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Cigar Review

 E.P. Carrillo Encore Majestic Dominican Republic               5.6” x 52                 Medium-Full                96-Rated Spoiler Alert: this is among the finest cigars I’ve ever burned. I describe this cigar as luxurious. I also call it unique, because every […]

 E.P. Carrillo Encore Majestic
Dominican Republic               5.6” x 52                 Medium-Full                96-Rated

Spoiler Alert: this is among the finest cigars I’ve ever burned. I describe this cigar as luxurious. I also call it unique, because every leaf that comprises this cigar is grown in the black soils of Nicaragua and has been aged ‘en tercio’ for a minimum of 2 years, resulting in a refined yet interesting bouquet. Big notes of rich tobacco and sweet cedar boom with each puff. Sweet, savory notes linger after each exhale. From time to time I pick up some caramel and some tea. The entire time I’m soothed by the cigar’s deceivingly bold profile. Make time for this cigar, and make sure your palate is clean prior to lighting.

John Bull The Dark Hour Churchill
Dominican Republic                      7” x 50                      Medium             92-Rated

I typically review expensive, top-shelf cigars. But the value hound in me never overlooks a cigar, or wine, or scotch, or whatever, due to price. John Bull The Dark hour is my latest reason why. This inexpensive cigar is jam-packed with the rich, bold flavors I prefer: dark tobacco, espresso, earth, cocoa. It’s made with aged long-fillers from the Dominican and an oily Maduro wrapper that lends a natural sweetness to the mix. The cigar is legitimately complex and savory, and something I can burn daily after a big lunch or early dinner. I highly suggest this cigar for the full-flavored fan.

Macanudo Heritage Nuevo Toro
Dominican Republic              6.0” x 52               Mellow-Medium                 94-Rated

While my taste has evolved beyond the classic Macanudo Café, I still crave a mellow cigar from time to time and Macanudo Heritage Nuevo hits the spot. I consider the cigar sophisticated, with subtle notes of cedar, cashew, toast, and sweet tobacco present throughout the burn. There’s an underlying creaminess from the Ecuador Connecticut wrapper, and a sweet pepper influence from the Mexican long-fillers. For a mellow cigar, there’s a lot going on here, and enough to interest those typically reaching for stronger cigars.

My Father La Promesa Corona Gordo
Nicaragua                    5.5” x 48                       Medium-Full                         92-Rated

The product of Jose ‘Don Pepin’ Garcia, My Father La Promesa employs a bold blend of Nicaraguan long-fillers, creating a rich core of oak, leather and nuts with each puff. The Ecuador Habano Oscuro wrapper is thick and leathery, adding a hickory-like element to the smoke, along with a dash of pepper on the finish. The cigar pumps out heavy clouds of gray smoke, emitting an oily, almost charcoal-esque aroma that fills the room. I love the bold complexity of this cigar and find it to be a nice nightcap alongside a tawny port.

Southern Draw Cedrus Belicoso Fino
Nicaragua                     5.5” x 52                           Medium-Full                      93-Rated

Please know, I highly recommend this cigar. Please also know, this cigar can be hard to find at times. Four vintage long-filler varieties marry inside a Nicaraguan Habano 2000 binder, before a milk chocolate brown Sumatra wrapper from Indonesia completes the cigar. The result is a delicious, medium to full array of deep, complex flavors including cedar, baked bread, cream, coffee and white pepper. Low production may lead to touchy availability, but I promise the experience is worth the potential search.

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Consider Italy for your Winter Destination Vacation

Winter can be a great time to visit Italy – Skiing the Italian Alps, uncrowded art cities, plenty of cultural events, Italian comfort foods, and leisurely tastings at wineries where the pace slows and becomes an intimate afternoon with a winemaker. Shoppers will find deep discounts in stores from January through March in every region […]

Winter can be a great time to visit Italy – Skiing the Italian Alps, uncrowded art cities, plenty of cultural events, Italian comfort foods, and leisurely tastings at wineries where the pace slows and becomes an intimate afternoon with a winemaker. Shoppers will find deep discounts in stores from January through March in every region of Italy.

Here are a few suggestions for a winter vacation in Italy:

Winter Sports

The Italian Alps offer the ultimate winter getaway. The Dolomites are a UNESCO Heritage Site and offer some of the best skiing in a majestic setting. Cortina d’Ampezzo was home to the 1956 Winter Olympics and will again be hosting in 2026. It is part of the Dolomiti Superski, one of the world’s largest ski circuits with over 450 miles of slopes across 12 ski regions and one ski pass. Cortina is one of Italy’s most charming villages. Trentino’s Val di Fassa also has excellent ski zones with incredible views of the Swiss and Austrian Alps, and the Sestriere resort in Piedmont’s region has 146 trails covering over 250. The nighttime skiing is an added bonus, becoming a magical trip down the mountain into the twinkling lights of the town below.

The Corno alle Scale in the region of Emilia Romano is perfect for families. With over 15 miles of ski slopes and the longest slope on the Apennines, uninterrupted for almost 2 miles. There are also two cross country ski loops, snowboarding, and snowshoeing trails, and a baby park where every Bolognese child has learned to ski.

