Archive: Management

Quash Bullying at Your Company

thmb_sales_mouse_trap_finger_catch_caught_danger_amPersonal harassment in the workplace is continuing to garner attention.

Although there is no federal law banning bullying, employers still risk legal liability if they don’t actively prohibit the behaviour. A number of factors point to this conclusion, including:

When Constructive Isn’t Positive

Several court rulings have upheld claims of constructive dismissal when an employee quit because of personal harassment by co-workers.

The theory behind the rulings is that bullying in the workplace represents an employer’s breach of the implied contractual obligation to provide employeeswith civility, respect and dignity. That breach, in turn, allows the employee to consider that he or she has effectively been dismissed.

In Shah v. Xerox Canada Ltd.,for example, the Ontario Court of Appeal rejected the argument that to prove constructive dismissal, an employee must prove the employer breached a specific fundamental term of the employment contract. A specific breach may be necessary in some cases, the court ruled, but not when a pattern of bullying has been established.

Unfair treatment and bullying also can overturn a justifiable cause for dismissal. In Paitich v. Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a constructive dismissal ruling in the case of an employee who had been fired for writing insubordinate memos to management. The trial judge ruled that bullying that occurred before the memos and management’s failure to address the problem was tantamount to constructive dismissal.

When certain conditions are met, courts have ruled that an employer’s conduct constitutes intentional infliction of mental distress or nervous shock. In Prinzo v. Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld damages of $15,000 for nervous shock suffered by an employee.

And in Zorn-Smith v. Bank of Montreal, the trial judge awarded $15,000 in mental distress damages to a fired bank employee, ruling that the employer’s “callous disregard” set the preconditions for intentional infliction of mental suffering. Those preconditions were: flagrant or outrageous conduct calculated to produce harm that results in a visible and provable illness.

  • Successful lawsuits filed against employers (see right hand box);
  • Quebec’s Labour Standards Act, which prohibits psychological harassment;
  • Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, which requires all employers to protect their employees from the risk of violence. The law’s definition of violence includes threats that give employees reasonable grounds to believe they are at risk of physical injury;
  • Saskatchewan’s Occupational Health and Safety (Harassment Prevention) Amendment Act, which prohibits psychological harassment, and
  • Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code bans workplace violence, which is broadly defined as any act in which a person is abused, threatened, or intimidated.
  • The country’s Criminal Code includes offences that can be applied to bullying or cyber bullying, including criminal harassment, intimidation, threats and identity fraud. However there is nothing that explicitly mentions bullying or cyber bullying.

Canadian human rights legislation, of course, prohibits workplace harassment based on protected characteristics such as age, race, gender, sexual preference or disability. But bullying is different because it may not involve harassment on protected grounds.

Personal harassment also shouldn’t be confused with the differences of opinion or ordinary conflicts that arise in the workplace. Instead, bullying is behaviour that a reasonable person would consider humiliating, intimidating, undermining or threatening.

According to one study by the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute, one in six employees experience destructive bullying. The North American not-for-profit group also found that half of workplace bullies are women who target other women 84 per cent of the time. Male bullies target women 69 per cent of the time.

According to the Canada Safety Council, more than 80 per cent of bullies are managers or people in power and some of those are serial bullies who take aim at one employee until that person quits and then target another.

In some instances, bullies perceive their positions are threatened and work to eliminate the competition.

Don’t underestimate the financial costs of bullying. Personal harassment creates an unhealthy environment and can result in increased:

  • Absenteeism;
  • Turnover and recruitment costs (according to some experts, bullies push out more than 75 per cent of their victims);
  •  Stress and related health consequences;
  • Costs for Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs); and
  • Safety risks.

Add to that decreased productivity, motivation and morale, as well as reduced customer service and customer confidence, and it’s easy to see how the costs can add up.

Bullying can also expose a business to grievances, lawsuits and damages because employees are increasingly suing on grounds that by tolerating or not actively banning the behaviour, an employer has violated a staff member’s fundamental right to be protected from physical and mental risks at work.

