Next Wednesday is Halloween.   More than ghosts and goblins, some of the scariest things HR professionals might face on Halloween are inappropriate costumes and safety issues.  Most problems are preventable and, when deciding how to celebrate Halloween at work, employers should consider the organization’s culture and its approach to diversity, as well as office traditions and customer impact.

Althoudh largely a secular holiday, Halloween does have religious roots and pagan symbols.  As such, some people might not wish to participate in company-sponsored Halloween events.  Organizations can set the right tone when inviting employees to participate in a Halloween-related event at work by saying things such as: 

  • In our workplace, Halloween is intended as a secular celebration. 
  • We recognize that not everyone celebrates Halloween. You should not feel compelled to participate. 
  • Please do not wear anything that is inconsistent with our equal employment opportunity or diversity policy.

Costume Do’s and Don’ts

Employees should use good judgment when deciding what to wear.  Ask yourself: “Am I likely to offend someone with this costume?”  If there’s any doubt, choose another costume.  Halloween has become a celebration with more opportunity to cross the line. It requires more regulation and oversight, as costumes can breach good taste or be offensive to those in a culturally diverse company.  Images of ghosts, skeletons, devils, etc., for example, do not go over well in a health care setting.

Religion and politics are two easy ways to get you in trouble at the workplace.  Political costumes can be especially problematic in the midst of a contentiousU.S.presidential election, particularly when Halloween falls between the political debates and Election Day.  It might help to remind employees that they still need to be able to work together when the election is over. 

If you are going to allow employees to wear costumes and decorate their workspace for Halloween, everyone should follow a few simple rules: 

  • Decorations should not violate fire or safety codes. 
  • Employees are responsible for clean-up after the event. 
  • Costumes should be office appropriate and not offensive to co-workers and peers. 

Another consideration is whether to allow employees with direct customer contact to wear costumes.  Some companies may allow it to demonstrate that the company is a great place to work, while others may decline.  Think about what message you want to send. 

Safety First (and always)

Employers must consider possible workplace risks.  For example, there are some places where costumes are not appropriate, such as a manufacturing floor which houses heavy machinery and strict safety codes set forth by a local government and by OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration).  Even something as simple a pumpkin carving contest could cause cuts and possible workers’ compensation claims.

For more on this or any other HR-related subject, contact Prestige.

Training is the first line of defense in keeping your company out of the harassment limelight.  However, harassment training can be a slippery slope because you want to show what constitutes improper and inacceptable behavior, but you don’t want to offend trainees while you are doing it.  Here is one recommended training approach from our friends at BLR: 

Try some quick statements and scenarios and see if trainees can see what the problems might be with the statements or behaviors described below.

1. As a manager, if I observe behavior that might be harassment, I wait until I’m sure it’s illegal. When I’m sure it is, I discipline the perpetrator right away.

Managers should not try to figure out whether behavior is illegal. (In fact, it’s not a good idea to talk in those terms—an e-mail that talks about illegal harassment is a pretty nice piece of evidence for a suing employee’s attorney.)

 Typically, long before the behavior is illegal it‘s inappropriate for the workplace, so managers and supervisors should focus on whether behavior is inappropriate and contrary to policy, and whether it violates the organization’s values and principles. As soon as it is inappropriate or contrary to values, act.

2. Hey, I know Gerry gets teased a little, but if people can’t take a little good-natured kidding, what kind of team members are they?

Behavior that is kidding to one person may be offensive to the recipient and/or observers. Harassment isn’t mitigated by the motives or intent of the offender; what counts is the impact on the person offended.

“Kidding” and “just teasing’ cases are particularly problematic, because the recipient may appear to be taking the teasing in good humor. But later, on the witness stand, he or she will say, “I was going along because I feared I would lose my job.” 

The bottom line is that teasing that involves sex, race, religion, or any protected characteristic is dangerous. It just won’t ever be funny in letters 6 inches high in front of the jury. 

3. Sexual harassment usually involves intimate touching or other manner of physical contact. 

Intimate touching and other physical contacts are an egregious form of harassment, and, in fact, may be criminal behavior, but harassment may also occur from innuendo, sexual talk, inappropriate jokes, and other offensive behavior that creates a hostile working environment. 

4. A superior says a subordinate who turns down invitations for a date will get a poor job evaluation.

This is classic “quid pro quo” or tangible employment action harassment. It is never acceptable. 

