• Ways Leadership Affects Culture and Culture Affects Leadership

    March 8, 2021

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    There has been so much written on leadership in the last year, it’s hard to keep track of it all. Leaders should be storytellers, communicators, holistic, strategic, encouraging, creative, conservative, risk taking, ethical, competitive, inspiring and a whole host of other attributes.

    There are countless books currently available on the subject, and it would not surprise me if there were close to over half a million articles on the subject. It is the bread and butter of every consulting firm throughout the world. With so much content offering thought and insight, you have to wonder why leadership still an issue?

    The answer lies with culture. The entire purpose of leadership is to create a culture. In a large and well-established organization, it can be difficult for an outsider to implement a new culture. So, does leadership create a culture or does culture create leadership? The answer to both questions is yes.

    Culture Affecting Leadership

    “I have been here 25 years,” said the director of a large municipality. “I have outlasted three city managers so far, and I will outlast this one.” This is the attitude many leaders face, especially when they are brought in from outside organizations to run or manage large, well-established ones.

    The negative cultures can especially undermine positive leadership as initiatives are actively undermined by managers who have a stake in the old culture or struggle to accept the changes inherent in the modern workplace. Whether it’s through manipulation or complacency, negative cultures can create significant challenges for change. At the same time, positive leadership can overcome negative culture and turn the tide over time. A few encouraging results and positive experiences can go a long way.

    Negative leadership, however, can have a fast, dramatic effect on a positive culture. WorldCom was a telecom leader and had a very innovative culture until Bernie Ebbers took over. While squeezing every cent he could from the environment and putting pressure on employees to work harder with less, he was pillaging the company. Turnover soared and, within a few years, WorldCom was bankrupt.

    Culture as a Function of Leadership

    Companies reflect the ethics of the leaders who run them. We’ve seen in recent times the reaction employees and the public have to companies who fail to address their stance on social issues, harassment, pay gaps and whose political leanings go against what employees view to be the common good.

    As a result, leaders find themselves having to publicly make statements condemning systemic racism, political violence and other topics that aren’t easy to talk about without offending someone or putting oneself at risk. But ultimately, the ethical stands a leader takes becomes a part of the organization’s culture.

    Bob Page felt like an outsider and had to hide his sexuality. When he built Replacements, Ltd., he ensured everyone it would be a place that accepted diversity—not just of lifestyle but of thought—and would invest in building their community. Anita Roddick founded The Body Shop to build an environmentally-friendly corporation, which reflected her commitment to environmental activism. Jim Goodnight’s commitment to work-life balance is part of the culture at SAS, the largest privately-held company in the world. Jack Welch’s commitment to being the best created an environment of excellence at General Electric. In each of these cases, the ethics of the leader became a central part of the culture.

    The Obstacles to Culture Change

    The real obstacles to culture change are internal obstacles. False ego, fear, complacency and preconceived ideas create a negative environment. When change is introduced there is resistance, even when the change is positive. People learn different coping mechanisms to avoid the change, such as hiding behind procedures, “water cooler” talk or actively undermining the initiative.

    The remote work landscape changes some of this as employee communications can be more easily monitored and there are fewer “water cooler” moments on offer to begin with. But negativity can me a bit like trying to contain water in an enclosed space. If there’s a place for it to leak through, it likely will. The question then becomes how leadership can have a positive impact on the culture of an organization?

    Ways Leadership Can Positively Affect Culture

    People are inspired by vision. They want to follow a leader who shows concerns and values that are important to them. A positive leader will inspire 100% effort from everybody. Here are some signs of a good leader and how the leader affects the culture:

    • Visionaries and strategic thinkers: A boss tells you what to do, while a leader inspires you to want to do it. Leaders who lay out a vision that people buy into and a strategy that they understand will create a culture of engagement. People know where the organization is headed, how it will get there and their role in helping achieve the vision.
    • Ethics that support values: People look at what you do and not what you say. Values are words, ethics are actions. When leaders demonstrate values through their actions, they lead by example and create an ethical culture.
    • Empowerment: There are three requirements for: responsibility, accountability and authority. Leaders who empower people to make decisions that affect their lives, give them the authority to act and make them take responsibility for consequences create leadership on all levels of the organization. Micromanaging means people are not entrusted to be leaders and very little gets done because all decisions need to be made by one person.

    Originally posted on

  • They are continuing what they have been continuing…Emergency Paid Sick Leave | by Jordan Shields, Partner

    March 5, 2021

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    Sonoma and San Francisco counties have both passed emergency paid sick leave ordinances.