So, to protect your employees as well as help reduce your company’s legal exposure, you may want to consider including anti-bullying measures in your written employment policy handbook. To be effective, your company’s anti-bullying policy should:

1. Apply to everyone, including management, clients, independent contractors and others who deal with your company.

2. Clearly define and provide examples of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour.

3. State your company’s commitment to preventing workplace bullying and the consequences for violating the policy.

4. Encourage employees to report incidents of bullying and outline a confidential process for reporting them.

5. Assure that no reprisals will be made against reporting employees.

6. Outline the procedures for investigating and resolving complaints.

In addition, your company should:

  • Train personnel to recognize bullying.
  • Take measures to ensure that managers and supervisors treat complaints seriously and deal with them promptly.
  • Provide impartial third party help to resolve situations, if necessary.

Insidious Forms of Behaviour

Bullying can take many forms. Some are obvious such as verbal abuse, threats, taunting and intimidation. Others are less up front and can include:

  • Spreading malicious rumours.
  • Making false allegations in company documents.
  • Undermining a person’s work by, for example, providing the wrong information or withholding information.
  • Constantly changing guidelines and expectations.
  • Taking away responsibilities and making a person feel useless.
  • Blocking applications for leave, training or promotion.
  • Assigning unreasonable duties.
  • Constantly and persistently criticizing work.

It’s not always easy to distinguish bullying from strong management or constructive criticism. In some cases, what appears to be bullying may be a personality clash. Be sure your policy takes the various forms of bullying into account and protects managers and supervisors, as well as employees.

Be Careful When Dealing with Office Romances

thmb_business_tax_home_office_desk_laptop_amWhen Dealing with Office Romances

Prevent Disruption in Your Business

Professionals are judged for their professionalism. Well, at least they should be. But when it comes to workplace romances, sometimes colleagues judge each other based on who’s dating the boss.

“Sexual harassment does not include voluntary or consensual sexual contact between employees but “the Supreme Court has stated that managers who involve themselves with employees do so at their peril, as employees may later indicate that they felt coerced into the relationship even if that was not the manager’s intent.”

–  From the Manitoba Civil Service Commission’s
anti-harassment policy

 A Love Contract?

A few companies have adopted love contract policies, usually for top-level executives, CEOs, officers and, in some instances, directors.
They typically include:
A statement that each party is freely engaging in a relationship outside the workplace.
An acknowledgment that the parties feel no pressure to continue the relationship and fear no retribution if they choose to end it.
An affirmation that the parties will use the employer’s sexual harassment policy if problems arise as a result of the relationship.
An agreement to use an alternative to the courts to resolve work-related problems that might result.

“Employees flirting with each other, or becoming involved in a romantic or sexual relationship, are not harassing each other, as long as the relationship is consensual. If one of the employees changes her or his mind, and the other person persists in trying to continue the relationship, this is harassment.”

– From the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s
anti-harassment policy

In the past, some companies simply banned intra-office fraternization. But that often turned out to be largely unworkable. Thechemistry of human attraction has its own rules, and with long hours, long commutes and limited social lives, for many people these days, the workplace has become a natural environment for making friends and finding romance.

So much so that in one survey of Canadian employees, 63 per cent of respondents said they had been romantically involved with a co-worker. Another survey found that 17 per cent of working Canadians met their “significant other” at work.

But while workplace relationships may spark improved attendance, higher productivity and reduced illnesses, when those relationships turn sour, the fallout can disrupt the smooth flow of business.

Conceivably, the most destructive relationships are those between a manager and a subordinate. Most experts agree that these couples can promote jealousy and low morale among colleagues and open a company to charges of sexual harassment if the relationship ends badly. Moreover, such relationships can weaken a company’s credibility and destroy trust if co-workers start to think promotions depend more on who you know than on performance.

Fewer than one-third of Canadian companies have a romance policy. Instead, most take the position that relationships are private and inevitable given the long hours spent at work and that they are private. In general, businesses try to restrict activities that can harm business.

If your business is looking to institute guidelines for workplace dating, you want a policy that allows people to make decisions about their personal lives while limiting the possibility of sexual harassment litigation, conflicts and disruptions in the workplace. Here are four considerations:

1. Spell out standards for behaving responsibly with each other and with colleagues. Stress that “corporate couples” are expected to behave professionally at all times when they are on company business.

2. Clearly note that romance between a boss and a subordinate is inappropriate and subject to corrective action. The ethical move would be for the couple themselves to seek a change in the structure of their work relationship. While you don’t want to fire a manager for dating a staff member, you might want to transfer one or both of them to different departments.

