FMLA: The Basics and Common Issues

SVAM recently hosted a Lunch & Learn led by Catherine Karczmarczyk and Ramesh Murthy of PennStuart, entitled “The FMLA: What Every HR Manager Needs to Know.” This training covered the basics of the FMLA, common questions, and missteps to avoid.

Public agencies, schools, and private companies with 50 or more employees are required to provide FMLA to their employees. Employees covered by FMLA are eligible if they have worked at least 12 months for the employer, and have at least 1,250 hours of service, including temp time, during the year before their leave is set to begin. Covered employees must give at least 30 days notice to a management level employee if their need is foreseeable, for example, pregnancy.

The three most common qualifying leave reasons are for:

  1. Birth or placement of a child for adoption/foster care. The leave must be completed by the end of a 12 month period and can be taken all at once or in blocks of time.
  2. To care for spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition. This includes parents who stood in loco parentis, but not in-laws. It also includes children for whom the employee stood in loco parentis.
  3. For the employee’s own serious health condition. This includes inpatient care or continuing treatment.

Qualifying Military Family Leave is also covered for the active duty of a spouse, son, or daughter. FMLA leave can be taken as blocks of time, as intermittent leave, or as reduced hours leave.


One of the most important things a company can do is train supervisors on the appropriate actions to take regarding leave time. It is also important for both supervisors and HR to document everything and maintain records. There are several common supervisor issues that need to be avoided. First, avoid oral and written communications that can be construed as unsupportive of the leave given. For example telling an employee it is not a good time to take leave, or writing in an employee’s evaluation that they miss a lot of work.

A second issue is treating employees on FMLA as disabled. If an employee is prevented from doing essential job functions that is considered FMLA. ADA is when an employee needs accommodations to complete job functions. The two laws have divergent aims. If, however, an employee uses their 12 weeks of FMLA leave, employers can consider additional leave as a request for reasonable accommodation under ADA.

A third issue is the handling of leave requests. Since many employees are unfamiliar with the term FMLA, the burden is on the employer to recognize leave requests. It is also important for the employer to:

  • Require medical certifications
  • Notify employee of approval of leave
  • Notify employee of their rights and responsibilities
  • Notify employee when their leave has been exhausted

Another issue is a company’s failure to update policies. It is important for a company to have a policy in writing regarding FMLA and to update this policy annually. The policy should include an explanation of whether or not PTO and STD will run concurrently with FMLA, or how that will be handled. It should also cover moonlighting, and collection of insurance premiums. The policy also needs to address if leave is on a rolling or calendar basis.

The final issue is FMLA abuse, which is seen most often with intermittent leave. If employees show patterns of missed work, employers can get 2nd and 3rd opinions from doctors. Surveillance can also be sparingly used, but needs to be followed up with an opinion from a medical doctor regarding whether or not the activity in question is considered beyond bounds. A doctor’s note for missed time can always be required and employees can be asked to recertify every 30 days if the employer is doubtful that leave is still necessary.

Important Notes:

The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Catherine Karczmarczyk and Ramesh Murthy with PennStuart, but was not written by Ms. Karczmarczyk or Mr. Murthy. All information and quotes were sourced from the presentation provided and were written by SVAM.

SVAM Members can view the full video presentation here.

None of the advice or comments attributed to Catherine Karczmarczyk, Ramesh Murthy, or PennStuart should be relied upon as legal advice, nor was any advice or comments intended to be legal advice.


Employee Handbook: Avoiding the Unwritten Rules

Clear and comprehensive employee handbooks are a necessity for every organization. At a recent Lunch & Learn, Catherine Karczmarczyk with PennStuart discussed the importance of avoiding unwritten rules.

There are many reasons to have an employee handbook, including communicating policies and procedures, and ensuring compliance with laws. According to Ms. Karczmarczyk, essential policies for all handbooks include:

  • At-will statement
  • Contract Disclaimer
  • Reservation of Rights
  • Statement that Current Handbook Supersedes Previous Versions
  • Non-Retaliation Policy
  • Statement Regarding Benefits Plan Documents
  • Acknowledgement”

It is also essential to have a policy addressing harassment. The policy should cover what harassment is, when it is unlawful, and what constitutes harassing behavior. It addition to this, the handbook should also include a Non-Retaliation Policy, recognizing an employee’s right to file grievances and guaranteeing no retaliation against the reporting individual.