For non-skiers, there is a lot to entertain on any mountain slope: Go for the outstanding views, including the beautiful jagged peaks of the Dolomites soaring above you and picturesque towns and ice-covered lakes tucked in the valleys below. Clear blue skies and dazzling sunshine frame the snow-covered mountains while cable cars and gondolas not only accommodate skiers and non-skiers but are also the only way to the many “rifugi” – the wooden chalet restaurants that dot the mountains. Here you can have a long leisurely lunch or warm up with a hot drink called a Bombardino, a mixture of Zabaglione and brandy. The villages are charming with Tyrolean architecture and cobbled streets, ideal for strolling, shopping, and dining.

The Art Cities of Florence, Rome, and Venice

The cities are less crowded, except of course for Venice’s Carnival. Italian cities are famous for lighting their buildings and monuments, and early winter sunsets give you more time to enjoy the cities in the dark. Evening walks on the quiet and picturesque streets, and squares are quite impressive without the crowds and something you won’t soon forget.

While Museums may have shorter hours, they won’t have the long lines or crowds, allowing you to move at your own pace. Theaters, concerts, and operas abound in the winter months, and outdoor skating rinks can be found in some of the cities. Italy’s high-speed trains connect most of the country’s major cities, making it easier to expand your itinerary.

Carnevale

The most famous “final party” before Ash Wednesday is held in Venice. But Carnevale is held in other cities across Italy. Some of the most well-known to Italians can be found in Tuscany, Verona, Apulia, Piedmont, and even Sardinia.

Carnevale di Viareggio in Tuscany takes place in the seaside village of Viareggio, located along the Tuscan Riviera. The highlight is the parade of floats with satirical caricatures of famous people, many political. It was first organized in 1873 to protest high taxes. Today it still keeps its satiric wit to vent their discontent.

Bacanal del Gnoco – Verona, Veneto region. This Carnival dates back 500 years when Verona was suffering from a food shortage. A local nobleman donated flour to every citizen so they can make gnocchi. From that time on, he mandated to donate gnocchi and wine every year on the last Friday of Carnival. Now the day is in his honor when housewives and restaurants all serve gnocchi. The parade is led by Papa de Gnocchio – the symbol of the generous nobleman who fed the entire population during the famine.

Battle of the Oranges – Ivrea, Piedmont. One of the most popular festivals in the world, it recalls the Battle of the Oranges of 1194 against the Barbarossa and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick of Swabia. Each year they ride large carts through town hurling oranges at each other. The ultimate and largest food fight.

Carnevale di Putignano – Apulia. Dating back to 1394, it is the longest celebration lasting from December 26 up until Mardi Gras ending with an all-day parade celebrating the Carnival’s end with large floats.

Carnevale Mamoiadino – Sardinia. This ancient pagan tradition features the Mamuthones, men in black masks and dark fur coats with cowbells on their backs dancing against the Issohadores, who are distinguished by white masks in red uniforms. They march through the village of 2500 performing traditional dances around bonfires.

Sicily

The winter months are pleasant, and the crowds are the gone making it an ideal destination in the winter.

Like the major art cities on the mainland, Sicily’s villages and cities are ideal for enjoying them alongside the Sicilians. The piazzas will be full sunny, streets will be free of tourists, solo walks on the beaches of seaside villages offer a new experience in an intimate way. Restaurants return to the natives and are serving seasonal dishes you won’t find on the menu in the summer. Agrigento’s annual Almond Blossom Festival and Siracusa’s Festival of Saint Lucia are celebrated each February.

The average temperature is in the 60’s but also promises good skiing in the northern areas of Etna and the Palermo mountains. The food festivals, or Sagro, shift to chestnuts, citrus fruits, mulled wine, sweet and savory fried dumplings.

And of course, each city holds their own Carnevale with colorful floats and parties.

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Millennials vs. Baby Boomers: The Great Housing Market Debate

An ever-evolving housing market is something everyone in the real estate industry can expect and agree on. Lately, however, there’s a debate surrounding the current buyer-seller stalemate, for lack of a better phrase, and who, exactly, is to blame. Is it those pesky millennials? Or, perhaps, the baby boomers? The National Association of REALTORS® defines […]

An ever-evolving housing market is something everyone in the real estate industry can expect and agree on. Lately, however, there’s a debate surrounding the current buyer-seller stalemate, for lack of a better phrase, and who, exactly, is to blame. Is it those pesky millennials? Or, perhaps, the baby boomers?

The National Association of REALTORS® defines millennials and baby boomers in their 2019 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report as follows:

  • Older millennials were born between 1980
    and 1989
  • Younger millennials were born between
    1990 and 1998
  • Older baby boomers were born between
    1946 and 1954
  • Younger baby boomers were born between
    1955 and 1964

Each side agrees on one thing: The housing market is changing. The debate centers around which generation is to blame for the negative experience many are having with the buying and/or selling process. On one side, millennials apparently aren’t buying homes. What gives? On the other hand, baby boomers apparently don’t want to sell their homes. Huh?

Let’s dive into the details and act as a referee.

Share of Buyers And Sellers By Generation

2020-winter-chart-shares-of-buyers-sellers-by-generation

The chart above shows that millennials are buying, and baby boomers are selling. The issue, however, is this: Neither side is doing enough buying or selling. So, what’s the deal? Let’s start with millennials.