3. Discourage displays of affection, sexual innuendo, suggestive comments and sexually oriented joking. As an employer, your business is legally bound to do everything possible to prevent sexually harassing behaviour.

4. Be clear that if an employee is not interested in, or receptive to, an advance from another employee, it should end there. Flirting and other acts of affection can be preludes to dating, but only if the receiving party is comfortable with them. They can also be preludes to sexual harassment claims.

Safety First or Risk a Court Appearance

Get All TheFacts to Help Avoid Criminal Charges

The Criminal Code of Canada,as well as provincial laws, makes employers and their representatives criminally liable for neglect for certain safety and health violations.
The federal law covers all organizations, from corporations to partnerships, and their representatives, which includes directors, partners, employees, members, agents and senior officers.

POTENTIAL PENALTIES

Provincial occupational health and safety legislation imposes significant penalties on individuals and organizations convicted of negligence related to workplace safety.

For example, under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, individuals convicted of an offence may be fined up to $25,000.00 and/or face up to twelve months’ imprisonment on each count. Organizations may be fined as much as $500,000.00 on each count. Fines of more than $1,000.00 are also subject to the 25 per cent Victim Fine Surcharge.

Of course organizations cannot be sent to prison, so the federalCriminal Codeincreases the maximum fine for a summary conviction, a less serious offence, from $25,000.00 to $100,000.00. There is currently no set limit on fines for indictble or more serious offences. Individuals who are convicted of indictable offences under theCriminal Codecould face lengthy terms of imprisonment – up to life imprisonment where an individual is convicted of criminal negligence causing death. In addition to fines, theCriminal Codeallows probation conditions for organizations, such as restitution to a person for any loss or damage suffered, and requires the organization to provide information to the general public about the offence, including the sentence and any measures taken to reduce the likelihood of committing further offences.
TheCriminal Codeprovisions do not override existing federal, provincial or territorial occupational health and safety statutes and regulations. In the event of a conviction, however, the law does require the courts to look at any penalties imposed by other jurisdictions in determining a sentence.

Under theCriminal Code, individuals and organizations are liable for criminal prosecution if they do anything -or
fail to do anything
– that it is within their duties and responsibilities in a way that shows “wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of others.”
In other words, individuals who direct or manage the work of others must take every reasonable precaution to protect those employees from workplace danger, or be open to criminal prosecution.

For example, a factory employee who turned off three separate safety systems could be prosecuted for causing death by criminal negligence if employees were killed as a result of an accident that the safety systems would have prevented.

On the other hand, if three employees each turned off one of the safety systems, each thinking that it was not a problem because the other two systems would still be in place, they would probably not be subject to criminal prosecution because each one alone might not have shown reckless disregard for the lives of other employees.

Nevertheless, although the individual employees might escape prosecution, the employer may not because, in effect, it was the organization, through those three employees, that turned off the three systems.

To show intent, the law requires that the senior officer or officers responsible must have departed markedly from the expected standard of care. The organization might be convicted if, for example, the director of safety systems failed to give a negligent
employee basic training necessary to perform the job.

While accidents are inevitable in any business, to help protect your organization and its representatives from prosecution it’s essential to keep accurate records and investigate each injury. Proper attention to these details will uncover information you can use to make your workplace safer in the future.

Accidents seldom have a single cause. Use careful thought and sound judgment when investigating. And get all the details. Here are the elements of a successful inquiry:

1. Speed.

Question the injured employee and all witnesses as soon as possible. Ask witnesses to draw sketches if they can’t adequately describe the scene. Keep asking questions. Don’t settle for simple responses such as “employee negligence caused it” or “it was faulty equipment.”

2. Objectivity.

Trynot to ask “Why?” It’s better to ask “What?” because it is more objective and doesn’t imply fault. For example, “What were you doing at the time of the accident?” rather than “Why did this happen?” Or “What caused the equipment to fail?” rather than “Why did your equipment fail?”

3. Records.

Make sure you keep all records required under federal and provincial laws and regulations.

4. Staff.

Involveother employees in the inquiry. It makes them feel like they’re a part of the effort to make your workplace safe. Conduct confidential interviews and take suggestions seriously. Use employee awareness, acceptance and participation to your advantage. Your ultimate goal is to eliminate accidents, not employees.

After you compile the details and witnesses statements, use them. Compare the findings with other accidents. Look for patterns such as:

Environment: Are the accidents occurring in the same department?

