President signs equal pay for equal work bill

This morning, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, an equal-pay bill that will make it easier for employees to sue for pay discrimination.

As Obama signed his first piece of legislation as President, he ended a 2007 Supreme Court decision that said workers must file a pay-discrimination lawsuit within 180 days of a company’s initial decision to pay them less than another worker performing the same job.

Throughout his campaign, Obama promised to sign the bill, which became a focal point for labor and women’s groups.

From President Obama’s statement on the law this morning:

It is fitting that with the very first bill I sign - the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act - we are upholding one of this nation's first principles: that we are all created equal and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness.

... So in signing this bill today, I intend to send a clear message: That making our economy work means making sure it works for everyone. That there are no second class citizens in our workplaces, and that it's not just unfair and illegal - but bad for business - to pay someone less because of their gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion or disability. And that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook - it's about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives: their ability to make a living and care for their families and achieve their goals.

It is estimated that women are still paid about 78 cents for every dollar that men are paid for doing equal work, according to 2008 Census Bureau statistics.

The Act is named after a former Goodyear employee who didn’t become aware of a pay discrepancy until the end of her career. She sued, but the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that she missed her chance.

The Ledbetter Act will amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to reach farther than gender to include pay discrimination based on factors such as race, religion, national origin, disability or age.

More cutting OSHA training, taking chances with employee safety

In the wake of our country’s recent economic challenges, a disturbing trend has emerged that could cause a spike in employee injuries and safety violations. Recent reports show that many companies are taking their chances with employee safety by including vital OSHA safety training in this year’s budget cuts.

Delaying, trimming back or even eliminating employee safety training may result in an oncoming flood of new workplace injuries or even fatalities. Along with the danger to employees, businesses face the additional risk of increased OSHA fines, workers’ compensation claims and wrongful injury lawsuits.

Evidence of this hazardous trend can be seen in states like North Carolina, where the number of workplace deaths increased by 31 percent in 2008 after three years of steady decline, according to the Charlotte Observer.

The sagging economy could exacerbate the trend. Labor department officials worry workers could be in greater danger if companies scrimp on safety to make ends meet.

Department spokeswoman Dolores Quesenberry said Wednesday that company training and other safety initiatives are often among the first to go during hard economic times. “That's one of the first messages we want to get to employers: Make sure your employees are trained. It's not worth a life.”

According to a survey of safety professionals by Kimberly-Clark Professional, U.S. workers are putting themselves at risk by not complying with important safety procedures and failing to wear personal protective equipment (PPE).

Key findings of the survey:

  • 89% of safety professionals have witnessed workers not wearing PPE when they should
  • 33% cited compliance with safety protocols as the top workplace safety issue in their facilities
  • 34% said the economy affected their worker safety training programs or resources
  • 63% of those impacted by the economy said it had led to less money for safety education and training
  • 33% of those impacted by the economy said business concerns get more attention than safety concerns during tough economic times

With the cost of work-related injuries in the US totaling more than $50 billion a year, businesses can’t afford to cut any corners when it comes to employee safety training and equipment. The financial burden of just one serious injury or fatality could put your company out of business forever.

As the economy falters, the need for more inexpensive safety training has never been more critical. G.Neil is meeting the challenge with new products that make safety training and OSHA compliance easier and affordable. From forklift training videos to safety posters, our wide variety of products can help you complete mandatory OSHA training without jeopardizing your budget or employee safety.

Related information:

Press release: Skipping OSHA safety training could spell death for employees

Job training program opens new doors in Michigan

Last month, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm passed a bill allowing community colleges to create training programs for businesses adding new jobs or new businesses coming into the state.

Under Michigan’s New Jobs Training Program, participating businesses and community colleges would pay nothing. Tuition and training costs will be financed through bonds sold by the colleges and paid back with employer withholding taxes.

Companies may participate under the condition that the training is for newly created jobs, as part of an effort to build up the state’s job base. Trainees can’t be replacement workers for existing positions.

From the Lansing State Journal:

"This is not a hit to the state, because these are new jobs," said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association. "The state was never going to realize that income tax anyway. The jobs wouldn't exist except for this program."

Modeled on a successful program in Iowa, the initiative "is a win for the community college, because they develop training capacity," he said, adding that several of the state's community colleges, Lansing Community College among them, have already expressed interest.

"It's a win for the company, because they get their workers trained for free," he said.

The New Jobs Training Program is modeled after a successful program Iowa began in 1983. In Iowa, companies adding new jobs can make agreements with local community colleges to train a set number of employees. The colleges issue bonds to the employer, which are repaid by the trained employees’ state income taxes. Training is received at no cost to the employee, and their company takes responsibility for repayment if the training contract is broken.

In the 25 years since the Iowa program began, “employers working with community colleges have received over $560 million from the Iowa New Jobs Training Program for 2,000 training projects and more than 138,000 planned new jobs, some of which pay salaries averaging nearly $40,000 annually,” according to SHRM.

When signing the legislation, Michigan Gov. Granholm pointed out that the state “must do everything we can to help our citizens get the training they need for good-paying jobs in this challenging global economy. These bills are another part of our plan to ensure that we have a strong workforce that can compete and win in the 21st century.”

Access to technology keeps workers creative and efficient

The majority of U.S. workers place a high value on technology in the workplace, some would even take drastic measures to work for companies that value technology in the same way.

