New Form I-9 effective February 2

Employers have just over a month left to comply with the latest changes to the Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9).

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published the interim final rule to streamline the Form I-9 process in the Federal Register on December 17, 2008. There are several changes in the new I-9 form, including new verification guidelines and a redefined list of acceptable proof of identification documents.

Beginning February 2, 2009, all employers are required to use the revised Form I-9 for verification of new employees and re-verification of existing employees.

There are several changes in the new I-9 form, including:
  • Expired documents are no longer considered acceptable proof of identification or work authorization.
  • Three additional documents were eliminated from List A of the List of Acceptable Documents.
  • Foreign passports with machine-readable visas for certain citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) were added to List A.
  • The new U.S. Passport card was added to the list of acceptable employment eligibility verification documents.
  • Revisions to the employee attestation section of the Form I-9.

Employers who fail to use the revised I-9 form by February 2, 2009 may be subject to violation fines. Keep your company in compliance by ordering the updated Form I-9 today.

DOL releases updated FMLA poster

On December 18, 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued a new Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) poster based on revisions published in November 2008. Employers with 50 or more employees, and all public sector employers, are required to update their mandatory employee and applicant labor law postings with the new FMLA poster.

The new FMLA poster outlines how the expanded FMLA provides job-protected leave for the spouses, children or parents of members of the armed forces called to active duty in the U.S. military. Additional FMLA rights for employers and workers are clarified on the new poster, too.

Along with the FMLA poster, employers must post all other mandatory federal and state labor law posters, a burden that entails monitoring up to 20 different posters from as many as seven different agencies. And with the incoming Democratic administration expected to serve a more regulatory function with labor issues and workers’ rights, the level of labor law posting enforcement is expected to increase.

That’s why many employers are turning to third-party poster providers to maintain their posting compliance.

Poster Guard Compliance Protection, guaranteed by G.Neil, offers employers the easiest way to keep up to date with all federal and state posters. In addition to a poster set containing all required postings, employers automatically receive a new poster any time a federal or state posting regulation changes. Poster Guard Compliance Protection also offers a 100% Compliance Guarantee against fines, online auditing tools and dedicated customer support.

The ADA Amendments Act, Part 2: How employers should prepare

In our last post, we examined the major changes the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act will have on the original law when it becomes effective on January 1, 2009.

The new amendments make major changes to the original ADA, including what is considered a major life activity and the definition of disability. Employers must be aware of the changes and the effect they will have on their businesses. From the Word on Employment Law with John Phillips:

All we know now is that the realm of “the disabled” is about to be significantly enlarged. While it may be incorrect to say the new Act makes everyone disabled, we’ll be much closer to that point than we’ve ever been. Reasonable accommodation requests will become more frequent and more complicated. Disability discrimination charges and litigation will increase dramatically. Given the new Act’s language, it’ll be difficult for courts to dismiss these cases without letting a jury decide them.

In many respects, we’re starting all over with disability discrimination. If the Supreme Court has, in the past, given employers an advantage in these cases, the advantage is about to be given to employees.

If you haven’t started already, employers should be preparing for how the changes to the ADA will effect employment processes, accommodating employees with disabilities and compliance requirements.

In a recent Workforce article, author Tina M. Maiolo explained the next steps employers should take to prepare for the upcoming ADA changes. Here are her seven steps to compliance with the ADA Amendments Act:

  1. Assume every employee is healthy. Presume nothing, especially whether the employee has any type of impairment.

  2. Assume all employee impairments fall under the ADA. When an employee claims to have an impairment, always assume that it is qualified as a disability under the ADA Amendments Act. Employers are “safer to assume from the outset that an impairment qualifies as a disability than trying to argue later that it does not.”

  3. Accommodate employee impairments. After a claim is made, be sure to make all reasonable attempts to accommodate the employee’s impairment. Unless the accommodation creates “undue hardship,” by being so burdensome or expensive that it changes the nature of the business, employers must be accommodating.

  4. Review and edit job descriptions. “An employer’s defense against an ADA Amendments Act claim is likely to rest on whether the disabled employee was "qualified" to perform the essential functions of his or her job.” Write an accurate and detailed job description from the beginning that clearly defines essential job functions.

  5. Begin ADA Amendments Act training. “HR should treat the ADA Amendments Act as an entirely new law.” Everyone involved in the hiring process, including HR and managers should go through training to understand the changes.

  6. Throw away, modify or create disability policies. Either start from scratch writing new disability policies, or modify your existing policies to reflect the latest ADA changes. It would be best to have these done before the law goes into effect on the first of the year.

  7. Make modifications as the courts interpret the new amendments. “The impact of the ADA Amendments Act will not be static,” they will continue to evolve over time. Stay on top of the latest changes and your business will be better protected.

Understanding the changes to the ADA is the first step to compliance. Once the law goes into effect on January 1, 2009, it is up to employers to choose to follow what is required of them under the law.

If you’re looking for help managing employee accommodation requests, the ComplyRight ADA Administration System contains all the forms and information employers need to comply. Complete with forms, tip sheets and valuable best practice information, the system can help you manage any request.

ADA Amendments Act, Part 1: What changed?

In September, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act as an effort to restore protection for disabled individuals that were created in the original 1990 bill. The new ADA Amendments will go into effect on January 1, 2009 and every employer and HR professional must be prepared to stay in compliance with the new regulations.

The new ADA changes allow more protections for disabled individuals by reversing Supreme Court decisions that once narrowed the definition of disability and what is a major life activity. It also forms broader parameters to how the law may be interpreted by the courts in the future.

One of the biggest questions the amendments answer is in regards to: What is a major life activity? As written, the new ADA states that it shouldn’t be interpreted strictly and whether someone is disabled “should not demand extensive analysis.” According to The Word on Employment Law with John Phillips, Phillips explains:

The Act includes a nonexhaustive list of activities that constitute major life activities, including caring for oneself; bending; performing manual tasks; speaking; seeing; breathing; hearing; learning; eating; reading; sleeping; concentrating; walking; thinking; standing; lifting; communicating; and working. Are you beginning to get the picture? If an employee can’t perform one of these activities, he/she is automatically disabled. Wow!

We’re just beginning, however. The Act also includes a subset of major life activities called “major bodily functions,” including functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions. There is no requirement that the functions have any relation to the ability to perform a job. Indeed, some are completely unrelated to work. If these functions are substantially impaired, however, you have a disability.

In another big change, the Act reverses Supreme Court rulings that denied disability status to people with conditions in remission or improved by medicine or medical treatment. The new amendments state that such a condition is still considered a disability if it limits a major life activity when that person is active. According to Phillips:

A disability is to be determined without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as “medication, medical supplies, equipment, or appliances, low-vision devices . . . prosthetics including limbs and devices, hearing aids and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices, mobility devices, or oxygen therapy equipment and supplies; use of assistive technology; auxiliary aids or services; or learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications.” The only exceptions are eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Additionally, the amendments make the process of claiming a disability less involved. To prove that an employee was disabled under the original ADA, one had to prove they were regarded as having a physical or mental impairment and that the impairment considerably limited a major life activity. “Pandora’s box will be opened,” by the new act, in that an employee may be considered disabled “whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.”

The definition of disability has been significantly altered by the new ADA Amendments Act, employers must be educated on how to fully comply with the latest changes. In our next post, we’ll explain how employers should prepare for the new ADA changes before it becomes effective on the first of the year.

For help managing ADA accommodation requests under the new amendments, take a look at the ComplyRight ADA Administration System. It contains all the necessary forms, tools and information to effectively manage employee requests for reasonable accommodation.

