Dee DePass has been a Star Tribune business reporter since 1993, covering small business, financial institutions, manufacturing and, most recently, the economy. Originally from New York, Dee came to Minnesota after earning her master's in journalism at the University of Maryland and her undergraduate degree at Vassar College.

Posts about Workplace issues

Bullies in the workplace? You bet

Posted by: Dee DePass Updated: April 19, 2012 - 11:08 AM

Cowering from bullies in the workplace?

Know two things. You're not alone and there are tips to stop the abusive behavior.

Susan Heathfield , human resources author for, reports there is no shortage of bosses who yell at their workers; pick, pick, pick at that one mistake, or constantly undermine or talk over their underlings. She estimates that 54 million Americans admit to being bullied on the job at least once during their careers.

She notes a study conducted by Zogby and the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute that found that about 37 percent of Americans have been bullied on the job, usually by a boss.  According to the study:

  • Bosses made up 72 percent of bullies
  • 60 percent of bullies are men, but 71 percent of those who bully women are women
  • 45 percent of those bullied experienced anxiety, panic attacks, depression or other stress-related health problems
  • Only 3 to 4  percent of victims sue or complain to state authorities

So, what's a worker to do? Heathfield has a few tips:

  • Set limits on what you will tolerate.
  • Describe the behavior of the bully to the bully. Don't editorialize. "You are screaming and swearing at me" 
  • Tell the bully exactly how their behavior impacts your work and hurts the company
  • Tell the person you will not put up with the specific behavior in the future
  • Leave the room. End the phone call. End the meeting. Reschedule the next meeting sans bully

 If nothing changes, seek help:

  • Report the bully to management and human resources.
  • But first document the time,  date, location and witnesses of the behavior.
  • Keep copies of abusive e-mails
  • Ask co-workers to keep a log of the behavior
  • Recognize when it's simply time to change jobs

Beware. March madness may sap worker productivity

Posted by: Dee DePass Updated: March 3, 2012 - 4:18 PM

Labor market experts have a warning for employers, Beware the madness!

College basketball's annual March madness sucks up about 90 minutes of workers' attention for every day of the games according to the employment outplacement giant Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

The firm estimates that about 2.5 million workers will watch the basketball  bonanza by streaming the games online or watching TV. That’s a lot of downtime.

"The annual NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball championship tournament, affectionately known as March Madness, kicks off in less than two weeks and companies around the country know what that means: it is time once again to remind employees that streaming live video slows down everyone’s Internet speed," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray and Christmas.

Based on last year’s data, online March Madness coverage could attract more than 2.5 million unique visitors per day, each spending an average of 90 minutes watching games.  With private-sector workers earning an average of $23.29 per hour, Challenger estimates that employers will end up paying distracted workers about $175 million over the first two full days of the tournament.
Cost aside,"The company’s Internet speeds may be slower, some workers will not respond to e-mails as promptly, and lunch breaks may extend beyond the usual time limits.  It’s mostly a headache-inducing annoyance for information technology departments, human resources and department managers,” Challenger said.


State tweet warns workers to know their rights during the holidays

Posted by: Dee DePass Updated: December 23, 2011 - 2:32 PM

Did you know state law requires your employer to let you use the bathroom at least once every four hours?

It's such an important point that the Minnesota Department of Labor (DLI) and Industry sent out a mass tweet this week warning worker bees to know their rights during the bustling holiday season that often requires long hours. The message hits as shoppers head into the last shopping days before Christmas.

The Tweet sent readers to, which links to a site that answers "the most frequently asked questions" about employee rights. It's an interesting read. In honor of the 12 days of Christmas, here's a gander at the top 12 rights of workers:
1. You must receive at least the minimum wage per hour for all hours your employer requires you to work, including preparation time, on-the-job training, opening and closing times, and required meetings. If your employer is not paying the minimum wage or overtime, you can file a claim with the Department of Labor and Industry, Labor Standards unit.

2. Generally, your employer may not deduct from your wages for breakages, cash shortages, tools or uniforms. For exceptions to this rule see Minnesota Statutes 181.79 and 177.24, subdivisions 4 and 5).

3. Each time you are paid, you must receive a statement listing all deductions, such as taxes, from your earnings.

4. Keep accurate records of the hours you worked. If there's a difference between your record and the employer's, review your records together.

5. Rest breaks are not required; however, you must be allowed time to use the nearest restroom once every four consecutive hours worked.

6. If you work eight or more consecutive hours, you must be allowed sufficient time to eat a meal.

7. Your employer must pay one-and-one-half times your regular rate of pay for overtime hours worked. Review the overtime information to learn if your employer is covered by state or federal law.

8. Minors are prohibited from working certain jobs and certain hours. See Minnesota Statutes 181.04, and Minnesota Rules 5200.0910 and 5200.0920.

9. You have the right to a safe workplace. If you believe safety or health hazards exist at work, contact Minnesota OSHA (651) 284-5050 or 1-877-470-OSHA (1-877-470-6742).