According to Business Insider, housing prices are one of the reasons why millennials may not be buying houses as their predecessors did at their age: “Housing prices have soared by nearly 40 percent in the past three-plus decades, far outpacing wage increases and making homeownership much more of a challenge for today’s buyers… While traditionally renting an apartment or house while saving up to buy your own residence was once a logical approach, since the 1960s, average rental rates have increased by 46 percent, meaning just affording a rental is harder than ever, let alone saving up to buy.”

Rising prices and low inventory are being seen right here in the Lehigh Valley. Local housing prices hit an all-time record this past July. The Median Sales Price reached $222,000, beating out June’s record of $216,500.

Factor in the student loans that are hitting millennial’s wallets with gusto, and it’s no wonder they’re struggling to achieve the dream of homeownership. According to the Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report, 47 percent of younger millennials have student debt at a median of $21,000, while 42 percent of older millennials have student debt at a median of $30,000.

Money (or lack thereof) is one of the main inhibitors that keep millennials from buying and owning homes. That’s pretty obvious. But there are other things to consider, like the general habits and trends of the millennial generation.

Buyers Who Have Student Loan Dept

2020-winter-chart-age-of-homebuyer

As each decade comes and goes, so do trends and cultural movements. The millennials who can afford to buy a home, according to another Business Insider article, don’t want to buy the big houses that baby boomers (the ones who are selling) are offering up.

“Most millennial homebuyers are looking for smaller, more manageable properties than the mini-mansions so popular a generation before,” Business Insider said. “And they like sleek, simple interiors. The result is a steep drop in the value of many of the homes baby boomers are now hoping to sell as they downsize after emptying the nest or retiring.”

Millennials are also deviating from the traditional timeline in which previous generations sought to get married, buy a house, have children, and so on and so forth. The Washington Post described it as “postponing key traditional inflection points that stimulate homebuying.” Thus, millennial home buying statistics are down compared to previous generations that followed a more “traditional” timeline.

As for baby boomers, the main argument going around, according to news outlets like CBS News, is they’re refusing to sell their homes, whereas previous generations often downsized once they reached a certain age.

“Boomers are healthier and working longer than previous generations, which means they aren’t yet ready to sell their homes and strike out for retirement developments,” CBS News reported. “And some may not want to sell their homes because they then must jump into the homebuyers’ market, which is suffering from low inventory and high prices.”

Some baby boomers are even deferring retirement, according to USA Today. “Many boomers are staying in their longtime homes and communities because they’re deferring retirement,” the news outlet said. “About 20 percent of Americans 65 and older are working or looking for jobs, up from 12.1 percent in 1996, Labor Department figures show.”

If baby boomers are physically able to continue making money, then why not? It makes sense for baby boomers who still have kids at home who can’t afford to move out due to today’s high rent and home prices, as well as mounting student loan debt. According to CBS News, “More than one-third of adult children between the age of 18 to 34 are living with their parents. That may make it tougher for the parents to decide to sell, especially in expensive markets where their children might have difficulty finding affordable homes.”

USA Today lists these other possible reasons why baby boomers aren’t selling:

  • Plans to downsize in the future (like when they’re 80 years old).
  • Housing supply shortage keeping them from finding smaller homes with smaller prices.
  • Mortgages are paid off, so why sell?
  • Focused on upgrading their homes, not downsizing them.

With each side of the debate having its own reasons for not buying and not selling, how can anyone choose a side to blame and pick on? Each side is deviating from previous buying and selling trends and, therefore, creating a new housing market.

So, what can you do if you’re a millennial or a baby boomer looking to enter the housing market (we’re also looking at you, Generation X, Generation Z, and everyone before, after, and in between)? You can find yourself a REALTOR®. From honest representation and clear communication to cooperative involvement with other REALTORS®, our members are educated, equipped, and ready to serve you.

When you’re looking for a trustworthy, knowledgeable guide through the property-buying or selling process, no one else can offer the service of a certified REALTOR®. To find your REALTOR®, visit www.GreaterLehighValleyRealtors.com, and utilize the “Find a REALTOR®” search in the middle of the page.

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The Forecast

Just over a year ago, the month of November brought our area a snowstorm, a weather pattern called a nor’easter.  The forecasters told all of us it was coming.  The television was alive with color-coded spinning swirls, and the weather forecasters were vivaciously sending the message… forces outside of our control are on the way; […]

Just over a year ago, the month of November brought our area a snowstorm, a weather pattern called a nor’easter.  The forecasters told all of us it was coming.  The television was alive with color-coded spinning swirls, and the weather forecasters were vivaciously sending the message… forces outside of our control are on the way; be ready.

The storm came. 

Inches of snow, piles of snow landed quickly.  In a single moment, people and their cars were stuck in place. Some were stuck for under an hour, and some were stuck for hours and hours.  Some handled the situation with grace and patience, while others dealt with the situation with contentment.  Some went out of their way to help their fellow man while others managed to help only themselves.  Some, given the circumstances, behaved with common sense, while others clearly did not.

Whether spectator or participant, everyone reached a meeting of the minds on one single solitary notion…. where were our services?

Why wasn’t the road prepped in advance with that top-secret mixture that eats away the bottom of our cars?  Why weren’t the plows circulating to scrape up the very first flake that tried to accumulate on the surface of our causeways?  Why weren’t we given the clearest straightest possible path to our desired destination?

