Significant Developments in Employment Law

2017 saw a shake-up of changes in regulatory laws under the Trump Administration. Matthew Davison with Baker Donelson recently spoke at a Lunch & Learn regarding the new changes that have occurred.

Many changes include eliminating older regulations in exchange for new ones. Executive Order 13771 requires federal agencies to identify two existing regulations to repeal for each new regulation. Congress has also become more involved with monitoring and sometimes overruling new regulations. This shows the Trump Administration’s focus on fewer regulations on businesses. The administration also appears to be making decisions that are more pro-business and pro-employer.

There are three main executive agencies in regard to employment law: The Department of Labor (DOL), National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a bipartisan commission of five presidentially appointed members, although, right now, there are two vacant positions. Per Mr. Davison, the goal of the EEOC is “to ensure agency resources are targeted to prevent and remedy discriminatory practices where government enforcement is most likely to achieve broad and lasting impact.” This is achieved through their strategic plan, which according to Mr. Davison, includes:

  1. “Pay more attention to discrimination in federal government employment
  2. Focus on charges where there is systemic discrimination
  3. Emphasize non-monetary relief where only ‘reasonable cause’ is found
  4. Pursue litigation ‘responsibly’
  5. Improve its technology and social media presence
  6. Continue to provide outreach and technical assistance, especially to vulnerable communities (specifically including immigrants)
  7. Focus on its own employees and staffing”

Compared to prior years the EEOC seems to be overall more employer friendly. Notable course changes include suspending new EEO-1 requirements that would require businesses to report details including type of work and place the employees into wage bands. The EEOC continues to place priorities on ending age discrimination and protecting LGBTQ rights. In light of the #metoo movement there is also expected to be an increased focus on sexual harassment.


The Department of Labor (DOL) is the department mainly in charge of wage and hour regulations. It played a key role in the Obama Administration but is currently facing budget cuts. Under the Trump Administration several rule rescissions have occurred. One regards the use of drug testing for unemployment; because the resolution was overturned it will allow states to determine if drug testing is a criteria for unemployment compensation. Another big rescission was of the Persuader Rule. The Persuader Rule stated that anytime an employer engaged a lawyer for advice or anti-union campaign guidance, the law firm had to report their fees to the NLRB. In July the DOL rescinded this rule.

In 2017 the DOL announced the withdrawal of two Administrative Interpretations regarding independent contractors and joint employers, both AIs were unfavorable to employers. The independent Contractor “test will no longer start with the presumption that all workers are employees”. This will give more decision making control to the employer. As for the Joint Employer, the DOL will likely return to requiring the employer to have direct control in regard to hiring/firing, compensation, and scheduling over the worker.

The DOL also made changes to the Overtime Rule, increasing the salary threshold for exemptions. However, states and business sued, saying that the DOL had overstepped its authority and the rule was overruled. In August of 2017 District Court ruled in favor of the businesses and states, stating that the DOL had in fact exceeded its authority. The Trump led DOL has abandoned any appeal of that decision and is expected to offer its own amendments to current overtime regulations.


The third agency Mr. Davison discussed is the National Labor Relations Board, an agency created in 1935 with the purpose of administering the National Labor Relations Act. There are a few instances where a change of course from the NLRB is possible, the first being use of company email. In 2017 the NLRB affirmed its decision to require employers to allow all employees to use company email for collective bargaining and to engage in concerted activity. This could potentially be changed by the new board. Another possible change involves the many cases about confidentially, non-disclosure, and social media policies in employee handbooks. These policies could be considered an employer trying to suppress an employee’s right to concerted activity. The NLRB has sought to protect these rights.

Next, in the Columbia University case the NLRB ruled “students serving as teaching and research assistants at private universities were employees under the NLRA.” This decision is expected to be reversed. There have also been efforts to do away with the “Quickie Election” rule which shortened the time period for an election to be held. The final possible change regards class action waivers. Since 2012 the NLRB has consistently struck down arbitration agreements that prohibited employees from bringing class actions suits regarding their employment. This was considered a violation of Title XII. After a ruling by the Supreme Court and a change by the Trump DOJ, this is expected to change.

Two bills to watch in the near future are the National Right-to-Work Act and the Raise the Wage Act. The National Right-to-Work Act will “block employers and unions from including mandatory dues provisions in collective bargaining agreements in the 22 states where right-to-work is not already law.” The Raise the Wage Act was introduced by Democrats to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour. According to Mr. Davison this will probably not pass, but there will be some kind of change.