Type of Job: Do the accidents happen with a certain type of job?

Time: Are the accidents occurring at a certain time?

Type of Injury: Do the accidents involve the same type of injury?

Equipment: Is it always an equipment failure or is the equipment mishandled?

Staff: Is the same employee having the accidents or are different employees involved? If accidents are random, are the employees getting proper training?

A Linguistic Perspective

If your company employs immigrants or others who speak different languages, it’s possible that some accidents happen because of a communication failure. If you suspect a language problem, ask the following:

  • Did the accident involve an immigrant or other employee whose first language
    isn’t English?
  • Was language a possible barrier?
  • What is the primary language of the worker who was injured or died? How well
    did he or she speak English?You may find that you need to provide additional training to overcome language barriers at your company. Review accidents regularly.Once you determine any patterns, take steps to correct them. Prevention efforts can save your company substantial amounts in fines, insurance premiums and other injury-related costs. For every $1 invested in safety and health programs, some contractors can save as much as $4 to $6 in costs related to workplace injuries and illnesses. Not to mention the savings in potential fines if your organization is taken to court and convicted.

Keep an Eye Out for Abusive Entitled Employees

thmb_office_staff_silhouette_black_white_gold_bzWhen Communication Can Backfire

If you think there’s been an increase in employees with an entitlement mentality at your company, you may be right. It’s a trait that seems to be more prevalent as increasing numbers of Millennials (also called Generation Y) enter the workforce.

Up and Coming

Management Generation

Just ahead of Gen Y is Gen X, the group that will succeed Baby Boomers as managers over the next several years.

So how does that generation compare to current management? Research shows that Baby Boomers outrank them in business knowledge, are more likely to apply functional and technical expertise on the job, and are better at coaching, assisting personnel development and managing project execution.

But the Xers have the upper hand when it comes to analysis, strong work commitment and the inclination to strive to self-improvement. Some predict that Generation X managers will complete a shift to a more collaborate style of management that tries to generate a collective buy-in to achieve goals.

Baby Boomers are still mostly in charge, but in many ways, they feel disillusioned by the changes they see in younger workers. They see younger workers treating jobs as though they were both an entitlement and disposable.

Those same younger workers see older managers and supervisors as rigid and wonder why, in this increasingly mobile world, they remain in jobs that are no longer satisfying.

And this can create friction on the job. Research shows that employees with a sense of entitlement have overblown views of their abilities and the recognition they should receive. These “entitlement-minded” individuals can create numerous problems for co-workers and supervisors. They are also likely to abuse their colleagues and suffer from job frustration.

These psychologically entitled employees tend toward:

  • Unethical behavior and conflict with supervisors;
  • High pay expectations;
  • Low job satisfaction, agreeableness, agreeableness, emotional stability and empathy;
  • High levels of turnover intent; and
  • Self-centered behavior.

Exacerbating the problem: Trying to communicate more with these employees is the wrong approach. In fact, it can backfire. Trying to improve the entitlement-minded employees’ behaviour by increased communication and feedback may aggravate their frustration and abusiveness.

On the face of it you would think the most effective approach would be to boost the frequency of evaluations and amount of job-related information. But this can have the opposite effect and increase the job-related frustrations reported by these employees.

Why? Because evidence suggests that psychological entitlement is a perception that can distort the messages conveyed in supervisor communication. Thus, these employees can perceive evaluation as criticism, reject any information that doesn’t match their entitled worldview and perceive high levels of supervisor attention as a reaffirmation of their value.

How do you spot psychologically entitled individuals among your employees and potential hires? Look for people who:

  • Exhibit a tendency to take credit for good outcomes and blame others when things go wrong.
  • Act as if they are generally superior to their coworkers.
  • Perform a variety of jobs with different challenges and skills and vocally affirm that they were valuable contributors to each, even if actual performance doesn’t support the claims.
  • React negatively when they do not receive the praise and annual raises they think they deserve.
  • Feel unappreciated and ultimately unmotivated when they receive rewards commensurate with their actual efforts and abilities.

And how do you deal with them? Here are six practical suggestions and insights:

1. Remove as much ambiguity as possible. Document who performs specific tasks so credit and blame are accurately placed;

2. Ensure clarity about who is responsible for what;

3. Guard against behaviours that smack of “office politics” by entitlement-minded employees;

4. Keep an eye out for abusive behaviour and take steps to prevent it;

5. Consider if it would be cost-effective and successful to send entitled employees for professional counseling and coaching; and

6. Fire the errant employees if you determine that there is no solution to the problem that is not too costly in terms of time and money.