25 states scheduled to raise minimum wage in 2009

In 2009 the country will see minimum wage increases in 25 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Listed below are all of the states that have scheduled minimum wage increases next year. Visit Anne Bares at Compensation Force for a complete breakdown of all the scheduled changes.

  • Arizona
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington

Researching continually changing labor laws and what your business is required to post is a never-ending task, but luckily there are tools out there to help you stay up to date.

G.Neil’s Poster Guard Compliance Protection is just one valuable service that takes the stress of wondering whether you’re in compliance with federal and state labor laws off your shoulders and places it into the hands of experienced labor law professionals.

Read this and learn more about how Poster Guard can help you track the latest labor law changes and keep your business in compliance.

How the new FMLA regulations affect you, free webinar

Last month, the Department of Labor released the final regulations under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that go into effect on January 16, 2009.

This ruling marks the first set of revisions to the FMLA regulations since its enactment in 1993. As a result of the changes, new forms and posters will be required for employers subject to FMLA guidelines.

Next week, ComplyRight will be hosting a free webinar to inform you on exactly what you need to know to fully comply with the new FMLA regulations before they take effect in January.

This free webinar is packed with the latest information to keep your business in full compliance. You will learn:
  • The impact the new regulations have on your business, what changed and how to comply
  • Your rights as an employer under the FMLA, including methods to handle FMLA abuse
  • Specific key requirements of the law
  • How to modify your policies, notices and employee postings
  • New rules for handling common FMLA issues, including intermittent leave, chronic conditions, light duty, supervisor access to medical information and leave for military families.

Sign up today to attend The New FMLA Regulations: What You Need to Know, presented by Wendy J. Smith, Esquire, Fisher & Phillips LLP, on Thursday, December 11, 2008 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EST. Visit the registration page for more information.

Related information:

New FMLA regulations, what employers need to know

Family and Medical Leave Act Changes Q & A

Corporate giving, it’s never too late to start

Though there’s only a few weeks left until the year is over, it’s never too late to start a corporate giving program. Even during tough times, evidence shows that philanthropy is a solid business investment.

In a 2007 survey of corporate executives by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, 61% said corporate citizenship makes a “tangible contribution to their company’s bottom line.” In nine out of ten industrial sectors, corporate philanthropy had a positive impact on corporate revenue, according to a study presented at the 2004 meeting of the International Communication Association.

There’s no time like the present to put together a corporate giving program and make a difference in the community. If you want to give back before the year is up, you only have a few weeks left to get going. Start with these simple ideas for corporate giving:

  • Organize a canned food drive. Have everyone in the office bring in canned goods to be donated to a local food bank. Encourage more employees to give by providing an incentive such as a day to dress-down at the office. Visit Feeding America to find a food bank in your area.

  • Give employees a day to volunteer. Allowing employees to volunteer on the company’s time shows goodwill and improves employee morale. Pay it forward and give employees a day to give their time to a local charitable cause.

  • Hold a bake sale. Have everyone in the office bake their favorite holiday treat and bring it in for a company bake sale. Donate the proceeds to a local charity.

  • Put leftovers to good use. Once you’ve sent happy holiday wishes to employees and customers, take your leftover company Christmas cards and put them to good use. There’s a number of ways to repurpose your business holiday cards, including sending a card to a wounded soldier, sick child or to a neighbor in need. Read this article for a full list of ideas.

  • Sponsor a clothing drive. A clothing drive is a great way to give back to community members in need and also help employees clean out cluttered closets. Donate clothing to nonprofit organizations like Goodwill, the Salvation Army or a local homeless shelter.

Few things say “Happy Holidays” better than a charitable donation. Foster employee teamwork and show your corporate goodwill by giving back to the community during the holiday season and throughout the year.

Employee Free Choice Act, employers (union and non-union) must be prepared

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), also known as the “Card Check bill” has been the top priority of unions throughout this election year. If passed, the EFCA will amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by removing previous barriers to union organizing.

President elect Barack Obama was a co-sponsor of the bill while a senator and has said that he will sign it into law if the legislation comes across his desk.

If Obama signs the EFCA, it would result in the most “sweeping” changes to the NLRA in the past 40 years. Union and non-union employers must be prepared for this law, which will make it easier for workplaces to unionize and will likely lead to a spike in union organizing activity, according to Mark Mathiason of the Gray Plant Mooty law firm.

In a recent Human Resources Executive Online article, Garry Mathiason, partner and vice chair of Littler Mendelson in San Francisco, advised:

The 2009 agenda for HR professionals must assume EFCA in some form will become law. In anticipation, employers should consider auditing conditions to determine whether they would support an organizing drive; monitoring union-organizing activities within the industry or geographical location; training management about rules associated with union organizing, potentially providing employees with information and arguments about union representation when organizing activity is anticipated and -- in some highly targeted industries -- even before receiving evidence of organizing activity; and, most of all, reviewing overall employment conditions to ensure they are competitive and the needs of employees are being addressed.

The EFCA would amend the NLRA in three major areas:

  1. The EFCA would require the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to recognize a labor union through authorization cards signed by a majority of employees, without the benefit of a government-supervised, secret-ballot election.
  2. It would also require arbitration if an employer and a newly certified union are unable to reach an agreement on an initial contract in a timely fashion.
  3. The new law would create significant penalties for remedying employer unfair labor practices. Such penalties would apply during any period when unions are organizing and during negotiations of a first contract.

The G.Neil labor law team will continue to watch the EFCA as President elect Obama prepares to take office in January. Check back regularly for the most up-to-date information to help your business take action and stay in compliance.

Benefits of hiring older workers

Whether it's from devastated 401(k) accounts, the rising cost of living or uncertainty about the future, more older workers are delaying retirement and some are even leaving retirement for a spot back in the workforce.

More than one-quarter (27 percent) of workers 45 and older were postponing retirement and two-thirds reported having more difficulty paying for essentials such as food, gas and medicine, according to a recent AARP survey.

Additionally, the number of older workers on full-time schedules nearly doubled from 1995 to 2007 and those working part-time increased 19 percent.

Human resources faces unique challenges as more older workers reenter the workplace -- communication across generations, teamwork between coworkers with different work styles, training managers how to work with employees who are much older or younger than they may be.

Still yet, the benefits of hiring older workers greatly outweigh the challenges. Older workers posses the workplace skills businesses need to succeed in today's economy, including:

  • Experience. This group of workers understands how business works and what needs to be done in order to succeed, because they've lived it. Depending on the nature of the job, companies will save time and money on less training.
  • Work ethic. Older workers in the workplace are more dependable and stay more task-focused than their younger counterparts. They are less distracted by cell phones, mp3 players and social networks, and concerned more with completing the task at hand. Older employees have also proven to be the most self-motivated in the workplace.
  • Loyalty. These days, a young worker may have gone through three jobs by the time they turn 25, but that's not the case with senior employees. Older workers grew up during a time where people worked for only one or two companies during their lifetime, building a strong sense of loyalty.
  • Pride. Senior employees take personal pride in a job well done. While younger workers may be more concerned with making it out of the office in time to meet friends, older workers are more likely to stick around past closing time to make sure the job is finished and the final product reflects quality work.
  • Confidence. With all of their experience and training, older workers have a sense of confidence that younger workers still have yet to develop. Their confidence allows them to make decisions and share ideas that can help companies find ways to save money and run more efficiently.

Hiring older workers, with their unique skills and work styles, has the potential to improve productivity and save companies money during a time when it is needed the most. Tapping into the benefits of a mature workforce can help many businesses through these tough times and into a brighter future.

