September 2014 HR Brain Teaser

Brain Teaser Courtesy of EPLI Pro™

Mental Health Issues - Not Easy!

Consider the following situation:  You hired an employee in November. He seemed fine in the interview…just a little nervous. After he was hired, you observed that he is a slow learner (maybe a learning disability), and has a difficult time with criticism.

Now, the employee has been having what appear to be panic attacks. You have moved him to several different positions. Unfortunately, he is still having panic attacks, hindering his ability to interact with the public, which is an essential function of his job. Though you are willing to give someone a chance, you really do not think this guy is going to get better. You would like to terminate him; after all, he is an at-will employee.

Is termination the best option?

A.  Absolutely; though you feel sorry for the guy, you need people who can work, and you do not have time to babysit them.

B.  Maybe; since he has not told you he has a disability or needs an accommodation, you do not have to worry about potential disability discrimination.

C.  Yes; if he has some type of physical condition or disability, you understand that you would have to accommodate him, but you cannot accommodate a mental problem.

D.  No, or at least not yet. You need to learn more about his condition before making any decisions.

Answer:  D    No, or at least not yet. You need to learn more about his condition before making any decisions. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals from, among other things, discrimination in employment on the basis of their disability. If an employee can perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation, employers may not take adverse action on the basis of the disability.

Mental disabilities are often more difficult to address in the workplace because of the stigma involved, and lack of understanding. In our situation, the employee may have a mental disability, and began having performance problems related to this possible disability. The employee has not disclosed that he has a disability, although the supervisor suspects it.

Let’s presume the supervisor decides (appropriately) to talk to the employee about his performance. In the course of the conversation, the employee may blame his performance problems on a mental disability.  If an employee states that his disability is the cause of the conduct or problem, or requests accommodation, the employer may still discipline the employee for the misconduct if the conduct rule is job-related and consistent with business necessity, provided it holds other employees to the same standard. 

If the discipline is something less than termination, the employer may ask about the disability’s relevance to the misconduct, or if the employee thinks there is an accommodation that could help him avoid future misconduct.

If an accommodation is requested, the employer should begin an interactive process to determine whether one is needed to correct a conduct problem, and, if so, what accommodation would be effective. The employer may seek appropriate medical documentation to learn: 1) if the condition meets the ADA’s definition of disability; 2) whether and to what extent the disability is affecting the employee’s conduct; and 3) what accommodation(s) may address the problem. The employer should provide the employee with his job description, and have his doctor evaluate his ability to perform his specific job function.

An employer may not refuse to engage in the interactive process with an employee who has been subject to discipline, as this would be a violation of the ADA. Although mental disabilities can be more difficult to address, employers have an obligation to do so. If the employee continues to have performance issues or violates conduct standards, despite the reasonable accommodation, employers may move forward and consider termination. Even so, there is likely to be risk associated with terminating an employee who has a mental disability, and employers should not do so without first talking to an employment law attorney or human resource professional.

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The Green $ In Green

So you’ve been wondering about “going green” at your business. Do you want to control costs, recruit, motivate, and retain employees, attract eco-conscious consumers and employees, drive efficiency and process improvements and just do the right thing for the planet? Well, lucky for you, those all are possible…and more!

In the beginning…

Some of our first forays into going green were simple like replacing plastic silverware with stainless, recycling aluminum and paper, as well as eliminating storage/shredding. Keeping paper for 10 years is necessary, but we use scanners and other virtual document storage solutions/retrieval. It is amazing how much “time” we spend looking for information – typically paper. Did you know the average office employee spends 1.5 hours a day (6 weeks per year) looking for things ( The typical executive wastes 150 hours a year (almost an entire month), searching for lost information (Forbes ASAP).

The next step

Other activities take more effort like turning off every computer and screen, printer, photocopier, scanner, etc. when the office is closed. We installed energy efficient lighting and began turning off all appliances when not in use. Software solutions and other tech advances allowed us to move to network printers versus everyone having printers at their desk with multiple cartridge requirements/costs. A pleasant bi-product of is that we have to actually get off our “chairs” and walk to the printer!

Fresh set of eyes

We are currently in the throes of a building remodel, so we’re looking at opportunities. Individual suite temperature controls will help prevent the “thermostat wars” that take place in the office and save energy by reducing the use of portable heaters. Teleconference and video interviews save travel costs and reduce emissions. Chairs made out of recycled materials have been purchased, and we have designed more natural light in the new spaces. New software has allowed us to do 15% more work with the same amount of staff, demonstrating that higher technology = higher productivity. We also donate and recycle our old computers and electronics to New2UComputers.