It’s not the early 1900’s it’s the early 2000’s; we have the best-looking color-coded spinning swirls ever imagined, and yet everyone was stuck.

Have you thought about the fact that each and every one of those fighting the nor’easter spectate or participate within our local real estate market in very much the same way?  During a real estate transaction, we see examples of grace, patience, contentment, help, and hopefully common sense; moreover, the same fundamental expectation for services is in place.

The current market has fewer homes for sale than buyers who are looking to buy them.  Multiple offers are commonplace. Supply is lower than demand driving the value of homes higher through competition.

Housing is strong.

In the year 2020, information, data, and reports about the real estate market will be found everywhere and in bulk. Advertising apps wear service as their mask and rest assured the industry will continue to make things appear like the path is easily traveled, with the touch of a finger.

More colored circles than ever.

Still, negotiations need to take place, the inspections have to be scheduled, title insurance needs to be cleared, and financing must be handed over timely, all on a silver platter and at the right temperature.

That means people need services. Who preps the path; before the buyer or seller finds themselves in the thick of it?  Who plows the way while the struggle takes place?  So, they don’t get stuck, so they get home safely; we do.

For almost 40 years, Mortgage America has provided Local Loans for Local Homes.

Conventional, FHA, VA, USDA, swing, bridge, construction, first-time buyer with assistance programs that reduce the burden of seller assist, no down payment options, and jumbo loans with attractive rates and terms.  We directly underwrite and service your loan.  The majority of our approvals are issued without the need for the buyer to sell their home before they buy.

At Mortgage America, time is taken to ensure you can focus on negotiations without fear of the unknown.  Many of our employees have been with us for over 30 years.  Our average closing occurs within 35 days, we often close in just eight days, and we wire the money to the title company early.

Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency ranks us #1 in the State Pennsylvania year after year after year.

What apps don’t tell you is that a home purchase is negotiated 3 times.  One is at the start, twice during inspections and third at the final walkthrough prior to closing.  All the while, it’s the Real Estate Broker/Agent who will oversee every single aspect, speaking with the 15- 20 different people who work independently of one another; to consummate the transaction.  The Real Estate Broker/Agent keeps all of that functioning properly (they prep and plow daily) so that you can’t get stuck.

Seller’s, it’s a very good time to sell.  Marketing times are measured in days, not weeks.  Call a real estate agent today. They know the local market…they’ve seen the inside of the homes you are considering.  They compare them to others by actually walking through them… their experience provides the leadership, guidance, and a multitude of talents the colored circles can only aspire to achieve.

A new year is upon us.  Make the resolution to call a Real Estate Broker and Mortgage America.  We won’t just give you the forecast; we’ll provide the actual services that ensure you weather any storm.

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Never Put Anything Smaller Than Your Elbow In Your Ear!

Ear wax medically known as Cerumen is generally a mystery to the average person. Most feel that if there is wax in their ears, then they are “dirty.” This is simply not the case; it’s supposed to be there! But if that’s true, then what is it for? Why is it there, and most importantly, […]

Ear wax medically known as Cerumen is generally a mystery to the average person. Most feel that if there is wax in their ears, then they are “dirty.” This is simply not the case; it’s supposed to be there! But if that’s true, then what is it for? Why is it there, and most importantly, how do I clean my ears???

Cerumen is made up of oil and sweat glands, the fancy term for these glands are apocrine (oil gland) and sebaceous (sweat gland). One interesting fact is that the body products different consistencies or colors of Cerumen depending on your ethnicity. Hormones and age-related changes can also play a role in its makeup. Sometimes these changes do cause it to build up or get stuck in the canal and require professional removal but more on that later.

The role of Cerumen is to naturally work its way out of your canal to clear the ear of debris or foreign objects. It mostly ends up at the bottom of the ear canal due to a little thing called gravity! I’m sure you are now thinking that if that’s the case, how DO I clean my ears? The answer to that for most people is using a washcloth when bathing. Cotton swabs were not designed to be inserted into the ear canal. They should only be used to clean the outer ear.

Some people’s ears do require a visit to the clinic for the cleaning to be done professionally. This includes tortuous or bendy ear canals, smaller or collapsing ear canals, and ear canals that have undergone surgery or radiation. In these ears is the Cerumen may build up and can cause a significant degree of hearing loss if not treated professionally.

Finally, a few demographic populations that need extra care to their ears are people diagnosed with Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Downs Syndrome. Down’s syndrome tends to affect the shape of the ear canal along with the makeup of the Cerumen, which makes it more difficult to move out of the canal. In addition, people who suffer from cognitive impairments, such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, generally do not realize that their hearing is becoming impaired. It’s more and more common that someone having memory problems or becoming confused are found to have some degree of hearing loss, which may be exasperating their symptoms. These ears should be looked at regularly by a professional such as an audiologist, otolaryngologist (or ENT), or nurse who has been trained in cerumen management.