New FMLA regulations, what employers need to know

The U.S. Department of Labor released the final regulations under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), clarifying employer and employee rights under the law. The new FMLA regulations were published in the Federal Register on November 17, 2008 and will take effect on January 16, 2009. New forms and posters reflecting the latest changes will be required for employers subject to the FMLA.

This is the first set of revisions to the FMLA regulations since its enactment in 1993 and will affect all employers that must adhere to FMLA guidelines. The final rule helps workers and employers better understand their responsibilities and will speed the implementation of a new law that expands FMLA coverage for military families.

"This final rule, for the first time, gives America's military families special job-protected leave rights to care for brave service men and women who are wounded or injured, and also helps families of members of the National Guard and Reserves manage their affairs when their service member is called up for active duty," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao in a recent press release. "At the same time, the final rule provides needed clarity about general FMLA rights and obligations for both workers and employers."

The final rule includes two notable benefits for some military families:

Military Caregiver Leave: Expands FMLA protections for family members caring for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness incurred in the line of duty on active duty. These family members are able to take up to 26 workweeks of leave in a 12-month period.

Leave for Qualifying Exigencies for Families of National Guard and Reserves: The law allows families of National Guard and Reserve personnel on active duty to take FMLA job-protected leave to manage their affairs — "qualifying exigencies." The rule defines "qualifying exigencies" as: (1) short-notice deployment (2) military events and related activities (3) childcare and school activities (4) financial and legal arrangements (5) counseling (6) rest and recuperation (7) post-deployment activities and (8) additional activities where the employer and employee agree to the leave.

Additional highlights from the new FMLA regulations:

Waiver of Rights: The department has finalized its position that employees may voluntarily settle their FMLA claims without court or departmental approval. However, prospective waivers of FMLA rights will continue to be prohibited.

Serious Health Condition: The new rule clarifies that if an employee is taking leave involving more than three consecutive calendar days of incapacity plus two visits to a health care provider, the two visits must occur within 30 days of the period of incapacity. Additionally, it defines "periodic visits to a health care provider" for chronic serious health conditions as at least two visits per year.

Light Duty: Time spent in "light duty" work does not count against an employee's FMLA leave entitlement, and the employee retains the right to job restoration during the light duty period.

Employer Notice Obligations: The final rule clarifies and strengthens the employer notice requirements to employees in order that employers will better inform employees about their FMLA rights and obligations, and allow for a smoother exchange of information between employers and employees.

Employee Notice: Under the new regulations, employees must follow their employer’s normal call-in procedures when taking FMLA leave. Under current rules, employees may notify their employer up to two days after an absence on their need for FMLA leave.

Medical Certification Process: The final rule recognizes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and its impact on medical privacy. Responding to concerns about medical privacy, the new provisions prohibit direct supervisors from obtaining employee medical information for FMLA certification.

View the final rule as it appears in the Federal Register, here.

New forms and posters will be required for employers subject to FMLA guidelines. G.Neil’s top legal experts are working to provide you with the information and resources needed to stay in full FMLA compliance.

As of today, our legal team is developing a new E-Guide to explain the new FMLA rules in plain English. Check back regularly for the most up-to-date information to help you understand and take action on the latest legal requirements that affect your business.

Read our new Q & A reviewing the latest Family and Medical Leave Act Changes.

Obama on labor law: Preparing for change

As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to take his place in the White House, businesses across the country are considering what impact his plans will have on their organizations in the coming years.

In our existing unpredictable market, businesses should be prepared for impending changes related to wages, immigration, taxes, health care, executive compensation and benefits, civil rights and an inevitable increase in worker unionization, according to Littler Mendelson, the nation’s largest employment and labor law firm representing management, in a recent article.

“The combination of President Obama, with an electoral mandate for change from the voters, large Democratic gains in both houses of Congress, and the declining economy, sets the stage for a wave of legislative and regulatory proposals intended to protect workers in these troubled times,” Jay Sumner, a Washington, DC-based attorney at Littler said. “In the first 100 days and over the next four years, American businesses should anticipate significant changes.

“Those companies that educate themselves and prepare to navigate the changed labor and employment landscape will survive and prosper, and they should have a competitive edge over those that are caught unprepared,” said Sumner in a recent article.

Here are the most important employment law issues we’ll be watching after Obama takes office in 2009:

Unions - The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), designed to make it easier for unions to organize, is the top item on the labor agenda. Obama has already pledged to sign EFCA into law once passed.

Health care - Experts predict that the Obama Administration will explore avenues to keep the current employer-provided health care system in place. Obama’s health care plan would require employers to provide health care benefits or pay a percentage of payroll to support public health care.

Immigration - The new administration will push to increase enforcement of immigration laws and hold negligent employers accountable for disregard of immigration laws and employing undocumented workers. Obama is likely to agree with past proposals requiring government contractors to use E-Verify and could extend the program if accuracy and funding issues are settled.

Minimum Wage - Obama has pledged to increase minimum wage and index it to inflation.

Time off - The Obama Administration wants to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to cover smaller employers, those with 25 or more employees, and permit leave for more reasons. Obama and Congress are also considering paid FMLA leave, mandatory sick leave and flexible work arrangements.

Help employees quit smoking, participate in the Great American Smokeout

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Thursday, November 20, marks the 33rd Great American Smokeout, a day created to inspire and encourage smokers to quit for one day.

Almost 45% of the 45.3 million American smokers have attempted to quit smoking for at least one day in the past year, according to the American Cancer Society. For more than 30 years, the Great American Smokeout has proven to be a great opportunity to motivate smokers to make a long-term to quit for good.

Each year, only about 5% of smokers who quit succeed long-term and stress about the economy is having a clear and immediate effect on smokers, according to a recent survey sponsored by the American Legacy Foundation.

The survey found that smokers’ increased stress is causing smokers to delay a quit attempt, increase the number of cigarettes they are smoking, or switch to a cheaper brand instead of quitting. Additionally, former smokers reported that they are starting to smoke again because of financial stress.

Among the survey findings:

  • 77% of smokers report increased stress levels due to the current state of the economy, two-thirds of those smokers say this stress has had an effect on their smoking.
  • One in four smokers stressed about the economy say this stress has caused them to smoke more cigarettes per day, higher among women (31%) than men (17%).
  • A greater percentage of middle-income ($35-74.9k) stressed smokers have delayed their quit attempts because of stress over the economy (20%) than those with household incomes of under $35k (14%).

“The best time to quit smoking is now,” according to the American Cancer Society. Use the upcoming Great American Smokeout to start a smoking cessation program, revisit your workplace smoking policy and encourage employees who smoke to set November 20 as their quit date.

The American Cancer Society has put together a Smokeout page as part of their Great American Health Challenge full of materials to help publicize smoking cessation in your workplace, press releases, local resources and guides to help employees quit smoking.

New FMLA rules coming to a workplace near you

New Family and Medical Leave Act regulations are expected to become official soon and could go into effect by the end of this month.

In late October, the Department of Labor (DOL) submitted a final draft of new FMLA regulations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review. The OMB has a final action date of November 2008, but no specific day.

The DOL released proposed FMLA rule changes in February and asked for public comment. It is still unknown what changes were made, if any, based on feedback from the public.

The proposed regulations suggested a dozen key changes, some of the most substantial changes include notice from employees, eligibility standards, the definition of “serious health condition” and the release of FMLA claims.

We’ll have more information once the final regulations are published. Subscribe or check back often for the latest updates.

Workplace health: November is Flu Awareness Month

Influenza (commonly known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe symptoms, and at times can lead to death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Tens of thousands of Americans die every year from flu complications.

