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.

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