10. If you are injured on the job, immediately inform your employer. The employer has an obligation to provide you with workers' compensation benefits. Call (651) 284-5005 or 1-800-DIAL-DLI (1-800-342-5354) for more information.

11. Your employer must provide a work environment free from racial, sexual and religious harassment. Report violations to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights by calling (651) 296-5663.

12. If your employment ends or your work hours are reduced, you may apply for unemployment benefits online or at (651) 296-3644 (Twin Cities), or at 1-877-898-9090 (Greater Minnesota). You may choose English, Hmong, Somali or Spanish.



2010 Minnesota workplace injuries near record low

Posted by: Dee DePass Updated: October 21, 2011 - 2:07 PM

Workplace injuries across the state fell close to a 40-year low in 2010, according to a report issued Friday by The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.

Workers suffered 3.9 nonfatal injuries for every 100 workers on the job, officials found after sampling injury records from 4,700 employers. The survey excluded federal agencies.

Minnesota's injury rate is up from 3.8 in 2009 but down significantly from the 5.1 figure reported for 2005.

 In all, the state had 76,700 injuries last year, compared to 104,100 in 2005. The 2010 injuries proved the second-lowest rate since 1972.

"We are encouraged by these results," said Labor and Industry Commissioner Ken Peterson. "They are a positive sign that more workers continue to make safety and health an integral part of their day to day operations."

Nationwide, workers suffered a rate of about 3.8 injuries per 100 employees. 

Other results from the Minnesota survey:

  •  In 2010, 37,200 injuries resulted in days off work,  job transfers or work restrictions. That's 1.9 people for every 100 workers.
  • An estimated 1.1 cases per every 100 workers had to take one or more days off work because of injuries.
  • Industries with the highest injury and illness rates were: transportation and warehousing (5.8 cases/100); healthcare and social assistance (5.6) and construction (5.3).

Shingle workers take to the picket lines at GAF Materials Corp. in Minneapolis.

Posted by: Dee DePass Updated: October 13, 2011 - 6:30 PM

Employees at the GAF shingle manufacturing plant in North Minneapolis said they were so roiled over a company plan to end spousal benefits by 2013  that they voted to walk off the job earlier this week. 

The employees, who are members of the Teamsters Local 970, voted 30 to 28 in favor of striking on Friday, Oct. 7. 

Managers escorted workers off the factory floor after subsequent talks broke down Monday afternoon. The union, which has 80 employees at GAF's Minneapolis plant, have taken turns picketing in front of the building since then. Union employees said they are upset that the company wants to end health insurance benefits for all spouses who are able to get the insurance through their employers.

Scott Gelhar, head of the Local 970, said the union proposed a cheaper insurance plan but that the company turned it down. He added that the wives of 24 employees would be excluded from the company insurance if  the measure was forced through. GAF officials have since offered to exclude the spouses from policies effective Jan. 1, 2013, instead of 2012, but the workers turned down that offer, Gelhar said.

Alyssa Hall, spokeswoman for GAF Materials Corp., said  the parent company was "ready, willing and able" to meet with the union to continue discussions. "Our primary concern is to negotiate a fair contract that gives to our employees certainty, and that also puts us in a position to meet all of the changing demands of the current marketplace."

The small battle being waged in Minneapolis is representative of sweeping changes taking place in corporations across the nation. Many companies began phasing out spousal benefits six years ago as a way to reign in rising health care costs.

Still, union workers at the Minneapolis plant said that they found the measure unfair, especially since many of the workers had worked at the facility for more than a decade and had always provided for their spouses. It remains unclear when the impasse will settle.

GAF is a subsidiary of GAF Materials Corp, which supplies roofing shingles and other building products to Home Depot stores across the country.


Skip lunch? You've got company.

Posted by: Dee DePass Updated: September 9, 2011 - 11:53 AM

 Say it’s not so!

 A third of employees inhale lunch at their desks on a daily basis.

 Another 16 percent skip lunch all together. That’s a combo that can make for some cranky stressed out workers. 

These hungry tidings come to us courtesy of a recent survey of 751 workers who took a break long enough to answer questions about their work habits. The poll was conducted online last month by Right Management, the Minneapolis-based employment consulting arm of Manpower Group.

Much to the horror of work-wellness advocates and nutritionists, the survey found that only 35 percent regularly take a real lunch break.

Another 34 percent of respondents said they only ate at their desks. Fifteen percent only took a lunch break “from time to time,” while 16 percent admitted that they rarely parted their pearly whites to nibble while at the office.

Employment experts and wellness advocates are fretting about the trend.

“Sure workers may feel devoted to their work, which is fine. But given the level of stress  in today’s workplace, I wonder if the reluctance to take a break is an expression of devotion or a negative consequence of the unrelenting pressure some organizations are exerting on their workforces to get more done with fewer resources,” said Right Management Senior Vice President Michael Haid. “We have to ask if we have gone too far.”

I’d certainly say so. So do yourself a favor. Take a real break. Maybe even find 15 minutes to munch outside. It just might clear the mind and make you more productive.



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