The best way to prevent the flu is by receiving a flu vaccination each fall. The Center has designated November as Flu Awareness Month to encourage all Americans to get the flu shot.

Every year in the United States, on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu; more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and; about 36,000 people die from flu. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Ways to keep your workplace safe and employees healthy during flu season:

Host a flu clinic. Provide flu shots on company grounds as part of your employee wellness program. For information about hosting a flu clinic visit the American Lung Association’s Online Flu Clinic Locator.

Educate employees on the benefits of the flu shot. Distribute information that encourages employees to get the flu vaccination and debunk myths that you can get the flu from a flu shot (the vaccine does not contain live viruses). Hang posters around the office on the importance of prevention and the dangers of the flu.

Review sick leave/absence policies. Ensure your policy does not punish employees for being sick, because employees who feel they will be disciplined will be more inclined to come to work no matter how ill they may be.

Encourage employees to take preventative measures. Inform employees on the most effective ways they can work to stay healthy in the office. The most important prevention activity - washing hands with soap and water often. Make sure bathrooms are stocked with soap and paper towels and go one step further by providing hand sanitizers and tissues in common rooms.

If the flu makes its way into the office, proceed with caution. Minimize employees’ exposure to the flu by limiting face-to-face meetings, consider telecommuting and hold off on typical business greetings like handshakes for a period of time.

For more information on the 2008-2009 flu season visit the CDC website.

Tracking attendance: Top reasons employees call in sick

An estimated 33% of employees have played hooky from the office at least once this year by calling in sick when they were well, according to’s annual survey on absenteeism.

The majority of employers surveyed said they generally don’t question the reason for an employee’s absence. However, 31% have checked up on an employee who called in sick and 18% have gone as far as firing an employee for missing work without a legitimate excuse.

From the survey of more than 6.800 workers and 3,300 employers, found the most common reasons for calling in sick, including:

  • 9% wanted to miss a meeting, buy some time to work on an overdue project or avoid the wrath of a boss or coworker
  • 30% needed to relax and recharge
  • 27% went to a doctor’s appointment
  • 22% needed to catch up on sleep
  • 14% wanted to run personal errands
  • 34% simply didn’t feel like going to work that day

Of the 31% of employers who checked up on an employee who called in sick:

  • 71% required the employee to show a doctor’s note
  • 56% called the employee at home
  • 18% had another worker call the employee
  • 17% drove by the employee’s home

"It’s in your best interest to be up-front with your employer and chances are you’ll get the time you need," said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at "More companies today are moving toward a Paid Time Off system, giving employees more flexibility in how they categorize time away from the office. Employers are also expanding the definition of the sick day with 65 percent stating that they allow their team members to use sick days for mental health days."

Whether you require employees to have a legitimate excuse or not, tracking employee attendance can be one of the most burdensome and paperwork-filled tasks managers must deal with.

If you’re looking for a way to eliminate attendance paperwork and move to an electronic attendance tracking platform, we have a free webinar coming up that could offer a solution.

In our free, 30-minute “lunch and learn” presentation you’ll learn how unscheduled absenteeism affects your bottom line, the benefits of electronic recordkeeping and how software can help you get rid of employe attendance paperwork forever.

Software Basics: Track Attendance Electronically Like a Pro is sponsored by Gradience and created specifically for workplace software beginners interested in reducing unwanted paperwork and moving to a “greener” electronic solution.

Sign up today for Software Basics: Track Attendance Electronically Like a Pro on Wednesday, November 5, 2008 at 1 p.m., ET.

View upcoming webinars at

Statistics show workplace injury and illness down

The rate of workplace injuries and illness in private industry in 2007 declined for the sixth consecutive year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nonfatal workplace injuries and illness in the private industry have declined 4.5 percent over the past year.

Over the past six years workplace injuries and illnesses have declined 21 percent. The shrinking statistic shows how effective targeted enforcement along with prevention methods, such as compliance assistance, have worked together to promote a culture focused on workplace safety, according to Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao in a press release.

"Today's injury and illness results demonstrate that OSHA's balanced approach to workplace safety encompassing education, training, information sharing, inspection, regulation and aggressive enforcement is achieving significant reductions in workplace injury and illness throughout the country.

This report shows that employees are now safer in the workplace than ever before. This success validates our efforts, and we are redoubling this commitment to make workplaces even safer," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Edwin G. Foulke Jr.

Key findings of the 2007 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illness:

  • The total recordable case injury and illness incidence rate was highest among mid-size establishments (those employing between 50 and 249 workers) and lowest among small establishments (those employing fewer than 11 workers).
  • General medical and surgical hospitals (NAICS 6221) reported more injuries and illnesses than any other industry in 2007—more than 253,500 cases.
  • The total recordable case injury and illness incidence rates declined among 5 of the 19 private industry sectors—Agriculture, forestry, fishing & hunting; Mining; Construction; Manufacturing; and Health care and social assistance—in 2007 and remained statistically unchanged in the remaining 14 industry sectors.
  • Incidence rates and numbers of cases for injuries and illnesses combined declined significantly in 2007 for several case types: total recordable cases; cases with days away from work, job transfer or restriction; cases with days away from work; and cases with job transfer or restriction.
Read the full study at

Employee voting rights: Time to review your policies

Now is the time for employers to review and update policies and procedures for giving employees time off to cast their ballots on November 4.

While there are no federal laws mandating businesses to give employees time off from work to vote, many states require it. By fully understanding the employee voting rights in your state, you will know the best way to handle the barrage of questions and requests coming your way in the next two weeks.

Most state voting laws require businesses to adhere to the following rules:

  • If voting polls are open for two or more hours before or after employees’ normal working hours, the employer is not required to give paid time off.
  • Employers have the right to ask for written request from employees for time off to vote.
  • Employers may designate a certain time when employees are permitted to take time off to vote.
  • Lunch periods may not be included as part of the time off designated for voting.
  • Employees may not be disciplined or retaliated against for taking time off to vote.

There is no rule prohibiting businesses from giving employees more flexibility or privileges that what the law mandates.

Since most state laws only refer to voting on Election Day, you may run into some confusion when employees ask for time off to vote early. The best practice would be to allow an employee to vote early in the same way you would allow them time off to vote on Election Day, according to John Phillips at The Word on Employment Law blog.

He gives two reasons for this best practice:

“Every state’s public policy is to encourage voting in elections. If you deny an employee’s request to take time off to vote (even if there’s a technical basis for doing this given the specific language in your state statute), you could violate your state’s public policy. And even if you don’t, you probably don’t want to become, particularly this year, the poster child for employers who make it difficult for their employees to vote. Voting is a hot button issue, and the media would likely give a lot of publicity to this kind of situation.”

Another good practice to consider following is to send a notice explaining your company’s voting day policy to employees through e-mail and post it for those employees without e-mail access at least a week before Election Day.

Be knowledgeable of the time off for voting laws in your state and make sure your organization’s policy matches up. Ensure all managers are following the policy consistently - if you’re flexible for one employee, extend the same flexibility to every employee.

Phillips has compiled a list of voting time off laws by state at The Word on Employment Law blog. For more information on the voting rules in your state, contact your state labor department.

Drug-Free Work Week: Top 5 ways to participate

The third annual Drug-Free Work Week kicked off this week (October 20-26, 2008), to educate employers, employees, and the general public about the importance of being drug-free as a part of improving workplace safety and health.

Workplaces across the country are affected daily by drug use. Over two-thirds of alcohol and drug abusers in the U.S. were employed either full or part time in 2007, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings.