5. Manager to subordinate “I think we’d be looking at a raise situation if we could share a room on an upcoming business trip.

Again, this is tangible employment action harassment. 

6. A superior blocks a promotion for a subordinate who has firmly stated that the superior’s sexual remarks were unwelcome. 

This is another example of potential tangible employment action harassment. Of course, the superior can argue that he or she blocked the promotion for a good business reason, but that reason had better be well documented and beyond questioning. And there could still be a hostile environment. 

7. The company’s policies on harassment state that co-workers can’t date. 

This seems like a great, albeit draconian, solution to a potential problem, but most organizations find that it’s unworkable. It’s also difficult to police. The important thing is to train supervisors and managers about: 

The potential for harassment if either party has any business power over the other. 

The potential for a retaliation claim if the parties break up. 

8. As long as people don’t complain about my kidding and my pinching, I don’t have to worry. 

Sometimes, employees will seem to be going along with inappropriate behavior, and it is true that behavior must be “unwelcome” to be harassment. Unfortunately, in court people who seemed to be accepting will tell the jury that they had to go along so they could feed their young children. That’s not going to end well for the company. 

9. I’ve been sleeping with my assistant, but we both enjoy it—it’s not a boss thing, it’s a love thing. 

Unfortunately for the company, most relationships eventually break up, and that means the employee, if he or she suffers a negative employment action, can always claim that it was retaliation for breaking up the relationship. 

And there’s another problem with subordinate dating–co-workers will tend to believe that the subordinate is getting special treatment. That’s bad for morale and could also result in a lawsuit. 

10. Only supervisors can harass subordinates. 

Generally, only supervisors and managers can exercise the power to engage in tangible employment action harassment, but any co-worker can create a hostile environment. 

11. Our receptionist is attractive, and the delivery people tend to tease a little, well, a lot, but they’re not employees, so there’s nothing I can do about them. 

If you allow a hostile environment to continue, even if created by an outsider, you are condoning harassment, and that is not going to be good. Management must take action, talking to the outsiders, and if necessary, to their management. 

How can you eliminate harassment and retaliation in your organization? As with most things HR, the key to success is training, training, and more training. But who has the budget and time to organize a full-blown training program? 

Good news from Prestige—we offer a full suite of training courses at no cost to you through our University of Prestige program. University of Prestigeis a ccomprehensive in-house learning and development program with over 50 courses encompassing a broad range of topics and best practices. 

Contact your Prestige HR Business Partner for additional information or to arrange on-site, online or for video classes.

Social security benefits will rise by only 1.7 percent in 2013, down sharply from a 3.6 percent increase in 2012’s cost of living adjustment (COLA). That boost followed two years of no COLA increase. The Social Security Administration (SSA) said next year’s COLA would raise the average monthly benefit payment by $21, to $1,261 from $1,240.

For people still working, the COLA increase will also translate into a higher earnings ceiling for Social Security payroll taxes. The SSA announced today that the 2013 social security wage base will be $113,700, an increase of $3,600 from the 2012 wage base of $110,100. As in prior years, there is no limit to the wages subject to the Medicare tax; therefore all covered wages are still subject to the 1.45% tax. Wages paid in excess of $200,000 in 2013 will be subject to an extra 0.9% Medicare tax that will only be withheld from employees’ wages. Employers will not pay the extra tax.

The FICA tax rate, which is the combined social security tax rate of 6.2% and the Medicare tax rate of 1.45%, will be 7.65% for 2013 up to the social security wage base. The maximum social security tax employees and employers will each pay in 2013 is $7,049.40. This will be an increase of $2,425.20 for employees and $223.20 for employers. Note that the 2012 FICA tax rate is 4.2% for employees and 6.2% for employers under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and that the rate is scheduled to be 6.2% for both employees and employers in 2013. However, bills currently being considered in Congress may change this.

The Social Security COLA is based on a version of the U.S. Consumer Price Index tailored for people who work. It’s called the CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or the CPI-W. Every year, Social Security looks at the CPI-W average during the third quarter of the year, compares it with the average during the previous year’s third quarter, and designates any percentage increase as the following year’s COLA.

The COLA change also affects numerous other Social Security benefits, including the tax treatment of outside income earned by recipients, disability payments, and how much money working people need to earn each quarter of the year to qualify to earn credits for Social Security payments when they retire. These changes are spelled out in an online fact sheet.