Strongly suggested policies for all handbooks include:

  • Purpose of the Handbook
  • EEO Statement
  • Employment Classifications
  • Work Hours
  • Attendance
  • Timekeeping
  • Pay Practices
  • Payroll Deductions
  • Holidays, Vacations, Sick Time, etc.
  • Different Types of Leave
  • Reasonable Accommodations
  • Personal Appearance
  • Drug/Alcohol Testing
  • Tobacco Use
  • Driving on Company Business
  • Company Inspection of Work Area
  • Weapons/Non-Violence


There are three categories of rules according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): Category 1 rules are generally lawful to maintain, Category 2 rules warrant individualized scrutiny, and Category 3 rules are unlawful to maintain. Ms. Karczmarczyk went through some rules and which category they fall under.

Civility Rules: Most civility rules are considered Category 1 rules. The general idea of Civility Rules prohibits name calling, socially unacceptable behavior, rudeness, or gossip. A Category 2 Civility rule would be banning disparaging comments about the employer, and that is something to beware of when writing the handbook.

No Photography and No Recording: It is acceptable to ban recording since that is now considered a Category 1 rule. If your company ban includes cell phones, which could be an employee’s main method of communication, it is important to give advanced notice and a reason for the rule. It is also a good idea to enact the ban for working time rather than working hours, this allows for employees to use their cell phones on lunch and breaks.

Disruptive Behavior Rules: Disruptive behavior rules are usually considered Category 1 rules as long as the disruptive behavior happens during company hours. The idea of this is to limit dangerous or bad behavior. However, banning employee activity outside of working hours becomes a Category 2 rule and the courts will look to see if “the employer has a legitimate interest in banning the activity.”

Confidentiality: It is acceptable to make a rule “banning discussion of confidential, proprietary, or customer information.”  However it becomes a Category 2 rule when an employer tries to require confidentiality about “employer business” or “employer information”. It is unlawful to require confidentiality about wages, working conditions, and benefits.

Rules Against Using Employer Logos or Intellectual Property: It is also acceptable to ban employees from using employer logos and intellectual property. However, banning the use of the employer name is considered a Category 2 rule.

Rules Requiring Authorization to Speak for the Company: It is considered a Category 1 rule to “prevent an employee from speaking to the media on the employer’s behalf.” It is a Category 2 rule to ban speaking to media as an individual employee. The employer would need a legitimate reason to ban this.

FMLA: FMLA is something that must have a separate policy that meets Department of Labor requirements. If the employer isn’t large enough to be required to have an FMLA policy, it is a good idea to consider a leave of absence policy.

Personal Use of Employer-Owned Internet Devices and Resources: Ms. Karczmarczyk suggests being practical when creating rules regarding personal use of employer owned cell phones, computers, and resources. It is important to be specific with usage guidelines and policies. Employers also have the right to “monitor electronic communications if an employee is using an employer’s equipment.”

Social Media Policy: The key to having a social media policy is to have a strict definition and apply it consistently. Employees can be terminated for publishing confidential information, but not for statements that would be considered Category 3, for example wage information.

Discipline: Ms. Karczmarczyk advised that in regard to discipline it is best to state that discipline will be imposed as necessary, up to and including termination. It is also best to reserve “rights to impose any level of discipline deemed necessary, including discharge for the first offense.” All discipline measure taken should be documented and kept in the employee’s file.

Non-Solicitation and Non-Distribution: Banning solicitation and distribution during working time is considered presumptively valid. Working time is the time employees should actually be working. This needs to be enforced in a non-discriminatory manner.

Other topics that might be covered in an Employee Handbook include performance reviews and promotions, and job descriptions. Handbooks should be updated yearly and always dated.

Important notes:
The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Catherine Karczmarczyk with PennStuart, but was not written by Ms. Karczmarczyk. All information and quotes were sourced from the presentation provided and were written by SVAM.

SVAM Members can view the full video of Ms. Karczmarczyk’s presentation here.

None of the advice or comments attributed to Catherine Karczmarczyk or PennStuart should be relied upon as legal advice, nor was any advice or comments intended to be legal advice.

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

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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:

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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.

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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.