The Department of Labor created a list of activities employers can do during Drug-Free Work Week to promote a safer, healthier workplace through substance abuse prevention and intervention.

Here are our picks for the top 5 ways to get involved in Drug-Free Work Week:

Implement a Drug-Free Workplace Program if you don’t already have one. The DOL’s Working Partners Web site provides free tools and information to help you get started.

Promote your existing Drug-Free Workplace Program. Distribute your company policy to employees with an attached message promoting a healthy and safe workplace. Also include information where employees can ask questions, either privately or at an open discussion.

Train supervisors and educate workers. Train supervisors on the company’s policy regarding alcohol and drug use, how to identify potential problems and how to offer employees assistance. Hold training sessions for employees with guest speakers on how drugs affect workplace safety and health.

Allow employees to volunteer in community drug-prevention efforts. Show your organization’s dedication to a drug-free workplace by granting employees time off to volunteer in drug-prevention activities in the community.

Hold a special event promoting safety and health. Organize a social event in the office, complete with healthy snacks and sweets, that reinforces the importance of staying healthy and drug free.

Whether you celebrate Drug-Free Work Week this week or at a time more suitable to your business’ schedule, the important thing to remember is to encourage and educate employees how to stay drug-free, safe and healthy.

Visit the DOL’s Working Partners for more Drug-Free Work Week activities and more ways to promote a drug-free workplace.

How is your organization celebrating Drug-Free Work Week?

Lacking anti-harassment policy, New Jersey employer liable

In a recent court decision, New Jersey employers may be held liable for negligence for an employee’s sexual harassment by a coworker if the business lacks effective anti-harassment policies, even if the employer was unaware of the situation.

The decision in Cerdeira v. Martindale-Hubbell is the first of it’s kind in New Jersey. The court’s ruling makes it fully clear that New Jersey employers can be liable for coworker sexual harassment in “the absence of an anti-harassment policy with effective preventative mechanisms.”

The state’s highest court advises employers wanting to avoid sexual harassment to put five elements in place:

  1. An anti-harassment policy
  2. A complaint structure that allows for formal and informal complaint procedures.
  3. Training that is offered to all members of the organization, but mandatory for supervisors and managers.
  4. Effective monitoring mechanisms, to determine whether the complaint structure is trusted.
  5. “An unequivocal commitment from the top that is not just in words but backed up by consistent practice.”

In 2007 there were 12,510 reported cases of sexual harassment resulting in almost $50 million in monetary benefits for charging parties (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation), according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“Prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace,” according to the EEOC.

Visit G.Neil’s HR Library for more information on how to handle workplace diversity, discrimination and harassment.

Retail giant sued for disability discrimination

Dillard’s, the nationwide department store chain, is facing a class action lawsuit for unlawfully requiring employees to disclose confidential medical information in order to qualify for excused sick leave or face disciplinary action including termination.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed charges under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against Dillard’s claiming their corporate policy is an unlawful disability-related inquiry under the ADA and not a justified business necessity.

In the lawsuit, the EEOC cites one instance where a sales associate was unable to attend work for a few days because of her medical illness. After submitting a doctor’s note justifying sick leave, Dillard’s asked her to reveal the specific nature of her illness for the absence to be deemed excused under company policy.

The sales associate refused to reveal the nature of her medical illness and informed Dillard’s that their requirements unlawfully invaded her right to privacy. Dillard’s considered the absences unexcused and fired the sales associate for refusing to disclose the requested medical information.

From an EEOC press release:

“This case has national implications and illustrates one of the reasons why the ADA prohibits employers from subjecting employees to disability-related inquiries not justified by business necessity,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Anna Park of the agency’s Los Angeles District. “The ADA’s prohibition of disability-related inquiries was enacted to protect employees from being subjected to harmful and unfounded stereotypes on the basis of a perceived or actual medical illness.”

San Diego Local Acting Director Raul Green said, “Employers need to be aware that the EEOC will vigorously enforce the ADA to ensure that employees are free to exercise their rights. Employees should not have to worry that this very sensitive, private and potentially harmful information will be used by the employer against them to unfairly exclude them from jobs that they could otherwise perform.”


Improve teams, invest in talent with corporate training in a recession

Businesses are coping with the economic downturn in a number of ways from slashing budgets to downsizing. It is more important than ever to get the best return on investment in every aspect of your business.

Industry experts like George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, advise companies to deal with the economic recession by investing in existing talent.

At a recent dinner Colony hosted for top CIOs, discussion on politics and the economy led to a list of recession strategies companies can use to successfully ride out an economic slowdown.

In a recap of the dinner on Colony’s blog, some of the best practices for a recession include:

  • Outsourcing is not a silver bullet. Use the recession to build internal skills.
  • Use a slowdown to improve the team -- look to bring in great people who have been laid off elsewhere.
  • Cut training and development last. That resource is critical to success in the post-recession period.

Instead of limiting the development of your team by cutting training programs, learn how to stretch your training dollar in a free webinar from Training Time - Squeezing the Most Out of Your Training Budget: Corporate Training in a Recession.

Training and development should remain a priority during tough times because:

  • Trained workers perform more efficiently with less errors and delays
  • Training boosts employee loyalty by encouraging career development
  • Employees taking on extra work quickly learn how to get up to speed with the right training
  • Training improves employee morale and confidence
  • Your best asset in business is a well-trained employee

Experienced training professionals will share tips and ideas to find better, more cost-effective training opportunities including the pros and cons of in-house versus outside training, the benefits of group versus individualized training, virtual training and tapping into expert talent within your company.

Good training doesn’t have to be expensive. Join us on Wednesday, October 15, 2008, at 1 p.m. EST for the free webinar - Squeezing the Most Out of Your Training Budget: Corporate Training in a Recession. Space is limited, reserve your seat now.

President signs mental health parity into law

A new law included in the economic bailout bill President Bush signed on Friday, will ensure more than one-third of Americans better insurance coverage for mental health treatments.

The mental health care benefits parity legislation will require health care plans to provide equal coverage of mental and physical illness. In the past, insurers were able to set higher co-payments and deductibles and harsh limits on treatment for mental illness and addiction disorders.

According to Workforce Management:

For example, plans no longer will be allowed to limit the number of annual outpatient visits for treatment of mental disorders while not imposing a comparable limit on the number of outpatient visits for other medical problems.

While the plan changes would be extensive, the cost impact is expected to be modest. The Congressional Budget Office last year estimated that enactment of a similar bill would boost health insurance premiums by an average of about 0.2 percent a year.

A result of 12 years of advocacy, the new law is described as “a milestone in the quest for civil rights, an effort to end insurance discrimination and to reduce the stigma of mental illness,” according to The New York Times.

The law will be effective for most health care plans on January 1, 2010. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees are exempt.

Related post:

Mental Health Parity Bill passes House, on to negotiations

San Francisco court upholds universal health care plan

Earlier this week, federal judges ruled to uphold a health care ordinance giving San Francisco the right to make employers help pay part of the cost of the city’s universal health care plan.

“City officials and labor unions said the ruling establishes San Francisco as a model for state and local health coverage in the absence of a nationwide universal health plan,” according to the SFGate.

The city’s plan, called Healthy San Francisco, is the first of its kind in the nation and “could set the stage for a test of the supremacy of a longstanding federal labor law.”

Healthy San Francisco will help the city provide care for an estimated 73,000 uninsured residents, about 30,000 residents have already signed up.

Under the plan, companies with more than 20 employees that do not offer insurance to their workers must contribute $1.17 to $1.76 per employee per hour for health care.