For more information on this or any other HR-related matters, contact Prestige.

Contrary to the expectations of most citizens, while it may be both immoral and unprofessional, it is not illegal in the United States for managers to threaten, insult, humiliate, ignore or mock employees; give employees “the evil eye”; gossip and spread rumors; withhold information that employees need to complete their work; or take credit for someone else’s work. Unfortunately, these types of behaviors are not rare occurrences, but occur all too often in many American workplaces.

The physical or emotional health (and sometimes both) of employees working in organizations where these types of actions are taking place are often severely impacted. In addition, the confidence of the targeted employee is frequently so destroyed by the repeated negative actions that they lack even the courage necessary to leave such a toxic environment. Instead, they find themselves trapped in a world of psychological abuse — targets of a phenomenon that has been labeled workplace bullying. 

The Problem of Workplace Bullying

In a nutshell, the concept of workplace bullying refers to “repeated mistreatment [against a target individual] manifested as either verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work, or a combination of the three.” The consequences are serious, including harm to the affected individuals, their co-workers, their friends and family, as well as the organizations in which they work.

During the past decade in theUnited States, the issue has attracted media attention, legal attention, and union attention. Additionally, there appears to be a growing interest among academics, as well as a number of activists and research-based organizations. Internationally, the topic has received extensive attention from both academic researchers and the business community over the past 20 years. In fact, a number of countries in the European Union,Scandinavia,Australia, andCanadahave actually passed legislation to protect employees from such abusive behaviors at work.

Though there were some early non-scientific or informal Internet-based polls about the incidence of bullying in workplaces across theUnited States, the prevalence of this issue has only recently been understood as a result of several comprehensive and in-depth scientific surveys. Three important studies released in 2007 and 2008 confirmed the seriousness of the problem in American workplaces:

· A March 2007 survey of 1,000 adults confirmed that nearly 45 percent of the respondents reported that they have worked for an abusive boss.

· Similarly, a September 2007 poll found that 37 percent of American workers — an estimated 54 million employees — report being bullied at work. When organizational bystanders are included, bullying affects nearly half (49 percent) of all full- or part-time employees inAmerica, an estimated 71.5 million workers.

· In a joint study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and theEthicsResourceCenter, approximately a third of HR professionals (32 percent) reported having observed misconduct that they believed violated their organizations’ ethics standards, company policy, or the law. Of the top five types of misconduct witnessed, the most prevalent included “abusive or intimidating behavior toward employees (excluding sexual harassment),” with 57 percent of the participants confirming that they had witnessed this type of bullying behavior at work.

Researchers in this area have compared workplace bullying to the concerns expressed about sexual harassment 20 years ago. More research is needed to generate a greater understanding of the nature and extent of the phenomenon, particularly in theUnited States, given that workplace bullying has been reported to be four times as prevalent as either illegal discrimination or harassment.

In fact, a recent review of 100 studies conducted over 21 years comparing the consequences of an employee’s experience of sexual harassment and workplace aggression found that workplace bullying appears to inflict more severe harm on employees than does sexual harassment. According to the study, employees who experience bullying, incivility, or interpersonal conflict were more likely to quit their jobs, have lower well-being, be less satisfied with their jobs, and have less satisfying relations with their bosses than employees who were sexually harassed. Targets also reported more job stress, less job commitment, and higher levels of anger and anxiety.

As confirmed by the recent incidence studies, the pervasiveness of the problem suggests that bullying is systemic in American business environments. As a result, this type of behavior will likely be hard to change. The degree, gravity, and regularity of workplace bullying may require law or policy changes, or both. Just as sexually harassing behavior at work was first identified as a problem and deemed unacceptable by society (and then later codified into law), workplace bullying appears to be on a similar trajectory in theUnited States.

Recent estimates suggest that American businesses lose approximately $300 billion per year as a result of the loss of productivity, absenteeism, turnover, and increased medical costs due to the increased stress at work. In an ideal world, organizations in theUnited Stateswould readily perceive the economic, operational, and morale benefits that would likely be associated with the elimination of workplace bullying. However, new workplace policies are not usually initiated by employers voluntarily; rather, they are created most often in direct response to regulatory laws and legal requirements.