    Sonoma County is in effect through June 30 and it applies to ALL employers (was previously organizations of 500 or more employees).  It is a one-time benefit so employers do not need to provide a new bank of leave.  There are some limited exceptions for health care providers.

    Employers are supposed to post a notice of employee rights in a prominent place.

    San Francisco made an amendment to their plan, but it still only applies to those of 500+.

  • 8 Small Steps Toward Financial Protection

    March 3, 2021


    About half of all Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Along with exercising more and eating better, many people aim to get a better handle on their finances.

    If you’re in that camp, we’re here to help. Here are some surefire steps to create a more financially secure future for you and your loved ones.

    1. Create a budget.

    The first step toward getting financially fit is to create a budget. Everyone needs an understanding of how much they’re earning, how much they’re spending, and how they’re going to meet their current and future financial goals. The Federal Trade Commission has information on how to create a budget. Once you outline your budget, make sure to stick to it. Also make sure to regularly revisit it and adjust it as needed.

    1. Control and minimize debt.

    Your budget will help you keep track of where your money is going. It will also help you identify areas where you’re overspending. It’s critical to cut out any excess spending. Also work to minimize your debt load. So long as you have debt, you’ll be responsible for paying interest. (So definitely make an effort to pay more than the minimum on your credit card each month!) Set goals to pay off your debt and track your progress.

    3Automate an emergency fund.

    An emergency fund is money you set aside for unforeseen expenses. They could be an unexpected home or car repair or a job loss. Most financial professionals recommend having three to six months of basic living expenses in an emergency fund. However, it takes time to build those funds. Automate the process by having part of your paycheck deposited into a special emergency fund account. You can also have your bank automatically transfer funds to a savings account earmarked for emergency expenses. Even a small amount each week can help you get there.

    1. Get life insurance to protect your loved ones and review it annually.

    Life insurance provides your loved ones with money to maintain their lifestyle if you die. This money is known as the death benefit and it can replace your income, pay off debts like a mortgage, and cover funeral costs. It can also help with future expenses like college tuition, retirement, and much more. Experts recommend having life insurance that equals between 10 to 15 times your gross income. For a working idea of how much you need, use an online calculator like the Life Insurance Needs Calculator. Then work with an insurance professional to explore your options and get the right coverage. Make sure to review your life insurance annually or after a big life change like buying a new house, having a baby, or changing jobs.

    1. Protect your paycheck with disability insurance and review it annually.

    Disability insurance is one of the best ways to protect your most important asset: your paycheck. Disability insurance typically replaces 50% to 70% of your earnings if you’re unable to work due to a disabling illness or injury. An easy way to calculate how much you might need is to use an online calculator like the Disability Insurance Needs Calculator. Make sure to review your coverage with your HR department or insurance professional as your salary increases.

    1. Keep beneficiaries up to date.

    It’s important to update the beneficiaries on your financial accounts like your life insurance or 401(k). This is especially true after major life events such as a marriage, divorce, birth, or death. Not having the right beneficiary can lead to money going to the wrong person or delays in disbursing money.

    1. Put a will in place.

    A will is a document that allows you to specify certain things after you die. They can include how your assets will be distributed, who will make sure your wishes are carried out, and who will take care of any minor children. Without a will, the state could decide who gets your children and more. Fortunately, the process of creating a will is not as complicated as many people believe. And it’s well worth it since it spares your loved ones from all kinds of headaches. A lawyer can help you create a will and discuss other issues like power of attorney.

    8. Save for retirement.

    Tap into any  available resources to help grow your retirement nest egg. That includes enrolling in your company’s 401(k) plan or looking into other retirement savings options like an IRA. Definitely take advantage of any “matching funds” your company makes to your 401(k) contributions. Matching funds are like “free money.” What’s more, the contributions you make to your 401(k) reduce your taxable income.

    Make 2021 the year you become financially fit by following these steps. Each one will create a better, more protected future for you and your loved ones.

    By Marvin Feldman

    Originally posted on

  • A Note on Requiring COVID-19 Vaccines

    February 24, 2021

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    With COVID-19 vaccinations underway and widespread availability in sight, many employers want to know whether they can require their employees to get the vaccine.

    While recent EEOC guidance implies that they expect many employers to require a vaccine, there are already several states where bills are being introduced to prevent employment discrimination against those who refuse a vaccine (MN, NJ, SC), and it’s likely bills like this will be introduced in more states soon. Additionally, we anticipate that there will be state and federal lawsuits from individuals, which may result in rulings that impact the law in individual states or entire circuits (for instance, the Ninth Circuit, which covers AL, AR, CA, HI, ID, MT, NV, OR, WA, or the Eleventh Circuit, which covers AL, FL, GA).