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Recognizing and Responding to a Person in Crisis

When working in the mental health field, it is not uncommon to interact with an individual in a crisis state.  For those who do not work in the mental health field, it is also likely at some point, you may come across someone in your personal life who is struggling to cope with the stressors […]

When working in the mental health field, it is not uncommon to interact with an individual in a crisis state.  For those who do not work in the mental health field, it is also likely at some point, you may come across someone in your personal life who is struggling to cope with the stressors of everyday life.  When these stressors become unmanageable, a person could go into a crisis state.  So, what is a crisis state?  A crisis state is defined as a temporary state of disorganization, characterized by an individual’s inability to cope with internal or external stressors using common methods of problem-solving.  There are 3 stages of the cycle to achieve a crisis state: the emotional trigger, the escalation, and the crisis state.  A person begins the crisis cycle by first being exposed to an emotional trigger.  The death of a loved one, a divorce, or losing one’s job are all some common examples of emotional triggers that we see in everyday life that may be very difficult for someone to cope with.  When an individual is unable to cope with these emotional triggers, the situation begins to escalate.

Some common reasons an emotional trigger can escalate into a crisis are because the individual may not understand “why” the trigger is happening to them; they may misperceive a situation, have not yet developed healthy coping skills, or are easily overwhelmed.  What does this escalation stage look like in terms of a person’s behavior?  They may become loud or threatening, refuse to cooperate, defiant, aggressive, withdrawn/run away, and talk about self-harm or suicide.  There are not only behavioral signs that a person is in the escalation stage of a crisis cycle but also physical warning signs as well.  These physical changes may include dilated pupils and direct stares, clenched fists and muscle constriction, flushed and angry appearance, invasion of other’s personal space, and rapid, deep breathing.  These are all warning signs that an individual is entering a crisis state and will need either intervention or professional support.  Once the trigger has occurred, and the emotional response escalates to the inability to manage that trigger effectively, the crisis state is realized.   

How do we respond to a person who is now in a crisis state? 

There are both physical and behavioral ways that we can respond to a person in crisis in the hopes to deescalate the situation.  In terms of your physical response, first, begin by using a calm and soothing voice.  Manage your volume not further to escalate the situation.  Use a relaxed and open body posture to appear non-threatening. Maintain soft gestures and facial expressions.  Finally, keep a safe distance from the person to not endanger yourself.  Behaviorally, we want to attempt to verbally deescalate the individual to prevent any physical harm to them or anyone else present.  Use empathy statements to validate the feelings of the individual.  Reflect on the emotion that you hear.  Use encouraging and soothing words.  Don’t lead with the rules or consequences of the individual’s behavior.  Also, do not use critical language or express your own negative emotions.

In summary, whether you are a professional in the mental health field or just a normal person in everyday life, you will most likely encounter a person in a crisis state at some point.  The number one priority is to maintain the safety of everyone involved, including the individual in crisis.  If you find yourself in such a situation and the above suggestions are not useful in deescalating the individual please, reach out to the authorities or dial 911.  We always want everyone to remain safe in a crisis situation.

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Protecting Your Business From Employment-Related Claims: The Importance Of Training

We all know that it’s coming, and there is nothing that we can do to stop it.  January 1.  New Year’s Day.  A time to reflect.  A time to turn our attention to making “changes” that we know we need to make.  New Year’s resolutions. Eat better. Exercise more. Unplug from the Matrix!  Easy to […]

We all know that it’s coming, and there is nothing that we can do to stop it.  January 1.  New Year’s Day.  A time to reflect.  A time to turn our attention to making “changes” that we know we need to make.  New Year’s resolutions. Eat better. Exercise more. Unplug from the Matrix!  Easy to say, but often difficult to do.  Like Jerry Seinfeld once said: “You know how to take the reservation, but you don’t know how to hold the reservation.  And that really is the most important part of the reservation!”

The same is true for employers across the country.  You know that there are things that you can and should do to limit your potential liability for employment-related claims.  You often commit to doing these things, but either don’t follow through or find some excuse for not doing them.  Here is one New Year’s resolution that is a MUST for all employers in 2020.

Train your employees.  I don’t mean to train them with respect to how to make widgets or how to operate machinery.  I mean, train them in the critical areas of employment law.  When is the last time that you conducted harassment training for your employees?  In light of the #MeToo movement, harassment training has become even more critical to protecting employers from potential liability.  The only way to establish the affirmative defense to harassment liability is to show that you did two things: (1) took reasonable steps to prevent harassment in the workplace; and (2) took prompt and appropriate corrective action once you had knowledge of the harassment complaint.

In order to establish that you took reasonable steps to prevent harassment, you must be able to show that you “regularly train your employees with respect to harassment.”  Regular training is not once every 2 or 3 years.  In order to show that your business is committed to preventing harassment at work, you will need to show that you conduct at least annual harassment training.

Sticking your employees in front of a computer for on-line harassment training, however, will not satisfy this requirement.  In the EEOC’s “Guidance on Harassment,” it has clearly warned employers that on-line harassment training is not sufficient.  According to the EEOC and some states that have adopted mandatory training statutes, in order to be effective, harassment training must be “interactive” and conducted by a live instructor who can answer questions from attendees and involve them in hypothetical situations or role-playing exercises.   This type of “live” training forces attendees to be involved in the training, to think about the issues, and to answer questions. They cannot simply turn off the volume and click their way to a certificate of completion.