The prevalence and severity of the problem and the grassroots effort to implement model legislation, coupled with the damages and costs related to the problem, suggest that companies in the United States need to elevate their attention to this issue and take the steps necessary to understand and address this workplace issue sooner rather than later.

Given that HR professionals are the corporate insiders typically charged with the responsibility for developing strategies, policies, and training to respond to new legislation or potential legal issues, this book is designed to provide not only an overview of the problem of workplace bullying, but also some practical strategies and solutions to help HR professionals and their companies proactively deal with the problem.

This excerpt is from the book Stop Bullying at Work by Theresa A. Daniel.

For more information about workplace bullying and Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, contact Prestige or go to:

Held each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is a national campaign that raises awareness about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions ofAmerica’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?” 

NDEAM’s roots go back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to “National Disability Employment Awareness Month.” Upon its establishment in 2001, ODEP assumed responsibility for NDEAM and has worked to expand its reach and scope ever since. 

Although led by ODEP, NDEAM’s true spirit lies in the many observances held at the grassroots level across the nation every year. Employers, schools and organizations of all sizes and in all communities are encouraged to participate in NDEAM, and ODEP offers several resources to help them do so. Activities range from simple, such as putting up a poster, to comprehensive, such as implementing a disability education program. Regardless, all play an important part in fostering a more inclusiveAmerica, one where every person is recognized for his or her abilities — every day of every month. 

For more information on this or any other HR-related subject, contact Prestige.

Do you give your employees meaningful feedback?  I guess that all depends on what is meant by meaningful feedback. 

Here are six tips to help you improve your communication as a manager: 

1. Negative feedback is a good thing.  No one likes hearing how they screwed up. But how can you expect your employees to fix something if they don’t know what they are doing wrong?  You don’t need to be mean, and you should give positive feedback as well, but you must tell employees where they need to improve. 

2. Subtlety is not an effective tool.  A lot of people don’t get subtle hints. Demonstrating how you’d like it done without saying specifically, “I’d like it done this way!” leaves a lot of people thinking, “Tom does it this way and I do it that way,” and not, “I’d better do it how Tom does it.” 

3. Set concrete goals. When your employees know what you think is important, the communication problem is largely solved. It also makes for less awkward conversations when there are failures.  

4. Listen to your employees’ complaints.  Every workplace has what I like to refer to as a “Norma Rae.”  And, yes, some people are just whiners. But how do you expect them to listen to you when you won’t listen to them?  Sure, you’re the boss, so of course they should listen.  But in real life, respect has to be earned.  If your employees are saying they don’t understand why things need to be done in a specific fashion, they may well have an idea for a better process.  

5. Document, document, document.  Theoretically, communication is a separate thing than documenting what happens in the workplace, but in an employer-employee relationship this documentation is critical.  People often hear what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.  Not only should you make notes on what you said and when, but if you’ve had a conversation with an employee, follow up with an email to the person listing the key points that were discussed. 

6. Don’t do important communication via text message.  Texting is a convenient, time-saving tool, but it’s not good for dealing with employee problems. Face to face, phone, and even email are better tools for important information.  

If you include these simple techniques in your daily interactions with your employees, no one will be taken by surprise, you won’t experience as much frustration, and if you do need to fire someone, it won’t be without fair warning.

The election is only weeks away and, without vigilant attention, it could mean the end of productivity in your workplace until the election is over.  Fortunately, employers can, to some extent, control political activities at work, although there are a multitude of federal and state laws that govern this area. 

Federal Laws
Employers have the right to regulate and control employee work time.  As a result, employers may prohibit certain activities and behaviors that interfere with the employee’s (or other employees’) work. 

An employer may also restrict employee campaigning on the job if that activity will cause the organization to be associated with a campaign or issue.  

FECA—The Federal Election Campaign Act
Private employers are covered by the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), as well as various other federal and state laws that affect political campaigning, donations, time off from work, and other political issues in the workplace. 

Enacted by Congress in 1971, and amended extensively in 1993, FECA’s intent was to rein in corporate influence over political candidates.  FECA allows corporations to perform certain activities, while prohibiting others.  The law does not apply to unincorporated businesses or partnerships.  FECA places a number of prohibitions on employees and employers: 

  • Holding fundraisers on company property is illegal if the room is not customarily available to clubs or civic organizations.  Also, the political recipient must reimburse the company for use of the facility.
  • Use of company postage or contribution of other materials, such as letterhead and printed envelopes, is prohibited.
  • Use of company equipment, such as copiers, is prohibited.
  • Use of company labor is illegal, unless the corporation receives advance payment for the fair market value of the employee’s service.
  • Volunteer employee work is allowed, but it may not be coerced in any way. 