Mr. Davison noted the case of Villa v. CavaMezze Grill. The Plaintiff for this case was a low level manager for the defendant restaurant. She was told by a former employee that the former employee was sexually harassed by the Director of Operations of the restaurant. After an investigation the restaurant deemed the story untrue and fired the Plaintiff. Even though the Plaintiff only reported what she had been told, the court found she had not engaged in protected activity and ruled in favor of the defendant. This case is important because there has historically been an erosion of employer rights and this case ruled in favor of the employer.

Mr. Davison provided some very valuable information that can be used by companies and organizations large and small. Thank you to Matthew Davison and Baker Donelson for providing this information for our organization and local manufacturers.

Important notes:
The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Matthew Davison of Baker Donelson, but was not written by Mr. Davison. All information and quotes were sourced from the presentation provided.

The full video of Mr. Davison’s presentation is available for members only here.

None of the advice or comments attributed to Matthew Davison or Baker Donelson should be relied upon as legal advice, nor was any advice or comments intended to be legal advice.


Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

It’s difficult to not have heard of the #MeToo movement, a platform to draw attention and action to the seriousness of the problem of sexual harassment and assault. The movement has created a zero tolerance reaction to sexual harassment like we’ve never seen before. As a manufacturer, it’s important that you have the information you need to ensure that both your company and your employees are protected when it comes to sexual harassment and assault. We asked our friends at Baker Donelson Law Firm to lead a Lunch & Learn training for manufacturers to help them understand how to handle sexual harassment complaints, what their policies should say, and how to handle allegations. The information was provided by Matthew Davison and Trey Range with Baker Donelson. The training was led by Trey Range.

Harassment Lunch & Learn

Trey began the training by talking about some of the scandals that have been publicized recently. Many of the issues shared were obviously over the line, but not all of them were. Not all sexual harassment scenarios are obvious. If you want to make a difference, you need to focus on the “small” or “borderline” issues as well as the large issues.

Keys to Successfully Handing Sexual Harassment Complaints: Take all complaints seriously, even if they are 20 years old. Even though the statute of limitations may have expired for a complaint, the instance can still have negative affects on the company. When a complaint has been brought forth, do a prompt and thorough investigation. Take appropriate remedial action. A “slap on the wrist and move on” mentality is no longer acceptable. It is important for the company to show that they acted upon the issue. Be sure to report back to the complaining party and let them know what has been done.

Anti-Harassment Policy: Have a clear and well-drafted anti-harassment policy that is posted and regularly communicated. You can post the policy on your website, in the same place you post state and federal required posters, in the break room, etc. Employees should know about the policy. The policy should be included in your employee handbook. Be sure to have a signed acknowledgement from each employee. A company has an obligation to do their best to enforce issues. An Anti-Harassment Policy should include:

  1. A statement prohibiting all forms of unlawful harassment.
  2. Examples of behavior that constitutes harassment.
  3. A complaint procedure.
  4. A statement prohibiting retaliation.
  5. Consequences of violating the policy.

Reporting Options: Take a look at your policy. It should require employees to report inappropriate behavior. It should include verbiage like “must report” rather than subjective words like “should” or “can”. Provide a minimum of three reporting options. Options could include reporting to HR, reporting to a manager, calling a hotline, etc. Train employees on their obligation to report! Make sure employee do more than just sign a statement of understanding of your policy. Train the employees, in person, especially if your policy has been revised.

Have you seen some of these high profile cases being reported and wondered, “Could this happen to my company?” The unfortunate reality is, it very well could, so be prepared. Have a “Harassment Investigation Checklist”:

  • Decide whether outside counsel is needed.
  • Interview the accuser (who, what, where, when).
  • Interview witnesses.
  • Interview accused.
  • Make a determination.
  • Weigh legal risks, costs, and related factors.
  • Take appropriate remedial action, if warranted.
  • Follow up to ensure that the remedial action is effective.
  • Document the results/do NOT include legal conclusions.

Navigating the Realities of the Instant News Cycle: Traditionally, most companies declined to comment on active investigations to litigation. The current climate, ultra-short media cycle, and social media, requires an updated approach. Have a plan/point person for dealing with unwanted publicity about harassment claims. Issue a statement advising that the company does not tolerate harassing or unlawful conduct, that the company takes all complaints seriously, and that you are in the process of investigating the allegations. Take the conversation offline.