Your harassment training also has to be tailored to the appropriate audience.   Supervisors and non-supervisors should not receive the same training.  Although many of the issues will be the same, supervisors require specialized training that teaches them about their obligations to protect employees from harassment and to take prompt and appropriate corrective action in response to complaints.  Supervisors not only need to know what harassment is, but they must also understand that they play a critical role in the prevention and elimination of harassment in the workplace.  They must understand that failure to satisfy these responsibilities could lead to potential personal liability.

Finally, in order to be effective, the training must devote the necessary time actually to cover the subject matter.  Thirty minutes is not enough.  This is not a tanning session or a nail appointment.  It is not a pizza delivery guarantee.  At a minimum, your non-supervisor training must be at least one hour, and your supervisor training needs to be two hours.  Anything less is nothing more than window dressing, and the EEOC will view it as such.

Beyond harassment training, have you trained your supervisors with respect to how to be a good supervisor?  Have you provided your supervisors with any training in these critical areas:  interviewing, handling employee complaints, investigations; performance evaluations; ADA and FMLA issues, disciplining and terminating employees; and the importance of proper documentation?  When you hired someone as a supervisor or promoted someone from a non-supervisory position, did you simply assume that they knew how to be a good supervisor?  Did you assume that they had all of the skills necessary to effectively manage other employees?  Did you assume that they could just figure it out?  I am sure that I don’t need to remind you what happens when you assume things.

Most new supervisors have no idea how to interview potential employees, how to conduct a proper workplace investigation, or how to prepare a performance evaluation.  They also don’t understand how asking the wrong question in an interview, botching an investigation, or creating an inadequate performance evaluation can result in significant potential liability for the employer.

Supervisors everywhere are busy.  It is a universal truth.  Because of this, they often fail to document critical employment-related issues:  performance counseling, behavioral problems, disciplinary steps; employee meetings; and many others.  Unfortunately, when faced with an employment-related claim, this documentation is absolutely critical to protecting the employer from liability.  Without it, the employer’s ability to defend itself (and its supervisors) will be significantly limited.

The only way to ensure that your supervisors have these critical skills and understand the importance of these critical issues is to train them.  Yes, the training will undoubtedly have a cost.  Yes, it is easy to convince yourself that you don’t need it.  Yes, you’ve gotten this far without training, and its never been a problem.  In this regard, however, I have a saying that I frequently share with employers: “It’s not a problem until it is.  And when it is, it will undoubtedly be a BIG problem.”

Happy New Year!  Time to go.  I’m meeting a friend for lunch (salads) and then I have to hit the gym.  Time to eat better and exercise more!

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A Financial Power of Attorney is an Important Estate Planning Tool

If you become incapacitated or are not mentally capable of making decisions, who will handle bank accounts in your name alone, sign checks, deal with your retirement accounts, or otherwise make financial decisions for you? Following a traumatic incident, you and your family may not have the time or ability to address those issues, but […]

If you become incapacitated or are not mentally capable of making decisions, who will handle bank accounts in your name alone, sign checks, deal with your retirement accounts, or otherwise make financial decisions for you? Following a traumatic incident, you and your family may not have the time or ability to address those issues, but a bit of advance thought and planning can be extremely beneficial and potentially save significant time, money, and heartache. You may think if anything happened to you that your spouse or kids could automatically take care of your financial affairs, but that may not be true. To avoid issues and make things easier on your family should something happen to you, it is best to have a comprehensive Durable Financial Power of Attorney in place.

What is a Power of Attorney?

Generally speaking, a Power of Attorney is a document in which you (the “principal”) designate someone to act for you (the “agent”), either for your convenience or because you become physically or mentally incapacitated. Under a financial power of attorney document, you appoint an agent to handle your financial affairs-for example, pay your bills or handle your bank accounts, real estate, business interests, IRAs, other retirement accounts, and insurance. A power of attorney may also authorize your agent to make gifts on your behalf or create or change a retirement plan or insurance beneficiaries, among other things. Given those broad powers, your agent must be someone you trust, such as your spouse, your child(ren), or a trusted friend. Generally, Pennsylvania law requires i) the principal of a financial power of attorney to sign the statutorily required notice, ii) the principal’s signature or mark to be witnessed by two individuals (not the agent or the notary) and acknowledged before a notary public, and iii) the agent to sign the approved acknowledgment to essentially act in good faith. The agent must act in accordance with, and within the scope of, the specific powers set forth, act in accordance with the principal’s reasonable expectations, if known, and, otherwise, act in the principal’s best interests. The Power of Attorney remains in effect unless and until revoked by the principal or by court order. The agent’s authority to act under the Power of Attorney ceases upon the principal’s death.

What makes a Power of Attorney durable?

In the context of a Power of Attorney, Durable means the powers conferred upon the agent are exercisable even if the principal subsequently becomes disabled or incapacitated. Under Pennsylvania law, and absent language to the contrary, all powers of attorney are presumed to be durable.

What are Some Benefits of a Power of Attorney?

Choosing your agent.  For the vast majority of us, it is critically important that we decide who makes decisions on our behalf. Most of us would rather name and appoint our agent(s) to handle our finances and make financial decisions for us, rather than rely upon the court to later appoint a guardian (who you may not even know) to do so. By creating a Power of Attorney, you control who will act for you and can consider the specific powers or limitations of your agent, the best person for the position given your particular assets and circumstances, as well as give thought to your particular family dynamics, such as a second family situation. The power to select an agent of your choosing cannot be overstated.