Soliciting Contributions Under FECA
Under FECA, “rank-and-file” employees may be solicited no more than two times per year, provided that the solicitation is done by mail to employees’ homes in a manner that allows for anonymous responses.  These employees may not be solicited face to face, especially by their supervisors.  On the other hand, executive, administrative, and professional personnel may be contracted directly for contributions, but FECA states that they may not be pressured to contribute. 

A political action committee, or PAC, is an organization established by an employer, labor organization, trade group, nonprofit, or any other interest group established to make contributions to political campaigns and parties or to support a single issue.  The purpose of PACs, which began in the 1940s, is to allow the pooling of monies.  In addition, individuals can contribute more to a PAC than they can contribute directly to a candidate. 

FECA permits the use of payroll-deduction plans for employee contributions to a corporate PAC as long as the employee authorizes the deduction in writing. Allied PACs, such as unions, are also allowed to coordinate their contributions.  A corporate-sponsored PAC cannot commingle funds with the company treasury. 

Terminations Over Politics
Private employers who terminate employees over political activity may also face claims based on the “public policy” exception to the doctrine of employment at will.


If you need guidance on this or any other HR-related issues, contact Prestige.

Effective November 1, 2012, Prestige will be renewing our master group medical plans with UnitedHealthcare/Oxford Health Plans and Empire Health Plans.  As always, our goal is to ensure that each plan maintains the highest level and quality of coverage for our clients and their employees at the most affordable premium.  Prestige has been working diligently over the past several months to negotiate the best possible renewal.

Despite the current economic climate, record-breaking medical rate increases and the ever-changing landscape of health care reform, Prestige is excited that we were able to leverage our experience in order to successfully negotiate a rate increase that is well below the market average.  This is just one more example of our clients and their employees having a competitive advantage by partnering with Prestige.

Prestige is currently preparing all materials and we will be sending you detailed information about the plan renewal and open enrollment process before any information is distributed to your employees. 

NEW FOR 2012: In an effort to streamline this process and make it more user-friendly, we have also established a dedicated e-mail address ( and fax number (516-726-5818) for all enrollment forms.

Earlier today we Tweeted how even working to age 70 won’t pay for retirement.  We know that saving for retirement is important to you.  Accumulating the savings you’ll need is a big goal.  Your retirement plan is not only a convenient way for you to build up your savings, but also offers tax benefits that can help your account grow. Unfortunately, many people do not have the information they need to make the most of their retirement plan. 

Pre-Tax Savings:
One of the most important features of your retirement plan is the ability to save and accumulate earnings on a tax deferred basis.  Rather than paying taxes on your contributions and earnings now, you can delay paying taxes until you withdraw the money so you can have more money working for you. 

Automatic Salary Deferrals:
Your plan makes it easy for you to save for retirement by deducting your contribution from your paycheck each pay period and automatically investing your contributions according to your investment elections. 

Investment Menu:
Retirement plans can access mutual funds and share classes that are not available on a retail or individual level.  As a result, your options may be better and your fees lower than if you were investing outside of your plan. 

Will I get there?
How much will you need when you retire?  The answer may surprise you.  Get started today! 

If you want this much each year in retirement:

You’ll need this much in your retirement account when you retire:











*Assumes 4% return during a 25 year retirement 

If you would like more information about enrolling in your retirement plan, contact Prestige at

Next Monday we observe Labor Day.  This federal holiday originated as a day to pay tribute to the contributions of the American worker.  Unfortunately, there is little to celebrate this Labor Day for the 8.3% of Americans that are currently unemployed. 

While the economic climate is bad now, it could get even worse.  Just last week, the Congressional Budget Office released its updated budget and economic forecast, which projects a bleak economic outlook if Congress fails to address automatic spending cuts and allows a tax hike on all Americans set to take effect on January 1, 2013. 

Federal debt held by the public could reach its highest level since 1950, and another recession could cause unemployment to soar above 9 percent by the end of 2013. 

The American people are rightfully disheartened, and it is time our government step up and ensure we do not slip off the fiscal cliff.