Considerations in Settlement of Sexual Harassment Claims: Is the settlement preferable to litigation? If you settle, include a confidentiality clause and liquidated damages provision. Be aware that confidentiality covenants can be breached, so be sure to have a provision that says what will happen if a breach occurs. Have a plan for dealing with harassment settlements that go public. Consider if the instance is a pattern or a single instance. Patterns can show a problem. Currently, a bill is being debated that would ban confidentiality clauses for sexual harassment settlement agreements.

Trey provided some very valuable information that can be used by companies and organizations large and small. Sexual harassment is a serious issue that requires intentional and careful attention and consideration both in prevention and in the handling of issues. Thank you to Matthew Davison, Trey Range, and Baker Donelson for providing this information for our organization and manufacturers local.

Important notes:
The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Baker Donelson. All information was sourced from the presentation provided.

None of the advice or comments attributed to Baker Donelson should be relied upon as legal advice, nor were any advice or comments intended to be legal advice.  Sexual harassment policies and investigations should be tailored specifically to each company and its employees and prepared and handled on a case by case basis by attorneys competent in employment law.

Would You Go Driverless?

We are always excited to see what is “coming around the corner” when it comes to the manufacturing industry. The advancement of technology over the years has greatly impacted the face of manufacturing in southwest Virginia. Today, we wanted to discuss a very interested advancement: driverless cars.

Driverless cars have been a human dream since Leonardo Da Vinci designed a hypothetical one in the late 1400’s. This may still seem like something straight from futuristic science fiction, but advanced technologies in sensors, mapping, and computer power are quickly making it a reality. Driverless cars are already being tested by major automotive manufacturers, with the goal for release as early as 2021. In other words, within the next five years you might be able to request a driverless ride from your cell phone.

Lady Phone Female Young African Woman Black

Ford is the latest automotive company to begin testing driverless vehicles. They are investing in a trial of delivery vehicles in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The vehicles are made to look driverless, but for now will still be driven by humans. Ford is testing the response to the vehicles to see if people are willing to walk to the vehicle and pickup their own products and how consumers respond to the idea of a robotic vehicle. Currently Ford is partnering with Dominoes for food deliveries and Postmates for takeout, groceries, and other purchases.

Ford is also testing a fleet of self-driving cars in the same area. The cars are powered by Argo.AI a self driving startup. Those cars are using cameras and sensors with the purpose of creating high-definition maps of the area.

The information gathered during these two trials will be used in the 2021 launch of Ford’s fleet of autonomous vehicles. The vehicles will be used to transport people during rush hour and then rather than sitting idle during off hours, they will be used during those times for delivery of goods.

The cars will of course need cleaning and tune-ups, so Ford has also planned an “operations terminal” for the cars to return to and be serviced as needed. This will likely be done by Ford dealerships.

Ford isn’t the only automotive company moving towards a self-driving fleet. Nissan Motor Company, Toyota Motor Corp., Alphabet Inc., and General Motors are all working towards the same goal. So how will this impact automotive manufacturing jobs? With the current auto industry trends manufacturing will continue to need more designers. As people become passengers on a driverless commute the interior of the vehicle will have to change as well. The interior of a driverless car could be used as an office space, a place to sleep, and traveling with pets or packages needs to be accounted for. The interior of the car could also be turned into a traveling gym, easily enabling exercises like rowing, chest-flys, and pull downs, all exercises that could be done with resistance bands or weighted straps attached to the car interior. Manufacturing will need designers to create these new environments.

We are excited about this new development, the interesting technology jobs it will bring, and its potential to impact our region. Autonomous vehicles will pave the way for other new technologies (maybe even flying cars!). Manufacturing is moving forward into new frontiers – what an exciting time!

As the technology of cars become ever more complex, manufacturing will also need more engineers and software developers. Self-driving cars require extra sensors and cameras to replace human eyes and reflexes, as well as specific technology to make the hardware and software work together.

How do you feel about this new fleet of autonomous cars? Would you go driverless? Start a conversation with us on Facebook and let us know!

8 “Soft Skills” Employers Look For

Hiring managers are looking for more than just “hard skills” when they hire a new candidate, they are also looking for “soft skills”. Hard skills are the skills you learn in school or on the job, such as welding, data analysis, or typing. Soft skills are non job specific, personal attributes that can be improved through personal development.

