Language Course Helps Hospital Staff

Language Course Helps Hospital Staff Become More Hospitable; Employment Laws Explained at the Click of a Mouse; more

Feb 1, 2002

HR Magazine, February 2002 Language Course Helps Hospital Staff Become More Hospitable

Employers who talk about managing diversity are generally talking about diversity within their own workforces. But a hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., is taking its diversity-mindedness a step further with a program designed to improve the quality of health care it provides to Hispanic patients.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and the hospital’s Community Health Promotion Program are currently offering their employees a five-week Spanish language course and basic training in Hispanic culture. The effort is aimed at helping employees who provide patient care services and do not speak Spanish. The training focuses on Spanish medical terms and what people of Hispanic descent expect from health care providers. (For more on companies’ initiatives for Hispanic employees and customers, see the December 2000 HR Magazine article “Southern Hospitality Assimilates Hispanic Workers.”)

“Although the hospital does have translators available for many different languages, this new training course is an excellent way to heighten the cultural sensitivity of our staff,” says John Regina, senior vice president of human resources for the hospital. “This new program enables the hospital staff to develop a more personalized relationship with patients, which can ultimately improve patient satisfaction.”

One section of the training course focuses on diet and nutrition matters concerning Hispanics. “A better understanding of the primary language and eating habits really gives us the opportunity to provide better care for our patients in a respectful and knowledgeable manner,” says Mariam Merced, director of the hospital’s Community Health Promotion Program.

—Bill Leonard

Alumni Networks Can Cut Recruiting Costs, Boost Employer’s Image

Some companies have found a way to help solve the common HR dilemma of losing good employees during layoffs, then incurring recruiting costs when rebuilding the workforce in better times: They keep in touch with their former employees via online networks, rehire them when possible or at least tap into their expertise and new business connections. That approach also can improve attitudes of workers who survived the downsizing.

Former employees sometimes form such online alumni associations on their own. People who have left Netscape can post messages on a site designed to help them keep in touch with former colleagues, create business alliances and comment on their former employer. Some people who used to work at Procter & Gamble have their own network to help colleagues find jobs.

Connections also can be established through independent web sites such as Corporate Alumni Inc. and Yahoo! Inc.

Some companies outsource the development of online alumni networks. Two-year-old Select Minds in New York builds and manages corporate alumni networks using its own software. One client is Agilent Technologies, based in Palo Alto, Calif. Its network is accessible to alumni. There, former employees can find outplacement assistance as well as opportunities to network and keep up with company developments. Agilent also lets other companies post job openings on the site to help displaced workers find new positions.

The site clearly benefits not only former workers but also the company, according to Wendy Miller, director of Global Talent for Agilent. She says she is impressed by the loyalty that former employees have expressed toward the company and former colleagues. “It only makes sense that we would want to stay in touch, and the Agilent Alumni Network is a great way to do that.”

Connections with former employees can offer a competitive advantage, Miller says. It also can cut costs. Consider these statistics:

  • The average employee turnover rate is 14.4 percent annually, according to the Bureau of National Affairs.
  • Each new hire costs $10,057 in recruiting and administrative expenses, the Employment Management Association (EMA) reports, but rehires cost about half that much, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
  • Rehires tend to remain with a company twice as long as new hires, SHRM studies show.

Tapping into your alumni network also can open doors to new business opportunities. Former employees find new jobs or form their own enterprises, and when they’re looking for business partners, they often turn to previous employers, indicating that HR tools can boost the company’s bottom line.

For additional information on alumni networks, see the online version of HR Update in the members-only content section of

—Julie Britt

It’s No Secret: Privacy Officers Are on the Increase

Corporate privacy officers are here to stay, and their ranks will grow substantially in the next three years, according to the initial findings of an industry-commissioned survey.

In the survey’s “first wave” results, released in December by Privacy & American Business (P&AB) and the Association of Corporate Privacy Officers, about 40 percent of the respondents said they think more than half of U.S. companies will have a designated privacy officer by 2004. “That would produce something like 20,000 privacy officers across industries such as financial services, health care, telecommunications, retailing and online firms,” according to P&AB. An additional 30 percent said they expect privacy officers to be in place at nearly half of all companies within a few years.

Among other duties, privacy officers typically help their companies manage online privacy policies, assess privacy risks arising from the collection of employees’ personal information, audit company operations that involve personal consumer information and operate consumer complaint and resolution programs.

Survey results so far show that four out of five privacy officers have backgrounds in law, public or governmental affairs, marketing, information technology or management. About 46 percent are paid between $100,000 and $200,000, and 11 percent earn more than $200,000 a year.

Privacy officers’ experience and salary levels mark “the start of an institutionalization” of privacy activities at the upper levels of corporate governance, according to the survey’s director, Alan F. Westin, a Columbia University professor and president of P&AB. He notes that 47 percent of the surveyed companies “now recognize privacy as a competitive-edge issue with consumers.”

The survey was paid for by two companies that offer privacy services, and it was done by Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton, N.J. Opinion Research contacted a representative sample of publicly designated privacy officials at companies that collect and use consumers’ personal information. The response rate was 33 percent, which “compares favorably” with response rates for such surveys, according to P&AB.

—Terence F. Shea

Employment Laws Explained at the Click of a Mouse

Clear descriptions of nearly two dozen U.S. employment laws are now easy to access at the Department of Labor’s web site, and more of these special new aids for employers and employees are on the way.

Labor-law topics detailed at the site include family and medical leave, fair labor standards, occupational safety and health, small business retirement savings and workplace poster requirements.

These labor law explanations are called “elaws advisors”—for Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses. They represent the first of several interactive tools being designed under a Labor Department program to help companies and workers understand and comply with labor laws and labor rights.

The elaws advisors site, which Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao calls “a valuable set of tools for America’s 21st century workforce,” can be browsed by sampling summaries of all the topics or by scrolling through a comprehensive list of key employment terms.

An example of the direct approach of elaws advisors is found in sections on the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is described as covering “questions on the federal minimum wage, overtime, child labor and record keeping requirements.” The section on employment status says the law applies to employment anywhere in the United States or its possessions, but “an employee working in a foreign country is not protected by the FLSA even though the employer has its main office in the United States.”

Those who use elaws advisors can ask questions from either the employer’s perspective or the employee’s.

—Terence F. Shea

Mental Health Parity in the States

Federal lawmakers have agreed to a one-year extension of the Mental Health Parity Act of 1966, which expired last Sept. 30. The law requires that, under health plans offering mental health benefits, annual and lifetime maximum dollar limits must be equal to those for physical health benefits. The law does not supersede the mental health parity laws enacted in nearly half of the states. (See accompanying map.) For more information on mental health parity in the states, see the online version of HR Update in the members-only content section of HR Magazine.

Health Map 

Click on map for a larger version.


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