    Given the legal risks here, and since many Americans will not have access to a vaccine until Spring or even Summer, we believe it would be prudent for most employers to wait to see how things play out in courts and legislatures across the country before deciding to require vaccinations.

    Originally posted on ThinkHR

  • An Opinion (a good start) on Individual Coverage Health Reimbursement Arrangements | by Jordan Shields, Partner

    February 19, 2021

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    An Opinion is something that can be cited to see how the governmental body (in this case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) feels about an issue – at least you get a sense of direction.  Here, the EEOC said, on January 7, that where an employer-paid a flat amount or a percentage of premium toward individual health plans purchased under the aegis of an ICHRA, it would not violate the discrimination rules set up under the ADEA:

    • Flat amount is fine because it is the same for everyone, and not contingent on the age of the employee (even though an individual plan is more expensive for older applicants), especially since enrollment through an ICHRA is voluntary on the part of the employee.
    • Percentage of premium is fine so long as the percentage is the same for everyone, even though the actual dollar amount will end up different

    Overall – the contributions are not a condition of employment, but only an offer made at that time.  Therefore, the involuntary nature of the participation renders it outside the scope of EEOC regulations pertaining to age discrimination under the ADEA.


  • Exploring EAPs

    February 16, 2021

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    Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are company-sponsored programs that provide assistance to employees for a variety of personal issues that may be hindering or adversely affecting their work performance. Typically offered through third-party administrators, EAPs can provide their services online or via telephone and can sometimes be a part of the employee’s healthcare plan, however it is not a replacement to the healthcare plan.

    Examples of EAP Services

    There is an assortment of services that EAPs offer to employees. All these services have a central purpose: aid the employee so that their personal problems are resolved, and their work performance is unaffected. For example, Karen has been struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic with depression. To sooth her anxiety, she has begun drinking every day. It’s gradually escalated to the point where she is late to work, has frequent absences, and is missing deadlines. She knows she needs to talk with someone who can offer her alcohol abuse resources. She accesses her company sponsored EAP.

    Here are some other common services included in EAPs:

    • Alcohol and substance abuse counseling
    • Health and wellness counseling
    • Child or elder care resources
    • Legal aid
    • Marital and family counseling
    • Financial counseling

    Benefits of EAP Services

    There are a number of benefits to the employee and the employer when the EAP is utilized in the workplace. First, utilizing the EAP service is completely voluntary. Second, the services are provided free of charge to the employee. Third, the counselor that speaks with the employee is entirely confidential. This allows the employee to be completely honest without feeling a threat that the employer would retaliate on anything said in a session.

    Utilizing your company’s EAP not only provides services and care to you and your family, but it also benefits your company. No longer carrying the burden of your personal problems solo, an EAP counselor can give you sound advice and steps to follow to achieve success when tackling a problem.  Employers will benefit by there being no disruption in the workflow of their employee due to overwhelming personal issues. Access your EAP and attack those personal problems today!

  • Plan Sponsor Reporting in California – the rules are different than federal | by Jordan Shields, Partner

    February 12, 2021

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    For fully insured plans, the carriers are responsible for sending Form 1094-C and 1095-C.

    For self-insured plans, the plan sponsor is responsible for sending these forms to the State of California as furtherance of ACA compliance.  The forms are the same (in design) as the federal forms, and an employer may submit the federal form for state reporting purposes.

    However, while federal forms are due March 2, 2021, the state forms are due February 1.

  • Be Alert: Employers Are Seeing a Spike in Phishing Scams

    February 9, 2021

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    Phishing emails are a type of scam designed to obtain information or prompt certain behavior from their targets. To that end, they typically appear to come from a person or entity we trust.

    In most cases, careful inspection will reveal cracks in the façade, little signs that the message is not what it purports to be. But, of course, most of us don’t thoroughly analyze every email we receive from a colleague or supervisor. When we get an email from our CEO, Lizzy Beth, we don’t hover the mouse over her contact card to verify that the message came from her actual company email and not brice@sneaky.scam. We see the email, assume Lizzy Beth wants us to send her the requested information, and send it.

    A successful scam can be a costly data breach with legal consequences. Businesses are generally required to take reasonable precautions to protect personal information in their possession. In the event of a breach, many states require that notice be given to those whose information was compromised. This notice might need to include the cause and nature of the data breach as well as what protections are afforded to those affected.

