From the July 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Got an employee who's addicted to gambling? That's probably not his or her only problem. Compulsive gamblers may experience a range of consequences, including divorce, poor physical and mental health, bankruptcy, and even arrest and incarceration. The costs to family members, the health-care system and creditors can reach thousands of dollars each year, according to a study on gambling behavior conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. But what about the cost to employers? Problem gambling can also lead to job loss and lost wages. So what should you do if one of your employees is gambling too much?

Often, people with compulsive behavior problems--whether it's gambling, drug consumption or something else--have other related problems in their lives that can affect their performance at work, says Jon Miller, a labor and employment law attorney with Berger, Kahn, Shafton, Moss, Figler, Simon & Gladstone in Irvine, California. They may be repeatedly late or absent, or distracted while on the job, which can affect the quality of their work. "Certainly the firmer ground for most employers is simply to deal with performance issues rather than get into [their employees'] personal characteristics," Miller says.

But a problem with gambling can also turn into financial woes--and the employee may attempt to solve his or her difficulties by stealing from you. The solution, says Miller, is to have sufficient safeguards against employee theft. If you suspect someone is stealing because of a gambling problem, treat the situation as you would any internal theft: Investigate thoroughly, and take appropriate action based on the evidence.

Another struggle for employers is the issue of employee privacy. Miller says laws regarding privacy vary by state, but in general, you should be cautious when considering any action regarding off-work behavior until and unless it begins to affect an employee's work performance. This is especially important if you have no proof that he or she has a problem but have only heard rumors. If the employee doesn't actually have a gambling problem but has been the target of false gossip, you may end up defending yourself in a defamation lawsuit.

Some employers think compulsive gambling is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning you wouldn't be able to fire compulsive gamblers even if their problems affected their work, but that's not the case. "Unlike [with] a variety of other potential disabilities that are psychological," Miller says, "[employers don't have] a duty to reasonably accommodate or to avoid discriminating against someone because he or she is a compulsive gambler."

Out Of Touch

Are e-mail and voice mail making your employees feel lonely?

Electronic means of communicating--such as e-mail and voice mail--are replacing much of the face-to-face contact we had in the past. And although that may seem to be efficient, it could ultimately hinder employees' productivity.

"Along with high tech, people need high touch--and that's what we're beginning to miss," says Nancy Garbett, president of Transition Management Inc., an organizational consulting firm in Salt Lake City. "People don't have the connections they need to be creative and stay motivated. We must have [face-to-face] relationships if we're going to be productive." Furthermore, that lack of human interaction can eventually cause physical illness, Garbett says.

The symptoms of isolation to look out for range from your employees developing poor attitudes to a rise in absenteeism. "It's almost like a little-kid kind of thing--people whine and have a `no one likes me anymore' attitude," Garbett says.

To combat isolation, Garbett advises holding regularly scheduled meetings at least once a week. Managers should also informally spend some time with employees on a daily basis. "Make sure you interact with people every day in a meaningful way, not just superficially," Garbett says. "Walk by and say `hi' to people. Spend five minutes talking--it doesn't have to be about business issues. A lot of people have the idea that if a person is chatting with someone else, they're being unproductive. But chatting often creates synergy, the brain linkages that result in creativity and productivity."

You can also take your employees to lunch or out for happy hour after work, or you can periodically bring lunch in and give employees a chance to relax together over a meal. It's important to remember that work--even when it involves communicating with others--can't take the place of the critical human contact necessary for people to maintain healthy and productive lives.

For The Road

How to keep business travel from taking over your employees' lives

Business travel is often viewed as the single biggest intrusion work makes on employees' personal lives, says Christopher Newton, president and CEO of Work|Life Benefits, a company in Cypress, California, that offers career and benefits resource referral and administration services. It's challenging, tiring and can create problems at home. But you can make it easier for employees who spend time on the road to maintain their productivity while they balance their work and personal responsibilities. Newton has these suggestions:

*Provide a consultation and referral program. Employees may need assistance with a variety of service and information needs related to travel and to caring for their families while they're gone. This is especially important for inexperienced travelers and for employees who are primary caregivers for children or elderly dependents. Such a program can provide day-care or agency-care information at the destination (Newton says 15 percent of business trips now include children according to the Executive Edge newsletter), help with finding overnight care at home while employees are gone, or general information about travel issues.

*Offer dependent-care vouchers. The cost of child care, elder care and even pet care can make business travel a serious financial burden for employees. Consider a voucher program that reimburses workers for these extra costs.

*Give as much notice as possible. While it may be impossible to totally avoid last-minute trips, the earlier you give employees notice in advance of business travel, the easier it will be for them to prepare both professionally and personally.

"It's expensive to send an employee on the road, and you want to make the most of that investment," says Newton. "You don't want your employees pre-occupied with worrying about what's going on at home. You want them to be focused before, during and after the trip, to feel good about what they did for the company, and to not feel like they were somehow violated."

Home-Court Advantage

Don't let where you'll dispute become your dispute.

When there's a dispute over a contract, it's not uncommon for the parties to land in court--the question is, which court? If you do busi-ness outside your local area, you could find yourself in a courtroom battle being waged hundreds or even thousands of miles away from your home base--unless you write a venue clause into your contract.

Most states have basic venue statutes that provide where, in the absence of a contract stipulating otherwise, lawsuits are to be filed--the county in which the contract was signed or payment is to be made, the county in which the defendant resides, or the county in which the breach of contract occurred--says Terry Young, an attorney with Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed PA in Orlando, Florida. Although you may be able to change the venue after a legal proceeding has begun, that process will only delay getting the real dispute settled.

You should also decide in advance which state's laws will apply to your contract, keeping in mind that laws regarding various aspects of commerce can vary significantly by state. Include this information in the venue clause. And although the clause doesn't have to be lengthy or complex, it's always safe to seek legal counsel in the negotiation of contracts.

Contact Sources

Berger, Kahn, Shafton, Moss, Figler, Simon & Gladstone, 2 Park Plaza, #650, Irvine, CA 92614, (949)?74-1880

National Opinion Research Center,http://www.norc.uchicago.edu

Transition Management Inc., (801)?72-9280, ngarbett@transition-management.com

Work|Life Benefits, (800)?49-7948, http://www.wlb.com