Employers may choose to pay the money in a number of ways, including health care savings accounts, employer-provided insurance, employee reimbursement or contributing directly to Healthy San Francisco.

From The New York Times:

Mayor Gavin Newsom, a former restaurateur, said that his administration recognized that some extra expense was falling on businesses but that he was proud the city was a trailblazer.

“By thinking outside the box,” he said, “every city and state in this country can provide health care if they are willing to challenge the conventional wisdom.”

Some of San Francisco’s well-known restaurants have added small fees to bills, often with a note explaining that the charge goes to pay for health care.

Mr. Scherotter, who runs an Italian restaurant, adds such a fee. He said the law had added to his costs and his administrative workload. “It’s a lot of tedious arithmetic,” he said.


When should HR know about an illness or disability?

A recent article from DiversityInc magazine examined issues regarding employee disabilities and illness, asking the question: When should employees tell their boss about a serious illness or disability?

Just last week the President secured protection for disabled workers by signing the ADA Amendments Act. Along with the Family and Medical Leave Act, you could assume that more employees would feel comfortable telling employers about their condition.

But even with protective legislation, the stigmas associated with an illness or disability can overshadow an employee’s training and work experience or may cause coworkers and supervisors to treat them differently.

The author suggests that it is best for an employee to disclose a serious illness or disability “as soon as practically possible” in that a company can only accommodate the employee if their condition is known.

We want to know your opinion:

When would HR managers prefer to know about an employee’s serious illness or disability? What is too soon, what is too late?

Does it impact promotion and raise decisions even if symptoms aren't showing yet? Is it really possible not to have it influence decisions?

President signs ADA Amendments Act

As expected, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act on September 25, 2008. The Act supersedes several Supreme Court decisions that unfairly limited protections under the ADA.

"This is a monumental victory for people with disabilities. As America seeks to respond to the economic challenges we face, this law -- if enforced -- will assure that people with disabilities are fairly included in the workforce and that we can do our jobs free from discrimination,” said Jim Ward, ADA Watch/National Coalition for Disability Rights founder and president.

Set to take effect January 1, 2009, the Act clarifies the definition of “disability” in that a person may be disabled even though they may use medication, prosthetics and assistive technology to alleviate their disability.

Please stay tuned to G.Neil’s HR Forum for the latest news on how the new disabilities legislation may affect your business.

Related posts:

Legal update: House passes ADA Amendments Act, President will sign “soon”

Senate passes ADA Amendments Act, House and President approval expected

Target $6 million settlement: Is your site ADA compliant?

Disabilities rights bill on the move

Why DO businesses pay for things that are free from the government?

As Veritas points out, the government provides most forms and postings to businesses at no cost, and most business people understand that this is available. Which raises the question: “Why do businesses pay for government forms and other compliance materials that are available for free from the government?”

The answer we hear from customers involves their definition of “free.” They place a high value on their work time and have more pressing business matters to address. They recognize that accessing the appropriate compliance materials, interpreting their purpose and requirements, monitoring them for frequent changes, and downloading and printing documents on their own is often less cost-efficient than relying on labor law experts such as G.Neil to provide these services. As an added value, we also provide tools and resources that make executing your documentation easier and error-free.

Also, there is no single government-supplied resource that provides everything a business needs to maintain compliance. And even more concerning, is the fact that government agencies and regulators have no obligation to advise businesses when requirements change. So while the Department of Labor does provide downloadable posters on their website, this government agency is only one of the more than 150 different agencies that issue and frequently update more than 500 different mandatory labor law postings. This makes a “do-it-yourself” philosophy for maintaining compliance higher risk and more time-consuming than many realize.

Of course, I can make these statements as a provider of such compliance tools, but our customers can speak for themselves.

Anybody else have an answer for the question: “Why do businesses pay for government forms and other compliance materials that are available for free from the government?”

Susan Drenning

President, G.Neil


USERRA helps veterans get back to work

Earlier this month, the President announced the withdrawal of 8,000 troops from Iraq by next February and the deployment of others to Afghanistan.

With 8,000 troops expected to return to the U.S. by next year, employers need to be prepared and understand the details of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). 

USERRA provides reemployment protection and other benefits for veterans and other employees who perform military service. The law applies to all employers, regardless of size and all service members, including those who volunteered to serve.

"Service members transitioning from the military today are some of the most educated, technically savvy, professionally qualified the armed forces have ever produced," says Willie Hensley, deputy assistant secretary for human resources management and labor relations for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Many service members have received expert training in areas such as engineering, health care, information technology and security. Even with their qualifications, helping service members transition back into the workplace can be a difficult process.

For employers looking to hire veterans and advice for transitioning soldiers, visit sites including:

For more information on how USERRA protects the employment and benefit rights for employees who serve in the military and your responsibilities for accommodating disabled veterans visit and take a look at our E-Guide: When Soldiers Return to Work.

When domestic violence enters the workplace

From faltering stocks on Wall Street to dwindling housing markets, the economy has been the latest major distraction for American workers. More serious than just lost productivity, a rise in domestic violence has been one of the most unsettling effects of a bad economy on the workplace.

“A correlation between the economy and domestic violence makes complete sense to most counselors and professionals who work with troubled people: when they economy falters, domestic violence rises. Money is one of the most disputed family issues in the best of times, but when pressures mount - job loss, home foreclosures, increased costs of living - frayed tempers often give way to violence,” according to Julie Ferguson at HR Web Cafe.

Domestic abuse is to blame for close to 8 million lost workdays, an amount equal to 32,000 full-time jobs, according to CDC studies.

Employers should be especially concerned with the rise in domestic violence. Beyond the effect it may have on worker productivity, employers may be held liable for dismissing the signs of domestic violence in the workplace.

In 1994 the case of La Rose vs. State Mutual Life Assurance Co., Francesia La Rose’s family members filed a wrongful-death suit against her employer after she was murdered by a former boyfriend at work. The family claimed her employer failed to protect La Rose after knowing about the threat. State Mutual Life Insurance settled for $350,000.

Laws regarding employers’ responsibilities in cases of domestic abuse differ from state to state, so seek the advice of legal professionals in your area for laws specific to your state.

Employers should be trained to be aware of the warning signs in potential domestic abuse victims and have a policy that allows abused employees to take paid time off, according to Denise Curran, a psychotherapist at ComPsych on Human Resource Executive Online.

As part of the company policy, Curran also recommends that abuse victims be connected with an employee assistance program that provides counseling and victim resources.

“For many victims, however, admitting their abuse to co-workers or managers may not feel natural. Curran says companies can gain the trust needed to achieve such a confession by running a training program on the topic and showing that anyone who steps forward will be treated with support, not scrutiny. Oftentimes, once employees take part in the training program, they may go to their EAP counselor on their own to admit they are being abused, [Curran] says.”


Legal update: House passes ADA Amendments Act, President will sign “soon”

As expected, the House of Representatives approved the ADA Amendments Act (S. 3406), following a unanimous vote in the Senate less than one week ago.

The legislation now moves to the White House where President Bush is expected to sign “soon,” according to SHRM sources.

“The bill directs the courts toward a more generous application of the ADA's definition of disability, making it clear that Congress intended the ADA's coverage to be broad and to cover anyone facing discrimination because of a disability,” according to the Associated Press.

We will continue to deliver the most current news regarding the President's upcoming decision. Check back for information on how the bill may affect your business.

Related posts:

Senate passes ADA Amendments Act, House and President approval expected

Disabilities rights bill on the move

Senate passes ADA Amendments Act, House and President approval expected

On September 11, the Senate unanimously approved the ADA Amendments Act (S. 3406). The House passed its version of the bill (H.R. 3195) in June.