Tap into the Growing Power of Social Recruiting

thmb_smart_cell_phone_text_keyboard_email_social_nh

Companies are increasingly turning to social recruiting — using social media outlets to find applicants.

 Fine Tune Your Strategy
If your business wants to socially recruit, keep in mind that each platform attracts different types of people and that looking for applicants online doesn’t work for certain jobs.For example, mainstream blue-collar jobs in trucking, heavy industry or mining may require the traditional approach.On the other hand, high paid corporate positions, which are generally filled with the help of a head-hunter, may be able to benefit from a bit of social recruiting.

Social media sites vary in terms of who you can attract. If you run a small grocery store, potential candidates are likely logging onto more casual sites such as Facebook. If your company needs a director of human resources, LinkedIn may be the best route.

Twitter works well for broadcasting. Tweets can direct applicants to your business’s Web site or Facebook page. And tweets offer the potential for re-tweeting, which can lead to a viral recruitment campaign.

Cost and efficiency are among the reasons. Plus, Canada has one of the highest rates of social media usage in the world.

Here’s a cost comparison between old school and contemporary head-hunting.

Using traditional methods, the estimated cost of filling a $60,000-a-year position looks something like this:

  • Newspaper ad        $5,000
  • Online job board     $700
  • Recruiter’s fee        $15,000 (25 per cent of starting salary)
  • Total:                    $20,700

With a social recruitment approach, the process might look like this:

  • Your business plans a couple of open house meet and greets.
  • The information goes out on your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, as well as your corporate Web site. Followers and fans spread the word.
  • You ask employees to place the job posting and open house invitations on their pages. Before you know it, you could have hundreds of job applicants at the open houses.

Total: The cost of cheese, wine and whatever refreshments you might want.

As social recruiting becomes increasingly effective in luring candidates, your company needs to plan strategies to gain the upper hand. Here are four tips on how to snare the crème de la crème:

1. Think 80/20. That’s the Pareto Principle, and it means that 20 per cent of something is always responsible for 80 per cent of the results. For example, 20 per cent of customers account for 80 per cent of revenue.

Start with the large sites. LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter will generally provide the 80 per cent result, particularly if you cross publish. Try to avoid redundancy. A little repetition is fine, but tweeting the same message seven times in one day is overkill.

2. Get involved. Participate in conversations with substantive and thoughtful content. Look for individuals who are genuinely interested in your company’s business and industry. If you connect with a specific person, individualize your approach. And always be responsive. If someone asks you a question, find a way to respond, even if you have to take the conversation offline.

3. Be real. In order to see the “real” candidate you, too, must be authentic. Social recruiting is about relationships. Your company and its representatives should be forthright about the business, its culture and its jobs. In a hiring environment, people generally connect with people, not brands.

Connect with as many social networkers as possible – each is a potential referral to the right person for the job your company wants to fill. Watch how individuals connect online. If they are actively engaged, that trait may transfer to the job.

4. Don’t be all work and no play. Engage in the high-tech equivalent of chit-chat. Have fun and share interesting news and bits of information.

If your business has some colourful history, share the stories. If your company had a recent get-together, post some pictures. The fun and entertainment on social sites is limited only by imagination.

Dig in and build your online presence now, even if you don’t have any hiring plans. By making connections and creating a vibrant online community, your enterprise will be prepared to reach a broad audience for less money when it does decide to fill a few openings.

Doing Business in China: Protect Intellectual Property

Companies are rushing to trade with China, the world’s second largest economy.

Use All Available Resources lores_globe_glass_bz

Your business should consider using Canada’s trade resources.

For example, register your trademarks and copyrights with the Canadian Border Services Agency. Customs will screen select shipments to verify that they comply with the Customs Act. Intellectual property can also be registered with Chinese Customs. Registration is not foolproof, however. In both countries, the screening process keeps only a small portion of infringing goods out of the marketplace.

Other Canadian agencies can also help sort out intellectual property difficulties. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office has a wealth of IP information. The Canadian Embassy can help locate IP attorneys in China as well as monitor the status of an infringement case within the Chinese legal system.