In addition to the hard skills employers are looking for some of the most desired soft skills are:

  1. Work Ethic – Hiring managers are looking for candidates who will put in the energy and effort to be good employees. Employers want workers who are reliable and take initiative with minimal supervision.
  2. Communication – Employees need written and verbal communication skills to thrive in the workplace, because these skills influence how a person is perceived. You will also be more successful if you can clearly articulate the details of a project to both co-workers and management.
  3. Teamwork Skills – In addition to communication, the ability to work as part of a team is also important. A company’s success is based on the sum of its employees, and hiring managers want employees who can be team players.
  4. Organization – The ability to effectively plan projects and daily tasks is a highly desired soft skill. Properly planned projects are more time and cost efficient. Fellow employees never want to feel as though their time is being wasted because of somebody else’s haphazard planning.
  5. Time Management – Along with organization, time management is also important. Employees who properly manage their time tend to be more efficient and productive than employees who do not.
  6. Punctuality – If you are properly managing your time you will be punctual. Nobody likes to be kept waiting whether it is for a meeting or your portion of a project. Punctuality shows respect and consideration for the time of other people.
  7. Problem Solving – No matter how much you plan problems will always occur. The ability to offer creative solutions to those problems is a valuable asset to any company.
  8. Friendly Personality – Be nice. It really is that simple. Nice people are better perceived, and easier and more pleasant to work with. Employers want workers who will encourage and support their colleagues, and have a positive attitude towards their work.

HA0521 - Bedford staff and M1. A set of images  of HA staff in the Bedford office and new section of M1, north of junction 9. March 2010

We have plenty real life stories of employees who lack soft skills. We have often heard employers complain about employee use of cell phones on company time. This shows poor work ethic and lack of time management skills. Another common issue is employees showing up late to work or lack of punctuality. A complaint we often hear from hiring managers is job candidates showing up not properly dressed for interviews. Appropriate attire and grooming are another way to communicate your desire and willingness to work. And while all of these things may seem like common sense, we hear them over and over.

While soft skills aren’t necessarily learned skills, knowing what hiring managers and employers are looking for will give you the opportunity to work on your own soft skill set.

Employers, what are you looking for in an employee? Start a conversation with us on Facebook!


The Importance of Sleep…and 10 Ways to Get More of It

We’re over three weeks into our New Year’s resolutions now. If you’re the average American yours probably included some kind of health related goal. According to a Marist Poll, 12% of people want to lose weight, 9% want to exercise more, 9% want to eat healthier, and 6% want to quit smoking.¹ However, these wellness resolutions are missing one critical component: sleep.

Sleep has recently been described as one of the most important contributing factors to overall health. In Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Dreams and Sleep, Matthew Walker argues that getting enough quality sleep is more important than exercising and eating well. Not only does sleep affect daily quality of life, but it can contribute to physical diseases and mental disabilities. He points out that in countries, including America, where sleep has declined the incidence of disease has risen.²

According to the National Sleep Foundation the amount of sleep you need varies based on age with most adults needing between 7-9 hours of sleep a night.³


If you think you need to add sleep to your list of resolutions, here are some helpful tips to getting plenty of shut eye:

  1. Limit screen time starting an hour before bed, this includes TVs, cell phones, and tablets. Reading from a physical book (yes, they still exist) is ok. Also, turn off notifications so you won’t be tempted to check your texts or email.
  2. Limit caffeine intake to your morning coffee, especially if you’re sensitive. After lunchtime it’s a good idea to switch to decaf or hot herbal tea.
  3. Make your bedroom your sanctuary. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows (we’re partial to Tempur-Pedic, because it’s #madeinswva and exceptional quality). Consider spritzing your pillow case with a calming essential oil like lavender.
  4. Make sure your bedroom is completely dark. Invest in black out curtains if needed.
  5. Set your thermostat to a cooler temperature at night. Nobody sleeps well when they’re too hot.
  6. Aim for thirty minutes of exercise a day, even if it’s only taking a walk after dinner. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and make your muscles tired. If you exercise outside and absorb natural light that also helps promote natural circadian rhythms, meaning you will be more alert during the day and sleepier at night.
  7. If you do find yourself tossing and turning at night, get up and try reading or meditation until you are sleepy. That way you don’t associate your bed with a place to lie awake and worry.
  8. Speaking of meditation, try it. Whether you try visualizations, focused breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation focusing on your mindfulness will relax you before bed. Here are more tips on how to start a meditation practice. 
  9. If it is stress that is keeping you awake try journaling as a way to clear your mind. Five minutes of free writing about whatever is bothering you can help you bring closure to the subject for the day. You could also keep a gratitude journal to help switch your focus to the things you are grateful for.
  10. And lastly, give yourself permission to sleep. We all feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we need to do, but by not sleeping we are too tired to fully focus on our tasks. How often do you make a mistake because you’re tired and it takes longer than an extra thirty minutes of sleep to fix?