The House is expected to consider the bill tomorrow, September 17, and it is believed the President will sign the ADA Amendments Act immediately after approval by the House.

“I am pleased that the Senate has followed the House and passed the ADA Amendments Act. This bill will once again make America a world leader on a central test of human rights. I expect the House to pass this bill next week, and that the President will sign it,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) at a press conference following the Senate’s passage of the ADA Amendments Act.

The Senate version of the bill addresses the definition of disability, mitigating measures and regulatory authority. The bill would overturn four U.S. Supreme Court decisions that many Congress members think unfairly limit ADA protections, such as one ruling that limited protection for people with conditions that can be controlled with medication or improved by using a prosthesis.

From The New York Times:
Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and a chief sponsor of the bill, said the Supreme Court rulings put disabled people in an untenable position.

Because of the rulings, Mr. Harkin said, some disabled people, like those with epilepsy or diabetes, “could be forced to choose between treating their conditions and forfeiting their protections” under the 1990 law.”

We will continue to watch the bill and if it will have any affect on mandatory labor law postings. Stay tuned to the HR Forum for the latest updates.

Target $6 million settlement: Is your site ADA compliant?

Target Corp. has recently agreed to a $6 million settlement class-action lawsuit after failure to accommodate blind customers on their website.

In early 2006, The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and others charged that blind people could not access, citing “public accommodation” provisions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Target fought the lawsuit, claiming that ADA provisions only related to their “brick-and-mortar” stores. The court found that was a “gateway” to stores and “heavily integrated” with physical stores, making the website subject to ADA requirements.

In addition to setting up a fund from which plaintiffs can make claims, Target will make all necessary changes to their website to ensure customers using screen-reader software can find the same information and make transactions as all other users. The NFB will regularly test website improvements once completed.

Target also agreed to hold regular training sessions for its Web developers and review quarterly reports of complaints regarding’s accessibility.

Legal experts advise companies with websites that are “heavily integrated” with brick-and-mortar stores to consider upgrading, allowing better accessibility for the blind and disabled.

Experts also warn employers who regularly post employment opportunities and job applications on their website to consider making changes to comply under the ADA’s employment discrimination provisions and ensure full access to disabled individuals.

Commuter benefits a growing business trend

Recently the mayor of San Francisco signed an ordinance requiring employers to offer commuter benefits. The mandate was put in place in hopes of reducing San Francisco’s greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 20% by 2012

The new rule, believed to be the first of its kind, requires employers with more than 20 employees to offer at least one of three commuter benefit options:
  1. Establish a program where employees could make pretax contributions to pay for public transportation expenses.
  2. Employers could pay for employees’ transportation expenses, such as buying transit passes for employees.
  3. Employers could provide transportation by setting up van pools for workers.

With more organizations working to reduce global warming, it’s predicted that more cities will follow San Francisco’s lead, especially those who have signed on to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement (USCPA). Mayors in the USCPA have pledged to reduce global warming pollution in their cities by 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Commuting to and from work, lunch and running errands use 10 to 20 times more energy than any other factor contributing to your company’s carbon footprint. Supporting mass transit and allowing more employees to telecommute are just two ways employers can go green and reduce pollution.

Not only do commuter benefits help the environment, they also keep businesses productive. University studies have found that as gas prices drain employees’ wallets they also drain worker productivity. The money employees save by telecommuting full or part-time can improve productivity, job commitment and employee loyalty.

Keep workers less preoccupied with the high cost of gas and help the environment by offering commuter benefits. Whether through subsidized mass transit, telecommuting or pre-paid gas cards, every business can find a way to do their part for employees and the earth.

Agencies step up outdoor workplace inspections in rising temperatures

For outdoor workers, high temperatures can pose life-threatening risks. In the past weeks, extreme heat in California has prompted officials to increase state-wide heat illness prevention inspections.

Cal/OSHA investigators have named Fresno, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Napa, Sonoma, Yolo and Santa Clara as the first targeted counties. Officials then plan to increase outdoor workplace investigations in Kings, Tulare and Kern counties.

“California is the first state in the nation to have regulations to protect outdoor workers from exposure to heat. We have done an extraordinary job in raising awareness of what heat illness is and in ensuring that outdoor employers are trained to detect and respond to heat illness,” said John Duncan, Director of the Department of Industrial Relations.

This year Cal/OSHA has conducted almost 1,300 heat illness inspections across all outdoor industries, surpassing the 1,018 total number of inspections last year. Officials have issued almost 350 citations for heat illness prevention and expect more.

OSHA requires all employers to provide a safe environment for employees. Unsafe workplaces put employees in danger and employers at risk of hefty OSHA fines for workplace safety violations.

To protect workers from the dangers of extreme temperatures, employers should:

  • Develop a written employee safety policy and outline procedures if workers fall victim to heat-related illness. Enforce policies to ensure the safety of every worker.

  • Implement employee safety training. Train supervisors and workers on how to prevent heat illness, how to recognize heat illness symptoms and what to do if they or a coworker exhibits symptoms of heat-related illness.

  • Post safety posters reminding employees of the dangers of extreme temperatures. Workplace safety posters and notifications promote awareness of heat-related dangers and help employers comply with mandatory Cal/OSHA standards.

  • Provide workers with ample amounts of water and shaded areas for rest when working outdoors. Encourage workers to stay hydrated and take frequent, short breaks to stay safe in the heat.

Employers can find more information at the Cal/OSHA website, OSHA website or at your local OSHA office. For extreme heat exposure kits and more employee safety training solutions, visit

Online tool helps employers reintegrate veterans

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced the launch of a new online resource to help employers accommodate veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the workplace.

The new America’s Heroes at Work website provides employers with information about TBI and PTSD, along with tools and advice on how to reintegrate afflicted veterans, particularly service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This America's Heroes at Work initiative focuses on the employment challenges of returning service members who are living with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao.

“One of the best ways we can help these courageous men and women and honor their sacrifice is to help them return to full, productive lives through work. Employment can also play a role in their recovery.”

Though their injuries may not be visible, veterans with TBI or PTSD face challenging obstacles when returning to the workplace. Through America’s Heroes at Work, employers can find resources including job coaching and mentoring programs to create a positive, successful work environment for employees who have experienced traumatic events.

"Employment plays absolutely a major role in the rehabilitation of our servicemembers, regardless of the kind of injuries that they may have," said Charles S. Ciccolella, the Labor Department's assistant secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training Service.

Visit America’s Heroes at Work.

‘Encouraged’ nudity grounds for harassment?

On August 27th, employees at Lush stores across the country and overseas were "encouraged" to come to work nude to protest the overpackaging of so many consumer goods.

From a Lush press release -
New York, NY – Wearing nothing but aprons reading “ASK ME WHY I’M NAKED”, employees of LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics will lead a cheeky protest urging shoppers to go ‘naked’ by purchasing products free of packaging. The brave shop workers will educate passers-by on the devastating environmental impact of packaged goods sold in cosmetic shops, supermarkets, and other retailers.

Could encouraging your employees to come to work in the nude be considered harassment? It depends.

One attorney I spoke to asked if it were a quid pro quo situation ... (in other words, were their jobs connected to participation in the nude workday?)

At this point, I have no way of knowing if their job was directly dependent upon participation. But there are more subtle forms of quid pro quo harassment than an outright demand which could push someone into participating because of perceived risks of refusing. Peer pressure or culture of compliance on the job are also powerful tools for "forcing" someone to go along.