The Canadian Trade Commission also has extensive knowledge of Chinese intellectual property laws as well as industry-specific information regarding music, software, the automotive industry and pharmaceuticals.

You might also want to consider subscribing to blogs. There are a number of highly informative websites and blogs that cover Chinese intellectually property laws in detail. These sites also routinely cover enforcement actions.

In addition, consider creating Google alerts focused on Chinese intellectual property laws and enforcement.

Some organizations are expanding so rapidly into China that they dangerously postpone registering their intellectual property (IP). The importance of protecting IP cannot be overemphasized — it is often at the heart of a business’s success.

If your company plans to do business in China, or if it already is, it needs to be familiar with Chinese IP law. Beijing has strengthened those laws over the past decade, but work still needs to be done.

The Canadian Embassy recommends that every company’s plan for doing business with China include IP-protection strategies. Businesses that already operate there should review their IP policies and protections to ensure they have kept pace with corporate innovations and expansion.

Some companies mistakenly believe that Canadian intellectual property registration protects them in China. Others underestimate the risk of IP abuse. Patents and trademarks registered in Canada are not typically protected in China. To help prevent infringement, your business must register its intellectual property rights with the Chinese government.

The trademark and patent protection system in China operates on the basis of first-to-file rather than first-to-use or first-to-invent. This means that the first party to register is granted the rights. China’s intellectual property protections include:

Trademarks: Using trademarks is generally the most effective tool against infringement in China. It is easier to identify an infringing mark than a patent or copyright, which require a time-consuming administrative review.

Applications must be filed with the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC). Before beginning the process, conduct a search to confirm that no one else has registered your company’s trademarks. To ensure the maximum protection under the law, register your trademark in English and in Chinese characters. Despite different spoken Chinese dialects, a Chinese character trademark is understood by all Chinese consumers. Removing the language barrier with a character improves brand recognition and enables the products to reach a wider market. While you are at it, register your company’s Internet domains.

If your business has a physical presence in China it can file a trademark protection application directly. If it does not have offices there, it must use an authorized trademark agent. Warning: A registered trademark that is not used for three consecutive years in China is subject to cancellation.

Once a trademark license contract is signed, your organization must submit a copy to the Trademark Office within three months. The licensee must submit another copy to the local county SAIC. The contracts must include provisions showing your company agrees to supervise the quality of the goods the licensee manufactures and include a requirement that the licensee will put its name and address on the items.

Patents: Chinese patent law recognizes three kinds of patents: invention, utility model, and design. Applications are made to the State Intellectual Property Office. If your business doesn’t have an office in China it must apply through an authorized patent agent. The protection lasts for 20 years.

When your company applies for a patent in Canada, it can also submit an application for a Chinese patent. If your business already has a patent in Canada, you should apply in within one year for inventions and utility models and within six months for industrial designs. Any later than that and China may decide not grant a patent because authorities there won’t consider the invention to be “new and innovative.”

Copyright: As in other countries, there is no need to register a copyright to receive protection under Chinese law. Foreigners have copyright protection of their works if they were the first to publish the work in China. However, as is the case in Canada, registering a copyright with the Chinese authorities eases the process of copyright enforcement. Authorities can confiscate and destroy infringing products, but criminal prosecution is infrequent.

Trade Secrets: These also do not require registration. However, your business must be able to show that it has set up policies and procedures to safeguard its trade secrets. Your company’s treatment of the trade secret will dictate whether or not the courts grant protection. The theft of trade secrets is punishable under civil and criminal law.

To help further safeguard your IP rights in China, consider these steps:

  • Conduct due diligence on partners, agents and distributors. Associates or former employees are frequent sources of intellectual property infringement
  • Cover all aspects of your business’s IP with clear contracts that include clauses on your ownership rights and on limitations over the use of IP by partners, distributors, and licensees. Contractual problems are a frequent source of infringements. Have your legal advisers review all agreements and consult with you during negotiations.
  • Require employees to sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements as well as accords dealing with the use and ownership of intellectual property.
  • Engage a qualified intellectual property attorney if you plan to pursue an enforcement action. The Chinese agency to notify will depend on the type of intellectual property involved as well as the region of the country where the dispute has arisen.