How do you prioritize sleep? Start a conversation with us on Facebook!






Quick Tips for Beating Workplace Stress

January can be a stressful time for businesses with catching up from the holidays, implementation of new systems or new processes, preparing for the new year, etc.. That’s why the DHS Group put together some tips for beating workplace stress.


We have all been through a stressful situation or two in our lifetime and there’s no easy way to escape the daily stressers that impact our lives. Stress can be derived from traumatic events, change (good or bad), work, family, school or other daily life responsibilities.

However, regardless of why you’re experiencing stress, it’s important to remember that it’s something that everyone experiences. That said, even though we all experience it, how we manage our stress is crucial, especially when it comes to our overall wellbeing.

Studies show that excessive stress can really take a toll on your long-term health; meaning you could become sick with things like the “common cold” more often and even developing conditions such as obesity, diabetes, etc. So what can you do?

One of the first steps to overcoming stress is determining the cause behind it. Once you have an idea of where it’s coming from, start with these actions:

  • Write down the name of your stressor.
  • Brainstorm ideas to overcome that stressor. (For example, is money stressing you out? Ideas can include creating a budget and listing ways to help you stick to that budget.)

With those actions getting you on the right path to beating your stressor, consider these additional options that can help your overall health and wellbeing.

  • Exercise: As few as 30 minutes a day of exercise (going for a walk or run, lifting weights, group exercise classes) can help reduce stress levels.
  • Yoga & Meditation: Even a few minutes of deep breathing can encourage feeling more calm and relaxed.
  • Make a To-Do List: Prioritize the work that needs to be done first, and is of most importance to complete, and then tackle each item one at a time.
  • Set Realistic Goals and Deadlines: It’s unrealistic to think that you can eliminate your stress in one day, give yourself time and encouragement for what you’ve accomplished so far.
  • Seek Professional Help: If your stress becomes too much or you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, seek medical attention; your doctor may have additional recommendations or professional resources that can help.

Interested in learning more about how you can improve your personal wellbeing – both at work and at home? Check out these posts on the benefits of activity trackers and staying healthy and active during the busy seasons of life.

Is your company ready for the next step when it comes to arming your employees with the tools they need to have healthy lives and improve your overall population health? Learn more about us at

“Involve me, and I understand.”

For this week’s blog, SVAM is turning things over to MSI Workforce Solutions, the workforce affiliate of the Virginia Manufacturers Association. We welcome Melissa Lamont-Gordon, Dream It. Do It. Virginia Coordinator, as our guest blogger. 


“Involve me, and I understand.” 

These words have been attributed to many over the years- Aristotle, Confucius and Voltaire to name a few, making a case for Experiential Learning– simultaneous learning and doing.  Bottom line, people have noticed a connection between doing and learning for a long time- and- judging from this list of scholars- a very long time.

Experiential Learning Activities=Career Path in Advanced Manufacturing?


Building the future pipeline of workers was a recurring theme at the Virginia Chamber Economic Summit and a key focus of Blueprint Virginia 2025, which the Chamber presented to Governor-Elect Ralph Northam.   Our youth are the key to Virginia’s future success in industry. (December 1, 2017)

Why Experiential Learning?

The Manufacturing Institute, in partnership with the Student Research Foundation and SkillsUSA, released a report identifying the characteristics of experiences that impact student career choices. (October 23, 2017)

The study found that 63 percent of students identified their own interests and experiences as having the greatest influence over their career decisions.

“To help build the future pipeline of workers, manufacturers need to give students and parents more opportunities to experience innovative, high-tech and exciting modern-day manufacturing,” says Carolyn Lee, Manufacturing Institute Carolyn Lee.

What resources are there in Virginia?

Dream It. Do It. Virginia is one such resource.  With our industry and agency partners, we provide experiential learning activities through our Advanced Manufacturing Academies, Camps and, in partnership with the Virginia Community College System, Career Coaches.  Through our partnerships, we are helping to build that pipeline, one student at a time.  In 2017 alone, we reached over 200+ students in our summer programs and over 14,000 people have visited the free Dream It. Do It. Virginia Career Information System, which focuses on Advanced Manufacturing.


Student Involvement:

Bradley Holmes is a Dream It. Do It. Virginia Advanced Manufacturing Camp alumnus.  Here is his take on how experiential learning influenced his career path.

“I attended STIHL’s Manufacturing Technology Summer Camp (MTSC) for two years.  The first year I attended my team won the manufacturing competition held on the final day of camp. My second year I was in a “mentor” capacity.