Almost 40 percent of workers would consider changing jobs to work for a company that is more committed to providing access to and training in the latest technology, according to a national survey commissioned by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA).

Key findings of the survey include:
  • Four out of five workers said access to technology is important to their ability to be creative (78%) and productive (80%) at work.
  • 80% of workers said that such technology gives their employer and edge in the marketplace.
  • 39% of workers would consider leaving their current jobs for an employer that makes better use of technology with access to more up-to-date technology.
  • 37% would contemplate a job change if better technology-related training were offered.

Retaining top performers is key to an organization’s success and is many times their top worry during a recession. Holding on to prized employees is a top concern for employers, even in today’s economy, according to a survey developed by Robert Half International.

Nearly four out of 10 (39%) of senior executives cited employee retention as their greatest staffing concern, according to the survey.

Another top concern included bringing in new employees (22%) along with productivity and employee morale (17%).

“Many firms are operating with lean teams in which every staff member plays a key role in the business, making retention a greater concern,” said Max Messmer, chairman and chief executive of Melo Park, Calif.-based Robert Half International. “Companies that lose top performers may not only experience declines in productivity but also incur significant costs in replacing these professionals.”

If your business is concerned with retaining top performers, maybe it’s time to take a look at the technology your employees are using to complete their daily tasks. Making an investment today to update your in-house technology and offer technology training may save you thousands of dollars in diminished productivity and the hardship of losing top performers in the future.

Economic stress impacts employee health, productivity

According to recent reports, you can now add employee health to the list of victims of the recession. Studies show that financial stress due to the current economic recession is having a dangerous impact on employee health and productivity.

Results from the AARP survey, Impact of Economy on Health Behaviors, reveal that one in five adults ages 45 and older are suffering health problems due to financial stress and many are delaying medical treatment because they can’t afford it.

"Right now people are increasingly concerned about their jobs, retirement savings and simply being able to provide for their families and it's taking a major toll on their health," said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois Senior State Director. "It's a harsh irony that worrying about being able to afford health care is actually causing health problems."

Key findings of the AARP survey include:

  • 20% of people 45 and older reported health problems due to financial stress
  • 22% have delayed seeing a doctor due to cost
  • 16% had to use retirement savings or other savings to pay for medical care
  • 21% have cut back on other expenses to afford their medical care
  • 16% are not confident they will be able to afford health care in 2009

A poll by AXA PPP healthcare of 200 HR professionals found that a quarter of firms believed the majority of their employees were showing symptoms of stress as a result of money worries.

More than 75% felt that employees would be more productive if they were less concerned about financial issues. Unfortunately, more than 40% of HR professionals admitted they would wait until a worker asked for help before offering advice or support.

Instead of waiting for employees to come to them, HR can take proactive steps to help make a positive impact on employee stress. Helping employees deal with mounting financial stress can lead to lower health care costs, higher morale and a healthy bottom line.

According to the wellness professionals at Wellness Corporate Insights, HR can help employees by:

“Establishing comprehensive corporate wellness programs to increase employees' awareness of their own behavior, to show them that the company knows and cares, and to head off problems of increased health care costs and diminished health and efficiency that will remain after the recession is over."

"It's an important time to focus on employee wellness--not only for the good of employees, but for the health of the company too.”


OSHA posting deadline: Are you ready for February 1?

Beginning February 1, employers must post a summary of the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred last year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA requires employers with more than 10 employees to post the injury and illness summary (OSHA Form 300A) from February 1 to April 30, 2009. The summary must list the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2008 and were logged on the OSHA Form 300.

Employers must also include information about the annual average number of employees and total hours worked during the calendar year to help calculate incidence rates. If there were no injuries or illnesses in 2008, you must enter “zero” on the total line.

A company executive must sign the Form 300A and it should be displayed in a workplace common area where notices to employees are usually posted. Failure to post the annual summary could result in citations and penalties.

Though they are not generally required to file the records with OSHA, employers must document workplace injuries using Forms 300 and 300A and keep the forms at the worksite for a five-year period. Forms should be readily available to employees and OSHA inspectors.

Employers with 10 or fewer employees and some employers in certain industries are usually exempt from federal OSHA injury and illness recordkeeping and posting requirements. View the full list of exempt industries here on the OSHA Web site.

During Fiscal Year 2008, OSHA logged 87,687 violations of its standards and regulations for worker safety and health across the nation. More than 67,000 of those violations were cited as “serious,” according to an agency press release.

"Workplace inspections and issuing citations are a critical part of OSHA's balanced approach to improving workplace safety, but the real test of success is saving lives and preventing injuries, " said acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Thomas M. Stohler.

OSHA conducted close to 39,000 worksite inspections last year, exceeding the agency’s enforcement goal by 2.4 percent.

Based on preliminary data from 2007, the workplace fatality rate has declined 14 percent since 2001, according to Stohler. Since 2002, the workplace injury and illness rate has dropped 21 percent. Both statistics mark all-time lows.

Stohler pointed out that such success is due to OSHA’s strategic approach to enforcement. The agency achieved their goal by targeting the most hazardous workplaces while using education, training and cooperative programs to improve overall OSHA compliance.

For more information on OSHA recordkeeping requirements, take a look at these helpful articles from G.Neil’s HR Library: (All articles are free and require no registration.)


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