If your organization does not register its intellectual property it risks having its inventions registered by others operating in bad faith. While there are mechanisms to pursue recourse, the legal processes can take years to wind their way through the system at considerable expense and trouble. The safest action is to register your intellectual property as soon as possible and to remember to register the Chinese character versions of their trademarks.

International Business: Revisit the Risks

lores_library_law_books_shelf_bzIf your company operates abroad, it needs to be aware of laws that are likely tougher than those in Canada when it comes to the liability of fraud.

Corruptions and bribery are among the laser focused topics covered by very tough legislation in, for example, Britain and Spain. Here are some measures your company should consider putting into place to tackle those two specific crimes and avoid stiff penalties. In the contemporary marketplace, it is no longer enough to claim that payments were necessary because that’s the way they do business there. Monitor all activity. Be certain your business can demonstrate to a court’s satisfaction that it had the necessary procedures in place to block criminal activity. Be able to show that your business monitors the activities of employees, enforces its code of conduct and anti-corruption policies, and tracks, reports and stops corruption in its tracks.

On top of that, a company must have:

  • The mechanisms necessary to track all payments made in the course of business.
  • A sustained track record of handling any discrepancies or explicit violations efficiently and effectively.

Understand the risks. Consult with your attorney and accountant to conduct a risk assessment focusing on the:

  • Effectiveness of your company’s anti-bribery training and education programs.
  • Risks inherent in each country and region where your organization does business. Find out about the best practices used by businesses with similar operations.
  • Size, frequency, nature and risks of your company’s transactions.
  • Extent to which the business hires third parties to sell or deliver its products or services.
  • Ability of the organization to monitor, investigate and report potential violations of the Spanish law, the Bribery Act and the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Ac

Invest in education. All employees, as well as suppliers and contractors, should be expected to read and commit to your business’s code of conduct. The code should be clear about the company’s stand against corruption. Education and training materials should contain sufficient information on the legal and corporate consequences of bribery and other forms of corruption.

Consider adding another step to the process when vetting and approving vendors and other third parties. They should be aware of the scope and potential liability under the British and Spanish law. The best way to be sure vendors and third parties have read and understand the company’s code is to test them. The testing process should be designed to show that they understand the elements of bribery, know how to report suspicious activity and are clear what breaking the law can mean to them as individuals, to their companies and to your business.

Managers should take advantage of every opportunity to set the tone. For example, when training sales people, revisit corruption laws and explain how they affect their duties. Real-world examples and role-playing can be extremely effective

Consult with your attorneys about international fraud laws and have your legal counsel review your company’s practices and governance procedures.

Six Issues to Consider When Managing Remote Employees

office home silo man description sizeAllowing employees to work from home can provide significant benefits for your staff and your company. It can improve morale, reduce real estate and facility costs. It can even reduce traffic congestion and make the environment cleaner.

However, appropriate oversight is necessary to avoid potential fraud and abuses that can wipe out many, if not all, of the benefits associated with a work-from-home program.

Pros

Cons

Cost savings.
Having employees work from home can reduce demand for office space and cut facility operating and parking costs.
Not for everyone.Some employees
fear less “face time” will reduce chances for promotion. Others need an office environment.
Work/ life balance.
There is more time for employees to care for their loved ones and address home emergencies.
Time disputes. 
Without a system to record hours, disputes may arise over the time actually worked.
It’s green.
Reducing the number of commutes to the workplace saves fuel, reduces vehicle carbon emissions and traffic congestion.
Performance fears.Managers may equate remote work with lower performance and may need to adjust to a culture oriented more to results than processes.
Continuity.
Working from home may mean that at least some of your company’s operations can continue during a snowstorm, natural disaster, terrorist attack or other emergency.
Security.
The IT infrastructure must be properly designed. Some jobs may simply not be able to be performed at home for security reasons.
Accommodation.
Working from home can better accommodate individuals with disabilities.
Friction.
Staffers in the workplace may resent remote workers.
Enhanced performance.
Remote workers may exceed their performance in the traditional workplace. Many report that they convert the old drive time into productive working hours. There may be fewer interruptions andabsenteeism may drop.
Worsened performance. 
Outside a traditional structure, some employees may lose productivity by cleaning house, watching their young children, watching television or being otherwise distracted.
Job satisfaction.
Working from home can increase personal freedom and flexibility, improve morale, and decrease stress.
Safety. 
There may be liabilities if employees are injured off-site. Consult with your attorney.
Retention and recruitment. 
Offering a work-at-home option can boost your company’s attractiveness in the job market and lead to reduced turnover.
Equipment cost, loss and damage. 
You must address who pays for equipment, how it is to be used and what to do if it is lost, stolen or damaged.
Staying in touch.
Using instant messaging, conference calls, webinars, collaboration software and other technology can help employees feel less isolated.
Team conflicts.Relationship problems among remote teams can be harder to resolve than those among on-site employees.