The MTSC helped me to realize that I enjoyed working with my hands and opened my eyes to the world of manufacturing before engineering. It was fascinating to see the amount of technology that goes into manufacturing.  Prior to the camp I hadn’t had my sights set on much aside from “engineering” and it helped me to realize I wanted a career in manufacturing.  I ended up joining STIHL Inc. in 2015 as an Apprentice Mechatronics Technician, where I act as all-around automation maintenance (robotics, electronics, mechanical, plastics processing, etc.).  Thanks to the camp I’m in a position that is very beneficial to me doing a job that I really enjoy.”

Virginia Western Community College student Carolina R. is pursuing a major as an Engineering Technician.  While she grew up in a manufacturing family, she became really interested in Advanced Manufacturing through her high school CTE classes, where she met Advanced Manufacturing Coach Mike Howell.  He assisted her in obtaining a Job-Shadowing opportunity at Trinity Packaging.  While on site she followed a project engineer, toured the plant, observed the manufacturing process and was eventually hooked.

Carolina is one of a few women enrolled in mechatronics classes at VWCC.  Howell hopes that number will increase. His involvement in the schools as an Advanced Manufacturing Coach have allowed him to host a DIDIVA Summer Camp, introduce his students to area industry leaders, and facilitate other activities such as alumni visits and field trips, so students can get involved.

Experiential Learning= Involvement+ Understanding=Career Path in Advanced Manufacturing


Melissa Lamont-Gordon is the Virginia Dream It. Do It. Coordinator, and a member of the MSI Workforce Solutions Team at the Virginia Manufacturers Association.  If you are interested in sponsoring or hosting a DIDIVA Camp, or would like to learn more about our Experiential Learning Activities, please contact her at

Like us on FACEBOOKDream It. Do It. Virginia.

Protecting Your Human Capital Investment

Employees are often thought of as a company’s greatest asset. Not the multi-million dollar machines or the raw materials, but the people who make the product a reality. Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soupsaid, “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” So, how do you win in the workplace? How do you make financial cents out of good business sense? Mary Jane Umberger, President of HR Alliance, led a training recently on this very topic. Today’s blog will recap what we learned.

The training began by talking about how the pathway to success is often riddled with potholes. Some of the potholes that may get in the way of protecting your human capital investment include:
1. Potential employee selection problems.
2. Seeming employee disregard for company requirements.
3. Apparent employee indifference resulting in sub-standard job performance.
4. Costly employee turnover.
Luckily, there are things that can be done to “patch the potholes”. Mary Jane provided the following as opportunities to build a better road to success.

Take a look at your interview and selection process. How can this impact your bottom line directly? An unintentional misstep could lead to costly litigation. On average, a federal employment law claim will cost between $80,000 and $120,000 to defend in trial. Take a look at your interview and selection process. Make sure your procedures are above board and those carrying them out understand their legal limitations. One important area to focus on: your interview questions. There are some questions that are obvious to avoid like, “Do you have health problems?” Most people know you can’t ask that. However, there are some questions you might think are ok to ask, but aren’t, such as asking an applicant for a photo to attach to his/her application. We found this article from LinkedIn and this one from Business Insider to be helpful in delving deeper into this subject. Again, some of these may leave you thinking, “Duh!” (insert eye roll emoji), but others might surprise you.


Define behavioral policies and organizational expectations. Are your behavioral policies and organizational expectations clearly stated? Are your leaders trained as to why they exist? Sometimes employees have the best of intentions, but just aren’t clear of the policy. So, how can you clearly convey expectations?  Options include: 1. Job Descriptions. The job description is where an employee’s path begins with you. Be sure that you clearly state what is expected of employees to avoid confusion and frustration from the very start. 2. Performance Evaluations. Evaluations were created for this very purpose – to talk about whether expectations are being met or not. Use evaluations as an opportunity to give your employees clear suggestions for how they can improve and better meet the expectations of the job. 3. Recognition to reinforce positive behavior. Recognizing employees can be such a simple thing that produces such a large return on investment. We actually did a blog post about this very topic, which you can read here. 4. Consider your employee handbook. Are your excited, ready-to-get-to-work employees actually reading it for understanding? Consider hosting a training about the handbook. You could hit on those “pet peeves” that both management and employees might have. Those “pet peeves” could just be a misunderstanding on both sides.

Increase Employee Engagement. Hey! We did a blog about this one recently, too. Do your leaders utilize behaviors that foster employee engagement and recognize the corresponding cost benefits…liabilities? Here’s what Mary Jane shared with us on this topic:

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 1.56.51 PM

She also shared this excellent video which presents some very interesting facts about employee engagement.

