerned with relationships with subordinates.

Thirty percent of the 391 managers polled admitted to dating a coworker themselves.

It seems romance in the workplace is here to stay, and no one has much more of an idea of what to do about it than they did years ago. Most companies count on their employees being "mature adults" and handling the situation properly for whatever the particular circumstances are in each case.

But sometimes love has a way of muddling our thoughts, and can lead to trouble... even on the job site.

Love won't seem to go away in the workplace, so our best alternative is to keep its negative consequences under control by having a policy that encourages a harassed employee to come forward and then when they do so to give prompt and appropriate responses to these situations as they arise.

For more information on "love contracts" and romance in the workplace visit our article "Reminiscing About Workplace Romance".

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Checkmark Graphic Suspicious Medical-leave Requests

Suspicious medical-leave requests can be a real pain for employers.

It is a tricky area to deal with when an employer has reason to believe that an employee may be just working the system by using medical leave requests. It helps to have a better idea about what can be done about these situations before they occur.

Employers must often work with complex sets of rules that limit how and when they may communicate with doctors, question fitness-for-duty certifications, or require second opinions.

For example, an employer may require the seeking of a second opinion when there is a question about the validity of an employee's medical certification, but it must do so at its own expense. The problem here is in determining how an employer can know with certainty what constitutes a sufficient reason to question the validity of a medical certification.

In cases where there is conflicting medical information it is an easier call, but a leave request that is suspicious merely because of timing can be a tough call. Neither the courts nor the U.S. Department of Labor offers much helpful guidance.

Employers should be very careful in making medical inquiries, but should not necessarily assume that all inquiries are forbidden.

Employers DO have rights regarding leave requests.

Instead of providing employers with the tools they need to curb the abusive use of leaves, the Family and Medical Leave Act may actually inhibit employers in understanding and seeking the medical inquiries that they have a right to make.

Some employers give up in frustration or confusion trying to monitor their employees' use of medical leaves. This may encourage abuse of the system within the workplace.

A reasonable approach for an employer to adopt is a consistent and well-thought-out practice of gathering information to the extent that the law permits. This will usually require in-house training and occasional consultation with an experienced consultant or legal counsel.

When an employer obtains sufficient information to confront a suspicious leave request it can have an important positive impact in more ways than one. In addition to an employee possibly being dissuaded from taking unnecessary leave, other employees will know that their employer will not permit unsubstantiated leave requests.

Word will get around, and it may stop future attempts to abuse the system as other employees know that everything is being done to be firm but fair in the allocation of medical leave requests.

If you need assistance in responding to or preventing suspicious medical leave requests on your job site, you may contact us at Braun Consulting Group by using our Contact Page.
(Information courtesy of Workforce Management - www.workforce.com)

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Checkmark Graphic New DVD on Workplace Violence Available

Homicide in the workplace is the third leading cause of job-related fatalities, and the second leading cause of job-related fatalities for women.

Each week in the U.S., 17 employees on average are murdered at work, and 33,000 on average are assaulted.

For comparison about two US military personnel per week are killed in the war in Iraq and the total loss for two years is only now approaching 1,000. While the US press will never make the connection, it appears that it is about one half as dangerous (but much more in the news) to be a soldier in Iraq than a U.S. worker at home.

Violence in the work place is real and can be a serious liability for employers.

A new training and educational DVD from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides employers, employees, safety professionals, and others with recommendations and resources for preventing work-related homicides and assaults.

The video is titled "Violence on the Job", DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2004-100d.

It can be seen on the web site as streaming video, or ordered for free from the toll-free NIOSH information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH.

Included in the "Violence on the Job" DVD / Video are:

  • A 21-minute training and education program designed to engage a wide variety of workplace audiences.

  • A bonus video on a program in New York State for preventing workplace violence in state drug treatment facilities. The case study includes discussions by a labor representative and a management representative who were instrumental in developing and implementing the program.

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) guidelines for preventing workplace violence in health care workplaces, late-night retail settings, and taxicab services.

  • Access to additional materials and resources on preventing workplace violence.

To see the video go to: www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/video/violence.html

It's worth checking out, and it's free.

It is wise to review this information and keep up on violence in the workplace issues. You will want to review it before you are trying to respond to a situation that you may have been able to prevent in the first place.

Violence in the workplace is scary, counter-productive, and costly. It is much easier to prevent than to respond to.

For additional information about NIOSH recommendations for preventing workplace violence, visit the NIOSH web page at www.cdc.gov/niosh/injury/traumaviolence.html, or see our earlier articles on this subject at:

Violence in the Workplace Update, Winter 2002 - 2003

Violence in the Workplace: Revisited

Violence in the Workplace: "A Loaded Gun at the Head of the Employer"

Resources on Workplace Violence

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Checkmark Graphic Alternative Health-care For Workers

It is not clear whether alternative-health services can reduce overall health care costs to employers because research organizations have not conducted large-sample surveys on the topic. A lack of information is causing a lack of alternatives.

There is some indication that alternative-health services may save money by offering less costly solutions to some problems that don't require the latest in medical technology. For example, alternative-health experts claim that massage therapy is often better than anti-inflammatory pills for sore back muscles, and is less costly than back surgery for pain relief.

In addition to a perception that there may be cost savings in the long run, many proponents of complementary and alternative medicine believe the real savings lie in health and lifestyle habits.

Some employers are now beginning to offer unconventional health-care benefits to employees to meet a growing demand and a perceived enthusiasm.

In reviewing information for this article we could not find any significant information later than 1998. That means most of the information that we have to work with is already 6 years old.

This indicates a lack of research on this subject; either about the number of people utilizing alternative medicine practices, or how effective it is in treatment.

Though they are somewhat dated, these are the most current statistics we could find:

    Checkmark graphic Between 1990 and 1997 there was a 47 percent increase in visits to alternative practitioners, from 427 million to 629 million, bypassing the estimated total number of visits made to all conventional primary care doctors in 1997.

    Checkmark graphic In 1998, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that an estimated 4 in 10 Americans used at least one alternative therapy in 1997, as compared to only 3 in 10 in 1990.

    Checkmark graphic The Journal of the American Medical Association also reported in 1998 that 42.1 million Americans spent $21.2 billion dollars a year on alternative therapies including chiropractic care, acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and nutritional counseling. Three quarters of these people paid out of their own pockets.

    Checkmark graphic Spending on health care by employers in 2003 rose 10.1%, compared with a 15% rise in 2002, according to a survey of 3,000 small and large employers by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

    Checkmark graphic Monthly premiums for employer-sponsored health programs rose 13.9 percent overall between 2002 and 2003, according to the annual Kaiser Family Foundation survey. That was the highest increase since 1990 and the third consecutive year of double-digit increases. An average annual family premium cost $9,068.

Considering the rise in health care costs to employers, and the lack of information about the possibility for potential cost savings provided by alternative-health methods, it seems there should be a growing demand to explore this issue in more detail.

The world of health care is changing, as are the attitudes of employees about their own health and the cost to them of maintaining it. It seems likely that this will be an area of growth in the future which will impact employers both financially and culturally in relation to the health care of their employees.

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