Opportunity to review with your agent.  Advance consideration, thought, and preparation of a Financial Power of Attorney provides an opportunity for you to discuss your needs and expectations with your agent before a disabling physical or mental illness or condition undermines that opportunity. You may discuss your specific intent and wishes in detail with your agent, so your agent is prepared to act when the time comes or discuss how your needs are likely to change as your family changes or as you get older.  Through a properly drafted Durable Power of Attorney, you can address all of those issues with your agent.

Avoid confusion.  With your intent and wishes specified and set forth in a properly executed Power of Attorney, you typically avoid confusion and uncertainty regarding how your affairs should be handled during your lifetime in the event you become incapacitated. A well-drafted Power of Attorney can remove the disputes between family members regarding how your financial needs should be handled. Should you become legally incapacitated, your family members should not spend time fighting over how your finances should be addressed.  Instead, there should be someone ready and willing to step in and make the necessary decisions.  If you plan ahead, with the assistance of a durable Power of Attorney, you can avoid most of those disputes.

Avoid time and expense of legal guardianship proceedings.  In the event you become incapacitated and are without a Power of Attorney, your family members (or some other interested party) may be required to file for the appointment of guardian to act for you. Guardianships are legal proceedings where an interested party files a petition with the court requesting the court to appoint a guardian (most often a family member but in frequent instances an attorney or another unrelated third party) to act for you due to your incapacity. Once appointed by the Court, the guardian handles your financial affairs under the supervision of the Court. Not only can guardianship proceedings be time-consuming and expensive, as well as be emotionally painstaking for your family, but your assets/finances (for most of us sensitive and private information) will be reviewed by the Court, or court-appointed third parties. You can generally avoid this situation by executing a Durable Financial Power of Attorney while you are healthy; in fact, your Power of Attorney may actually name who you would like to be your guardian if future circumstances so require. You make the decision about who is to act for you in the future, not the Court.

Provide flexibility for asset protection. This becomes particularly important when an individual enters a nursing home.  If someone fails to take proper steps to protect their assets before becoming a nursing home resident, those assets could be taken to pay for nursing home care. Through a properly drafted Power of Attorney, your agent may take certain steps to properly shelter your assets or a portion of your assets.  For example, your agent may deed real property or make gifts that help protect your assets.

The Durable Power of Attorney is an important component of one’s estate plan, along with a Will and Health Care Power of Attorney/Living Will. So, while healthy, take the time to protect the assets you worked so hard to acquire and accumulate by preparing a well-drafted and comprehensive Durable Financial Power of Attorney.

This article is intended as general legal information and not as legal advice. Should you have any questions regarding the subject matter of this article or wish to discuss your particular circumstance or situation, please contact the author.

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Hey Doc, is that Prescription a License to Drive?

As societal norms have changed in recent years, the use of controlled substances, legal and illegal, has increased exponentially. While there are divergent views on whether we benefit from a more medicated populace, one thing is certain. We all agree that the roadways should be safe from impaired drivers. Just because you hold a prescription […]

As societal norms have changed in recent years, the use of controlled substances, legal and illegal, has increased exponentially. While there are divergent views on whether we benefit from a more medicated populace, one thing is certain. We all agree that the roadways should be safe from impaired drivers. Just because you hold a prescription from a physician, that does not mean you can, or should, operate a motor vehicle as that prescription is not a license to drive.

We are all familiar with the statistics. At least ten states have completely legalized the use of marijuana. More than 40 states permit some form of medicinal marijuana, and most of those states have decriminalized the possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use. Recent studies have shown that one-half of everyone in the United States has taken a prescription medication within the past thirty days. More than 85% of those over the age of 60 are regularly prescribed medicine. More than 10% of adults use anti-depressants. Millions of children, including driving-age teenagers, take central nervous system depressants for attention deficit disorder and similar conditions. Tens of millions of adults are prescribed analgesics for pain. Add all of the preceding to those who take over-the-counter medications or who use controlled substances illegally, that is without a prescription from a licensed prescriber, whether recreational or due to an addiction, and it is evident that you and nearly everyone with whom you have contact ingests something into their body which is intended to have a physiological effect on the mind or body.

Every State prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle “while under the influence of alcohol.” Even though there is no scientific method to determine whether someone is actually under the influence of alcohol, there is a consensus that having a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or greater has a physiological effect, which makes the inherently dangerous task of operating a motor vehicle much more difficult and dangerous. Accordingly, all States make it an offense to drive with that level of alcohol in one’s body.

Given the thousands of controlled substances – narcotics, hallucinogens, stimulants, depressants, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, to name a few – and all of the illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines, and the infinite combinations and permutations of controlled substances and illegal drugs, the scientific community has not been able to quantify at what levels of ingestion someone is so impaired to render his operation of a motor vehicle dangerous. Consequently, every state has made it illegal to operate a motor vehicle “while under the influence of a controlled substance, drug or any combination thereof,” without reference to a level of impairment.