Consider Your Employee Turnover. Is your organization spending hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of dollars in hidden (and not so hidden) costs on employee turnover? Hard costs include time spent processing separation, recruiting, interviewing, reference checking, orientation, as well as the costs to pay overtime, advertising fees, drug screening, and training. Other costs include lost productivity, increased workload, reduced engagement, and an effect on customer service. Mary Jane talked about the importance of on-boarding. Successful companies understand on-boarding has a more long-term success.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 2.51.25 PM


And there you have it! We hope by reading this you’ve gained some insight into how you can better protect that oh so precious investment – your workforce.


For deeper reading:
Here are three books Mary Jane Umberger recommends on the topic of employee engagement:

  1. “Drive” by Daniel H. Pink
  2. “Nine Minutes on Monday” by James Robbins
  3. “All In” by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

We’d also like to add “Gung Ho” by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.


All information was pulled from the presentation created by Mary Jane Umberger.

17 Reasons We Are Thankful For Manufacturing in 2017

Manufacturing is a way of life in Southwest Virginia. It is an industry that touches each of us in some way, giving the citizens of our area many things to appreciate. This week, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we, at SVAM, celebrate our appreciation for the manufacturers in Southwest Virginia.

Here is our list of 17 reasons we are thankful for manufacturing in 2017: 

For economic reasons…

1. There are about 400 manufacturing facilities providing jobs for about 18,000 individuals in Southwest Virginia.

2. Manufacturers contribute over $2.17 trillion to the economy each year. Taken alone manufacturing would be the 9th largest economy in the world.¹

3. There are plenty of job opportunities for new workers. 80% of the manufacturing workforce are Baby Boomers nearing retirement. This means that manufacturers will be looking to fill up to 80% of their positions over the next few years.

4. For every manufacturing job created, 2.5 more jobs are created in other sectors.

5. Manufacturing has the second largest marginal economic impact on the Southwest Virginia region’s economy.

6. Manufacturing employees make on average $10,000 more a year compared to workers at other establishments.

7. Manufacturers provide employees with highly desirable benefits like health insurance and retirement plans.

8. Manufacturers like to hire from within, which means there is plenty of room for advancement in the company.

9. Manufacturing supports a broad and diverse career spectrum. There are positions available for production workers, engineers, management, and almost anything else you can think of.¹


Employees at Strongwell in Bristol, VA


For community support and environmental awareness…

10. Manufacturers give back to the community! For example: West River Conveyors and Machinery Company in Buchanan County, Virginia has widely supported youth activities and charities in its community for the past 36 years. They support the Department of Social Services Angel Tree Christmas Program, YMCA programs, Boys & Girls Club of Central Appalachia, Buchanan County Youth Incorporated, and Buchanan County Little League sports. Also, each year, they provide funding for any student at a Buchanan County high school unable to afford the class senior trip. Just over the past few years, they have contributed more than $150,000 to youth activities and programs in the community.

11. Manufacturers care about the environment! For example: Tempur Productions in Scott County, Virginia is a company that puts safety and the environment first and works tirelessly to reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gases for the community. Their EPA Energy Star Program is a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. The goal is to protect the environment through the adoption of energy efficient equipment and practices as well as reduce greenhouse gases. Through their focus on landfill elimination, this facility is a zero landfill company and have been since June 2015. Through their lighting upgrade project, they have a long-term plan to convert 100% of their lighting to high efficiency LED. Through HVAC upgrades, their entire plant is air conditioned. They have upgraded three of their chillers to high-efficiency design, with the fourth and final unit scheduled to be upgraded by 2018. The roof has recently been upgraded to a white finish to reduce the heat load in the summer months. All the HVAC controllers have been networked to form a ‘smart’ system which identifies additional opportunities for improvement.

For innovation and safety…

12. Manufacturers are constantly creating new and innovative technologies! For example: Electro-Mechanical Corporation in Bristol, Virginia showed innovation this year by implementing lean practices to eliminate waste and become more competitive. They produce pad-mounted switch gears. Customer demand for this product had grown beyond the company’s ability to produce within a one shift operation.  Something had to be done to eliminate waste in the system and increase capability of the line to meet the growing demand. One complicating factor, from a manufacturing standpoint, is that there are over 25 versions of these switch gear enclosures all produced in random sequence on the same assembly line, each having as many as 200 parts.  Another complication is that two geographically separated plants are involved in the production and assembly process. Lean principles were applied beginning in 2012 to eliminate wastes associated with the manufacture and assembly of pad-mounted switch gear. Since the implementation of these principles, sales for this product have increased from 30 to 70 units per week and are expected to continue increasing.

