Remodeling market index rises in Q3
The Remodeling Market Index (RMI) rose to 50 in the third quarter of 2012, up from 45 in the previous quarter, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). The RMI is at its highest point since the third quarter of 2005.
The RMI component measuring current market conditions rose to 52 from 46 in the previous quarter, while the component measuring future indicators increased to 49 from 44.
An RMI above 50 indicates that more remodelers report market activity is higher (compared with the prior quarter) than report it is lower. The overall RMI averages ratings of current remodeling activity with indicators of future activity.
“The improvement in the RMI provides more evidence that the remodeling industry is making the orderly recovery from its low point in 2009 as we’ve been expecting,” said NAHB chief economist David Crowe. “Although remodeling projects over $25,000 are now showing some signs of strength, they are still lagging behind smaller property alterations and maintenance and repair jobs. The recovery of the remodeling market in general, and large projects in particular, continues to be constrained by factors such as tight credit and problematic appraisals.”
All three indicators of current market conditions improved: maintenance and repairs rose to 56 (from 50), minor additions and alterations to 51 (from 47) and major additions and alterations to 49 (from 42).
Future market indicators in every region but the Northeast rose from the previous quarter: Midwest, 50 (from 46); South, 52 (from 46); West, 52 (from 42); and Northeast, 38 (from 41).
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Handling ‘gross’ things is tricky
When employees complain about “gross” things at work, such as body odor, bad breath, flatulence, throat clearing, coughing, nose-blowing, or visible or perceived conditions such as bedbugs or head lice, HR professionals are often consulted for guidance.
It’s important for HR professionals and managers to know what they can and cannot do, legally, as well as how best to handle situations that can distract employees, lead to conflicts, and, in some cases, raise employee fears of exposure.
“The employer should not ignore the problem,” said Joseph H. Harris, an employment law attorney with White Harris in New York City. “If the gross habit is a distraction and is disturbing other employees, it needs to be addressed,” Harris told SHRM Online.
Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston, has heard about plenty of inappropriate workplace behavior, including employees clipping fingernails, snorting, burping loudly or making “other inappropriate bodily noises.”
“I hate to sound cynical, but you’re dealing with human nature,” Sarikas said. “You often spend more time with the people you work with than the people you live with, and it can be challenging.”
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) members often share such challenges on SHRM’s online discussion boards. For example, in a June 2012 posting, one SHRM member wrote: “I have a (female) manager that brought to my attention that her (male) direct report is often ‘adjusting’ himself during business meetings with clients. How should this be addressed, if at all?”
Another asked: “How would you recommend handling an issue with someone who has a lot of issues with gas? … I know for a fact [it is] not intentional, but it has gotten a lot worse and it is really bothering people around him.”
Steps to address employee behavior
In most cases, Harris said, HR professionals should meet with the employee to determine whether the conduct is simply a disgusting habit or if there’s “something more serious going on” such as an underlying medical condition or disability, in which case accommodations may be appropriate.
For example, an employee who’s hacking and wheezing constantly might have a respiratory ailment.
Harris recommends starting such a conversation by saying: “We know this is an uncomfortable situation, but there have been some complaints about (whatever the behavior is) and we want to find out what’s going on and to find out if you’re OK.” If the person offers that he or she has an underlying medical condition, that’s fine, he said, but it’s not appropriate for the manager or HR to ask directly.
Assuming no underlying medical condition, the employee should be reminded of any policies concerning hygiene, as well as the organization’s code of conduct, which should prohibit disruptive behavior.
Depending on the severity of the situation — and again, provided the behavior isn’t the result of a medical condition — the employer might even find it appropriate to issue a written warning, acknowledged in writing by the employee, that the conduct violates company policy and that the employee might face further discipline, up to, and including, termination, if it continues.
The employer should work to ensure uniformity, Harris noted. Disciplining one employee, but not another, for disgusting or inappropriate office behavior might leave an organization open to discrimination or retaliation charges, he said.
In a previous job, Sarikas worked with HR to address an accountant who cleaned his fingernails with a pocketknife during meetings. “It was totally gross,” she said. Sarikas recommends that employees not confront the co-worker but first speak with their manager and to focus on how the problem is hurting productivity, “instead of just complaining.”
Paul Shanahan, regional vice president at Adecco in Chicago, said it’s important for HR to remain calm and professional, to “provide examples of how (the behavior) is impacting others around them,” and to focus on “the activity, not necessarily the individuals.”
Tara Walters, HR manager and accountant at Coalition Technologies, a Los Angeles Internet design and marketing company, said she once had to speak with a coworker who breathed very loudly, especially when listening to music with his headphones.
“All you could hear from his cubicle were deep breathing and panting sounds,” Walters recalled. Coworkers were uncomfortable and wondered “what exactly he was doing in there by himself,” Walters said. The employee now listens to music through just one headphone, so he can be more aware of his breathing.
“It was kind of an awkward conversation, but he took it very well,” Walters said.
Handling bedbugs and lice
Situations involving employees who have or are suspected of having bedbugs or lice pose unique challenges, particularly since employers have a duty under the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Act to keep the workplace free of recognized hazards, according to Danielle Urban, a partner in the Denver office of Fisher & Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm.
Employers need to be careful not to stifle any conversations related to possible infestations, since doing so may cause them to run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act.
If an employee reports that he or she has bedbugs or lice, the employer may ask the person to seek medical treatment, provide leave and allow the employee to return with proof the infestation has been treated. If the employee hasn’t disclosed the issue, but a colleague reports it, HR should ask for “credible evidence” to ensure it’s not a bullying or harassment situation, Urban said.
With credible evidence, HR should approach the employee in a “straightforward and discreet” manner to discuss the issue, Urban said.
Tips from the experts
• Make sure you have an up-to-date employee handbook and that all employees have signed an acknowledgement about company policies. This simplifies matters if, for example, someone wearing perfume or cologne needs to be reminded of the company’s “fragrance-free work policy.”
• Consider simple solutions such as moving the “offending” employee to a workstation farther from others.
• Remember that medical conditions might be the cause of certain issues. Someone with chronic bad breath, for example, might be on medication that makes them dehydrated. Certain medical conditions such as a bowel obstruction or Crohn’s disease can cause gas, according to the WebMD site.
• Avoid asking about medical conditions or recommending a medical evaluation, Harris said.
• Approach body odor issues from a “violation of dress code” standpoint if possible, Harris said, but seek accommodation guidance if an employee discloses a disability.
Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.
©2012 SHRM. All rights reserved.
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Moen unveils eco-friendly showerhead
Moen has announced its Moen Caldwell Four-Function Eco-Performance Showerhead, which has a flow rate of 2.0 gallons per minute (gpm), 20% less than the industry standard of 2.5 gpm. It also meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense criteria.
"Unlike some low-flow showerheads that simply restrict the water flow, Caldwell is designed to save water while providing peak performance," said Andrea Conroy, director of retail marketing, Moen. "Plus, with four easy-to-change settings, the showerhead offers sprays ranging from an energizing massage to a full-coverage rinse."
Available at Lowe’s, the Caldwell Four-Function Eco-Performance Showerhead is featured in a Chrome finish for $29.98. The collection also features a variety of matching faucets and accessories.
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