Before allowing employees to commute to their home-based desks, answer the following questions to help ensure that you minimize the risks and maximize the returns of the program:

1. Which jobs make sense from home?

There are numerous positions within a company that, despite pleas to the contrary from employees, are not suitable candidates for a work-from-home program.

For example, allowing a manager with a broad span of control to work at home is typically not a good idea. Managing by phone is far less effective than being physically present. Also, employees are likely to resent that their manager works from home while they are stuck in the office.

Before announcing a work-from-home program, identify all of the positions that will not be allowed to participate. Be sure to engage your company’s legal counsel to ensure that the process does not violate employment law or create employee relations issues.

2. Which employees will be eligible?

For employees that are underperforming or have a track record of discipline issues, working from home may be viewed as an opportunity to “hide out” and avoid the scrutiny that comes from working in an office. Together with your human resources department, develop criteria that employees must meet in order to be considered for the program.

For example, you might require candidates to earn a “meets expectations” rating in their performance reviews and have no outstanding discipline issues.

3. How will you monitor productivity?

There is an assumption that once employees are allowed to work from home their productivity will at least be equal to their “in office” performance — or may even be better. This may be true, but for employees who have never worked from home before, the distractions of home life (including a significant other, young children, noisy next-door neighbors or just plain loneliness) may be too much to bear and their productivity may actually decline.

This begs the question: Once an employee is out of sight, how will their performance be monitored? There are a number of technology solutions that can track keystrokes, periodically capture pictures of the employee’s computer screen as well as record activity within specific software systems. Regardless of the approach used, there must be some mechanism to track productivity and ultimately performance.

4. Should home workers use company computers?

An employee’s personal computer may not have the most up-to-date virus software in place and that raises the risk that the person could download a virus that could affect both the home computer and the company’s entire network. It is also conceivable that the employee’s computer can be accessed by other members of the family. That raises a real concern of data loss or theft, as well as disclosure of customers’ private information.

There can also be problems if an employee is working on a personally owned computer and the employer receives an e-discovery request. Electronically stored information is routinely requested in civil and criminal proceedings. Complying can be difficult if, for example, an employer doesn’t know what files or records employees have on their home computers or if an employee alters files or destroys them after an e-discovery request is received.

If at all possible, remote employees should only be allowed to use company-issued computers. Doing so ensures that the employee’s computer is subject to the same virus and system upgrades as the rest of the company issued devices and less likely to contract an infection that could bring the company’s information technology infrastructure to its knees. Mandating that employees use company computers also reduces the risk that your business will be unable to comply with an e-discovery request.

5. What happens if data does go “missing?”

Allowing employees to work in their home offices can give them the false impression that no one is watching what they are actually doing with the company’s data. Before your company launches a work-from-home program, think about the data that remote employees can access as well as what would happen if that data were lost, stolen or misplaced.

For example, if an employee working from home decides to steal confidential data, how would your company know? If the employee was the victim of a home invasion and the company laptop was stolen, several issues arise:
1. How much of the company’s data is stored on that laptop?
2. Is it encrypted?
3. What could your company do to limit or mitigate the potential damage?

6. What about travel expenses?

The potential for expense fraud and abuse by remote employees should be a major concern. One of the simplest ways to combat expense fraud by work-from-home employees is to ensure they are appropriately identified in the company’s expense reimbursement system as remote employees.

For example, most expense reimbursement systems require that an employee include their home office or base on their expense statement. For remote employees that designation could appear as Remote or VE (virtual employee) or WFH(work from home). The actual naming convention is not important. What is important is that your company can periodically target expense reimbursement requests from remote employees to ensure that expenses are reasonable, consistent with their remote status and consistent with company policy.

With appropriate policies, management and safeguards in place, you can help ensure that your company reaps the benefits of a work-from-home program and that employees perform at their best, whether they are working down the hall in the workplace or in their home, or in an off-site office far away.