So, if your physician prescribes medication for your chronic back pain, or if you are taking an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication in strict accordance with the instructions of your physician or pharmacist, you can still be charged with, and convicted of, operating a motor vehicle “while under the influence of” that medication if your driving is affected.

Without a scientific determination of impairment due to ingestion of controlled substances or drugs, most states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, permit police and law enforcement officers, with no or minimal medical training, to render an opinion in court that they believe someone has operated a motor vehicle while “under the influence of” a substance. These opinions are often the only evidence used to convict someone of driving under the influence offenses.

So, consider the following scenario. You are driving home from work one evening with the right-of-way, obeying the speed limit and all other traffic laws, when, without prior notice, another driver does not stop at a red light and crashes into your car. Fortunately, you are not injured. The police arrive at the scene to investigate the accident. You are asked if you used any medication, legal or illegal, prior to the collision. You truthfully tell the police officer that you took your physician-prescribed anti-anxiety medication that afternoon, which occasionally causes you drowsiness or has some other minor side effect. You are upset that your car has been damaged in the collision, which impedes your ability to think clearly and to communicate with the police officer. The officer, both observing you and considering your admission that you took medication, and further taking into consideration the other driver’s insistence that his light was green, decides to arrest you for driving while under the influence of a controlled substance – your prescription medication. It happens. How are you going to demonstrate in court at a later date that you were not drowsy, and therefore not under the influence of your prescribed medication when you were driving?

Likewise, consider the same scenario above, but instead of you, it is your employee who is on-duty. The other driver who ran the red light is severely injured in the collision with your company vehicle, which is driven by your employee. Even though the other driver was at fault, he makes a claim for injuries because your employee was arrested for driving under the influence, or even if not arrested, admitted to taking the medication prior to driving.

The decision of whether or when to operate a motor vehicle while using medications, and the consequences of driving in this hyper-medicated society, requires deliberation and consultation with your physician because a prescription to use medication is not a license to operate a motor vehicle and does not grant immunity from a driving under the influence charge or from civil liability.

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Unleash Your Niche!

What is niche marketing?  According to businessdictionary.com, niche marketing is defined as Concentrating all marketing efforts on a small but specific and well-defined segment of the population. Niches do not ‘exist’ but are ‘created’ by identifying needs, wants, and requirements that are being addressed poorly or not at all by other firms, and developing and […]

What is niche marketing?  According to businessdictionary.com, niche marketing is defined as Concentrating all marketing efforts on a small but specific and well-defined segment of the population. Niches do not ‘exist’ but are ‘created’ by identifying needs, wants, and requirements that are being addressed poorly or not at all by other firms, and developing and delivering goods or services to satisfy them. As a strategy, niche marketing is aimed at being a big fish in a small pond instead of being a small fish in a big pond. Also called micromarketing.

Pretty self-explanatory, right?  So, what does it have to do with those who work in professional services?  You know, accountants, architects, engineers, financial planners, IT consultants, lawyers, and management consultants.  Niche marketing has everything to do with these folks if they want to build a profitable business, and maybe have some fun while doing it.

As food for thought, the following are possible niche markets.  The accountant can create a niche representing the legal industry.  The lawyer can market legal services to the accounting industry.  We have seen many lawyers with niche practices such as cemetery law, food law, self-storage law, and equine law to name a few.  The architect can market her expertise in all things regarding historic homes and buildings.  A civil engineer can market a niche targeting school design and building.  The management consultant can build a niche helping family-owned business or women-owned businesses.  The possibilities are endless as long as there is a market for your services.

The benefits of building a niche are plenty.  You can become a true leader in a narrow space.  With this leadership, you can create a premium brand.  As we all know, people will pay more for a premium brand – so be that brand.  Also, premium brands, by their nature, are more in demand.  Using simple math, your niche allows you to charge more, and there is a higher demand.  That is a formula for high profits and a huge success.

Because this concept is not new to us, we have heard many of the common arguments against this approach.  Niche marketing is about marketing.  We have clients that will push back and tell us, we do more than that.  Don’t fret, you can do other things, just market appropriately to the niche. Just because an accountant has many law firm clients doesn’t mean she can’t have a restaurant client.

As mentioned earlier, for a niche marketing to be successful, there has to be a market for the services.  For the youngsters out there, you may not remember Y2K. Many lawyers thought that Y2K was going to be the next legal boom. They put all their marketing eggs into the Y2K basket.  It was a bust. The point is to make sure there is a buying market for your niche.  It may not be a good idea for the architect to market a historic building niche in a rural area with no historic buildings.  However, maybe this architect can develop a niche, designing buildings for the agriculture industry.

Also, we highly recommend that whatever niche you choose, you have a passion for it. Or, at least an interest. Marrying your passion with your job can be very lucrative as well as fun and satisfying.  We love the legal industry, saw a need for high-level marketing services in an underserved market.  This was the birth of ESQuisite Marketing.

So, to sum, identify a niche that will have demand, build the niche using a strategic marketing plan, try to include a passion, make more money, and have more fun.

ESQuisite Marketing is a professional service marketing company with a niche in the legal industry. Clients include large and small law firms, solo practitioners, certified legal nurse consultants, public speakers, financial services firms, and nonprofits in the Lehigh Valley and throughout the U.S., including New Jersey, Florida, Nevada, Michigan, Tennessee, and New York.

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