Documenting the benefits

The hard numbers can be found by tracking key items like new versus recycled printer cartridges. Energy savings calculators can be found online. “Soft” numbers reveal themselves through company culture. Best places to work engage employees who are then more productive and feel more involved. Daily green efforts provide educational opportunities to convey our culture like, “Here is why we scan versus print.” Going green is a way to connect with the younger generations in the workforce who value the planet as an ideal, which helps in recruiting, retention, and succession planning.

How will you harvest the green in green?

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

Profit Is Not a Dirty Word

Business owners, if you were away from your company for a month, would the company go under? Let’s say you installed a hidden camera while you were away. What would you see? Would they continue with your philosophy and vision for growth in your absence?

It all depends on your company’s attitude towards making money. That starts with you. Profit is not a dirty word. It allows us to take care of the customer the best we can. At The Applied Companies, we are students and practitioners of the Service-Profit Chain (Harvard Business Review March 1994). It establishes relationships between profitability, customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity. The gist of the SPC goes something like this:

  • Money comes from growing
  • Growing comes from really good service
  • Really good service means loyal customers
  • Loyalty comes from employee customer service
  • Employees are valued and trusted and want/are provided with a great place to work


The model demonstrates that making money is a good thing. Do your employees want to make money? If not, sell it and drive it. If money does not hit the top line, it will NEVER hit the bottom line. Make sales and gross revenue a part of the daily appetite. It is up to leadership to keep demonstrating the value of profit. Do you let them see quarterly earnings?

Now, we’re not saying only focus on the bottom line and forget the employees. You already know the bad reputation of companies who focus on that aspect and grind through their people. Here’s how it should flow: 1) The priority is growth through excellence; 2) concentrate on what you do best and your employees versus worrying constantly over the P&L; 3) take daily action on employee and customer feedback, retention and referrals; 4) develop loyal customers versus high new acquisition costs; 5) allow employees – not managers or directors – to  impress customers; 6) empower managers to experiment with the systems they control (hiring, training, rewards, job design) for the purpose of improving employees; and finally 7) get out of the way of good employees and let them do their jobs!

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what happens when you’re here. It matters what your employees do when you’re not. Good employees will allow you to make more money. Operate at a high level of excellence and employees will emulate that behavior. And you won’t need a camera to check up on them. They will do it naturally.

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.

How to Deal with Staff Turnover

This is the second article in a two-part series on turnover. With turnover, there is always a positive with a negative. Focusing on the positive and mitigating the negative is our goal.


We approach each case with compassion and care about the employees as persons, assure them their opinion counts and are generous with praise as we work our way through. We also keep everyone in the loop within legal limits.   We say, “This is what is happening. We need your help,” and ask staff for input on hiring, skill set, and best fit.

Do you really need to replace that headcount or can you streamline and redistribute?

From top to bottom, we think out of the box to create the best result for the company. We ask questions – some simple some difficult – like is it time to search for new software or technology? Are any/all processes necessary? Is there someone internally who can be challenged and move up? Can we adjust the job duties and roles to fit a new, model “right” fit? My very first employee is retiring next year. She knows that the file cabinet in the corner was our first piece of furniture. How to you account for that knowledge? How do you capture it?

Do you choose to “celebrate” or “carry-on” depending on your culture?

Celebrations are reserved for those relocating (leaving the geographic area), leaving the workforce (being a stay-at-home parent), retiring (having a new beginning) or other non-competitive scenarios. If they are going into a competitive position, we do not celebrate. As I said in the first article, I take things personally as CEO because I know they are working for THE BEST company right now. Something organic like a potluck may develop, which may or may not be supported by management on a case-by-case situation.

For those who separate from our organization on an involuntary basis, it is uncomfortable sometimes. We may appear as if we simply carry on, but we don’t. We review what we do, how we do it and determine if there is a better way.

What matters the most

Turnover can be gut wrenching, a time of reflection, a great time to change the direction of the company and an opportunity to make it a great place to work. Focus your time and energy on keeping the right people versus worrying about the cost numbers. Once you get your turnover in control, the flip side has it’s benefits! An engaged workforce has 27 percent less absenteeism, provides 12 percent higher customer satisfaction; 18 percent higher productivity; and is 12 percent more profitable. Now those are the “positive numbers” you want.

Written by Jim Annis, President/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today’s workplace. Celeste Johnson, Tom Miller, and Suzanne Chennault, Applied’s division directors, contributed to this article.