13. Manufacturers put employee safety at the top of their priority list! For example: Quadrant Engineering Plastic Products in Wythe County, Virginia says that safety is the foundation and core of the business for their manufacturing facility. Their local facility pursued OSHA VPP STAR Certification and were awarded Virginia Protection Program’s STAR status (OSHA’s highest designation) in April 2016. Safety is a focus for all levels of leadership throughout the company. Management demonstrates its commitment to Safety and Health procession by actively participating in monthly Safety Patrol audits, safety training, managements of change, and accident/near miss investigations. All employees have opportunities to get involved with different safety and health activities at the facility. New Hires are encouraged to become a member of the Employee Safety committee, PEO team, or help in safety training or the annual health fair.


Employees at Strongwell in Bristol, VA

For the way they impact their employees and consumers…


14. Manufacturers are spending time and resources studying what creates worker satisfaction across generations. 

15. Manufacturing facilities promote a sense of camaraderie and teamwork with their employees.

16. Manufacturing directly improves the quality of our everyday lives, from the cars we drive (Somic America in Wytheville) to the bed we sleep on at night (Tempur Productions in Duffield).

17. And last, but not least, we are thankful for manufacturing because manufacturers care about us. Manufacturers are making products to keep us safe, make our lives easier, and improve our everyday living.


Manufacturing facts from:

¹ http//

For more information about manufacturing visit:


This blog is published by The Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing

9 Easy Ways to Master Employee Engagement

Managers are busy…managing things. Assuming you’re a manager, after you’ve finished all of your own tasks and workload (if that’s possible), you probably don’t have much time left. By focusing on “engagement drivers” you can lead and inspire your employees to become a motivated and engaged team with very little time investment on your part.

According to Preparing For: Nine Minutes on Monday, Skills for Mastering the Art of Employee Engagement, a training facilitated by Mary Jane Umberger and inspired by James Robbins’ book Nine Minutes on Monday, there are nine ways employee needs can be met in order to fully engage employees in their jobs. These engagement drivers help create empowered, effective, dedicated employees.

  1. Care: Employees want to be treated as more than a number. In larger companies this can be as simple as knowing each employee on a first name basis and a little about their family.
  2. Mastery: Employees need clear goals and consistent feedback in order to be challenged and feel a sense of achievement in their job. This could be something as informal as a quick check-in once a week or a more formal documented meeting.
  3. Recognition: An employee feels valued when his/her achievements and work are recognized. Recognition is proven to be one of the best methods of improving work motivation. An easy way to implement this is a bulletin board in the employee break room where achievements are posted on a regular basis.
  4. Purpose: Employees want to know that they are making a difference, both in the company and for the clients they are serving. Ask employees to write down their job inspiration and post the answers as a reminder. Help them understand how the work they’re doing impacts other people’s lives.
  5. Autonomy: Giving employees freedom to make choices when possible, and seeking their input and ideas gives a sense of responsibility. Having an open door policy for suggestions is an easy way to make employees feel heard and take ownership of their work. An employee is much more likely to work hard on an idea they helped develop.
  6. Grow: Encourage personal development through clarifying an area of growth and providing the employee with coaching and feedback. This can be a way to help an employee learn a new work-specific skill or improve upon their soft skill set.
  7. Connect: Everyone values good relationships both in and out of the workplace. Connecting to employees with positive behaviors helps increase “stickiness” to the company. This can be done by promoting engagement and teamwork.
  8. Play: Allowing space for fun activities fosters team spirit and morale. It also decreases negativity and stress. Examples of this could be a monthly potluck lunch, an after work sports team, or a holiday cookie exchange.
  9. Model: It is important for employees to see positive behaviors modeled by their leaders. Management sets the tone for the workday and company. Positivity in management gives employees a sense of security and inspiration. In other words, leaders should always come to work with a smile on their face.

Each of these engagement drivers is a quick, simple way to recognize employees. According to Nine Minutes on Monday, one minute of recognition equals 100 minutes of initiative. In other words, taking one minute to tell an employee they are doing something well will in turn make that employee more productive for 100 minutes. That is a great return on time investment.

How do you engage your employees? Start a conversation with us on Facebook!

For more information visit

A special thanks to Mary Jane Umberger for facilitating this wonderful event. SVAM was proud to be one of the sponsors.