The event could also be considered a subtle form of sexual harassment, if it created a sexually charged or hostile environment. Characteristics would of this would include:
  • unfulfilled threats to impose a sexual quid pro quo;
  • discussing sexual activities;
  • telling off-color jokes;
  • unnecessary touching;
  • commenting on physical attributes;
  • displaying sexually suggestive pictures;
  • using demeaning or inappropriate terms, such as "Babe";
  • using indecent gestures;
  • granting job favors to those who participate in consensual sexual activity;
  • using crude and offensive language.
Would encouraging nakedness at work fall into a sexual activity category? It would seem that it could be so. If displaying sexually suggestive pictures is harassment, wouldn't nudity in the workplace be even a step beyond that?

What are your thoughts on it?

Workplace deaths down, OSHA proposes new PPE rule

On-the-job deaths in 2007 dropped to a historic low, evidence that worker safety and health programs are working, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Last year there were 5,488 worker deaths, the lowest number the Bureau of Labor statistics has seen since they began tracking the statistic in 1992.
"This is continued evidence that the initiatives and programs to protect workers' safety and health, designed by and implemented in this administration, are indeed working," Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said.

The most dangerous jobs in the U.S. (fatal injuries per 100,000 workers) are:
  • Fishers and related fishing workers (111.8)
  • Logging workers (86.4)
  • Aircraft pilots and flight engineers (66.7)
  • Structural and steel workers (45.5)

In the private sector, the construction industry is the most dangerous, with 1,178 deaths in 2007, a five percent decrease from the previous year.

In related news, last week the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced in the Federal Registrar that it is taking public comments on a proposed rule regarding Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and training standards.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) clarifies that when OSHA requires an employer to provide PPE for an employee, the employer must do so for each employee subject to the requirement.

OSHA requires employers to use and train employees on PPE to reduce employee exposure to hazards. The new amendment clarifies that each unprotected or untrained employee may be considered a separate violation under OSHA penalties.

OSHA is accepting public comments on the proposed rule at the Federal eRulemaking Portal until September 18, 2008.

Don’t let patient records float away

The past several years have taught us that no building is safe from the wrath of Mother Nature ... not even a hospital. When your facility is threatened by a hurricane, flood, blizzard or tornado, the safety of your patients and staff is the number one priority.

Once arrangements are made for protecting the people, you need to protect the medical records. And while all businesses need to develop a plan to back up and safely store records, electronic files, and papers, the disaster preparedness needs for a medical facility are even more critical.

Critical and irreplaceable data – The paper and images stored in medical files and electronically are a matter of life and death to patients. When medical records are key to a diagnosis or treatment plan, missing records can dramatically affect the prognosis.

Confidentiality – Medical records are far more personal and private than any other type of business records. If these files abandoned, scattered or otherwise unprotected, patient privacy is unprotected as well.

Non-centralized storage and use – Medical records in a hospital do not stay in one place. At any given time, the records of a single patient could be in the lab, the floor nurses’ station, the surgical suite, and a dozen other places.

Preparing in advance to protect your patients

Start with the location

In many hospitals, the medical records are stored at the lowest level in the building. This puts them at the highest risk of destruction, whether from flood or building collapse. If possible, select a new location that is:

  • Above flood level
  • More likely to be accessible following building collapse. Basement locations are often completely inaccessible once filled with the material from the former building.
  • Fireproof
  • In an area with two or more access points. Single door rooms can quickly become blocked and inaccessible because of debris

Develop and practice a disaster preparedness drill and recovery process

Long before the first hurricane watch or blizzard alert is issued, your facility needs to have a thorough and tested disaster preparedness plan and disaster recovery plan.
  • Designate a representative from each department or area of the hospital. Have them designate a backup in the same area.

  • Have a meeting with the representatives to determine their data and file responsibilities.

  • Develop a 72, 48 and 24 hour plan for each area in the hospital. Detail the steps personnel would take to gather and secure medical records. Be clear on who does what ... great procedures are of no use if everyone thinks someone else will do it!

  • Test your procedures under a variety of possible situations ... full notice, as with a hurricane, short notice, and emergency evacuation. Make adjustments as needed.

  • Develop a post disaster recovery plan for data bases, electronically stored records and paper records. Test this also under a variety of scenarios.

  • Make sure the plan is:

    • Understood
    • Accessible
    • Updated, as needed

Backup records electronically

Paper charts, lab reports, daily notes, and other hardcopy materials can be scanned directly into a centralized data base. Most radiological results are already in electronic format. Store the records onsite, and in a remote location far from your facility’s geographic location. Be sure your data base is secure ... HIPAA laws require you to protect confidentiality of records in all formats, even in a crisis.

Encourage virtual file checkout

Encourage the hospital staff to check out patient files virtually on a secure intranet. This allows the main paper files to remain in your secure area while doctors, therapists and other professionals use the files throughout the hospital. Not only does it protect your files from loss, it means that updates are instantaneous and accessible to all members of the medical team. Again, make sure HIPAA rules are followed in protecting patient information.

Disaster preparedness is not optional

Disaster preparedness and disaster recovery plans are critical to your hospital, and to the patients you serve. Make sure your facility is ready for anything.

Online tool measures impact of retiring employees

With one quarter of the U.S. workforce nearing retirement age, conversations about a potential “Baby Boomer brain drain” have been heard across the HR world. Transferring corporate knowledge, talent shortages and phased retirement plans have all become growing issues for worried companies.

It’s estimated that by the end of this year, 17% of the Baby Boomers holding executive, administrative and managerial positions in the private sector are expected to have retired.

“The problem is, HR often doesn’t have the data to back up the belief that their companies will be affected as the baby boomers leave the workforce, experts say.”

To back up those beliefs, AARP created the Workforce Assessment Tool to help business owners gauge how much of an impact retiring employees will have on your business. The 80-question online tool is confidential, free to use, and takes about 30 minutes to complete.

After answering questions about the composition of your workforce, workplace practices and company benefits, the tool generates an individualized report. The report outlines how the aging workforce may affect your organization, recommends how to better accommodate workers of all ages, maps out your current employment practices and areas of improvement and creates an inventory of your workplace strengths that could enhance your employer brand.

Try out the Workforce Assessment Tool today and find out how much of an impact retiring employees may have on your business.

Telecommuting on the rise say top corporate execs

The number of telecommuting employees is on the rise, according to a recent survey of top executives by an independent research team and leading staffing service OfficeTeam.

Telecommuting is currently popular among companies, with more than two-thirds (69%) of executives saying it is common for their companies’ employees to work remotely. Of those polled, 82% of managers said they expect the number of telecommuting employees to increase in the next five years.

The survey, based on telephone interviews of 150 senior executives from some of the largest U.S. companies, examined the current state and outlook of telecommuting in America.

“Rising fuel prices are causing people to look for alternatives to lengthy commutes, and working from home or at locations closer to home are attractive options,” said Dave Willmer, executive director of OfficeTeam. “Technology has also made it easier for employees to work remotely when traveling for business.”

In related news, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Telework Improvements Act of 2008, that would require the head of each federal agency to establish a policy allowing “eligible” employees to telework a portion of the workweek.

If passed, federal agencies would be required to allow authorized employees to telework at least 20% of the hours worked in every two administrative workweeks. Under the bill, federal employees would be authorized to telecommute the maximum amount of hours possible without diminishing employee performance or agency operations.

The bill points out some positions will not be eligible for the telework option due to the nature of the work including situations where employees must be at the job-site to perform their work of if the job requires face-to-face time with the public.

The proposed legislation now moves on to the Senate. We will continue watching the status of this bill and will share information as it becomes known.

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