    One of the best ways to protect your company from these sorts of scams is to have a policy and practice of never emailing sensitive employee information. The language below may serve as an effective reminder:

    “Employees should not under any circumstance email sensitive employee information such as W-2s, benefit enrollment forms, completed census forms, or anything with social security or credit card numbers. Email is inherently insecure, and scammers may pose as company executives or employees to steal information. If you receive a request to email any such sensitive information, do not respond to it. Instead, inform your manager immediately.”

    You can help protect your organization by giving employees examples of the kinds of emails and other communications (texts, calls, etc.) that are likely suspicious. Here are a few:

    • A notice from your email provider suggesting you change your password.
    • A message from the IRS asking you to click a link, open an attachment, or provide information.
    • A message asking you to click a link to pay fines or penalties.
    • A request for W-2s or payroll records.
    • A request for names, birth dates, home addresses, salaries, and social security numbers.
    • A request for contact information.
    • A request to purchase gift cards and email the sender the card numbers.
    • A request for login information.
    • A communication with glaring typos.
    • A communication that says “EMERGENCY” in the subject.
    • A LinkedIn connection from someone you don’t recognize even though they purport to work at your company and have connected with some of your colleagues.

    By Kyle Cupp

    Originally posted on


  • Well it almost worked until it didn’t – Haven finds no haven in health care | by Jordan Shields, Partner

    February 5, 2021


    The highly touted project combining the resources of Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway has folded its tent following the departure of their CEO several months ago (who now has an advisory position in the Biden administration).  Haven was looking to change how health care was delivered in the United States, starting with the thousands of employees that worked for the three founding companies.  Trouble began when the ideas spawned at Haven were independently used by each of the founders…without unanimity, how could they expand?

  • COVID-19 Fraud Protection

    February 1, 2021

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    The COVID-19 crisis has not only stolen the health and well-being of people all over the world, but now, it seems, it has opened the door to criminals who want to steal your money and your identity. Historically, when there are times of crisis, the crime rate increases. We see this with natural disasters when stores are looted or when the economy is tanking and theft increases.  Now, we are seeing this scenario play out in real time as thieves use the pandemic and fear to their benefit.


    According to Forbes, Americans have lost more than $106 million to fraud related to COVID-19. These losses originate from all types of scams ranging from seeking donations for non-existent charities to price gauging for personal protective equipment. Dishonest individuals call victims and impersonate health organizations with a cure for COVID or products that can prevent infection if you just give them a credit card number. False bank accounts have been opened for the sole purpose of depositing unemployment benefit checks for non-existent persons.  With crime so rampant, how can you tell what’s true and what’s false pertaining to this crisis? Here’s some big scams that you can look out for:

    • Phishing/SMishing—Emails or text messages that appear to be from your bank or from an online retailer ask you to click a link or call a number so that you can verify personal information.
    • Work-from-home scams—Posing as a company or even one of your co-workers, criminals email about fake opportunities to work from home and ask you to apply for a job by giving out personal information.
    • Medical fraud—Fake websites are launched with virus testing kits or medical supplies for sale and collect credit card information.
    • COVID contact tracing—In an attempt to steal personal information such as social security numbers, fraudsters claim to be contact tracers and have identified you as a possible close contact of a COVID patient. Now they ask you for your info to verify and log your exposure to the virus.
    • Vaccine scheme—Calling individuals to sign them up to receive the COVID vaccine, the imposter asks for your personal information.


    • The number one way to protect yourself from possible fraud related to the COVID-19 crisis is to never give out your personal information in response to an unsolicited email or phone call. If you haven’t called the company/bank/organization directly, and someone contacts you asking for your birthdate, maiden name, social security number, etc, don’t give it out. You have the right to decline their request so that you can feel secure in releasing your information. Simply tell the solicitor that you want to call them back and then look on your bill/website/known contact information and call that number to affirm that the person who contacted you is indeed who they say they are.
    • If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, contact one of the three big credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. When you contact one of these agencies, you can request a freeze be put on your credit so that scammers cannot open any new accounts in your name.
    • “Report financial identity theft fraud attempts to the FBI. The toll-free number is easy to remember: 1-800-CALL-FBI. Or you can go online to” reports Terry Savage, Next Avenue podcast co-host. Forbes has a great transcript of a recent episode online with lots of fantastic tips for protecting yourself against fraud and you can access it HERE.

    In the midst of this pandemic crisis, the most important thing to focus on is the health and welfare of yourself and those you care most about. You shouldn’t have to waste time and effort chasing down scammers who have preyed on you when you are the most vulnerable. By following these easy (and always applicable) tips for protecting your identity and your finances, you can keep your focus on what really matters.


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